Cambodia

The flag of Cambodia was first adopted on 20 October 1948 and again on 29 June 1993 when the monarchy was reinstated following a referendum. The blue field symbolizes the king, the red field represents the nation and the white temple (Angkor Wat) whose color white stands for Buddhism.

One reason ex-pats and tourists give for their love of Cambodia is the positive attitude of the local population towards foreigners, who are regularly greeted with a friendly “Khmer smile” and treated as special guests wherever they go.

Some cliches exist for a reason and the one about Cambodians being kind, gentle and happy is 100 per cent true.

The most spoken languages in Cambodia is Khmer, English and France which make it easy for most visitors to have and follow a conversation. However, in rural, it could be hard to find people that speak another language than Khmer.

Cambodia is also unique as it is one of the few countries in the world to use the U.S. dollar as the currency (also Cambodian Riel).

The maybe greatest things about visiting Cambodia are the beauty of it all, the year-round summer weather and the low cost of living.

Before you go

Ensure you have comprehensive travel or medical insurance – ideally a plan that will cover hospital visits to Thailand. Also, visitors and ex-pats living in Cambodia are recommended to make sure all their standard immunizations are up-to-date and get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid. Other vaccinations may be recommended if you’re visiting certain rural areas.

Use of credit and debit cards

You can use the service for both VISA and Master international cards and Debit and Credit cards, including all local bank cards that pass the CSS (Cambodian Shared Swift) system.

Going there

Cambodia boasts numerous land crossings with all of its neighbours and international flight connections to China, Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and The Philippines. You can also enter by boat from Vietnam.

Dos’ and ‘Dont’s

If you’re generally a respectful person, you shouldn’t have any problems when visiting Cambodia, but there are some cultural customs that differ from those in the West. Even if you forget one or two, tourist faux pas are mostly forgiven. But here we talk about what you should consider.

Take off your shoes at the door

The feet are considered the dirtiest and least sacred part of the body. You will see almost all tourists and locals in Cambodia wearing flip-flops on a daily basis and this is because it is customary to take off your shoes when entering a place – not just someone’s house or a hostel. You are expected to remove your shoes at temples and many restaurants and shops as well.

Tip: If there are shoes outside the door, take your shoes off before entering.

Do not point your feet at people, especially images of Buddha, and do not let people see the soles of your feet. Even putting your feet on the seat opposite is considered unclean.

Don’t argue with monks

You’re bound to see a lot of monks when traveling in Cambodia, so you need to know how to interact with them – or how not to interact with them. Don’t argue with them. Women, especially, should never touch a monk or give anything to them (even the monk’s mother is not allowed to touch her son while he is a monk).

Most Theravada monks are not allowed to eat after lunchtime, so be mindful by not eating or snacking around them during this time. Similarly, if a monk is sitting, you should also sit before starting a conversation. Try to sit lower than them if you can.

Finally, don’t touch a monk’s—or anyone else’s—head. For example, pat someone on the head. It is a sign of disrespect and is only allowed on children and pets. If you do it to an adult, you can count on a proper fight without warning.

Don’t brag about being American

Pay attention to Cambodia’s war-torn history by not discussing sensitive topics such as war, politics, violence or the Khmer Rouge. Almost everyone in this country has lost family and friends to violence and Americans have been a big part of it, so be patient if they hold grudges. Definitely avoid wearing T-shirts and clothes that depict war or violence.

Do not wear tight or challenging clothing

It’s hot in Cambodia, but the temperature is no excuse for tight or challenging clothing. Modest dress is the rule, especially for women. Although many tourists wear shorts, locals tend to cover as much skin as possible. Women should avoid bare shoulders.

Although tourism has caused local dress to relax somewhat, always dress conservatively when visiting temples (which include the Angkor sites), homes, or entering a government building. Avoid wearing T-shirts with religious themes (images of Buddha or Hindu gods). Cover your shoulders and wear trousers or a long skirt.

Local men usually wear short-sleeved collared shirts and long pants. While it’s fine for tourists to wear shorts and a t-shirt, you should try not to make the locals feel embarrassed by your attire. Avoid short shorts, miniskirts, tight yoga pants or other clothing that is too revealing.

Don’t show your love in public

Cambodians are conservative, meaning they frown on public displays of affection. Again, the key is not to embarrass anyone. Holding hands is okay, but snuggling intimately on the bus is not. Be attentive in your contact with the opposite sex; even putting an arm around a person to pose for a picture can be misinterpreted.

Eat with your right hand only

Business and food are usually conducted with the right hand only; the left hand is reserved for dirty tasks in the toilet. Avoid giving other things with your left hand and try to use only your right hand when eating.

Speak the local language

Don’t worry about the locals laughing at you for your poor language skills. Most of appreciate you trying. Many people don’t even speak English, so always ask first.

The traditional Cambodian greeting is called pas and is done by placing your two hands together in a prayer-like gesture in front of your chest with your fingertips pointing upward. Give a slight bow of the head. This is the equivalent of wai in Thailand.

You can say thank you by saying “arkun”. Most of the locals greet each other with “hello”.

Bargain

Bargaining is an awkward and seemingly disrespectful activity for many Westerners, but it’s expected here. When negotiating prices, let the other party save face by only slightly reducing the final price. Alternatively, you can go back to buy from them again later.

Healthcare

The level of healthcare in Laos is generally quite low. Remote and rural areas have extremely limited medical care, and they are unlikely to accept insurance cards, so make sure you have a little money saved in case of an emergency. In the Vientiane area, ex-pats should be able to find a couple of international clinics, such as the French Medical Centre. For serious problems and dentistry, ex-pats are recommended to go to neighbouring Thailand, where they will find a much higher level of healthcare and plenty of hospitals that are of an international standard. Travellers to Laos are recommended to go to neighbouring Thailand, where they will find a much higher level of healthcare and plenty of hospitals that are of an international standard.

Religion

Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist with 80% of the population being Theravada Buddhist, 1% Christian and the majority of the remaining population following Islam, atheism, or animism.

Safety and Security

Crime levels in Cambodia are generally quite low, though the usual crimes that affect expats and tourists, such as bag snatching and theft, do take place, especially in the country’s larger towns and cities. It is also essential to carry your identification, or at least a copy of your passport, at all times, as you can be asked to show your identification at any time and be fined on the spot if you fail to produce it.

Travelling in Cambodia

Travelling in Cambodia is a challenge. Seriously accidents happen on roads all over the country every day.

Be careful when visiting regions near the border with Thailand. Landmines and unexploded remnants of war are a risk. Stay on marked roads if you’re travelling in the north and northwest

Also be careful when visiting rural places as the same as near the border with Thailand also are common here.

Places to visit

Angkor Wat

The temple of Angkor Wat itself, the world’s largest religious building, is only one sliver of the site in total, and the sprawling circuit of temples deserves three days to explore if you want to understand the scope of the Angkorian period’s architectural achievements.

For those short on time though, the main highlights after Angkor Wat are the tree-root clasped temple of Ta Prohm (which first found international fame as a location used in the movie Tomb Raider), the Bayon Temple for its 216 stone-carved faces, Angkor Thom and Preah Khan.

Phnom Penh

The nation’s economic, industrial, and cultural centre also known as the “Pearl of Asia” .

Koh Rong Samloem

On Cambodia’s south coast lie a scattering of islands just as beautiful as their Thai counterparts to the west, but much less visited. Cambodia’s islands are a slice of laid-back tropical bliss, where sun and sand take centre stage, and the big resorts have yet to make their mark.

Of all the islands, Koh Rong Samloem is one of the most beautiful, with the long, sandy Saracen Bay home to a dozen beach hut resorts that offer a welcome respite from the world.

It’s really all about hammock time here, but there are plenty of scuba diving activities on offer for the more active.

You can go to all of these islands from Sihanoukville.

Siem Reap

Siem Reap is usually seen by travellers as among Cambodia’s top places to visit due to it being the base for Angkor Archaeological Park, but the town itself offers more things to do beyond the mighty temples.

This is the country’s major activity centre, with bundles of tours on offer, from cycle trips around the lush countryside just outside of town to Cambodian cookery tours.

Shoppers will also find plenty to keep them occupied, as central Siem Reap is brimming with opportunities to browse traditional crafts.

Make sure to visit Angkor National Museum, before heading to Angkor Wat itself, to dose up on the history of the site. The exhibits here explore the breadth of culture and artistry of the Khmer empire.

For evening entertainment while in town, don’t miss Phare The Cambodian Circus. This internationally-renowned circus troupe and social enterprise puts on dazzling shows where performers combine theater, acrobatics, and music.

Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri is a nature-filled reprieve for travellers suffering from temple fatigue. This is outback Cambodia, and the endless red-dirt roads of the region, leading to ethnic minority villages, are an intrepid traveller’s delight.

For those with an adventurous streak, the province is one of the best places in Cambodia for trekking, from spotting gibbons at Veun Sai-Siem Pang Conservation Area, where overnight trips involve sleeping in hammocks and early rises to track buff-cheeked gibbons, to hiking in Virachey National Park home to elephants, tigers, and sun bears.

There are more relaxing options on offer as well. The emerald water of Yeak Lom Crater Lake just outside of Ban Lung town is a tranquil swimming spot, while the waterfalls of Chaa Ong and Ka Tieng are fun diversions that provide more opportunities for getting wet.

One reason ex-pats and tourists give for their love of Cambodia is the positive attitude of the local population towards foreigners, who are regularly greeted with a friendly “Khmer smile” and treated as special guests wherever they go.

Some cliches exist for a reason and the one about Cambodians being kind, gentle and happy is 100 per cent true.

The most spoken languages in Cambodia is Khmer, English and France which make it easy for most visitors to have and follow a conversation. However, in rural, it could be hard to find people that speak another language than Khmer.

Cambodia is also unique as it is one of the few countries in the world to use the U.S. dollar as the currency (also Cambodian Riel).

The maybe greatest things about visiting Cambodia are the beauty of it all, the year-round summer weather and the low cost of living.