On the whole, Cambodia is an inexpensive place to visit; though, like everywhere, prices are starting to creep up. Most tourists won’t notice the difference, but for Cambodians, many of whom have difficulty in eking out a living, it’s a problem. Outside the upmarket hotels tipping is not expected, but a few hundred riel extra for a meal or a tuk-tuk or moto ride is appreciated.
Budget rooms are available for $5–6 across the country, and eating is also cheap – you’ll pay around $2 for a breakfast of noodles and a coffee at a Khmer restaurant or noodle shop, and around the same for a lunch or dinner of two dishes with rice (although a meal in a Western-oriented restaurant will set you back around $6–7). Drinking water costs a fairly constant 1000 riel for a small bottle pretty much everywhere, while cans retail at 2000 riel for Coke and $1 for Angkor beer, $2.5 for a large bottle.
The most economical form of transport is in the back of a pick-up truck, the price of a trip varying according to the distance involved and the state of the road – during the rainy season (June–Oct) fares can rise by around twenty percent. Fares also rise over holidays, particularly the Khmer New Year. Speed comes at a price: Phnom Penh–Siem Reap by plane is $95 ($6 by bus), but this option don’t exist on other routes.
Staying in guesthouses, eating at noodle shops and cheap restaurants and travelling on public transport can be done on just $15–20 a day. But if you want to stay in mid-range hotels, eat three Western-oriented meals per day and get around by hiring a car with a driver you’ll need around $90 per day. And if you want to sample the best in luxury accommodation and top-notch food that Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have to offer, you can spend three hundred dollars a day or more.
Although it doesn’t happen as blatantly as in Vietnam, foreigners in Cambodia are charged a premium in a number of situations. For example, a Cambodian pays $10 less than a foreigner to use the express boat between Phnom Penh and Chau Doc, and sights targeted at foreign tourists also have a dual-pricing policy, most notably Angkor, which is free for Cambodians but costs foreigners $20 for a day-pass.
A sales tax (comprising a ten percent government tax and ten percent service) is often charged in mid-range hotels. Where this applies, it should be advertised on a sign (in English) at reception.
You will need to fill out a customs declaration on arrival in Cambodia, although customs requirements are fairly loose and baggage checks are rare. On entry, you’re allowed four hundred cigarettes (or the equivalent in cigars or tobacco), one bottle of spirits and a “reasonable” amount of perfume. You cannot bring in more than US$10,000 in cash, or take out more than 100,000 riel.
The electrical supply is 220 volts AC, 50Hz. Cambodian sockets take two-pin, flat-pronged plugs. These days the electricity supply in towns is pretty reliable, although during the night some hotels do switch to generators which can be noisy. However, some areas, Banlung for example, still experience power cuts from time to time; in rural areas most villages still survive on a generator and batteries. Electricity is expensive (in Phnom Penh most of it is imported from Vietnam) and if you’re taking a room with air conditioning you will be charged more. Note that if you buy electrical goods in Cambodia, you might need a transformer or to adjust their voltage setting before use abroad.
Entry and exit requirements
Visas for Cambodia are required by everyone other than nationals of Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. These are issued on arrival at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap international airports, at Sihanoukville port, at all overland crossings from Thailand and Vietnam, and at Voen Kham from Laos. Arriving overland, make sure that the officials at the border put an entry stamp in your passport, as not having one is likely to cause hassle when you eventually leave the country. Single-entry, 30-day tourist e-visas are available on line, but they are only supported if you enter through the airports at Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, or overland at Koh Kong and Poipet (whttp://www.mfaic.gov.kh; payment is by PayPal). They are valid for three months from the date of issue and there’s a $5 processing charge.
A single-entry tourist visa obtained on arrival ($20; one passport photograph required) is valid for thirty days, including the day of issue, and can be extended once only, for one month. Note that at the Thai border Cambodian officials may ask for 1000 baht (around $25–30), though if you ask for a receipt this does usually get reduced to $20 (see Border scams). You can also buy a business visa ($25; one passport photo) on arrival. Like the tourist visa this is valid for thirty days, but can be extended in a variety of ways (ranging from one-month single-entry extension, three months’ single-entry, six months’ multiple-entry and twelve months’ multiple-entry; costs range from $42 to $270). Multiple entries are only available on a business visa.
Both tourist and business visas can only be extended in Phnom Penh at the inconveniently located Department for Immigration (Mon–Fri 8–11am & 2–4pm; t012/581558, e[email protected]), 8km out of town opposite Pochentong airport. A tourist visa extension ($40) takes 28 days to process and takes effect from the date you submit your passport – an absurd situation which means you’ll only get a few extra days’ use out of the extension. As few people can afford to be without their passport for that length of time, they are forced into taking the three-day service at $45 for a one-month extension. Even then, applying for the extension is a time-consuming exercise involving at least two trips out to the airport. A far easier option is to use the visa-extension services offered by travel agents and guesthouses in town, who will do all the running around for just a few dollars’ commission. If you overstay your visa you’ll be charged $5 per day. From Phnom Penh and Siem Reap the departure tax is $25 for international flights and $6 for domestic departures (at Phnom Penh you can pay by credit card). There is no departure tax when leaving by land.
At the time of writing a temporary visa waiver had been introduced between Cambodia and Vietnam and Cambodia and Thailand, allowing nationals of the respective countries 14 days’ visa-free stay.
Gay and lesbian Cambodia
Gay and lesbian travellers shouldn’t experience any problems when travelling in Cambodia – homosexuality is not illegal, although neither is it recognized and talked about. It’s acceptable for two men or two women to link hands or arms in public, which would be unacceptable for straight couples. Cambodians find overt displays of affection offensive, however, so it’s as well to be discreet. Be that as it may, there’s an emerging gay scene (whttp://www.cambodia-gay.com) with gay-friendly establishments in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap (which has the country’s only male-exclusive resort) and Sihanoukville.
Before travelling to Cambodia you’d do well to take out an insurance policy to cover against theft, loss of personal items and documentation, illness and injury. However, before you pay for a new policy, it’s worth checking whether you are already covered: some all-risks home insurance policies may cover your possessions when overseas, and many private medical schemes include cover when abroad – check that they cover Cambodia. Students will often find that their student health coverage extends during the vacations and for one term beyond the date of last enrolment.
A typical travel insurance policy usually provides cover for the loss of baggage, tickets and – up to a certain limit – cash or cheques, as well as cancellation or curtailment of your journey. Most of them exclude so-called “dangerous” activities unless an extra premium is paid: in Cambodia this can mean scuba diving, riding a motorbike and trekking.
Getting online in Cambodia is effortless with internet shops and cafés almost everywhere and wi-fi available at hotels, guesthouses, cafés and bars, especially in the tourist areas (in the provinces connections may be slow, and costs a little higher than in the major towns). Connectivity for enabled laptops and smart phones is fairly good. Access is typically $1 per hour and connections are generally reliable. Although equipment may not be up-to-the-minute, you’ll be able to use your memory stick, burn photographs to discs and email them at most places. In the countryside it’s unlikely you’ll get any internet access.
You can get laundry done practically everywhere, at both hotels and guesthouses or at private laundries in all towns – look for the signs in English. Prices are pretty uniform, at 500–1000 riel per item or $2 per kilogram. In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap there are a number of places with driers, giving a speedy turn-around (3hr) even in the wet season.
Living in Cambodia
It’s hard to get paid work in Cambodia, and even finding a post teaching English is pretty difficult. The UK charity Voluntary Service Overseas (whttp://www.vso.org.uk) and Australian Volunteers International (whttp://www.australianvolunteers.com) both recruit volunteers to work on projects in Cambodia paid at local rates. If you want to do voluntary work (all be it that you may have to pay to do it) there are plenty of opportunities. Frontier (whttp://www.frontier.ac.uk) have projects teaching English or helping with wildlife conservation (from £995 for 4 weeks); Greenforce (whttp://www.greenforce.org) offers volunteering opportunities in schools and hospitals (around £1400 for 4 weeks); while Coral Cay Conservation (whttp://www.coralcay.org) has an ongoing project on Koh Rong (cheaper if you have diving experience). When you’re in Cambodia keep your eye out in cafés and bars where organizations post their projects and ask for volunteers. The services of teachers, doctors and vets will be much appreciated even if it’s only for a day or so.
Cambodia’s mail is all consolidated in Phnom Penh. Sending mail from provincial cities is as reliable as posting from the capital, though it costs a little more. Within the capital itself, only the main post office is geared up to accept mail bound for abroad.
Mail to Europe, Australasia and North America takes between five and ten days, leaving Phnom Penh for major international destinations around twice a week – the specific days can be checked at the main post office. Stamps for postcards sent from the capital cost 2800–3000 riel (add 200 riel if posting from the provinces).
Parcels posted in Phnom Penh cost a whopping $17 for a one-kilogram package going abroad, so it’s worth deferring the task if you’re heading to Thailand, where postage is cheaper. You’ll be charged 3000 riel for the obligatory customs form, detailing the contents and their value, but it isn’t necessary to leave the package open for checking. Post offices sell mailing boxes if you need them.
Poste restante mail can be received at the main post offices in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, at a cost of 500 riel per item. When collecting mail, bring your passport as proof of identity and ask them to check under both your first name and your family name.
Overcharging used to be quite a problem. Things are now better, but the post office in Siem Reap does seem to charge more than others in the country. Rates are displayed on a notice board inside Phnom Penh’s main post office, so you can make your own calculations.
Understandably, Cambodia was poorly surveyed for many years and, thus, some older maps show roads and villages inaccurately. Many maps have now been updated, but it’s worth bearing in mind that just because a road is marked on a map it doesn’t mean it will be in decent condition. (In any case, Cambodia remains heavily contaminated with land mines, so it pays to stick to well-defined roads and tracks; for more on this.)
You might consider one of the Cambodia-only maps from Periplus, Nelles Verlag and Gecko Maps, which should get most travellers around with minimal problems. If you’re only travelling between the main cities and tourist sites, the Rough Guide map of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos should suffice.
Within Cambodia, bookstalls at Psar Thmei and Psar Toul Tom Poung in Phnom Penh and the Siem Reap Bookshop in Siem Reap sell a selection of maps. American military survey maps are among the most detailed available, but you may have to check out a lot of stalls to find the map for the sector of the country you want, as nobody stocks the whole range; expect to pay around $5-plus for one of these maps. These bookstalls also sell the country maps published by the Ministry of Tourism; these show the country in detail on one side and city plans of Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville on the reverse; they cost a couple of dollars each.
Opening hours and public holidays
In theory, government offices work Monday to Friday between 7.30 and 11.30am, and 2 and 5pm. In practice, though, you’ll be lucky to find anyone at their desks before 8am and they’ll probably be gone by 11am, returning – or not – for an hour or two in the afternoon. Positions in the public service aren’t well paid, but carry quite a bit of prestige, so officials ensure they show their faces in the office a few times each week, while moonlighting to earn a living wage. Public holidays can also be “stretched” particularly at Khmer New Year, Bonn Pchum Benn and for the Water Festival.
Post offices are open daily, excluding a few public holidays such as the Khmer New Year and Bonn Pchum Ben. The main office in Phnom Penh is open daily from 7am to 6pm; in the provinces, post office hours are 8 to 11am and 2 to 5.30pm, though they may close early on Saturday and Sunday if they’re not busy or if the staff have other commitments. Banks are open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 3.30pm, and sometimes on Saturday as well between 8.30 and 11.30am. Markets open daily from around 6am until 5pm, shops between 7am and 7pm (later in tourist areas).
Key tourist sights, such as the National Museum, the Royal Palace Silver Pagoda and Toul Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, are open every day including most public holidays. In the provinces museums open on an ad hoc basis; the best bet is on a weekday morning between 9 and 10am (indeed they’ll probably shut once you’ve left). The temples at Angkor, Tonle Bati and Sambor Prei Kuk and the country’s national parks are open daily from dawn to dusk.
Nearly all of Cambodia’s phone lines were destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era and have yet to be replaced; most people get by with a mobile phone only.
If you are going to need to make or receive a number of domestic calls consider buying a Cambodian SIM card. These can be purchased for a few dollars at most mobile phone shops; you’ll need to show your passport as proof of identity. It’s worth checking deals from a few providers before choosing; for example some networks throw in free SMSs (texts) when you register, while others have cheap off-peak international rates ($0.25 per minute). Expect to be charged 300–500 riel per minute for domestic calls. Mobile top-up cards start from $1 depending on the network, but be aware that the SIM card will be deactivated if you don’t have money on your account or you haven’t used it for a period of time – this varies with the provider but it’s usually between one and six months. If your number is deactivated and you want to carry on using it you’ll need to visit the network provider’s office to get it reinstated; note though that telephone numbers get reissued after about a year. At the time of writing Cambodia has nine mobile phone service providers, the most popular being Mobitel (t012 & t092) which has transmitters throughout the country giving pretty much universal reception. Other providers include Hello Axiata (code t015 & t 016), Smart (t010, t069, t070 & t093), Mfone (t085) and Star Cell (t086 & t098). As you’d expect the smaller operators have fewer transmitters meaning you may not have reception in remote locations, so you may want to check coverage before purchasing a SIM card. If you’re staying in Cambodia for a while a pre-paid mobile broadband account costs around $28 per month.
You can make domestic and inter-national phone calls at the post offices and telecom offices in most towns. These services are invariably run by the government telecommunications network, Camintel (whttp://www.camintel.com), which also runs public call boxes in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap; to use these, you’ll need a pre-paid phone card, available in denominations ranging from $5 to $50. Buying an “easy card” phone card, means you can make international calls from any call box. Depending on the access code you use (check when you buy your card) international calling rates can be as low as $0.15 per minute. To use the card insert it in the slot, dial the access code (t177 is currently the cheapest), followed by the country code and number as usual. It’s worth checking out options with your own telecommunications service provider before you travel to see if they have any arrangement for calling home from Cambodia, though it’s likely to be fairly expensive. If you know you will be wanting to make lots of calls home, it’s well worth signing up for an account with Skype before you go, which allows you to make free computer-to-computer calls and very cheap computer-to-telephone calls. Internet cafés often have headphones with a microphone so that you can use Skype with some privacy; all you pay is the posted fee for use of the internet.
For domestic calls only, the cut-price glass-sided booths found in all major towns are a cheap option at around 500 riel per minute, payable to the attendant. The booths vary in their coverage of Cambodia’s various networks: accessible numbers will be written on the side of the booths.
In the unlikely event that you have to send a fax, the hotel business centres and internet shops are the most reliable places to do so.
To call Cambodia from abroad, dial your international access code, followed by t855, then the local area code (minus the initial 0), then the number. Note that phone companies may charge slightly more to call Cambodian mobile numbers.
If you want to use your home mobile phone, you’ll need to check with your phone service provider whether it will work abroad, and what the call charges are to use it in Cambodia. It’s unlikely that a mobile bought for use inside North America will work outside the US and Canada, unless it’s a tri-band phone. However, most mobiles in the UK, Australia and New Zealand use GSM, which works well in Southeast Asia.
Cambodians (other than the chunchiet) generally love being photographed – although it is common courtesy to ask first; they also take a lot of photos themselves and may well ask you to stand in theirs. It’s best to avoid taking photographs of anything with a military connotation, just in case.
While most people now have digital cameras, film can still be obtained (more easily than at home), with a 36-exposure roll of print film costing around $3 and slide film around $6. Developing and printing cost around $4 per roll of 36, though quality is variable.
You can get your digital shots transferred to CD or printed at most photographic shops in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, although, as for film, the quality of the prints may not be as good as you’d get at home.
Cambodia is 7hr ahead of GMT; 12hr ahead of New York and Montréal; 15hr ahead of Los Angeles and Vancouver; 1hr behind Perth; 4hr behind Sydney and 5hr behind Auckland; 5hr ahead of South Africa.
Apart from places used to catering for foreigners, squat toilets are the rule. In general there are no public toilets, although there are now facilities throughout the Angkor Heritage Park, and in some places enterprising individuals have set up private facilities which you can use for a few hundred riel. It is fine to ask to use the loo at restaurants, even if you’re not eating there, although you may sometimes wish you hadn’t as they are often unsavoury. At transport stops there are usually toilets out at the back, but you’ll need to provide your own toilet paper, sold in the markets and worth carrying with you. Sometimes you may have to do as the locals do and take to the bushes – but remember there is still a risk of mines, so don’t stray off well-trodden paths.
There is a wealth of information on the temples of Angkor, which you can access both in Cambodia and outside the country; the best sources of information about the rest of Cambodia are local guesthouse owners.
Most provincial towns have a tourist office (destjow montepiak). Although their opening hours are generally quite loose (typically Mon–Fri 8–11am & 2–4pm), someone at the office will usually speak a little English or French. Thanks to a recent grant from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) their facilities have improved and, for the time being at least, there are some quite nice leaflets available, though street plans remain elusive.
There are no Cambodian tourist offices abroad, and Cambodian embassies aren’t equipped to handle tourist enquiries.
Travellers with disabilities
Cambodia has the unhappy distinction of having the highest proportion of disabled people per capita in the world (1 in 236 people) – due to land mines and the incidence of polio and other wasting diseases. There is no special provision for the disabled, so travellers with disabilities will need to be especially self-reliant, though Cambodians will be only too pleased to help out where they can.
Before travelling to Cambodia, disabled visitors should check out the airline facilities for both long-haul and domestic services. Stock up on any medication, get any essential equipment serviced and take a selection of spares and accoutrements (wet-wipes, spanners, Allen keys and bungee cords are particularly useful). It’s worth checking that your travel insurance covers you for most eventualities, such as the loss of a wheelchair. Ask about hotel facilities as well, as lifts are still not as common in Cambodia as you might hope. Rather than using buses for getting around, consider hiring a car and driver which will give you more comfort and flexibility.
Getting around pagodas and temples can be a problem, as even at relatively lowly pagodas there are flights of steps and entrance kerbs to negotiate. The temples at Angkor are particularly difficult, with steps up most entrance pavilions and the central sanctuaries. However, you can hire a helper cheaply at $15–20 a day, and locals will do all they can too, but in any case you don’t need to reach every nook and cranny to find visiting a temple hugely rewarding.
The Cambodians are respectful to and protective of women, so travelling around the country shouldn’t pose any problems for foreign women. All the same, it’s as well to dress modestly and to avoid over-familiarity, which can be misconstrued, particularly after men have had a few beers. If someone does overstep the mark, a firm “no” will normally suffice to ward them off. A good ruse used by Khmer women is to subtly put yourself in a position of superiority, by referring to yourself as the older sister (bpong serey) or aunt (ming) or by addressing the man as nephew (kmaoy bprohs). If this doesn’t work, then kick up a huge fuss so that everyone in the vicinity knows that you’re being harassed, which should shame the man into backing off.