Cambodia is a small country with a long and turbulent history; however, it has much to offer. For man-made attractions look no further than the magnificent World Heritage-listed ruins of Angkor Wat or for natural beauty head to Tonle Sap Lake. Situated right in the middle of the country, Tonle changes dramatically in size with the seasons and is a rich fishing ground. Another highlight of this fascinating country are its people—friendly and proud, they look forward to welcoming you to their land.
Small Group Tours
These two countries are filled with intriguing cultures, friendly people and fascinating histories.
Discover the essence of Indochina on an in depth journey through Vietnam and Cambodia.
Cambodia Facts & Tips
Did you know?
- Breeding crocodiles in backyards became a popular way for Cambodians to earn extra income in the ‘90s. The skins were fashioned into handbags, shoes and belts. In addition, crocodile curry and sour croc soup are Cambodian specialties. Overbreeding, however, has since lowered the demand.
- Cambodia is home to the world’s rarest cow, the Kouprey. Researchers fear there may be fewer than 10 such animals still remaining.
- Anyone planning to visit Cambodia should consider first seeing the films The Killing Fields and Swimming to Cambodia.
- The Khmer Rouge regime (1975-79) forced nearly all urban residents into rural areas to live as peasants. Literally millions died during this period and even today few urban areas have populations equal to those of the 1970 census. Particularly striking in Cambodia is the lack of men over the age of 50.
- The best time to photograph Cambodia’s temples is in the morning. Temples face east, except for Angkor Wat, which faces west.
- If you tune in to the government radio station in Cambodia, you may hear songs written by Prime Minister Hun Sen. He has written more than 100 songs, which are subsequently set to music by one of his aides. The songs are so ubiquitous on the radio that no one seems to buy the cassettes Hun Sen also produces.
- When Cambodia’s former King Sihanouk pardoned many Khmer Rouge members as part of a peace deal, he realised they were not the only group deserving clemency. King Sihanouk also pardoned nearly 2,000 inmates in Cambodia’s prisons, on the theory that if the Khmer Rouge could be forgiven, so could the rest of Cambodia’s criminals. Only those inmates charged with very serious crimes or who were believed especially dangerous were kept behind bars.
- Planting rice may look like backbreaking work, but the job involves a lot more skill than strength. The rice plants are softer than the mud and pushing the roots into the ground to the right depth takes a lot of practice.
Visas & Passports
Australian passport holders travelling to Cambodia need a visa at this time. An eVisa must be applied for before you travel online at: https://www.evisa.gov.kh/
We require that your passport is valid for travel for at least six months from the date you are planning to return to Australia. Your passport must be valid to travel internationally and must be machine-readable. You also need to carry a valid return ticket on you.
Whether travelling on an Australian passport or the passport of another country, all travellers require visas for a number of countries, and it is your responsibility to secure what may be required before departing Australia. You can consult with your travel agent, but it is also recommended that you check the foreign embassy website for your respective destination as it can also provide you with useful information.
Australian Embassy in Cambodia:
16B National Assembly Street
Sangkat Tonle Bassac
Ph. +855 0 23 213 470
Fax. +855 0 23 213 413
The recommended currency to take to Cambodia is USD. Once in each country you will be able to change some dollars into the local currency. Ensure you change a small amount into small denominations.
Advise your bank of your travel plans so that they can make a note of it. Otherwise they may cancel your credit card as a safety measure due to the overseas transactions. Also make a note of the 24-hour emergency contact number of the bank or building society which issued your credit card in the unlikely event that your card is lost or stolen.
Whenever possible use ATMs when the banks are open (Mon – Fri) so that if a machine ‘eats’ your card you can then deal with it straight away. It is always advisable to carry a supply of cash in addition to your credit card. Be sure to retrieve your credit/debit card before walking away from the ATM as cash is often dispensed before the card.
We advise that you exchange some money into the local currency at the airport even if the exchange rate is not the best, this way you’ll have money to get a drink, snack or give a tip during those first few hours of arrival. Your guide will be able to advise you on where the best places are to exchange money.
The Cambodian Riel (KHR; symbol CR), is the official currency of Cambodia. Notes are in denominations of 100,000, 50,000, 20,000, 15,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000, 1000, 500, 100 and 50.
- The price of a cappuccino in Phnom Penh is approximately 3USD.
- The price of an inexpensive lunch is approximately 3USD.
- The price of dinner in a moderately-priced restaurant is approximately 11USD.
- The price of a beer in a local pub is approximately 1USD.
Cambodian food is similar to Thai cuisine, but without the heavy use of fiery chillies—a pleasant surprise to Western visitors unaccustomed to the traditional food of the region. There’s a wide variety of rice-based chicken, fish and pork dishes with tropical fruit and vegetables, as well as some noodle dishes featuring the same ingredients. Try soon bok yue (elephant fish). Another classic dish is chhnang dei (clay pot), which is a combination of meat and vegetables cooked in a clay pot at your table.
You'll find good coffee, baguettes and imported wine throughout the country, attesting to its French colonial past. Angkor is the local beer, though many imports are also available. Coriander, mint and lemongrass herbs are used widely. Other cuisines found are Chinese, Thai, Indian and Western dishes. French bread (num pang) can be found in markets and bakeries.
Food from street vendors in Cambodia should be chosen with care, whereas eating at local restaurants is generally fine and can be a great, fun experience. Choose restaurants that are busy as the turnover of food is likely to be higher. Take care with seafood and avoid undercooked meat. Only eat fruit that you have peeled yourself and give salads a miss. Water should be drunk from bottles only; however, please ensure that bottle top seals are not broken. Soft drinks and alcohol are not a problem, but ice should be avoided.
Important: When dining at buffets (i.e. breakfast) please refrain from taking food away with you to ‘save’ for later! If you feel that you’ll need snacks between meals, pack some dried fruit, nuts, muesli bars etc.
If you have specific food allergies and/or preferences, we highly recommend you take every precaution before your tour, including carrying a small card with your food allergy listed in each language of every country you are travelling to show to table staff when ordering. Whilst we take all dietary requirements seriously, due to the serious nature of potential allergic reactions, it is your responsibility to be as prepared as possible.
Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate. The monsoon season runs from May to November. The best weather is the dry season, from November/December to April. In the north, winters can be colder, while throughout most of the country temperatures remain fairly constant. There is often seasonal flooding in Phnom Penh and the rest of Cambodia in late July and early August.
Want to get out and explore on your own?
The best way to travel small distances around Cambodia is by tuk tuk. These small vehicles are abundant and there is never a shortage of being able to quickly jump into one. Ensure you have small change and set your price before accepting the ride. Alternatively, in Siem Reap, if you are staying on Airport Road (the main strip where hotels are located), then it is only a short walk to the bars, restaurants and night market.
When catching taxis, make sure you have small change on you and choose one with a meter, if it doesn’t have one then negotiate the price before getting in. We recommend you ask your guide or hotel staff the names of reputable taxi companies.
So, you’d love to bring home a special souvenir from Cambodia…
Good souvenirs include temple rubbings, replicas of Angkor’s bas-reliefs and sculptures, wood carvings, stone carvings, Cambodian music and traditional musical instruments. Those who know what they’re looking for may want to buy precious stones. But perhaps the best buy in Cambodia is silk. Much is still hand-woven and coloured with natural dyes (the inexpensive stuff is machine made and chemically coloured). To get naturally dyed silk, ask for leak tomuhjeat. Untailored bolts of cloth are available, but if you want something wearable, look for a krama, the traditional peasant scarf still worn throughout the country. Bargaining is generally the rule.
- Observe the “No Touch” signs at Angkor Wat. Many tourists ignore them, and some of the temples are starting to feel the stress of too many human hands.
- Request permission to photograph Cambodians, particularly monks. The hill tribes in their colourful dress are almost always willing, if asked.
- Please remove your shoes before entering Buddhist pagodas.
- Exercise extreme caution when crossing the road. Don't hesitate or stop, and the cycles, buffalo carts and trucks will make way for you. Trucks and buses are least likely to yield to pedestrians.
- Be prepared for the number of amputees in Cambodia. Land mines have taken a terrible toll on Cambodians, who have one of the highest per capita rates of amputation in the world.
- Avoid touching the heads of Cambodians (not even children), and don’t sit so that the bottoms of your feet point at anyone, including images of Buddha. Also, aside from the ground, don’t touch anything with your feet. The feet are considered the dirtiest part of the body. Women, more so than men, should avoid touching monks.
- In Cambodia, it is important to respect local cultural manners. Showing too much emotion or losing your temper will not assist you with problems or delays.
- When visiting a temple or a private house, wear appropriate clothing and take your shoes off.
- Be prepared for lots of children hawking cheap souvenirs around Angkor Wat and other historic sites. The children are actually very knowledgeable about foreign cultures and many of them can speak some English, Dutch, German and French.
Celebrations & Public Holidays
Khmer New Year is one of the biggest festivals in Cambodia during which Cambodians with Khmer roots stop working for a whole 3 days and return to their homes to celebrate the end of the traditional harvest season. It is a time when the farmers, who have toiled the whole year on their farms, take some leisurely time off. The Khmer community celebrates this day by uniting with their family members and performing purification ceremonies, visiting temples, and having fun playing traditional games.
The Pchum Ben Festival is a national holiday which was established for Buddhists to pay their respects to deceased relatives by cooking meals for monks and making offerings to the "ghost" of deceased relatives. It is also known as "Ancestor's Day" or the “Hungry Ghosts Festival”.
Other national public holidays to be aware of include:
- New Year’s Day
- Victory Over Genocide Day (January 7th)
- Khmer New Year Day (April)
- Labour Day (May 1st)
- King’s Birthday (May 14th)
- Constitutional Day (September 24th)
- Pchum Ben Festival (3 days in September/October)
- Independence Day (November 9th)
- Water Festival Ceremony (3 days in November)
This is where travellers stay when visiting Angkor Wat, just 8 kilometres away. It has been rapidly building a tourism infrastructure to cater to the demands of Western travellers. After a morning spent temple-hopping, explore the Old Market in the French colonial centre of town for local handicrafts—Cambodian silk, wooden musical instruments, wall hangings, shadow puppets and wood and stone carvings. Take time out to rest at one of the French-style, open cafes and people-watch. Most restaurants serve a mix of French, Thai and Cambodian cuisine while others offer formal French dining. In addition to being a base for Angkor Wat, Siem Reap is only a 30-minute drive from Tonle Sap—Cambodia’s (and Southeast Asia’s) largest lake. A half-day excursion out onto the water offers a refreshing change from the heat of the temples. Photo by anastasiapelikh.
Temples of Angkor
The temples of Angkor, built by the Khmer civilization between 802 AD and 1220 AD, represent one of humankind’s most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements. From Angkor, the Khmer kings ruled over a vast domain that spread to Vietnam, China and the Bay of Bengal. The structures that remain today - more than 100 stone temples in all - are all that survives what once was a grand religious, social and administrative metropolis. During the half-millennia of Khmer occupation, the city of Angkor became an important pilgrimage destination throughout Southeastern Asia. After Thailand had ransacked Angkor in 1431 it was quickly abandoned in 1432. Then, in 1860 the French explorer, Henri Mouhot, brought Angkor to the world’s attention and in 1908 began an extensive restoration program that continues today. Photo by Priscilla Aster.
Tonle Sap Lake
Also known as Grand Lac, this is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. It provides much of Cambodia’s food and it is estimated that over 3 million people live around the shores of the lake in 5 different provinces. The lake supports more than half of the seafood eaten by Cambodians. The lake’s depth reaches over 13 metres during the monsoon, but during the dry season, it becomes so shallow that rice is grown in the lake bed. Be prepared that during the dry season, the lake can become quite smelly. Photo by Simone Gilioli.
Situated at the confluence of three rivers—the Mekong, the Bassac and the Tonle Sap—Phnom Penh was once considered the Gem of Indochina. Then, of course, came war, the Khmer Rouge and decades of darkness. As tourists began flocking to Siem Reap for the glorious Angkor Wat temples during the late 1990’s, Phnom Penh was merely a stopover along the way. This is now changing. With its tree-lined boulevards, French colonial architecture and important national museums, Phnom Penh is coming into its own, albeit with a slower pace and more provincial charm than most other Asian capitals. Photo by by Aleksandar Todorovic.
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