Cambodia is still recovering from the Khmer Rouge and it clearly still has a lot of issues (including widespread corruption; don't be surprised if you have to bribe the police at some point) but the people are great and it has lots to offer. The fact I stayed for the maximum 30 days during my first stay and then returned for a second month, says something.
You'll meet a lot of French people in Cambodia (they used to rule the country). This is especially true in the quieter places such as Battambang and Kampot. I didn't know this was going to be the case until I was on the plane from Thailand and about 80% of the passengers were French. It's nice to hear their accents and practise my French.
I spent 2 months in Cambodia in late 2014 and early 2017.
*This guide is based on my budget and the research I've done. I'm not suggesting the hotels are the best, I only need simple guesthouses. There are much nicer hotels available and there are also cheap dorms (though not everywhere).
You can either get your visa beforehand or on arrival. I find it easier to get on arrival as it's very straight forward. The price seems to vary but it's usually about $30 USD. Make sure you have enough dollars. Expect to pay $5 bribe at boarder crossings, although I've heard it sometimes is as high as $30 - arguing doesn't seem to get you anywhere (literally).
There's a dual currency. Both the US Dollar and the Cambodian Riel are used everywhere. I didn't see a single place that only accepted one. In the majority of cases, dollars are used with riel being used for everything below a dollar (in the place of US coins, basically). There are 4000 riel to the dollar so if something costs $5.50, you'd usually pay $5 and 2000 riel. I always got USD from ATMs.
While on the subject of ATMs, there are lots of them and they almost always charge a fee of around $5 per transaction although there was a Canadia Bank in Kampot which used to offer free withdrawals but I think that's stopped now.
I was surprised to find that a lot of things are more expensive than I expected (and compared to Thailand) but other things are nice and cheap. Angkor Draught beer is $0.50 for a glass (not a pint) in a lot of bars. Although in remote tourist places (like the islands), the prices rocket as you'd expect.
Most private double rooms with bathroom and A/C were $15 although you can sometimes get them down. Fan rooms go for around $8. Obviously most of these rooms were pretty basic. Other than my first few nights in Phnom Penh, I don't think I ever paid over $15. Where possible I shared with a friend to halve that. I try not to stay in dorms as I value my sleep, privacy and valuables too much...
Tuk tuk drivers will quote a price at least double what you should be paying. I started off by asking other locals, including the staff at my accommodation, what I should be paying for various trips, but it turns out they say high prices too! Be strong and don't overpay otherwise Cambodia can quickly become expensive. I found that haggling with street vendors and market stalls a lot more difficult. A lot of them would rather not sell to you than drop their price.
You'll hear the language and people called Khmer, said both 'ke-mear' (rhyming with bear) and 'ka-mai' (rhyming with bye). Most people who had been living in Cambodia a long time used the latter but then some Cambodians used the former (perhaps because they were speaking to a foreigner).
It was very rare that any locals would speak even basic Khmer to me, unlike in Thailand. Saying thank you, is obviously the main one that you should use, but here's a few:
- Hello (informal) = Sues-Day
- Hello (formal, said with hands together) = Choom reab sua
- Goodbye (informal) = Lea Heuy
- Goodbye (formal) = Choom reab lea
- Thank you = aw-koon
- Thank you very much = aw-koon ch'ran
- Check/bill, please = Som Kit Luy
- Sorry = somtoh
- No = Awt Tay
- Yes = baht
There are 2 main dishes famous in Cambodia amongst foreigners. Amok, a delicious and surprisingly complex fish coconut curry served in a banana leaf. Lok Lak is a beef stir-fry dish. Both are great but I found little else to really excite me during my first visit to Cambodia, other than the amazing Kampot pepper and Kep crab (see my Cambodia food guide for more information). I tried to seek out more dishes and be adventurous (including eating tarantulas and red ants) but I found it a bit limited compared to Thai food. I ate Amok loads though, it's great!
Then during my second visit to Cambodia I discovered that there's plenty of authentic Khmer cuisine hidden in plain sight away from the tourist restaurants. Going to a local market and sitting down at a food stall with locals is a great way to try things like Banh Chao (very similar to Vietnamese banh xeo) and banh sung (similar to Vietnamese bun thit nuong). There are also plenty of delicious snacks like Num Ansom Chek (sticky rice filled with banana).
It's worth going to a market and trying lots of the local fruit. You might have seen them all before in other Asian countries but you should get it really cheap in the markets. One of my favourites was rambutan (similar to lychee). I'd buy a whole bunch and just sit there eating them like I was jobless and had nothing better to do!
Local draught beer (Ankor Draught) tends to be $0.50 - $1 when you can get it. On the islands it's generally more expensive.
- Water festival: A 3-day festival all over the country (but mainly in Phnom Penh).