Cambodia is a country full of contrasts, from its dark past to the kind and bright people you’ll meet along your travels. While most people come here to hit up the tourist hotspot of Angkor Wat, you’ll soon find that this is a country full of unique things to see and do. As with any new destination, there’s certain things you need to know before travelling to Cambodia.
From transport options to supporting the local economy and culture, here’s our top travel tips for Cambodia.
Things to Know Before Travelling to Cambodia
1. Cambodia Has A Turbulent History
During the four years of the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975-1979, around 2 million people were killed. That’s one-fifth of the population. Because of the genocide that took place, up to 63% of Cambodia’s population is under the age of 30. When travelling through this country be sure to educate yourself about its past, by visiting sites such as Tuol Sleng.
2. Drivers Might Not Know Where They’re Going
Tuk Tuk drivers might have a basic knowledge of where they’re going in the city centre, don’t assume that they will know a specific address. Most local drivers have poor literacy levels and can’t speak much English, yet in order not to lose face (a key aspect of Cambodian culture) they will nod and say yes, they know where to go! Our tip? Have Google maps open on your phone and help direct.
3. You’ll Pay In US $ But Often Receive Cambodia Riel
Cambodian currency is the riel, but generally American dollars is the go-to. Cambodian riel is usually only used for small purchases or you might receive any change from a sale or meal in riel. Take care not to accept any worn or torn notes and keep your notes crisp, otherwise they won’t be accepted by anyone.
4. Always Add On Extra Travel Time!
If your bus schedule says the journey will take three hours, you can usually expect it to take at least four or five. The roads in Cambodia are still quite bad, so during rainy season especially there can be a lot of diversions and delays. Drivers will also often make extra stops to deliver packages or pick up at unscheduled stops.
5. Respect Local Customs and Buddhist Culture
In general, this is a Buddhist country, so Cambodians are modest and gentle people. Remember this wherever you go and dress appropriately, especially if entering a temple. Don’t get angry or raise your voice, as this won’t solve anything – just making any issues potentially a lot worse.
6. Be Aware of the Country’s Litter Problems
When travelling to Cambodia, we suggest you bring reusable water bottles and eating utensils. The country’s waste problems means you’ll see large piles of rubbish and plastic everywhere, so don’t contribute to any unnecessary waste. A new project, Refill Not Landfill, is trying to help by building water refill spots across Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
7. Don’t Give Money or Gifts to Children
You’ll more than likely be touched by the difficult living conditions of children from the local communities here and want to help. But, despite your good intentions, your behaviour can often have a negative impact upon those children’s lives. When you give money, food or gifts to begging children, you encourage them to continue begging, which prevents them from going to school and locks them into a cycle of poverty.
See other tips for travellers here on how best to support children during your travels.