Cambodia is located in the South Western part of the Indo China Peninsula, and has a land mass of just over 18,000 sq km and a coastline of 435kms. It shares its borders with Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. You can still find impenetrable jungles along with temples abandoned long ago, mountain ranges, the Mekong River plus the vast Tonle Sap Lake. There are also beautiful white sandy beaches on the South West coast.
GMT +7 hours
Currency: Cambodian Riel. (US Dollars are widely accepted)
Cambodia has a population of approx. 10 million, with about 95% being Khmer ethnic. 10% of the population live in Phnom Penh. Despite its recent troubled past the Cambodian people are always very welcoming with a warm smile to greet you. 95% of the population are Buddhist.
Tonle Sap Lake is the largest fresh water lake in South East Asia and was designated a UNESCO biosphere in 1997. Most of the year it is fairly small with an area of approx. 2700 sq km and a metre deep. By mid-June the sheer volume of water fed into it from the Mekong and Bassak rivers which have been fed from the monsoon rains swells it to over 16,000 sq kms and 9 metres deep, this is when it changes its direction of flow as it cannot handle any more water. This is the only lake in the world where this happens! At this time the surrounding forests are flooded and create a perfect breeding ground for fish.
When to go – If intending to travel overland the best time to go is in the dry season as the mud roads in the countryside can be very difficult to negotiate and are almost impossible to pass after it has been raining. However, this is when the country is at its most beautiful showing off all its greenery against dramatic skies – also the temples and places of interest will be a lot less crowded. Rainy season runs from about mid-June to early October. Temperature will be about 24c, and rain comes more in the form of heavy showers. The dry season runs from October to April with
temperatures ranging from 25c to 30c. April and May are very hot reaching temperatures of 40c!
Beaches – the best time for the beach is October to June. Sihanoukville and Kep are the main beach areas with good standard hotels and lovely beaches. A great way to relax after touring around Cambodia.
Getting there – no direct flights from the UK. There are numerous options with most of the major Asian carriers via their own hubs. The one I used was with Thai International via Bangkok then onto Phnom Penh. Flight time to Bangkok is approx. 12 hours then a further 1 hour 10 mins.
Passports should have at least 6 months validity after you have returned from your trip. A visa is available on arrival at a cost of about 35usd for a 1 month visa. You will require 2 passport photos and cash in USD to pay.
Most large hotels and restaurants accept credit cards as payment but be aware that you will be charged a 2% commission. In the larger cities you should be able to use a debit card, although check before you go though as things change constantly. USD are widely accepted. Tipping is rare but appreciated, 5 to 10% would be appreciated.
Cambodia is 7 hours ahead of the UK.
For health requirements please see your GP or practice nurse for the most up to date information. You should do this at least 6 weeks before travel.
Language is Khmer, although English is widely spoken as well.
Electricity is 230v 50 Hz, usually 2 pin round but some are 3 pin square – probably better to take an adaptor just in case.
What to wear – casual wear – lightweight loose fitting cotton for the dry season, long sleeved tops and trousers if hiking plus a hat and sunglasses. Rainy season – light rain coat – ponchos are
available to buy locally and they are really cheap as well. You may need a light jacket for Dec and Jan when the evenings can be a bit cooler. Shorts and T-shirts are acceptable for outdoor temple visits i.e. Angkor. If visiting a Pagoda you will need to remove hats and shoes. The Silver Pagoda in the grounds of the Royal Palace requires you to wear long trousers for men and long trousers or a long skirt for ladies and shoulders must be covered.
Food – Khmer food is closely related to Thailand and to a lesser extent Vietnam. It is like Thai but without being too spicy. Curries, seafood, rice, noodles and soup are the basic staples. Prahok – strong fermented fish paste used in a variety of dishes, Cambodians swear by it and use it in everything! Rice is of course a staple dish for the whole country and is consumed daily with all meals. There are literally hundreds of varieties of Khmer rice from fragrant jasmine to countless wild types, brown and sticky. Sticky rice is used more for desserts served with slices of tropical fruit such as mango and coconut milk…delicious. Look out for street stalls selling flattened battered bananas – fabulous and very moreish!
Bugs – you will come across vendors pushing their carts piled high with deep fried crunchy bugs – look out for the fried tarantulas – before you ask, no I didn’t!!
A typical meal consists of soup/salad/fish dish/veg and rice. Fresh fruit are found everywhere. There are numerous types of banana, coconut, rambutan, mango, pineapples, mangosteen, dragon fruit and durian – although the last one might not be to everyone’s taste or smell!
Vegetarians are usually catered well for in the larger cities, but may struggle a bit in more remote areas – this is where a good English speaking guide comes in handy!
Beer and lager are widely available. Cocktails and wine more so in the hotels.
The other thing you will come across in most towns and cities is lovely French bread, a legacy left over from the French. Cambodians eat more bread than any other Asian country.
Hotels are of a good standard – they range from 2* budget options to 4/5* luxury. Look out for the lovely family run boutique hotels with only 6/7 rooms.
There are various ways to see this charming country, either by an organised tour ranging from 6 days up to 21 days. It depends on how much time you want to spend exploring Angkor, or visiting Phnom Penh and Tonle Sap Lake. The countryside is stunning and the beaches are wonderful. I think a two week trip is ideal. This gives you time to really understand the culture of the Cambodian people and observe their way of life especially on the Tonle Sap Lake.
The rainy season is from June to October with temperatures of 24 degrees on average. The dry season (October until April), temperatures can reach 30 degrees. In April and May temperatures are very high in the region of 40 degrees.
No visit to Cambodia is complete without a visit to Angkor Archaeological Park, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. Within the grounds of this vast area there are no less than 50 Buddhist and Hindu Temples dating back to the 12th century and, of course, there’s the magnificent Angkor Wat. If you have time to travel further afield there are numerous other sites which are even older than Angkor including the Ta Prohm, famous as a setting in Tomb Raider.
The capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is definitely worth a visit. The Khmer Performing Arts Association and Apsara Dance Association regularly stage classical performances.
There are stunning beaches at Sihanoukville to help you relax after a tour of the country’s archaeological sites. It has an unspoiled coast line that has yet to be developed.