Heading to Cambodia? We share these Cambodian tips for first-time visitors, so you can plan the perfect trip.
Cambodia has a lot to offer visitors, from incredible temples to amazing food along with a dark past. It is also a cheap destination to explore, making it ideal for backpackers and first-time travelers in South East Asia. We share these basic tips so you can plan a trip and enjoy this fantastic country and everything it has to offer.
Best time to visit Cambodia
You can visit Siem Reap all year round and expect warm weather but our favorite time to visit is December to February when the weather is warm but not too hot and you have plenty of dry days. November to March is the dry season so any time between these months is best whilst April is incredibly hot; sometimes reaching 40°C. August to October sees more rain than other months but rain doesn’t tend to last too long.
Cambodian Riel is the official currency but most places accept US dollars. The exchange rate to Cambodian Riel is pretty poor so it is perhaps best to stick with the dollar.
Khmer is the official language of Cambodia however you’ll be able to get by easily in the cities and tourist areas of Cambodia where English is more commonly used and understood.
The Cambodian tourist visa
A 30-day tourist visa is required for all visitors. Visas are available on arrival for $30 however if you are entering the country across a border (for example, from Bangkok), obtaining a Visa can be difficult. There are lots of local shops that will charge you more for a “quicker” visa.
To save frustration, you can also opt to apply and obtain your visa beforehand – the e-visa is available online and takes just three days to process.
Safety in Cambodia
The Khmer people are welcoming and friendly, we found the people we interacted with in Cambodia to be some of the warmest and most helpful people we met during our South East Asia travels.
As with all large cities, keep your belongings close to you and hold your bags tightly when moving through crowded areas or when riding a tuk-tuk. The borders between Thailand and Cambodia have a reputation for bag snatching so keep an eye out.
Additionally, if you are visiting rural areas of Cambodia, stay with your guide and don’t wander off. Cambodia is home to unexploded mines still, so whilst not common, it is best to stick with your guide and don’t walk through jungles by yourself.
As for all trips, travel insurance is a must. There are some fun activities to enjoy whilst in Cambodia and you will want to do them, safe in the knowledge that you are insured should anything go wrong.
Getting around Cambodia
There are various ways to get around the cities of Cambodia and to and from the different cities and towns across the country. Getting from Siem Reap airport to the city centre is easy and staying central means you can walk to most bars and restaurants.
Within your destination, you can catch a tuk-tuk to anywhere in the city – check with your hotel or hostel if they can help with organizing a tuk-tuk. Often the accommodation includes free tuk-tuk rides or they will know of a good driver for you. Most trips around a town will cost $2-$4 and you can arrange a tuk-tuk driver to take you around a whole city or tourist site for the day. We had a driver take us to the Angkor Wat ruins in one day for just $10.
If you wish to travel across the region, use the bus network. There are hundreds of tourist buses to take you from one city to another in Cambodia. You can even catch a night bus that comes complete with Karaoke. You don’t need to book these in advance, just have a look at the tour companies or speak with your hotel and book your sear for a bus a day or two in advance.
Flights are available if you are short on time but they will need to be booked in advance.
Cambodia can get hot. We advise you to get up early and see the sights you want, then avoid being outside during the hottest part of the day. Wear plenty of sunscreens, drink lots of water and wear relaxed, loose clothing.
Who doesn’t want to wear cool hippy pants when traveling to Asia?
As with most temples in the world, you will need to dress appropriately when visiting temples. Legs and shoulders should be covered, there are some temples that won’t allow you entry if you are not dressed respectfully.
Cambodia on a budget
We massively underestimated how cheap Cambodia would be but it really is one of the cheapest places in Asia. Hostel dorms and family-run guest houses are as cheap as $3 whilst comfortable private rooms can be found for $12+. We stayed in a gorgeous little hotel in Siem Reap complete with pool, restaurant and in the heart of the city; costing just $40.
Local street food dishes cost around $2 or $3 – $10 per head in a restaurant. Western meals in the Pub Street District cost around $10 – $15 per person. I enjoyed cocktaisl for just $2.50 in most places around the district whilst local beer can be found for as little as $0.50!
When we visited Cambodia, we had a time limit. We had three months to see as much of South East Asia and China as before returning to England. I booked everything in advance and regretted it.
If you have the luxury of time, Cambodia isn’t a place that you need to book in advance. Hostels and hotels are aplenty and transport between the cities and towns can be booked on the day. Choose a starting location and enjoy, move along when you want to, and don’t over plan your visit.
Best places to visit in Cambodia
There are some incredible places to visit in Cambodia, it can be hard to know where to prioritize.
Siem Reap & Angkor Wat – You can’t visit Cambodia without visiting the incredible Angkor Wat ruins. Spend a few nights in Siem Reap so you have plenty of time to visit the temple complex, enjoy the variety of food on offer and explore the local markets.
Kampot – For a laidback, river town, head to Kampot. You can enjoy the little shops and experience real Cambodian charm in this adorable town. Make sure to head out to the rice fields and visit Boker Hill Station.
Phnom Penh – The capital is a chaotic city full of motorbikes and car horns. It can certainly be a lot but we recommend spending at least 3 nights in Phnom Penh. The city was deserted during the Khmer Rouge and you can learn about the dark history of the Khmer Rouge during your time here. Head to the National Museum, visit the gorgeous Royal Palace, explore the Tuol Sleng Museum and head out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.
Battambang – If you are looking for rice fields and countryside villages then head to the northwest city of Battambang. There are plenty of temples to discover here as well as the Bamboo Trains one-line rail track with carriages made of wood and bamboo.
Koh Rong Samloem – This beautiful island can be found just off the south coast of Cambodia, offering gorgeous beaches and a developing tourist hub. Try scuba diving here and make sure to spend time in one of the gorgeous resorts along the beaches.