After some visits to Asia, this was the one place that I was missing from my bucket list, and it had been there for a long time. When I hear about Cambodia many words come to my mind: Angkor Wat, Khmer empire, Khmer rouge, and the killing fields. Some of them refer to the past that the country is trying to leave behind but it is still in the minds of older and newer generations.
Visa to Cambodia
The Visa is quite a simple process. In general, these are two options:
- Stamped Visa: Get your Visa stamped in the closest Royal Embassy of Cambodia before traveling. Make sure there is one on your city, otherwise there will be passport shipping fees and processing times involved.
- Visa on arrival: The best and easiest way to get into the country. Once you arrive in Cambodia, get the visa stamped on the customs area after filling some documents, for reference, my 2015 application for a 30 day Visa had a fee of 37 USD. Visa on arrival is available for most of the countries, in general, Australian, US, European, and South American passports can apply for it.
Tuk tuks are everywhere in the cities and it is the most common mean of transport. Remember to negotiate the fare before taking one. Taxis are also available which could have the advantage of the air con (in a humid country it is a big advantage). Between cities, there are buses running every day at low fares, but remember that you always get what you pay for. Unfortunately, there is no train service in Cambodia between cities.
This varies from place to place. From the two places that I visited, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh the difference was huge. Phnom Penh is the capital, it is a big and busy city. Since I arrived there I was warned about bag snatchers and I was prompted to keep my bag in my arms. Tuk tuks are covered with steel mesh to avoid robbers grabbing things easily. It is not smart to go around some areas by yourself, and it is better to be aware of your surroundings.
On the other hand, Siem Reap had a completely different vibe, tuk-tuks are not protected with meshes, and although you are advised to be safety smart, overall it is safe to walk around.
One thing to understand is that Cambodia is a country with high rates of poverty, where big part of the population lives with 1 USD per day. Tourism is increasing, and the tourists are the best opportunity for many to make a living. For those who are hard hagglers, remember that those 50 cents you save might make the difference for the counterpart.
Although the local currency is the Cambodian Riel, the US Dollar is more commonly used, so there is no need to change your USD cash. If you are carrying Euros or Dollarydoos, the airports and hotels have lower rates. Instead of this, I would recommend taking money from the local ATM’s that also have USD. A few cards around do not charge ATM fees (such as the City bank plus debit card) so it would make things a lot easier.
I didn’t see as many scams as I saw in Vietnam, but there are schemes that will appeal to your good will as a tourist to do what seem to be the right thing. Many kids are used for selling stuff or beg on the street, appealing to the good heart of western tourists who want to help them, but tout au contraire, by giving them money all you are doing is keeping up the begging cycle and ensuring that kids will be in the business instead of going to school. There are some other more elaborate schemes to get money from tourists in a less direct way, like when a mother with a baby approached me saying that “her child” needed baby formula. She said she didn’t need any money from me, just for me to go with her to buy the baby’s formula from a store. It sounded fishy so I declined, later I learned that if you go to buy it with her, it will be to a store of her choice that is part of the scam. The formula will be extremely expensive, but in your mind you will be paying food which makes you feel better, but at the end you will be giving much more money than to a beggar, and voila, you have been scammed.
This is nowadays a common and well-known term relating to those who want to contribute to the place they visit. Nowadays there are tons of so called not for profit orphanages that receive homeless kids and prompt tourists to go there for a short period, pay to volunteer and help kids. Thanks to it the place can keep operating and the kids will have a place to live and eat. Up to here it sounds like a good deed, but it comes with a catch; most of the kids in this places are not really orphans! But the business is so good that they can pay off families to have the kids, damaging the children and enabling exploitation. Besides, these places will receive anyone to volunteer, regardless of their experience and without any background checks, which might endanger the kids. So the advice is if you are going to volunteer, do your research about the organization. The rule of thumb is: if you are allowed to volunteer for a very short time (a week?), it has high fees, and no background checks required, most likely you will be another voluntourist.
Food and accommodation
For accommodation, there are plenty of options for all budgets. From the 10 US cheap hostel to high-end hotels, where 5-star hotels are very affordable, but at the end, it all depends on the budget.
Cambodian food is amazing, from the local dishes I particularly enjoyed the fish amok which is a traditional Cambodian seafood curry.
Like most of the southeast Asia, haggling is common and usually the first price given is the starting point of the negotiation but bear in mind that you don’t have to go to the extreme. If the price seems fair just pay for it. Like the Tuk tuk drivers need to pay the daily rent of the vehicles, and getting clients can be pretty challenging during low season.
Tipping, although not compulsory, is usually expected. Workers in hospitality sector will be trying to keep you happy in order to earn that tip. But as I always say, tipping is a recognition of good service.
Cambodians, in general, are well hearted and extremely welcoming people.
Currency: Cambodian Riel and USD