But what are the things to know before visiting Cambodia?
You will need a visa to enter Cambodia. You can apply for one prior to your trip or if you are crossing a border, you can simply get one there on the spot. A tourist visa costs $30US per person and the allowed length of stay is 30 days.
Your passport will need to be valid for at least 6 months from the expiry date and has a blank page available for the stamps. For a visa at the border (as with most countries), you’ll also need to provide a passport-sized photo and the exact payment in US dollars and make sure the notes are in pristine condition as they can be picky and refuse torn well-worn notes.
2.) Learn some basic Khmer
Khmer is the official language of Cambodia but you’ll find that the majority of people know English well enough to communicate with tourists. However, it’s always nice to give the local language a go, isn’t it?
Hello – Chom Reap Sour – joohm ree-up soo-a
Goodbye – Chom Reap Lear – joohm ree-up lea
Yes – Bah (male), Jah (female) – Bah, Chaa
No – Ot Teh – ot-tei
Please – Suom – Suom
Thank you – Arkun – Ar-koon
Excuse me – Som Dtoh – som-toe
3.) Dress Appropriately
Buddhism is the official religion in Cambodia, practiced by 95% of the population so typically the locals are dressed conservatively. As tourists, we should respect the culture in Cambodia and also dress appropriately. So girls, cover the bikini tops and guys, no toplessness!
It gets bloomin’ hot in Cambodia so to stay modest but also refrain from fainting, think flowy, loose clothing. In particular, it’s important to cover your knees and shoulders when entering a religious structure.
The Cambodian currency is Riel but US dollars is the alpha. Riel is generally only used for small transactions so anything less than $1US really. $1 is typically equal to 4,000 Riel.
Therefore in preparation for your time in Cambodia, make sure you have plenty of dollars in comparison to Riel. Local ATMs will typically give you dollars or give you a choice of dollars or Riel, go for the dollar!
When receiving change, you’ll never be handed coins. You’ll receive your change in dollar notes, Riel notes or a combination of both.
5.) Visit the Angkor Temples at Sunrise
For many people, the Angkor Temples are the main reason for visiting Cambodia and they are definitely a must. For many people, a 4am wake-up call is also a must so they can arrive at the Angkor Temples for sunrise. Be prepared because it can be quite the shock riding in a tuk-tuk at 4.30am while you’re eyes are still half closed, it’s freezing and you’re holding on for dear life.
The heat in Siem Reap can be unbearable so you want to explore the temples as early as you can before the heat gets too much and you have to bail and return to the hotel.
4.30 is sickeningly early but don’t expect to be the only one going for sunrise because it’s the time many other travellers opt for. Therefore, it’s pretty busy especially at Angkor Wat as everyone wants to capture the insta-famous photo of the sun rising behind the temple but it’s better than dealing with the midday heat.
You can explore the temples on your own but we recommend hiring a tuk-tuk or car driver. We arranged ours with our hotel. The hotel staff will definitely be used to organising trips to the Angkor Temples so don’t hesitate to ask. You can read about prices here.
6.) A Bit of History
From 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge under the leadership of Pol Pot, ruled Cambodia. They moved people from the cities to the countryside with the intention to make Cambodia a rural and classless society. The Khmer Rouge put an end to the use of money, free markets, religious practices, schooling and private property. Under the Khmer Rouge regime, 2 million people died by execution, starvation, disease or exhaustion.
7.) Don’t Buy From or Give To Children
Poverty is prevalent in Cambodia so you’ll more than likely pass begging children or experience children trying to sell bracelets, trinkets and books to you – you’ll definitely experience this by Angkor Wat.
Although it’s difficult to say no to a cute little face, in the long run, you’ll do more harm than good. Buying from these children will only further the cycle. Parents will be encouraged to send out their children to tourist hotspots for money instead of attending school. It’s recommended that tourists find a charity organisation or local school to donate to.
8.) Don’t Ride Elephants
Elephants are beautiful creatures and the idea of riding one can seem like a dream come true but it’s important to be clued up on what really goes on. Have a read of PETA’s 9 reasons why you shouldn’t ride these vulnerable animals.
While we were exploring the Angkor Temples, there were many tourists riding elephants. It’s incredibly sad to think of what the elephants have had to endure before being ridden and the vile treatment they receive thereafter.
Likewise, it’s sad to think how many tourists aren’t aware of the mistreatment of these elephants before visiting Cambodia. Think about how many people would never think to ride an elephant again if they were educated on the topic.
Please watch this and share with others who may be travelling to Southeast Asia. Elephant tourism will continue as long as tourists pay for it so education is key to stop the cruelty.