Cambodia is a fascinating country - a heady mix of temples, tantalising food, tranquil beaches and thrilling adventures almost everywhere. It’s a gutsy sort of place that has shaken off atrocities, poverty and political instability, yet its spirit remains unwaveringly optimistic, with a nation staring straight to the future. Travelling around Cambodia is generally safe and straightforward. But here we reveal some tips on how to navigate this enthralling Southeast Asian country.
- The Khmers are modest people - they do not kiss in public.
- Religious beliefs are of great importance: shoes are removed at the entrance of temples (and at the entrance of homes); worshippers remain silent inside temples unless praying; and Cambodians firmly believe in ghosts and the afterlife so refrain from making fun of phantoms etc.
- If you’re visiting the Temples of Angkor, take a small backpack to carry water (which can be bought in the door of the temples), sunscreen and bug repellent spray, and always wear walking shoes to navigate the stony, undulating paths. This being a religious site, avoid wearing shorts, unless they are knee-length, and cover the shoulders.
- Locals greet each other by clasping hands on chests and slightly bending the upper body. Many young people speak English but the older generations usually don't.
- If you’re invited to a local’s home, it is customary to bring a small gift, to be given with both hands. Similarly, if you receive a business card (very common), take it with both hands. If you’re eating in a private home, begin your meal after the host. And, of course, never photograph anyone unless you have permission.
- A woman should take care not to touch a monk.
- Never touch a Cambodian on the head, even children – the head is seen as the most sacred part of the body. The feet, on the other hand, are thought of as unclean and it’s deemed rude to point your feet and toes to anyone – whether a monk or a child. Incidentally, Cambodians avoid placing their feet on furniture, too.
Currency and Tips
The official currency of Cambodia is the riel (KHR), but the US dollar is widely accepted and prices are often expressed in both currencies. You can withdraw money from ATMs from across the country.
Guides always welcome tips and the standard is around $5 per person, per day. For bus drivers, tip around $2.50 per day. All other small businesses expect dollar tips and it’s handy to always carry $1 coins for tuk-tuk drivers or foot massages. When you pay via credit card, there’s almost always a 2 to 3% surcharge.
Packing for Cambodia
Pack light: everything you need for your holiday is available to buy in Cambodia. If you buy Kampot pepper, wrap it up tightly – it causes sniffer dogs from anti-drug control to sneeze.
We have one final tip to ensure your Cambodia holiday lives up to expectations: set your alarm for before sunrise whilst staying in Siem Reap and hail a tuk-tuk towards The Bayon – an intricately decorated Khmer temple at Angkor. At this early hour, you’ll have the rising sun, the soundtrack of twittering birds, and the sedate temple all to yourself – an experience that’ll cast a spell on even the most jaded of travellers.