Questions still being raised on whether Cambodia is safe enough to travel and touring. Often seen by the outsiders as a country of bloody history, the landmines planted during war time are still not disarmed, since there were too many of them to find. However, you can relax, as all landmines are wiped out of Cambodia’s tourist destinations. Cambodia’s bloody history is undeniable, but since 2016, Cambodia is perfectly safe for travelers, even safer than some countries I visited. However, you never forget to look after your luggage and belongings carefully when visiting the place, just like any other places, since the scams are everywhere. Coming to this country, we discovered that the people here were very different from the ones were told in history. They were happy, friendly and enjoyable. Overall, we felt good and secure enough to travel to most of the destinations on our own, without the help of a tour guide or travelling in tour.
1. Family vacation in Cambodia, good or bad?
Me and my wife got to Cambodia along with my two beautiful young daughters. The reason we took them with us was we wanted to show them different ways of living, in this case is a living totally opposite of our way, so that they find their lives precious. The trip was a valuable experience for our children, even in terms of education. In our point of view, the holidays mean much more than lying down lazily inside a 5-star complex with full luxurious amenities, instead we like to travel and discover not only the sights, but the life of the locals in the country where we were visiting. The tingling feeling of excitement when venturing into new places is unlike anything you ever experienced.
2. Ideal time to visit Cambodia
High Season (November to March): This is the time when the weather is the most comfortable in Cambodia during the year. The temperature is lower than normal and windier than other time in year. Since it is the high time, you will struggle to find places to stay as there are endless lines of tourist flowing into the country. Pre-booking is highly recommended if you are travelling to Cambodia in high season.
Shoulder Season (July to August): Wet weather dominates this time of the year. The rains come rapidly but short, along with high rate of humidity. Nonetheless it is still a good time to go touring if you want to see the natural beauty of the land.
Low Season (April to June and September to October): The weather was burning hot! There are less lines of travelers this time but the heat is challenging. September and October are a little even more stressful, due to the wet weather.
3. How you can spend your money in Cambodia
At the moment, Cambodians use Riel as their national currency, but to make it easy for tourists, it is recommended to use US dollars rather than Riel. The price tags in souvenir shops and local restaurants will be labeled in US dollars, even though the prices are a little lower in Riel than in Dollar, so you should stick to what you familiar most. It also much easier to exchange your money into Dollars than to Riel, since most currency stalls don’t want to have them. There are a few websites to look for currency exchange rate, but we like using XE.com.
The ATMs are placed pretty much everywhere here in Cambodia, only the uncrowded places in the countryside are excluded. In big cities then you can use your credit card to pay for your purchases. Remember to bring a lot of money, you will never be too careful.
4. Language issues in Cambodia
The national language of Cambodia is Khmer, even though English and Chinese are also quite common here, but if you venture to the countryside, rural areas will rarely have people who speak more than only Khmer, so it is essential to learn some basic phrases in order to communicate.
5. Famous destinations in Cambodia
Siem Reap and the Angkor Temples: Siem Reap is the most popular city in Cambodia and tops the number of tourists coming to the place. Chosen by many visitors for staying to discover one of the world’s unique archaeological sites – the Angkor Temples. Siem Reap is truly the city of tourism, as the number of visitors flowing here is just enormous. Nonetheless, it is a fantastic place to go out, relax and enjoy the nightlife atmosphere.
Phnom Penh: One just simply can’t leave out the capital city of the Kingdom of Wonders. The biggest city in Cambodia, with mixed ways of living and never lack of activities to match its size. Tourist destinations are located around the Palace in the middle of the city. You can also take a glance at the tragic history of Cambodia in the past as you explore the National Museum and Tuol Sleng prison. If you find the city rhythm too busy, head to the Mekong River to enjoy a relaxing and tranquilizing Phnom Penh Cruise.
Battambang: Close to the area of Sangker River’s coast, the town is quite separated from the noise of hustling city tempo. Coincidentally, Battambang remains one of the most well-preserved cities since the French colonial time. The most popular activity here is riding the bamboo train.
Kampot: Located right on the side of Praek Tuek Chhu river, along with the poetic Elephant Mountains in the back, to the South of Cambodia. This town is the perfect place for a relaxing trip. If you want to stay active, come to the river to experience various activities along with a trip to Bokor.
Kep: A small and peaceful coastal town mostly famous for its tasty and eye-catching crab dishes, also the station leading to many beautiful tropical islands. The town was once a luxurious holiday destination with expensive villas back in the French colonial time. Now, the houses were retained, although they became old with time. The Crab Market is a must for travelers, usually opens in the early morning, along with a stay in Rabbit Island too.
Kratie: This is the place where you will find the rarely-seen freshwater Irrawaddy dolphins. The place famous for its hot weather and the crucial stopping point between Phnom Penh and Laos, a homestay here is very enjoyable.
Ratanakiri: A town covered with forests, ideal for individuals who are into an adventure in the jungles, where you can easily see wild elephants or gibbons. The peaceful atmosphere and beautiful landscape are very intimidating, where you can loosen up with the green trees, fresh waterfalls and the ethnic locals.
Sihanoukville and Otres Beach: Sihanoukville and Otres are very famous for the beautiful rock beaches. If you have a party loving spirit, this is the best place you can ever find. Countless people gathering here to party, dancing and singing in loud electronic music, various drinks and ‘happy’ pizzas, but if partying is not for you, then come to the Otres Beach for a more peaceful ocean atmosphere. Even though Otres is said to be quieter and more relaxing than Sihanoukville, it is becoming increasingly louder to match with its neighbor, with partying spots coming around. In order to truly enjoy the beauty of silence, you have to go to Otres 2, which is also the furthest beach of all without a noise.
Koh Rong Islands: This is where the most amazing and enjoyable beaches were situated. Visitors can use speedboat to arrive at the islands, departing from Sihanoukville. Both islands offer you some of the most tranquilizing and beautiful beaches you can’t find anywhere in the world, however, depends on your taste, you should choose which one to go to.
Koh Rong Island is a place for party lovers, who likes to stay active all day long. There are a few homestays and resorts on the other side of the island offer you with peace and quiet, however, you just need to know that most of the time the music and the noise from the parties will spread around the whole island. If you can’t stand it, then the best option is to move into the smaller island for a stay, named Koh Rong Samloem. The place is largely untouched and brings you a sedating atmosphere, in contrary to its larger counterpart.
6. Things worth paying attention to
One of the most important skill you must have is bargaining. As same as many other Asian countries, some of the souvenir shops or even normal stalls will exaggerate the price, since you are a tourist. Remember to bargain when you travel with Tuk-Tuk or taxis.
Get ready and toughen your nerves for Asian driving skills. In busy cities, during rush hour like Phnom Penh, traffic jam is unavoidable, but what makes me surprised was the ability to find space and try to escape the traffic jam of the drivers.
Mosquito is a common thing here, remember to take mosquito spray or at least something to prevent them from stinging you, essentially when you are going out for most of the time.
The poor and homeless people or impolite sellers following you all the time, and that would be quite annoying sometimes. We experienced for ourselves the sellers that keep trying to sell us stuffs we didn’t want to buy or the homeless who keep asking for our money, however, most of the time in our trip, saying ‘No, thanks’ politely is enough to stop them from following you.
Cambodia is a dusty country, once coming back from a trip, your body will surely be full of dust. Even if you are travelling on a scooter, taxi, or a Tuk-tuk, you just can’t find a way to avoid dust in this country, so remember to take a good shower or jump into the pool for a swim to wipe out the dust.
The coffee you find here usually mixed with some other herbs, so its taste will be a little extra-ordinary, far from the traditional coffee we like to drink. We didn’t like it at first, but it slowly becomes right.
Remember that the country that you are visiting is a tropical country, with heat is its signature. If you arrive at Cambodia during April or May, it is very important to bring an umbrella with you during your trips to avoid the burning sun. The umbrellas become very handy when you visit Angkor Wat Temple.
7. What to avoid when visiting Cambodia
Cambodia is the country of mysterious, ancient temples and pagodas belong to the Angkor complex, Bayon temple.
This is the reason why the people here absolutely worship Buddhism, but any disrespectful behavior, even only small ones, is highly unacceptable.
Here is what you should notice when visiting the temples and pagodas in Cambodia:
- Temples and pagodas are sacred and peaceful place for religious people, so you must be polite and choose simple and appropriate clothes, no shorts or skirts allowed, no slippers as well. If you don’t follow these rules, then you will be considered disrespectful and indecent.
- You are not allowed to wear hats when entering the pagodas, leave your shoes outside and do not touch the monks, especially women.
- One of the most forbidden things to do when visiting temples in Cambodia is no climbing on the Buddha statues. It is also disrespectful when you pointing fingers at the statues or touching them.
- No entering the place through the gates in the middle, as according to Buddhism, those gates are made only for the Buddhas and the Saints. In order to go into the temples, you must enter through the side gates.
- When travelling in Cambodia you should be careful and protect the temples’ properties, as well as keeping the place nice and clean. Especially, when you buy a Buddha statue as a souvenir, you must hold it in your hand to pay respect, people here consider putting the statues inside your pockets is an insult to their religion.
How to avoid being impolite to the Royal family
The Cambodians are very respectful and have a lot of love for the Kings, Queens and other members of the Royal family. Therefore, you should be careful when talking about the Royals, avoid teasing and impolite behaviors or disrespectful sayings.
You are not allowed to take photos of constructions and monuments inside the Royal Palace without permissions, if you violated these rules, you will be warned, fined or even go to jail for such act.
How to communicate with the locals
If you acknowledged what you should and should not be doing, then you will be welcomed greatly. In Cambodian culture, you must not touch one’s head, especially children because they believed that head is a sacred part of the body, only the gods and the child’s parents are allowed to touch.
When you receive a gift from a Cambodian, you must not use your left hand to take the gift, as they believe the left hand is the indecent one.
Surely you would want to take a lot of photos to savor the moments during your trip. However, if you want to take pictures of the locals, remember to ask for their permission and agreement.
Things to know when visiting a local’s house
In order to be polite, remember to leave your shoes outside the doors. When you are invited for a meal, you should prepare some small gifts such as fruits, cakes or flowers.
During the meal, you should let the hosts to eat first, then observe and follow what they do. That way you can make a good impression and avoid being impolite or disrespectful.
There are limits in behaving and communicating regardless. Although these are not heavily forbidden like the rules applied to the Royal family, but you have to respect the culture, traditions and lifestyle of a country. That is why you should remember these rules to have a memorable trip.
Public emotional expression
Similar to Vietnam, Cambodia is an Asian country, heavily influenced by the eastern culture. Therefore, the local people are not very comfortable with visitors kissing and hugging in front of the public eyes, especially forbidden in temples and pagodas. If you are doing it on a regular basis or try hitting on Cambodia women in public, then you are in serious trouble.
The people of Cambodia are very friendly, but there are boundaries that you should not cross, remembering those and you will have a memorable experience when visiting this great country of temples and pagodas.