Traveling to Cambodia soon? A country filled with culture, off the beaten path destinations, history, and more; all best explored with some helpful information learned beforehand.
After spending a few weeks in this small, yet wondrous country, there are a few things I wish I would have known before traveling to Cambodia, all which would have made my exploring here easier.
For example, I wish I would have known beforehand that I shouldn’t take out hundreds of dollars of the local currency because it’s pretty much worthless. Or having everything written down – like hotel room and transportation purchases – to make sure it all goes smoothly.
Because I didn’t do that and got completely screwed over.
Thus, I would like to reminisce on my mistakes and what I learned so you can understand some things you should definitely know before traveling to Cambodia to make it all go smoother.
So, if you’re planning a trip to Cambodia, here are some bits of information you should know before traveling here to make your trip easier:
1. Everything is in US dollars.
Referencing to my mistake talked about up above, when I arrived in Cambodia, I proceeded to withdraw hundreds of Cambodian Riel. But the thing is… even though it’s the local currency, no one – not even the locals – use it. Everyone and everything uses U.S. dollars.
Not sure why but they do. Purchasing a meal at a restaurant? U.S. dollars. Need to get a tuk-tuk to Angkor Wat? Better pull out some U.S. dollars. Bartering for a sarong to wear at a temple? Definitely need some U.S. dollars.
Case in point, forget about the Cambodian Riel – unless you’d like it for souvenir reasons – and stick to using U.S. dollars for everything.
2. Make sure to cover your knees and shoulders.
If you traveling to the temples in Cambodia, make sure to definitely cover your knees and shoulders. As Buddhism is the primary religion here, it’s offensive to the culture if you walk into a temple complex with your knees and shoulders showing, especially if you’re a woman.
So, if you’re planning on visiting Angkor Wat or some other temple, bring along long pants and a t-shirt. Don’t be like me and arrive to the temple complex in shorts and a tank top. I ended up having to buy a sarong and a Cambodia t-shirt to cover up for a stupid amount of money.
A very naive mistake in my opinion, since I’d been traveling around Southeast Asia for the past two and a half months, but nothing I can do about it now! Funny thing is, that sarong came in handy for the rest of my travels and the t-shirt turned into one of my favorite tops. So I suppose it all worked out!
3. Plan for at least two days at Angkor Wat.
Despite what you may think – okay, what I previously thought – the Angkor Wat temple complex is absolutely enormous and much bigger than what visitors may expect. Even though it’s frequently referred to as Angkor Wat, that’s just the main temple complex but the UNESCO World Heritage site is actually 20-something temples sprinkled around an area of about 250 square miles.
Case in point, this place is absolutely massive. And it takes quite a bit of time to wander around all of it.
Thus, I suggest getting the 3-day pass – which is $62 – over the 1-day pass ($37) and the 7-day pass ($72). One day is definitely not enough time, unless you only want to explore the temple of Angkor Wat and maybe the Bayon Temple. And seven days is way too long, as you’ll definitely experience temple burn-out.
That’s why I suggest purchasing the 3-day Angkor pass. Even though I experienced temple burn-out and ended up spending only two days at Angkor Wat, I’m very happy I purchased the 3-day pass because it allowed me to spend more than one day there, which I don’t think would have been enough time to thoroughly see everything.
4. Don’t ever pay the tuk-tuk drivers before you depart.
Sometimes tuk-tuk drivers will urge you to pay them before you’ve even left your current destination but do not listen to them! I cannot stress this enough, only pay the driver after you’ve arrived at your destination.
If you pay them before you’ve arrived, you’re much more likely to be scammed, as they could take you only half way or something and kick you out. Or just drive off with your money. Or ask for more to take you the full way to your destination. It’s just not worth it; find a tuk-tuk driver that won’t hassle you into paying before you depart.
5. Make sure to have everything written down.
From your bus ticket to your room purchase, make sure to have it allllll written down to verify it if anyone asks. When I was traveling from Phnom Penh to the small island of Koh Chang in Thailand, the group and I purchased transportation the full way there. From our hostel in Phnom Penh, to the border of Thailand, from the border to the ferry port, and the ferry ride to the island. We had it all planned out.
Or so we thought.
Turns out, since we didn’t get our transportation specified and written down to verify it, our plans at the border got completely messed up. We ended up having to pay quite a bit of money to get a private taxi from the border to the ferry port and a ferry to the island.
It was ridiculous and extremely stressful. Thus, I suggest having everything written down if anyone tries to question your purchases.
6. Don’t buy from the children.
A lot of the time, children will approach tourists asking them to buy their postcards, gum, or trinkets to help them pay for school. But this is not true; the money doesn’t go to school fees and it just encourages them that begging for money is better than going to school. Thus, just continuing the cycle of poverty.
Also, children are usually involved in scams. For example, a child will approach a tourist asking them to buy milk for the baby they’re holding (which is sometimes drugged to look worse). A lot of the time, the cute child is hard to ignore and the tourist sees no harm is purchasing the milk directly from the store. But, when the tourist is out of site, the child will return the milk and get the money back. The shopkeeper takes a chunk of the money and the rest usually goes to the cartel.
It’s a hard cycle that keeps on going. So, whilst in Cambodia, please don’t buy anything for or from the children on the streets.
7. Head down to the beaches of Cambodia.
If you’re traveling to Cambodia for a good amount of time, or have some free days, make sure to do yourself a favor and head down to the coast. Get out of the hectic cities and just relax on the beautiful beaches with your toes in the sand. It’s definitely a nice break from the craziness of the cities, like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap!
8. $35 cash and a passport picture for a visa.
In order to obtain a visa for Cambodia, you’ll need $35 USD in cash and a passport size picture to get one. Although, I don’t think they’re very strict on what passport size picture you use. For example, I used my passport picture from when I was 13 years old because that’s all I had… and it worked.
I’m now 22… so not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Either I look like I’m a prepubescent teenager or they just don’t care that much.
9. Never drink the tap water.
Unless you would like to poo your pants or get an unwanted parasite. When traveling around Cambodia, just stick to buying bottled water from convenient stores. Or purchase a filtering water bottle.
10. You’re going to be approached by many ladies on the beach.
Whilst on the beach, expect to be approached by a multitude of ladies asking to wax your legs, paint your toenails, or pluck your eyebrows. And they’re usually relentless.
They stick around and hover nearby until you get extremely annoyed and tell them no about 50 times. Just make sure to hold your ground if you don’t want or need their services and politely say no.
11. Don’t insult the Buddhist culture.
If you’re walking through the streets, don’t insult the Buddhist culture by wearing skimpy clothing or something (like a bikini top or going shirtless). And since around 95% of Cambodians practice Buddhism, it’s just easier to respect their customs and traditions and cover yourself up a bit. Just make sure to be respectful and keep their religion in mind!
Another tip: If you’re wandering around and you’re a female, pack along a small scarf. This makes it easy to cover up your shoulders, which is necessary when visiting temples!
12. Prepare to see lots and lots of rubbish.
This isn’t really a necessary tip to make traveling around Cambodia easier, but it’s something I wish I would have known beforehand. Unlike Laos or Indonesia, I found Cambodia to be much more laden with trash. Like the streets and little alleyways of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are ridden with just enormous piles of garbage. It really threw me off, as I was not expecting it.
13. Expect hot, humid, and sunny weather.
Make sure to pack along plenty of water and sunscreen, as it’s extremely hot, humid, and sunny when traveling around Cambodia. Water is probably the most important thing to pack! Need to keep hydrated, as even if it’s a rainy day, you’ll be sweating your butt of due to the stifling humidity. And as mentioned above, make sure to buy bottled water and don’t drink the tap!
14. Carry along a bandana.
Because it’s unbelievably hot and humid, you’re likely going to sweat your butt off while traveling around Cambodia. And to wipe off all that nasty sweat, make sure to pack along a small bandana or piece of cloth. I didn’t carry anything like this with me and my shirts ended up being so gross because I’d just wipe it all over the hem or something. Not cute!
15. Rainy season isn’t that bad.
Some say that traveling to Cambodia or the region of Southeast Asia during rainy season is terrible but I didn’t find that to be true whatsoever! I actually think I liked it better because the crowds were bearable.
Also, even though it is rainy season and it is likely to rain everyday, the showers only last for about 20 minutes to a half hour. Then the rest of the day is usually clear skies! So if you’re planning your trip during this part of the year, don’t be put off by the “wet season.”
So, there ya have it! My very best 15 tips to help make traveling to Cambodia easier.
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