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Cambodia
is famous for the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex rightly considered to be one of the wonders of the world. There is also much more to see in the fascinating country, with a rich colonial history, a fascinating Buddhist culture and countless smiling faces.

Decades of war, communism and political unrest rendered Cambodia out of bounds for most travelers. It was only in the late 1990s that a peace treaty between the government and remnants of the Khmer Rouge forces ensured that foreigners could once again visit the country in safety and explore the attractions of this beautiful and fascinating land.

Phnom Penh, the capital, is literally a ‘phoenix arisen from the ashes’. (It is hard to believe that in 1979, during the final days of Pol Pot’s regime, it was completely destroyed and virtually devoid of a living soul, much akin to Warsaw after the Second World War.) Tonle Sap is the largest lake in South East Asia and one of the world’s greatest sources of freshwater fish.

The highlight is a visit to Angkor Wat and the surrounding ruins of the ancient Khmer kingdom, surely one of the greatest and most visually stunning archaeological sites in the world.
The Kingdom of Cambodia, as it is officially known, is bordered on the west and northwest by Thailand, on the northeast by Laos, the east and southeast by Vietnam, and the southwest by the gulf of Thailand. The total area is 181,916 sq kilometers.


QUICK FACTS

Region

South East Asia

Geographic size

181,916 square kilometers.

Population

12.35 million (2001)

Major religion

Theravada Buddhism

Major language

Khmer, English and French

Major industry

Timber, rubber, shipping, rice milling, textiles and fishing



Combodia

 


WHEN TO GO

Climate

The cooler, dry period of the year is from November to March, and is regarded as the best time to visit Cambodia. From May to early October, the southwestern monsoon brings strong winds, high humidity and heavy rains. Please note that even in the wet season, it rarely rains in the morning and that, generally, the rain is sporadic rather than continuous.

When to travel

The best time to travel is November to early March when it is the cool, dry season. From March onwards, it gets fairly hot before the rainy season that stretches from May to October. Please note that it is still possible to travel during the rainy season, as it generally only rains for a period of time during the day (usually in the afternoon) and this has the positive effect of cooling down an otherwise hot and oppressive climate.

Country festivals

  • April  - Chaul Chnam - Khmer New Year
  • 01 May  - International Labour Day
  • May  - Chat Preah Nengkal
  • October  - Pchoum Ben
  • October/November  - HM the King's Birthday
  • 09 November  - Independence Day
  • November  - Om Touk

USEFUL FACTS FOR TRAVELLING

Visas

Please ensure that you have all required visas for your trip. Rules and regulations governing the issuance of visas are constantly changing, and vary for different nationalities and you should check visa requirements with your travel agent or relevant consular authority well before travel.

Australians, Americans, Canadians, British and New Zealanders currently require a visa for Cambodia. For all other nationalities please reconfirm your visa requirements with your travel agent. It is recommended that you obtain your Cambodian visa before you start your travels, but it is possible to obtain a visa on arrival if you are flying into Phnom Penh or Siem Reap or if you are traveling overland from Thailand. However it is not possible to obtain a visa at the border if you are traveling overland from Vietnam.

Vaccinations

Please consult your doctor or nearest vaccination centre to see if any of the listed vaccinations are required: This list is by no means complete and only your doctor or vaccination centre can provide you with the latest up-to-date information:

Typhoid
Polio
(oral vaccine)
Tetanus
Smallpox
Gamma Globulin or Havrix
(against Hepatitis A)
Hepatitis B
Yellow Fever
Meningitis


Malaria

Malaria is prevalent in many tropical areas of Asia. Please advise your doctor which regions you will be visiting and discuss the necessary medication with them. All anti-malarial tablets are taken for a period before possible exposure and continued for a period after such exposure ceases, and should be taken carefully according to instructions. It is possible that the people in your group may be taking different anti-malarial tablets. Be aware that some anti-malarial medication may increase skin sensitivity to sunlight, and take extra care to ensure good use of sunscreens. A good insect repellent is advisable if visiting these regions, preferably one containing a high percentage of DEET.

Time

GMT +7 hours

Telephone

The international dialing code for Cambodia is +855
Telephone calls, especially international calls made from hotels, can be VERY expensive. Check with your local telephone service provider to see if you can take an International Phone Card with you. There are various types of cards on the market. Phone cards can also be purchased in most countries.

Email

Internet Cafés are increasingly common in tourist hubs all over the world. If you have a yahoo, hotmail or similar account then you should be able to access your e-mail in most major cities.

Electricity

If you are bringing along any plug-in appliances you should take an international adapter with you. Round two-pin plugs are the most common types in the region. Voltage is 220V/50 cycles.

Food

Khmer food is similar to Thai cuisine; however it is not as spicy. The staple diet is rice, but usually a meal also includes soup. Noodles are also common and the 'khao phoune' is a local favourite (fine noodles in a coconut-milk sauce). A lot of fresh-water fish is eaten and the salad is spiced with lemon grass, mint leaves and coriander, similar to the Lao and Thai style.

Transport

The range of road transport in Cambodia is extensive. Expect to be on the road with large busses, pick-up trucks, share taxis, jeeps and mini-buses. On our tours we use buses and mini-buses.

Shopping

There are several stores set up by NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) that sell textile and craft items produced by local handicapped people and mines victims. It is a noble cause and some of the items are very good. Antique, jewellery, silver, silk and clothing are generally the best buys in Cambodia, although one should be aware of fakes when buying antiques. The local scarves (kramas) are also a popular buy. Bargaining for a good price is very much a part of the local way of life.

Airports

Siem Reap

Siem Reap International Airport is located 7 kilometers west of the town centre. If you have not booked an arrival transfer, an official airport taxi should cost you approximately US$5 to the town centre.

Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh's Pochentong International Airport is located 7 kilometers west of the city centre. If you have not pre-booked an arrival transfer, an official airport taxi will take you to the city for approximately US$7 one way.

Useful words and phrases

English

Khmer

yes

jaa (by women)

no

te

hello

johm riab sua / sua s'dei

goodbye

lia suhn hao-y

thank you

aw kohn

you're welcome

awt ei te / sohm anjoe-in

please

sohm

how are you?

niak sohk sabaay te?

how much?

nih th'lay pohnmaan?

where is____?

_____neuv ai naa?

1

muy

2

pii

3

bei

4

buan

5

bram

6

bram muy

7

bram pii/bram puhl

8

bram bei

9

bram buan

10

dawp

11

dawp muy

12

dawp

20

m'pei

100

muy roy

1000

muy poan

Cultural considerations

Please remember that you are traveling in a part of the world where standards and cultural values may be different to what you are use to. Please bear this in mind at all times and be sensitive to it in the way you dress and the way you behave. In many ways, we are all ambassadors to our own country when we go traveling.

Dress standards

Although it may vary from country to country, as a rule, we suggest that you dress modestly in most places in Asia. Specific dress standards may be required when visiting people's homes, as well as certain temples and palaces. Loose, lightweight, long clothing is both respectful and cool in the predominantly hot South East Asian climate (suitable clothing can often be purchased cheaply locally). Shorts should be knee-length, and singlets and tank tops (vest tops) are usually not suitable except when on the beach.

Hotel check in/out

Generally, your room will be available from around midday. Sometimes it may be available mid-morning but this is in no way guaranteed. If your flight is scheduled to arrive in the early morning you may have to wait until a room becomes available. Alternatively you can book one night's 'pre-tour accommodation' which will ensure that your room is ready whenever you arrive...

Rooms must generally be vacated by 12.00 noon unless you have made prior arrangements with the hotel reception. If you want to keep your room for longer you may have to pay an additional charge.

Safety

Please take great care with your passport, airline tickets and monies. Most accommodation will have safety deposit facilities which you are strongly urged to utilise. Do not carry more cash than required. A money belt worn under your clothing is suggested. If you are buying something, you should not flash large amounts of money around. You should clearly mark all your baggage with your name and address. Common sense and awareness will greatly reduce the unlikely misfortune of loss or theft. We also suggest you carry small padlocks for your luggage.

MONEY AND BUDGETING

Currency

The unit of currency is the riel. Notes come in denominations of 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000 riel, although notes above 5,000 riel are not common. Coins are very rarely seen, for they are virtually worthless. The US dollar is also a major currency and commonly used in all day-to-day transactions.

Exchange rate

US $1= 4,000 Cambodian Riel (KHR)
For the latest rates, please check www.xe.com

Money

Money is safest when carried in the form of traveler's cheques. These, along with major foreign currencies, can be changed in banks in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. However, in Cambodia, you should carry a fair amount of your money in US dollars cash, for most regional centers do not change traveler's cheques. Also, the US dollar is virtually a second 'local' currency in the country (some would say “first”!).

If you are taking cash, all notes must be new and not marked or torn. If notes are torn, crumpled, nicked or old it may be difficult to change them. If you are taking travelers cheques, American Express and Thomas Cook are the most widely accepted. There is very little practical use for a credit card, although you may carry one as a possible backup in emergency situations.

Airport taxes

There is an international airport departure tax for all passengers holding a foreign (non Cambodian) passport of US$25 for adults and US$13 for children under 13. There is also a domestic airport departure tax of US$6 for all foreign passengers.

Local prices

Compared to the Western world, Cambodia is a very inexpensive country; however, it does tend to be a little more expensive than its neighbours. You’ll find that costs are a little higher in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap compared to country areas. You can eat quite well for US$2-3 a meal, sometimes less if you eat at local markets. A beer will set you back about US$1-2 and a litre of water is around US$1 too.

HISTORY, GEOGRAPHY AND SOCIETY

History

Neolithic peoples inhabited present day Cambodia as early as the 1st and 2nd millennium BC. The settlements of Funan and Chenla, dating back to the 1st Century BC, were the first recorded civilisations in Indochina. They were heavily influenced by the Indian sub-continent and this was particularly evident in religion, where the Hindu gods, Shiva and Vishnu, were worshipped.

The Angkor period began in 802 AD, with the ascension of Jayavarman II to the throne. He built an empire that was to leave behind an incredible archaeological heritage in the form of remarkable monuments at Angkor. Suryavaran II built Angkor Wat as a funerary temple in first half of the 12th Century, whilst Jayavarman VII built Angkor Thom, the Bayon and Ta Prohm at the turn of the 13th century. These monuments have come to epitomise the glories of this era, but there are many other sites in the Angkor area (today Siem Reap) that are equally worthwhile exploring.

By the 13th Century, the empire had expanded, but due to a series of weak leaders it soon began to crumble and, before long, the once-invincible empire could no longer defend the city. Angkor was destroyed by Siamese forces, in 1431, and the centre of Khmer power was moved shortly afterwards to Phnom Penh. The old capital was claimed by the jungle and the Khmers were no longer a great power. The 400 years that followed were marked by political and social decline, the result of which was continuous warfare with the Thais and dynastic rivalries.

The French colonised the country in 1863, although they maintained a Cambodian king on the throne to legitimise their rule. Essentially the locals accepted French control and significant rumblings for autonomy did not take place until after the Second World War. In 1941 the French installed Prince Norodom Sihanouk to the throne and began to take more control of the day-to-day running of the country. The Japanese then occupied much of Cambodia, but after the war the French returned and declared the country to be a part of the French Union. Independence was granted in November, 1953, but that was only a prelude to decades of domestic turmoil.

Between 1975 and 1978, Cambodia (known then by its local name, 'Kampuchea') was subjected to one of the most shocking episodes of genocide in history. The Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot slaughtered about two million of their own people in a bid to create some sort of bizarre Maoist society that did not tolerate any disobedience. They were finally driven out of power by Vietnamese forces, but their painful legacy still remains as the country takes its first tenuous strides towards democracy. Today the separate power-bases of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his deputy, Prince Rannaridh, together with the regal presence of King Sihamoni, hold the key to the country's future stability.

People

Cambodia is a desperately poor country, and this is reflected in the lifestyle of many of its people. Infant mortality rates are the highest in South East Asia, and malnutrition results in a large proportion of children suffering from stunted growth. Facts such as these are hardly surprising, considering only 26% of the population has access to safe water, and only 6% access to proper sanitation.

The country has a population of 12.35 million (2001). About 96% of the populations are ethnic Khmers, who have an historical connection with the civilisations of Java and India. There is a small number of Vietnamese, Chinese and Cham Muslims.

The capital, Phnom Penh, is the largest city with a population of one million people, followed by Battambang with 570,000.

Language

Khmer is a non-tonal language that originated from the ancient Brahmin language of southern India. It is quite a complex language; however, if you make an attempt combined with a big smile you'll find the rewards are a massive appreciation by the local people.

Religion

Hinduism flourished along side Buddhism from the 1st until the 14th Century. The majority of Cambodians today are Theravada Buddhist (also known as Hinayana). The conversion from Hinduism took place during the later years of the Angkor Period. When visiting temples, please ensure you are not dressed inappropriately (i.e. no shorts or sleeveless shirts). This is especially the case with the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh. Please show consideration if you wish to take photographs or enter Buddhist temples.

Monks are not allowed to touch or be touched by women or even handed things directly by a woman. Shoes should also be taken off when entering any building that houses a Buddha image. When sitting in a temple your feet should not be pointed in the direction of the Buddha image. The best way to ensure you avoid offence is to be aware of the actions of the local people around you and follow their lead. There is also a small Muslim population in the country.

Economy

Cambodia has a developing economy and is one of the world’s poorest countries. Three quarters of the workforce is employed in agriculture, which is dominated by subsistence farming. Local authorities encourage the planting of local strains of rice, which germinate at higher rates than imported versions. There is also limited production of sugarcane, sweet potatoes and corn. The raising of livestock is on the increase.

A small manufacturing sector exists and is concentrated on the processing of locally grown rubber, rice and other agricultural outputs. Rubber, wood and agricultural products are exported in small quantities.

Government & society

Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy and has been since 1993. The head of state since 2004 is King Norodom Sihamoni. The head of government is Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1998. Legislative power belongs to the 120-member National Assembly, which is popularly elected for a term of five years. Executive power is vested in the cabinet of ministers headed by the prime minister.

Sensitivity to politically-related subjects in conversation is advisable. Avoid pointing your foot at a person or touching someone on the head. Women should wear long clothing that covers the body.

Geography

Cambodia is a little over half the size of Vietnam, and much of the land is dominated by large central plains and the Mekong River. This impressive river, which rises in Tibet, reaches almost 5 kilometers wide in places, and in Phnom Penh spits into the upper river and the lower river. Cambodia is also home to the Tonle Sap Lake, linked to the Mekong at Phnom Penh by a 100 kilometer long channel.

This lake fills when the river rises, and drains when water levels fall. Not only is the lake home to the world's richest source of freshwater fish, it is also crucial to the livelihood of the Cambodian people. The lake is fringed to the northeast by the eastern highlands, on the north by the Dangrek Mountains, and on the southwest by the remote and largely uninhabited Kravanh and Damrei mountains.



The information provided here is given in good faith and has been compiled with all reasonable care. However, things change and some of the information may become out of date. Please keep this in mind when you read it and check with us if you want to be sure about something. If you have any queries, please contact us. We are here to help you!
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