Five Things First Time Travellers To Cambodia Should Know
- People don't wave or shake heads to greet each other. Instead, the official way of greeting is a sampeah. All you need to do is place both your palms together in front of your chest like a lotus flower.
- Practice your haggling skills. If you're shopping at the markets, expect to pay inflated tourist prices. Never accept the first amount given and remember to agree on prices before getting into a tuk-tuk.
- The official currency is the Cambodian Riel. However, the American dollar is widely used in everyday transactions. Be sure to keep small notes on you as most shops won't be able to break your USD 20 or USD 100 note.
- Don't buy from children or give them money. As sad as it is to see these children on the streets, they are kept out of school to beg and sell goods to tourists. By buying from them, it encourages them not to get an education and fuels the cycle of poverty.
- Start your sightseeing as early as possible. The mornings are the best times to visit temples, wander the streets and go to the markets. By midday the heat is unbearable, and locals avoid going outdoors. Restaurants also close early, so if you're planning on eating out get there before the kitchens close at 9:00 p.m.
Best Time To Visit Cambodia
The best time to visit Cambodia and beat the heat is from November to February. During this cool season, temperatures make it easier to sightsee, and it's still warm enough to sunbathe at the beach. But you won't be the only one flocking here to take advantage of the good weather. Book your flights and accommodation a few months in advance before prices start to skyrocket.
If you want historical sites like Angkor Wat all to yourself, visit during the rainy season. From June to October, the country sees a slump in tourism and airfare and hotel rates drop. While travelling around is harder thanks to flooding from the monsoon, Cambodia's countryside is at its lushest. It's also the best time to see the moats at Angkor and to explore the verdant rice paddies.
If you want to avoid the rain, book your trip between November and May. Be prepared for daytime temperatures reaching 33–35°C. While it's not the best weather for exploring temples on foot, it's the perfect time for visiting the coast.
Siem Reap is one of Cambodia's most popular destinations and fastest growing city. A gateway to the world-famous Angkor Wat Archeological Site, a trip to Cambodia is often incomplete without stopping here.
Besides temple hopping, the city's pub street is famous for its nightlife. There are also several 5-star hotels if you want to splurge and delicious restaurants offering an array of cuisine.
Located on the Mekong River, Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia. Once "the pearl of Asia" thanks to its beautiful French architecture, the city is full of attractions.
Learn about its past at the Royal Palace and National Museum, visit the night market to pick up handcrafted souvenirs and indulge in the city's thriving cafe and restaurant culture.
The coastal city of Sihanoukville is flanked by beautiful beaches along its entire coastline. Named after the King Norodom Sihanouk, it's the most popular beach resort in the country.
It's the perfect coastal destination for backpackers looking to decompress or luxury travellers seeking the finer things in life. Stay in a hut on the beach, snorkel the reefs near the offshore islands and let your hair down at the massive beach parties.
If you're interested in Cambodia's history, make sure you visit Battambang. Established in the 18th century, the city is home to many Angkor-style temples and ancient Buddhist shrines.
Phnom Sampeau, Phnom Banon and Wat Ek Phnom are the most famous and are only a day trip away.
Back in town, you'll find laid-back cafes, the infamous bamboo railway and a scenic river trip that links Battambang with Siem Reap.
Top Attractions in Cambodia
Angkor Wat is the largest religious building in the world and one of the most significant archaeological sites in Southeast Asia.
Built by the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 14th centuries, its crumbling ruins attract thousands of visitors each year.
Some of the most famous sites include the Bayon temple with its stone faces and Ta Prohm, a Buddhist temple entangled with the roots of massive trees.
Hire a bicycle to take you between the different sites, or agree on a flat rate with a local tuk-tuk driver. If you don't feel like haggling, a lot of the hotels organise temple tours for their guests.
The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields are a sobering look into Cambodia's dark past. At the height of the Khmer Rouge, the communist party terrorised and murdered their fellow Cambodians en masse.
Just outside of Phnom Penh, you can visit one of the largest unmarked grave sites in the country. It's estimated that over one million people were killed in the four years the party held power.
Buy the audio guide to accompany you around the site. You'll hear tales from survivors that will give you a real insight into what it was like to live in Cambodia during this terrifying time.
And while it's one of the most heartbreaking attractions, it's deeply moving and shows the resilience of the Cambodian people.
From 928 to 944 AD, Koh Ker was the capital of the Khmer empire. Today, it's one of Cambodia's most fascinating archaeological sites.
Consisting of more than 42 structures, the highlight of Koh Ker is Prasat Thom. The seven-tier sandstone temple pyramid is 98 feet tall guarded by a giant Garuda (half-man half-bird) at the top.
Abandoned for centuries, this ancient city has been reclaimed by the jungle, adding to its charm and mystery.
While the site used to be one of Cambodia's most remote destinations, it's now easy to reach as a day-trip from Siem Reap on the new toll road.
On the banks of the Mekong River, lies a small town called Kratie. It's home to the last of Cambodia's dwindling Irrawaddy dolphins population.
With only an estimated 60 to 80 left in the area, nature lovers flock here for a chance at seeing one of Earth's most endangered creatures.
The best time to see the dolphins is in the early morning hours around 6:00 a.m. But if that's too early, the Dolphins are also active in the late afternoon and early evening. It's also an excellent time to watch the sunset over the beautiful Mekong River.
Ream National Park
Just 18km from Sihanoukville lies one of Cambodia's most beautiful national parks. Established in 1993 by His Majesty Norodom Sihanouk, Ream is full of mangrove forests, unspoilt beaches, coral reefs and more than 200 bird species.
Endangered populations such as the Brahminy kite, white-bellied sea eagle and grey-headed fish eagle are often seen soaring over the Prek Toeuk Sap Estuary.
With no large hotels or factories in the area yet, the national park is an untouched beauty that stretches out for 81 square miles. Spend a day hiking through the forests, meandering around the rivers and visiting the Wat Ream Buddhist temple.
Major International Airports in the Cambodia
- Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport
- Phnom Penh International Airport
- Sihanoukville International Airport