Planning a trip to Cambodia? I’m incredibly jealous! This country is beautiful, unique, steeped in history and incredibly welcoming. If you’ve never been before, you might wanna check out these handy tips I have put together based on my time there. So here are 14 things you absolutely have to know before you go to Cambodia, plus a free packing checklist to help you with your planning!
1. The people are incredibly friendly
Honestly, despite all the horror and tragedy that their history holds, they are fantastically welcoming. Everyone seems to have a beaming smile on their faces. I loved my time in Cambodia and the people are definitely a huge part of what makes it an amazing place!
2. English is widely spoken
Learning a little bit of Khmer is always going to go down well in Cambodia, but you don’t need to worry if you struggle learning this as lots of the locals speak fantastic English. You’ll have no trouble doing things like ordering food and getting directions. And even if you speak to a local who doesn’t speak English they are so damn nice they will probably help you anyway!
3. It’s very poor
Cambodia’s history is still very present. The aftermath of the Khmer Rouge has left the country struggling to recover from the horror it experienced in the 1970s. I learnt so much in Cambodia but the fact that this happened so recently haunts me. Pol Pot also dragged the economy back while the surrounding countries were moving forward, so today Cambodians are struggling. Be kind – a couple of extra bucks can go a long way for them.
4. Don’t buy from children or give them food
This is tough because seeing these children struggling is upsetting and you can feel like you’re helping to change their lives. But these children who are begging on the street are usually put there by their parents to bring money home. It’s a tactic to pull at your heartstrings but it devalues education and prospects that these children could have. So if they approach you asking for money or food, then please, please don’t give in as it encourages it.
5. Beware of scams
Similarly, because Cambodia is so poor, lots of people are struggling to meet ends meet so have come up with ways to try and get some money. A couple of the common scams are the baby milk scam and the food scam. It’s not uncommon to see young girls carrying around babies in their arms. They will ask for baby milk or food but the thing is, you go to the shop and buy the milk or go to a restaurant and buy food and all that happens is the milk is returned and the profits are split between the girl and the shop, or you get stung with a massive food bill at a restaurant and again, the money is split. Don’t do it! It may be difficult and believe me, these kids can hustle hard, but just walk away.
6. Pickpocketing is common
Honestly, don’t carry your valuables with you. Leave things like passports in a hotel/hostel safe or locker and don’t use a bag that’s open. It’s also a wise idea to carry your bag on your front (screams tourist, I know) just so you can see it at all times. However, I can honestly say that I had no problems with this in Cambodia, but it’s wise to only carry what you absolutely need.
7. You’ll need two currencies
The local currency in Cambodia are Riels however, US dollars are not only widely accepted but actually preferred. Use Riels for small things and dollars for everything else. Be aware that they will only take new notes in good condition with no tears or anything on them – they will flat out refuse to take them otherwise!
8. Mosquitos are a right pest!
Honestly, I got bitten A LOT in Cambodia. Make sure you have some strong bug spray with you or head to a pharmacy and get some local stuff with a lot of DEET in it. The mosquitos here can carry malaria and dengue fever so make sure you protect yourself!
As a Brit it was recommended that I have vaccinations for Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Make sure you check this out with your doctor before you go.
10. You will need a visa
These can either be sorted out before you get there or on arrival. It may seem a bit strange that it can be done either way, but it’s nothing to worry about. It will cost about 30 USD and you will need a spare passport photo with you.
11. It’s very hot and humid
Be prepared to sweat. There’s no way you can stay looking cool in Cambodia with its heavy air pushing down on you. Make sure you pack light breathable clothes and scrape your hair up. Make sure you also drink lots as you’re gonna be sweating all your H2O out pretty quickly.
12. Don’t drink the tap water
It’s really not great for us westerners with our delicate stomachs – you’re gonna end up spending your time on the loo, or worse could end up going to a hospital if you choose to drink it. Buy big bottles of water from shops and use it for brushing your teeth as well. Also, be careful about the water used to make ice or wash salads; if you’re not sure then don’t go for it.
13. Tuk Tuks are the way to travel
You can’t not use the Tuk Tuks in Cambodia. They are the best and most fun way to get around the cities and also to visit Angkor Wat. Don’t be afraid to haggle the price before you set off.
14. Respect the Monks
Buddhism is one of the main religions in Cambodia and you will see Monks all throughout the country. They are practising their beliefs and are not there to be a tourist attraction. Be mindful of them and don’t go snapping photos constantly.