You will find here most of the practical information you need to prepare your trip :
It is possible to fly to the
international airports in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap and get a one month tourist visa for
US$20 plus one or two photos (business visa US$25). International Departure tax is
an hefty US$20. Domestic Departure tax is also pricey at US$10 from Phnom
Penh or US$4 from elsewhere.
The following countries offer land crossing with Cambodia :
Backpacker's Tips : Chung Seow Lim,
Singapore (Feb 03)
Backpacker's Tips : Ee Laine, Malaysia (Nov 02)
Backpacker's Tips : Marc Broens & Matty de Nerée, Holland (Sept 02)
Backpacker's Tips : Chris,
Switzerland (Jan 2001)
It is possible to get a one month visa on arrival at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap International Airports or at the two border crossings with Thailand for US$20 or 1000 Bahts plus one or two photos. In practice however, officials prefer you to pay in Bahts at the borders to keep the exchange rate difference. Various scams were also reported at Koh Rong border. It is therefore best to have your visa arranged by an agency in Bangkok : B900, 1 working day (sometimes same day if showing up early). See Thailand's Travel Tips for details. There is no visa facility at the borders with Vietnam nor Laos.
For visa renewal, head toward the Bureau des Etrangers, on St 200 (near Norodom
Blvd) in Phnom Penh. It however take 3 to 4 weeks, prices keep changing and there is no guarantee of success. "Express service" is also available : $260 one year, $150 six months but you will need to have a business visa for
those (US$25 on arrival). Tourists visa can only be extended up to 3 months. Visa overstay
cost $5 per day.
December to February are the best season from the weather point of view, the only time when sunrise over Angkor Wat are supposed to be worth getting up early. Logically, those are the crowded months.
Temperatures then rise up to April (it can reach over 40C) and then decreases, thanks to the south-west monsoon which blow from May to October. This rainy season can be a problem on some roads (in particular the famous Poipet-Siem Reap or in the northern provinces) but otherwise, it is not a bad time to visit as showers do not usually last for long and take place mostly once daily in the late afternoon. If possible, avoid however the busy summer months.
One week minimum for Angkor and Phnom Penh. Another two-three weeks for the rest of the country. Your one month visa should therefore be enough for a good circuit around. If flying, you could also reach those beautiful but remote Ratanakiri and Mondolkiri Provinces in the North, although a visa extension may be necessary if you wish to explore...
Although Cambodia's currency is the Riel, the US$ is the true currency of the westerners. Prices for guesthouses, restaurants or sights are usually quoted in $. In border towns, prices may also be quoted in Thailand's Bahts. See the banknotes
Avoid large US$ notes as counterfeiting is not uncommon for $50 or $100 notes. Getting your change (most of the time in Riels at R3800 per dollar) may also be problematic. It is always a good idea to carry some Riels.
Avoid old dirty notes as it will be a problem to get rid of them.
Changing cash is usually done around the market at one of the numerous moneychangers. The rate is usually slightly higher there but the difference is not really worth bothering.
For Travelers Cheques, head for the banks. Most charges a 2% commission but some also have a minimum charge of $2. The Cambodia Commercial Bank has no minimum charge. Credit Card's cash advances are expensive and therefore not recommended. There are no ATM Machines for the time being. Better to forget plastic in Cambodia !
Thanks to the entrance fees and the fact that most visitors visit only Angkor Wat (with a guide on motorbike), Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville while eating in restaurants priced in US$, Cambodia may appear like one of the most expensive country to visit in Asia.
How many times did I hear how Phnom Penh or Siem Reap were outrageously expensive for the food ? I personally spent R2000 (US$0.5) on average for my dinners so I beg to disagree. It may not have been an "Happy Pizza" but I had happy encounters with happy locals at happy markets instead...
Accommodations are reasonably priced at 2-5$ for a room and the upper prices often brings you a big bright room w. attached shower and satellite TV. Some of the best deal of Asia, at least during the low season when bargaining the prices down is a must !
Transportation can be expensive (plane, speed boats) or dirt cheap (pick up truck, slow boat) or even free (train). Comfort and speed vary accordingly.
Entrance fees are the big portion of the budget. The three days pass to Angkor cost a whopping US$40 and most of the other attractions, although more reasonable, are also priced in dollars.
All together, staying in basic yet comfortable rooms, eating at markets, visiting most of the sights and traveling at slow pace for one month during the low season, I spent $10 a day on average. An excellent quality / cost ratio !
See Passplanet's Cost Table for more details.
There are some health hazard in Cambodia and it is recommended to get some information before traveling.
Malaria is endemic all year round except in Phnom Penh so prophylaxis is recommended. Larium is to be avoided as resistance was reported. The stuff to take when I was there was doxycycline. Pills could easily be found in Thailand.
Dengue fever outbreak also do occur from time to time so avoiding mosquito bites by day is also a good idea. It is usually non-fatal.
Even more than in most countries of Asia, water straight from the tap is to be avoided. Distilled or boiled water are readily available everywhere.
Raw or undercooked fish are a bad idea as you could catch liver flukes. Raw or undercooked anything else aren't too good either. Avoid salad as well.
Medical facilities are very limited and any emergency should send you to Bangkok.
The salespersons / saleskids harassment : everywhere at any time, you will be invited to spend money (dollars if possible). A real nuisance when you try to feel the atmosphere of a temple...
The professional beggars : Before coming, I had read in a few guides why it was recommended to be generous with the beggars. Basically, because "this is their only way to earn money". At that time, I agreed with that reasoning. But soon after entering, I realized that begging, at least around tourists areas, was certainly not the only way to make money but actually the easiest way to make money. Getting the pity of the tourists has become for some an art as well as a profitable job : they spend the day around the attractions chatting with the motorbike drivers and, at the first foreigner sight, take off their prostheses and wear on their pitiful look. Great actors ! Some kids are now starting to imitate them, becoming suddenly deranged or blind at a westerner sight... If you do not wish to promote laziness (most of them could work) or foreigners' harassment, you may wish to save your money for the following.
The real beggars : They are (unfortunately) also numerous but usually very easy to tell apart from the above. Several categories : 1/ Those who really may have trouble to find work, because of their old age or their infirmity 2/ Those who do not target the dollars of the foreigners but the riels of the locals 3/ Those who are doing something (singing, praying or playing an instrument) in exchange of the small donations. If you meet any of the above, give something ! They are the real destitutes of Cambodia...
The money kids : Again, I have no lesson to give, but I think it is very wrong to donate anything to a kid just because he ask you so, with the exception maybe of a nice kick in the ass to put him back on the right track...
The approximate honesty of some local and the corruption of the officials
All those scams ! For this reason, Cambodia is also known as "Scambodia" ! Of course, most of the local people are honest but quite a few gravitating around the foreign visitors are clearly after your money... fast !
The safety thoughts : It should not prevent you from visiting Cambodia but it does prevent you from visiting certain areas or certain streets after a certain hour with a big bag full of valuables....
The fake banknotes : whether in banks or at ticket offices, you can be tended with fake US$. Large denominations ($50 or $100) are particularly dangerous so you should always double check them in the light or, even safer, ask for $10 or $20 notes.
Some scary statistics : the highest HIV infection rate in Asia (300,000 people) and one of the highest rate of Hepatitis B carrier (13% of Khmers compared to 5% of westerners). Both are sexually transmitted so you are warned...
The cost of Angkor Wat : The minimum cost for a three days visit (entrance fee + transport) would be $48 (see details at the locality). But with motorcycle "guide" (what most travelers do), it will jump at $60 for the same itinerary. And then there is accomodation (min $2 per night) & food (min $2 per day) for 4 days, giving a grand total of $64 or $76. Enough ? You forgot you need to reach then leave Siem Reap ! And the express boat is pricey at $23 from/to Phnom Penh or $13 from/to Battambang... For most people, the invoice therefore reach well above $100 for only 4 days. Is it worth it ? Certainly ! But, then, you can leave for a month in India with the same amount...
Some roads and some mode of transportations : the pick-up truck experience between Poipet and Siem Reap was famous among backpackers but elephant's holes can still be found in a few other places. Less and less however has roads are being upgraded...
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