How to go to Cambodia ?

 

You will find here most of the practical information you need to prepare your trip :

   

Getting there & away ?

Air :

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.

Land :

The following countries offer land crossing with Cambodia :

  • Thailand : Two possibilities. Poipet near Aranya Prathet (Thailand) is the entry point for the adventurers (slightly less now that the road has been improved) who wishes to reach Siem Reap and Angkor Wat by road.  Hat Lek (Thailand) near Krong Koh Rong is the costal entry point for those who wishes to reach Sihanoukville. Both offer visa facilities. The best bet from Bangkok is a minibus-truck combination all the way to Siem Reap for B300 (sometimes even less). See the above localities for more details.

  • Vietnam : There are two legal entries points plus a much more adventurous one in the north (officially closed to foreigners). Outside of flooding, the crossing at Moc Bai remains the best bet, with buses between Phnom Penh and Saigon run by a number of guesthouses for around US$9. The new crossing at Kaam Samnor (or Vinh Xuong in Vietnamese) is a bit more tricky : you need to take a bus from Phnom Penh to Neak Long, a speedboat down the Mekong to Kaam Samnor (R10000 per person), a moto between the immigration posts and another one to Chau Doc in Vietnam. Expect at least 5 hours. Another access possible via Kep in the south. Whatever the crossing, get your visa in advance. There is no longer the need to write the entry or exit point on the Vietnamese visa. (updated Oct 01)

  • Laos : the border between Stung Treng Province and Champasak Province in South Laos is now officially open. In theory, the only thing you need is a valid visa. In practice however, the guards do whatever they want and you may have to pay around US$20-30 to leave Cambodia plus a few bucks to enter Laos. You will improve your chances of limiting the ripp off at the border (to around US$5) by getting an exit permit in Stung Treng. It should cost R5000 but you will sometimes be asked for US$25 ! In the later case, bargain ! The border is sometimes also announced "closed". In such cases, you will usually have no choice but to pay the bribes. Conclusions : if you will be able to go through, it should be costly... Note that when the border was really closed, the bribe was only US$10... Check with the travelers as the situation is likely to evolve.  (updated Oct 01)


Backpacker's Tips : Helle-Mai and Jarek, Estonia & Poland (March 04)
« Capitol Tour (and some other company as we heard) has new connection from Phnom Penh to Chau Doc - 6$. First 2 hours by bus, then 1.5 hour by boat to the border and later 2 picturesque hours in Vietnam to Chau Doc. Journey starts 8AM and reach Chau Doc around 2-3PM, depends how long it takes on the border. No hassle.
Going to Cambodia from Chau Doc there is possibility to get Cambodian visa at the border, so the sign said.
From Phnom Penh to Saigon by Capitol Tour costs 6$.
In Phnom Penh you can have Vietnam visa now for 25$ in almost any GH or travel agency (2 days waiting, 1 month visa, 2 months entry).
In Battambang it took us 10 minutes and 30$, but we needed to state a date of entry.
Border crossing close to Kep and Ha Tien (in Vietnam) still seems to be closed. Or at least nobody has any information about this crossing.» 

Backpacker's Tips : Chung Seow Lim, Singapore (Feb 03)
« I managed to crossed the border into lao at Veun Kham last month from Stung Treng without any difficulty. NO permit is needed any more, all you need is a valid lao or Cambodia visa, depending on which way you are heading. Speed boat (running at 50~70km/h) between stung treng and veun kham is available at 4~6US$/pax depending on number of people, max 7 per boat. The journey should take about 60mins. I paid 2USD at the Cambodia custom as "admin" fee and 1USD at the lao's. To hire the speed boat, ask around the boat landing site or at Sen Penh Chet GH (btw, they have quite decent rooms with attached shower) for the timing. Our boat left at around 0730hrs, and we crossed the lao custom at 0930hrs. Pickups from Veun Kham could bring you to Si Phan Don, Ban Lak / Champasak or Pakse....We paid 15000kip/pax to get to Ban Lak, plus another 4000Kip to Ban Maung to get to Champasak. (1USD=10600Kip. Unlike Cambodia, Lao kip is preferred currency to USD.) To get to Stung Treng at the Cambodia side, daily express or slow boats to/from Kratie and kampong cham are also available.» 

Backpacker's Tips : Ee Laine, Malaysia (Nov 02)
« It is possible to enter Cambodia from Vietnam via the Mekong. There are boat services (hovercraft, if i'm not mistaken) easily available through backpacker travel agents in Ho Chi Minh City » 

Backpacker's Tips : Marc Broens & Matty de Nerée, Holland (Sept 02)
« The border crossing at Phnom Den in Cambodia (we don't know the name of the Vietnamese town on the Vietnamese side) is now (from 15 September 2002) officially open to foreigners. We were there at the 10th and the border policemen told us it would be open in 5 days. Too late for us, but hopefully not for other foreigners! You can take a pick-up from Takeo, from which it is only 45 km to Phnom Den. We paid $ 2,5 each, but that was obviously too much, because the pick-up left immediately instead of filling up the truck... A motorbike is also possible for $ 5 each (much faster). It's about 2 hours by pick-up on probably the worst road in Cambodia, so prepare! They will drop you about half an hour walk from Phnom Den, but insist that they take you to Phnom Den, which is only one street. From Phnom Den it is another half hour walk to the border. We had to go back from there to Phnom Penh, so we can't tell how it is on the Vietnamese side.»

Backpacker's Tips : Chris, Switzerland (Jan 2001)
« It is possible to enter Vietnam from Cambodia at Tinh Bien, take the street that goes south-east from Takeo (motodop: ca 2-3 USD). There is a canal all along the Cambodian border. There is a boat every day going from Ha Tien (south) to Chau Doc (north of Tinh Bien) and back. It is possible to board it at Tinh Bien in either direction (mid-morning heading north, mid-afternoon heading south). Another possibility to enter Vietnam is on the Mekong, but I cannot confirm that from my own experience, I've been told by other travelers.»

 

Visa ?

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. 

Backpacker's Tips : Ee Laine, Malaysia (Nov 02)
« Travellers with passports from an ASEAN country do not have to pay the US$20 for the visa. No visa required. » 

 

When to visit ?

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. 

    Weather in Cambodia



How long ?

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... 

 

Money ?

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 !

  Currency Converter

 

How much ?

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.

 

Health ?

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. 

    Latest Health Recommendations

 

Danger & Annoyances ?

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...


Notwithstanding the above, let's remind you that 95% of the backpackers we asked said they liked Cambodia, that 85% would happily come back and that 96% would recommend it around ! See Why Go for more details...

 


Travel Experiences Banner Exchange