Tips to travel Cambodia for the first time

Cambodia is located in South East Asia, sandwiched between Thailand and Vietnam, with Laos on its north. Heavily influenced by Indian culture, trade and Brahmanism; the Hindu-Buddhist Khmer empire covered a big part of South East Asia until its fall in the 15th century. Apart from its incredible temples of Angkor, a genocide was forced upon Cambodia under Pol Pot’s regime in the 1970s. Closed to the world, it was only in the 1990s that the country opened up to tourism. Today, though the streets are vibrant and abuzz with life, the scars left on Cambodians still remain and Cambodia is still building upon its lost years. People keep hearing about the mysterious and majestic of the ancient Angkor, the wild and free offshore islands in Sihanoukville, tasty Khmer cuisine and many more wonderful things about Cambodia.

Below are some tips for the first time travelers to have a perfect experience in Cambodia.

Choose standard itinerary in Cambodia
Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville are the most popular cities and also the must-visit places for tourists in this country. Normal route will be Phnom Penh and Siem Reap only with 5 to 7-day trip. Sihanoukville will be included in the itinerary if the trip lasts from 8 to 10 days. More than 10 days? Battambang can be added in your travel plan and that should be absolutely enough for your first-hand experience in Cambodia.

When to go

Cambodia’s peak season is from around November to March, when the weather is dry and warm, prices are far higher too.

Off-peak is from around May through early October, when prices are cheaper and it is less busy too. However, it rains a lot, the monsoon season kicks off in August/September/October time.

Temperatures remain fairly hot throughout the year though and even in the monsoon season; however, you can still find good weather amongst the frequent showers and storms.

Get a SIM card
Having sim card while travelling is a must if you still want to keep connecting with other parts of the world. Sim card in Cambodia is not expensive, the price is from US$ 1 to US$ 20 depends on how big the data package you can get.

Metfone – the biggest telecom brand in Cambodia

You should not expect too much in Wi-Fi while travelling in Cambodia. Most of accommodations here, especially from 3-star standard have Wi-Fi; however, it is slow and weak. The Wi-Fi is better in Phnom Penh – where may has the fastest Internet speed in this country. In other cities, even though in Siem Reap – Cambodia’s second biggest city, the Internet quality is quite bad. Of course, if you choose to stay in 5-star luxury hotels, you may not have to worry about the quality.

Avoid travelling alone at night
Electricity is like treasure in Cambodia; therefore in this country they are saving it neatly. Except for the main streets in the city center, other places have limited light, even in big cities like Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Besides, people here go to bed quite soon, and in non-tourist regions, most of the stores do not open after 9 p.m.

Prepare your taste and stomach for local food

Deep-fried spiders are a delicacy in Cambodia.

Cambodian dishes in general is easy to eat. If you are familiar with Asian food, you can deal with the food in Cambodia quite well. Some typical dishes that may fit with most of people’ taste are Khmer curry, fish amok, Khmer lap, grill seafood. If you dare to try weird things especially the creepy one like crickets and spiders, your stomach and taste must be strong enough so you can enjoy the dish safely and happily.

Fish amok – Cambodian signature dish

Pack half of what you think you’ll need
Travel light so you won’t be weighed down by unwieldy luggage, and so you’ll have extra room in your bag for the souvenirs you’re bound to buy. Clothes and accessories can be bought in street markets, laundry service is at reasonable price, and personal grooming items are available in hotels or local stores, though in brands or styles you might not recognize. Comfortable shoes are essential.

Bring ‘temple’ outfits

When visiting Angkor Wat and the Grand Palace, for example, you’ll need to cover up. This means shoulders and knees covered, no deep-plunging necklines, no midriff tops. Cover it up, keep it respectful. It’s important to note, scarves won’t cut it. So it’s best to pack some temple-appropriate outfits. Pants or a skirt that goes below the knees and a couple of t-shirts.

Bring a camera – but don’t forget to put it down
You want to record every amazing moment, sight and memory? Bring the best camera you can, plus extra batteries, chargers and big memory cards. But from time to time just experience the country first-hand – with your all senses. Haggle with street vendors, smell the coffee wafting from cafes, and listen to the waves crashing on near-empty beaches.

Stay cool and dry
Cambodia are hot and wet most of the year, so pack your wardrobe smartly and flexibly. Wear sunscreen, a hat, and loose, breathable clothing. Always carry bottled water and try to avoid being outdoors between 12 pm and 2 pm. Carry an umbrella during the rainy season.

Bring cash
Most street vendors, market stalls and smaller souvenir shops only accept cash, so make sure you have some on you at all times. You can withdraw cash from ATMs all over the region, as most take foreign bank cards. But don’t carry too much cash or you’ll make yourself a target for pickpockets.

Learn a little Khmer

Khmer is the official language of Cambodia. Here are some basic phrases that are super easy to learn and you can use them along the way:

  • Hello – chum reap sour (formal)/ susadei (informal)
  • Thank you – Arkun
  • Sorry / Excuse me – Som dtoh
  • Goodbye – chum reap lear (formal)/ lee hi (informal)
  • Yes – Bah (male)/ chaa (female)
  • No – Ot-teh

Keep an open mind
The sights, cultures and customs of Cambodia can be very different from what you saw, but that doesn’t make them better or worse. Whether it’s the slow services in the countryside, the raw intensity of traditional street markets filled with live animals and shouting vendors, or the chaotic traffic in the big cities, be prepared to leave your expectations at home and just “go with the flow.”

Children at a floating school on Tonle Sap Lake – The largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.

Don’t drink tap water

Instead, buy bottled water from the supermarket or mini-mart and carry them around with you. Purchase big bottles is a friendly-environmental choice.

Bargain when go shopping
Bargaining is like a part of Asian culture and Cambodia is not an exception. Of course you cannot bargain in shopping mall and convenient store; however, if you want to buy anything in a local market or small shops on the street, don’t forget to make a deal. If it is just a small amount of food, bargaining may not really change anything; but with souvenir, clothing, jewelry, gems, etc. bargaining may save you up to 50% of price. How much you should deal with the seller depends on what you buy and is it expensive or not. Normally, it’s about 10-20% for foods and 25-50% for other stuffs. Just keep calm, bargain and save your money.

Phnom Penh Center Market – the most popular shopping place in Cambodia

Leave something behind
Consider volunteering in an educational or environmental project during your trip, supporting a school, or joining community initiatives. If you can’t do that, consider doing your souvenir shopping in a place that benefits indigenous people.

If you still get confused of how to make a plan to Cambodia, click HERE for the perfect holiday tour to this country with unforgettable memory.

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