Cambodia at a Glance
Population: 14.7 million
Capital City: Phnom Penh (2 million)
People: Khmers (90%)
Currency: Riel and US Dollar
Time Zone: GMT +7 Hours
International Dialing Code: +855
Passport and visa
A passport with at least six months validity from the date of entry into Cambodia is required. We recommend you make a photocopy of your passport and keep it somewhere separate, or scan your passport and keep the scan in an accessible email account.
A visa is required for most nationalities. There are two types of visa: visa upon arrival and e-visa. Upon arrival visa can be obtained at any international land and water border, and two international airports: Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. E-visas are accepted only at these international airports, and the three land borders, crossed on tours from Vietnam to Cambodia, listed below:
Bavet (Svay Rieng) - Cambodia & Vietnam land border
Poi Pet (Banteay Meanchey) - Cambodia & Thailand land border
Cham Yeam (Koh Kong) - Cambodia & Thailand land border
A tourist visa costs US$30 and is valid for 30 days. One passport-sized photograph is also required.
Phones and Internet Service
Post in Cambodia is routed by air through Bangkok, making the service much more reliable than in the past. Telephone connections to the rest of the world are widely available but can be expensive. Internet access is available in most major tourist places such as hotels and restaurants.
People, History & Culture
Quickly rising in the ranks of Asia’s top travel destinations, Cambodia is a humble yet majestic country with a story as dynamic as its culture. Despite its recent past being marred with war and genocide, Cambodia is now ripe with progressive energy. Thanks to the recent influx of tourism and renewed interest in Khmer culture, Cambodia is in the midst of a cultural renaissance. Historical icons like the UNESCO World Heritage site of Angkor Complex and a pristine southern coastline have put Cambodia into the spotlight for travellers to the region.
Much of Cambodia’s draw is thanks to the Khmer people, though, who are regularly regarded as some of Southeast Asia’s friendliest locals. Yet not so long ago, Khmer culture and the heart of its people were nearly destroyed. Between the years of 1975 and 1979, nearly one fifth of the country’s population was wiped out by the ruling Khmer Rouge in an effort to transition the nation to a solely agrarian society. Nowadays, this grisly period in Cambodia’s history is immortalised in some of Cambodia’s most visited tourist sites, and visitors are encouraged to learn about this dark period at various killing field sites and prison museums.
Beyond its tragic past, however, Cambodia is a perfect place to witness remnants of the ancient Khmer Empire, heralded as one of the most advanced and powerful ancient empires in the world. Credited with incredible feats in engineering and infrastructure, the Khmer Empire proves continuously fascinating for scholars and archeologists alike who continue to uncover fascinating evidence of this mysterious civilisation's glorious past. Perhaps one of the best places to learn about this exceptional empire is at UNESCO World Heritage recognised Angkor Wat, the largest religious structure in the world and a distinct point of pride for the Khmer people.
Getting around Cambodia’s cities is both inexpensive and a travel experience in itself. Most cities’ best-known mode of transportation are tuk-tuks - motorised open-air carts that are more maneuverable than a car but safer than a motorbike. Most tuk-tuks in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and other big cities have cushioned seats and make for an exciting mode of transportation when visiting temples, museums and other city sites.
Generally, cost for trips in major cities like Siem Riep are approximately $1-3. Journeys shorter than a kilometer are never less than $1, and prices can increase at nightfall. It is important to keep your belongings close, as bag snatching in Phnom Penh can occur. Also, expect to pay extra depending on the number of passengers there are or for excessive baggage.
Tuk-tuks are one of the most convenient and practical modes of transportation for visitors. While popular with locals, motorbike taxis are unregulated and can drive recklessly. Motorbike transportation in Cambodia is not recommended by Buffalo Tours, and it should be noted that it is not usually covered by insurance.
When to visit Cambodia
The tropical climate of Cambodia is relatively calm and consistent throughout the country due to its vast plains. The average temperature is 27 degrees celsius and there are two seasons: the humid monsoon season from April to October, and the dry season from November to March.
Between March and May, the dusty flatlands that stretch through Cambodia become hot and dry with temperatures reaching almost 40 degrees Celsius during midday. Due to lack of rainfall, the timing is perfect for escaping to the beaches of Sihanoukville.
The ideal season to explore the temples of Angkor Wat is during the rainy season which arrives in June and often lasts until November. The rain replenishes the lush greenery adding to the mystique of the mighty ruins, covered in moss and leafy trees. Eventually, the rain ushers in cooler temperatures by October.
Overall, the best time of year to visit Cambodia is from November to February. Temperatures reach a comfortable mid-20 degrees Celsius, skies are clear and evenings are cool. However, Cambodia’s weather can be unpredictable, so it may be a good idea to carry an umbrella or raincoat with you. It is also easy and inexpensive to purchase raincoats from supermarkets and general stores.
Festivals and National Holidays
The most important holiday for Cambodia is Khmer New Year, or Chaul Chnam Thmey (meaning, ‘enter new year’ in Khmer) held between April 14 and 16. These three days are based on the Buddhist calendar, marking the end of the harvest and the welcoming of the rainy season. Typically, each of the three days are distinct in their customs and traditions, with the first day believed to be when “angels” visit homes. You will find many Khmer locals spending this first day cleaning their homes and donning their best clothing. On following days, pious Buddhists will spend time giving alms to the poor, washing Buddhist idols with scented water and elders and enjoying Karlan rice cake, a sticky-rice treat roasted over charcoal.
Second in significance on to Chaul Chnam Thmey is Pchum Ben holiday, a 15-day religious festival in veneration of the dead. Celebrated in September or October, Khmer locals believe that this marks the time of year that the gate’s of hell open and ghosts of relatives once again roam the earth. Families pay respect to deceased ancestors of up to 7 generations, offering food and gifts at family altars. If you’re in Cambodia during this holiday, you might find that ancestral altars and temples are especially vibrant and lively.
Other major holidays include:
Victory Day, 7 January
Bonn Visak Bochea, Mid-May
Royal Ploughing Ceremony, May
Water Festival, October or November
The central tower of Angkor Wat is closed to visitors on Buddhist holidays.
Top places to visit in Cambodia
The once sleepy provincial town of Siem Reap is now one of Cambodia’s most visited cities, thanks to its proximity to the nation’s most treasured landmark - Angkor Temple Complex. Beyond its ancient temples, though, lie some of Cambodia’s most idyllic countryside and Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, Tonle Sap. At the city centre lays an old market filled with day spas, boutiques, galleries and artisanal handicraft stores.
During the days of French Indochina, the city of Phnom Penh was known as the “Pearl of Asia”, and still retains much of its historic charm. With an incredible history and a collection of some of Asia’s most beautiful art-deco buildings, palaces and pagodas, Phnom Penh is now a hub for an emerging contemporary arts and music scene. The capital is also home to Choeung Ek the Khmer Rouge prison turned museum and Tuol Sleng, one of the most well known killing fields of Cambodia.
The small riverside city of Battambang is just far enough off of the tourist track to have a uniquely laid-back and enchanting atmosphere. Famous for flavourful cuisine, beautifully preserved French architecture, 11th Century temples and its unconvential bamboo train, Battambang is a fantastic place to see Khmer countryside life unfold. Fishing villages on the banks of Sangkar River are the perfect backdrop for a retreat.
Cambodia’s southern coast boasts some of Southeast Asia’s best beaches, but remains more remote and untouched than the region’s better-known seaside destinations. Quiet waters and mild weather makes for great diving and snorkeling conditions, while secluded beaches in Sihanoukville are a getaway favourite. The historic coastal town of Kep is also home to stone pebble beaches and fascinating abandoned architecture, namely the mysterious Bokor Hill Station in nearby Kampot.
Top things to do in Cambodia
Sampling Local Flavour in Chansor Village
Located on the dusty outskirts of Siem Reap, the sleepy village of Chansor is one of only a few remaining villages that still employs traditional Khmer farming methods. Here you can get a hands-on taste of agricultural lifestyles in rural Cambodia when you ride an ox cart, try your hand at farming or fishing and sit down for a local, family-style meal. As an added bonus, proceeds from your visit contribute to support the livelihoods of locals in the village.
Exploring the Architecture of Phnom Penh
Though Cambodia’s capital city is most known for the Killing Fields and S21 Prison Museum, Phnom Penh is a fascinating urban testament to the nation’s tumultuous and complex past life - a story best discovered in its varied historical architecture. A wander by traditional cyclo and by foot uncovers the city’s classic Khmer architecture, colonial buildings and the impact of famous Khmer architect Vann Molyvann on the city’s mosaic of artistic and historical influences.
Visiting the temples of Angkor by tuk-tuk
Cambodia’s famous open-air vehicle, the tuk-tuk, injects a special element of excitement to a journey around Siem Reap’s famous temple complex. Bump along dusty roads and follow jungle trails towards some of Angkor’s best-known temples, including the tree-enveloped Ta Prohm temple of Tomb Raider fame and the magnificent Angkor Wat, the largest and most iconic of the UNESCO World Heritage site’s structures.
Lounging in Kep
After adventuring through the temples, bustling cities and immersing yourself in local culture, unwind in the serenity of the coastline. A mid-century resort town for French and Khmer elites, Kep is still a perfect place to escape. Spend a few days or even a week snorkeling, diving or simply relaxing on some of Southeast Asia’s most remote and relaxing beaches in Kep.