Introduction

Cambodia, land of the Angkor Kings

For over five hundred years, Angkor was at the core of one of humankind's greatest civilizations. The mighty “Devaraja” or God-kings ruled a vast swathes of what is now Southeast Asia from their heartland in the northern plains of Cambodia. They built immense and dazzling cities and temples decorated with intricate stone carvings to honour both their gods and themselves. At its height in the late 12th century , Angkor is believed to have been home to about one million people. One of the largest cities on earth at that time.

Like other great empires before and since, the mighty Khmer civilization eventually declined. In the 15th century, the Ayutthaya Thais sacked the city several times until eventually it was abandoned and entire population, including the Royal Court moved to current day Phnom Penh. Once abandoned, the jungle quickly reclaimed the temples and they remained lost to the outside world until their rediscovery in 1860 by the French explorer Henri Mahout.

It has been said the temples of Angkor represent the finest architectural artistry in human history. To comprehend their grandeur and magnificence requires imagination. Imagine the Great Egyptian Pyramids at Giza if every stone were carved with portrayals of fantastic myths and legends. To better grasp the sheer scale, both St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Paul’s Cathedral in London would fit easily inside the perimeter walls of Angkor Wat.

The country of Cambodia itself remained a quiet, undisturbed backwater for much of the last century. Now emerging from years of isolation, the country offers a true taste of Southeast Asia before the arrival of mass tourism and rampant commercialisation.
Together with the other countries of Indochina, Cambodia has had its fill of tragedy. Yet its people are nothing if not pragmatic and forward looking. Cambodia today has much to offer the curious and adventurous traveller.

Destinations
Travel tips
  • Traditional arts and crafts are abundant in Cambodia after years of neglect during the years of the Khmer Rouge. However there has been a revival, due to a great deal of restoration work that has been initiated by foreign governments. Now many centers have been established to keep the ancient methods of the craftsman alive. Examples of this can be seen throughout the country.

    There is a wide variety of arts and crafts including silver and gold jewelry, wicker furniture, hardwood furniture, silks, marble sculptures, high quality china, leatherware and much more. Many of the products are detailed with intricate carvings.

  • VICTORY OVER GENOCIDE DAY (7 January 2013)

    This national holiday commemorates the fall of Pol Pot’s regime on 7 January, 1979.

    MEAK BOCHEA (27 March 2013)

    Buddhist Ceremony held during the full moon of the month of Meak Bochea in commemoration of the spontaneous gathering of the monks to listen to the Buddha's preaching.

    BONN CHAUL CHNAM TMEY (KHMER NEW YEAR) (14 – 16 April 2013)

    Bonn Chaul Chnam Tmey is the Khmer equivalent of Songkran in Thailand and Phimai in Laos. Marking the end of the harvest season, it generally lasts for three days, during which time Cambodians clean and decorate their houses, make offerings at the local temple and throw water at each other as a form of blessing. City streets are decorated and brightly lit in the evenings and special cultural, entertainment and traditionally sporting events are organized especially for the occasion including traditional games such as Boh Angkunh, Chhoal Chhoung, Leak Kroseng, Teanh Preot, and many more.

    ROYAL PLOUGHING CEREMONY (11 May 2013)

    Bonn Chroat Preah Nongkoal, The Royal Ploughing Ceremony, dates back to the times when the reigning king traced the first furrows in the capital's sacred rice field, thus inaugurating the ploughing season. Today, the ritual is performed at the start of the rainy season in late May each year, with representatives of the king taking the role of King Meakh, who leads the yoke and plough, and Queen Mehour, who sows the seeds. After circling the field three times, the procession stops at a shrine where Brahmins invoke the protection of the gods. Sacred cows are then brought to eat from seven silver trays containing such things as rice, corn, beans, sesame seeds, grass, water and wine while predictions are made for the coming year based upon what they select. The harvest will be good if they choose the cereals, rain will be abundant if they drink water, but trouble is feared if they eat herbs or drink alcohol.

    KING NORODOM SIHAMONI’S BIRTHDAY (13 – 15 May 2013)

    Norodom Sihamoni was formally crowned as Cambodia's new monarch on 29 October 2004. In a glittering coronation ceremony the 51-year-old former ballet dancer officially took over from his father, Norodom Sihanouk, as monarch. His father anointed his head with nine jars of holy water, a symbolic gesture to bless his reign. Then, in front of an audience of top government officials, monks, royalty and diplomats, King Sihamoni took the oath marking the official start of his reign. While Cambodian kings used to have great authority in the past, the position is now largely symbolic and wields no real power. However the position is still important in the country because of the reverence the Cambodian people have for the royal family.

    VISAKA BOCHEA DAY (VISAKAH PUJA or BUDDHA’S BIRTHDAY) (25 May 2013)

    This nationwide festival commemorates the day of the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and death. Held during the sixth full moon of the lunar calendar, it involves chanting, sermons and a candlelit processions to the wat.

    KING'S MOTHER BIRTHDAY

    This national holiday is marked for the King mother's reverence.

    BONN CHOL VASSA

    Held to coincide with the eighth full moon of the lunar calendar, this festival marks the beginning of the three-month Buddhist lent, when Buddhist monks fast and meditate. Young men consider this festival auspicious for entering the monastery.

    CONSTITUTIONAL DAY (24 September 2013)

    This national holiday celebrates the formal adoption of the Constitution of Cambodia in 1993.

    BONN PCHUM BEN – ANCESTOR WORSHIP or SPIRITS FESTIVAL (14 October 2013)

    This is the time when the spirits of the dead ancestors walk the Earth. The living can ease their sufferings by offering them food. Very early in the morning people, all over Cambodia gather at the temples with offerings of rice, which they toss on to the ground to feed their dead ancestors. According to Buddhist beliefs, our life after death is predicated by our actions when we were living. In regard to Buddhist ethics, this festival offers a chance for all Cambodian Buddhists to pay gratitude to their deceased ancestors as well as to those living parents and elders. The principles of Buddhist practice are to get rid of all evils, to cultivate the good and to cleanse one's mind. Pchum Ben has bonded Cambodian society and it is a cultural thread to the nation.

    KING NORODOM SIHANOUK’S BIRTHDAY (KING FATHER'S BIRTHDAY) (31 October 2013)

    This national holiday is marked for the former king Sihanouk's reverence. Norodom Sihanouk reigned as King of Cambodia until his abdication on 7 October 2004. He now holds the title, "King-Father of Cambodia", a position which sees him retaining many of his former prerogatives when he was king. During Cambodia’s turbulent history, since the 1940s, he held so many positions that the Guiness Book of World Records identified him as the politician who had occupied the world's greatest variety of political offices. These included two terms as king, two as sovereign prince, one as president, two as prime minister, and one as Cambodia's non-titled head of state, as well as numerous positions as leader of various governments in exile.

    BONN KATHEN (End of Buddhist lent)

    This celebrates the end of the three-month rain retreat on the day of the full moon. Monks are at last permitted to leave the temple and are presented with robes, alms bowls and other requisites of the renunciative life. One particularly beautiful aspect is Lai Hua Fai. On the eve of Awk Phansaa people gather at the nearest body of water to release dozens of small banana-leaf boats decorated with candles, incense and small flowers, in a celebration similar to the Thai Loy Krathong.

    KING SIHAMONI'S CORONATION DAY

    Some exhibitions, live shows and a firework are organized near the riverbank in front of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh to celebrate on this day.

    INDEPENDENCE DAY (9 November 2013)

    Each year 9 November is a national holiday, held to celebrate the independence of Cambodia from France in 1953. A gala parade is held in front of the Royal Palace, which includes floats, marching bands and other entertaining festive activities.

    WATER and MOON FESTIVAL (27 November 2013)

    The Water and Moon Festival in Cambodia takes place each year in November during the full moon, and is the most extravagant and exuberant event in the Khmer calendar. On the day of the full moon up to a million people from all walks of life and from all over the country flock to the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers in Phnom Penh to watch traditional boat racing, which is held on a grand scale. Boat racing dates back to the times of the Khmer Empire and was a demonstration of the strength of the powerful Khmer marine forces. The festival also marks the change in the flow of the Tonle Sap River and as thanksgiving to the Mekong River for providing the country with fertile land and abundant fish.

    KITE FLYING FESTIVAL

    Traditionally held after the harvest season, the annual Kite Flying Festival is held to celebrate peace and harmony in society and features a special kind of kite known as the khleng ek which has participated in many overseas kite-flying competitions. Funding is provided jointly by the government and external donors.

  • In Cambodia, visitors are more vulnerable to illnesses in rural and isolated provinces where there is a lack of modern medical treatment facilities and low sanitation, or where there are infectious insects. If you fall seriously ill in those provinces, you should ask guides or other local people for proper advice when searhcing appropriate hospitals or other health care centers nearby. If the condition is very serous, you should return to Phnom Penh or to other major provinces where there is a fair quality of treatment available.

    MEDICAL FACILITIES

    Over the counter prescription drugs are widely available in major cities and provinces, but it is best to bring frequently-used medicines from home. Likewise, it is also recommended that visitors should bring a basic travel first-aid kit with band-aids, anti-infection creams, mosquito repellant, and the like, although some of these are available in Cambodia. There are many large and modern hospitals in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap for emergency treatment.

    HOSPITALS CONTACTS

    PHNOM PENH

    American Medical Center & Med Evac International

    6, Preah Monivong (St. 93), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Tel: +855 (0)23 991 863

    Duty phone: +855 (0)12 591 041

    Email: medicare_international@yahoo.com

    Website: www.reidsheftall.com

    Community and Family Medical Clinic

    262, St. 63, Sangkat Tonle Bassac

    Khan Chamkar Mon, Phnom Penh

    Tel: +855 (0)23 217 349

    E-mail: marissa.md@online.com.kh

    IMI – International Dentist Clinic

    193, St. 208, Boeung Reng, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh

    Tel: +855 (0)23 212 909

    Email: info@imiclinic.com

    Website: www.imiclinic.com

    First Center Clinic

    408, Preah Monivong (St. 93), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Tel: +855 (0)23 211 010

    Email:

    Emergency Call +855 (0)92 911 911

    International SOS (Cambodia) Pte.,Ltd.

    Medical & Dental Clinic Emergency Medical Assitance & Repatriation

    161 St. 51 (Pasteur), Corner to Street 228, next to old US Embassy, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Tel: +855 (0)23 216 911

    Email: info.cambodia@internationalsos.com

    Website: www.internationalsos.com

    Royal Rattanak Hospital

    (Affiliated with Bangkok Hospital Medical Centre)

    11, St. 592, Boeung Kak 2, Toul Kork, Phnom Penh

    Tel: +855 (0)23 365 555

    Fax: +855 (0)23 986 992

    Email: info@royalrattanakhospital.com / atomzen@gmail.com

    website: www.royalrattanakhospital.com

    Tropical & Travellers Medical Clinic

    88, St.108, (Wat Phnom Quarter), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Tel: +855 (0)23 306 802

    Mobile: +855 (0)12 898 981

    Postal address: PO Box 2068

    Email: drscott@camitel.com

    Website: www.travellersmedicalclinic.com

    SIEM REAP

    Royal Angkor Hospital

    National Road No. 6 (Airport road), Phum Kasekam, Khum Sra Ngea, Siem Reap

    Tel: +855 (0)63 761 888

    Fax: +855 (0)63 761 739

    Email: info@royalangkorhospital.com

    Website: www.royalangkorhospital.com

  • The official currency of Cambodia is the Riel (KHR) and US dollars are widely accepted. The exchange rate for US$ 1 is approximately 4,100 KHR. It is quite easy in fact many businesses set their prices in US dollars. Carrying some Riel around for small purchases is recommended.

    Almost all hotels, souvenir shops, and restaurants accept US Dollars so it is worth bringing some US currency in small denominations. Cashing travelers' cheques is possible in banks and high class hotels most of which located in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and are most likely to accept Visa and MasterCard.

    The acceptance of credit cards is gradually increasing in Cambodia and you can get access to your cash wherever you are due to the tremendous growing of commercial banks, ATMs and POS machines.

  • International telephone calls, Fax and E-mail accessibility are available almost everywhere in Cambodia, except some remote areas where lacking of sophistically technical facilities. Airmail to Europe – US, AU, UK, Germany, and more, takes about 3-4 days. (3-4 days excluding Saturday and Sunday)

    Country code: 855. Phnom Penh code: 23. Siem Reap code: 63. Most hotels are equipped with Internet service and IDD lines. Making calls by IDD Phone is quite expensive. Public phones utilizing prepaid phone cards are fairly common in country in particularly major city and provinces, with the cards on sale at the post office, most hotels, marts, stores, and supermarkets.

  • In general, traveling in Cambodia is very safe. Provincial destinations in Cambodia such as Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor are exceptionally secured. Women and independent travelers have found it relatively hassle-free and easy to travel throughout the country.

    Traffic & transportation safety, petty thefts, pick pocketing and bag snatching are mostly declining. However, some incidents will still unexpectedly happen. Elsewhere in the country these events are almost unheard of.

    It is recommended that you be careful and cautious with your belongings while in crowds including bus stations, local celebrations and so forth. All bags should have sturdy locks. Place all valuables, including passports and air tickets, in the in-room safety box at hotels or at the front desk. It is suggested that you do not bring expensive items such as jewelry and watches or carrying unnecessarily large amounts of cash with you at anytime.

  • VISA & CUSTOMS

    A visa is required to enter Cambodia. Visas can be obtained at Royal Embassies and Consulates of Cambodia. A visa on arrival, valid for 30 days, available and issued at major checkpoints including those at Phnom Penh International Airport, Siem Reap International Airport, Poi Pet, O'Smach and Cham Yeam at the Cambodia-Thailand international border checkpoint, Bavet, Kaam Samnor at the Cambodia-Vietnam international border checkpoint, and some other international checkpoints.

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has launched e-visa, which enables guests to apply for a Cambodia tourist visa online. Instead of applying through Cambodian embassies and consulates, all visitors need to do is to complete the online application form and pay with their credit card. After receiving their visa via email, print out and take it with you when traveling to Cambodia. (Note: Do not purchase e-Visas through any other unofficial websites besides that of the official Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website.)

    Visa fee: Business visa: US$25, Tourist visa: US$20.

    Meanwhile, there are nine countries being under strictly controlled before issuing Visa to enter Cambodia including Afghanistan, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. (If you are one of the citizens from the mentioned countries, please check carefully with your embassy and you must have your guarantor to certify your purpose of visiting Cambodia. Unless proper information is given, you would not be allowed to enter Cambodia.)

    VISA APPLICATION FORMS

    The passenger hands over the completed application form together with a photo and the passport to a visa officer. Once the application is approved and passport stamped, the fee is paid. (As stated above, Visa fee: Business visa: US$25, Tourist visa: US$20.)

    Application for an entry visa requires:

    + A completed visa application form
    + Passport valid at least further 6 months
    + One recent photograph (4x6)
    + Appropriate visa fee
    + Supporting documents for business and official visas

    CUSTOMS

    The customers officer will check the completed customs form and the passport. Luggage is placed on the x-ray machine. After passing all luggage (including hand luggage, handbag, etc.) through the machine, the passenger will be met by our guide.

    When traveling from Cambodia to Vietnam be sure to detail a brief list of all antiques purchased in Cambodia. Upon arrival in Vietnam, have Vietnamese customs authorities confirm and stamp this brief list. There are strict restrictions on exporting certain Vietnamese arts and antiques so identifying goods purchased in Cambodia in advance are the best things to do.

    AIRPORT TAX

    International and Domestic Airport Tax (Phnom Penh & Siem Reap): Air fares include airport taxes and passengers are no longer required to pay airport taxes.

    BORDER CROSSING

    Cambodia is sharing borders with Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand as below:

    Cambodia Vietnam
    Bavet
    (Svay Rieng)
    Moc Bai
    (Go Dau, Tay Ninh)
    Phnom Den
    (Takeo)
    Tinh Bien
    (Chau Doc)
    Khaorm Samnor
    (Kandal, Prey Veng)
    Song Tien
    (Vinh Xuong, Chau Doc)
    Trapeang Srer
    (Kratie)
    Bo Nue
    (Loc Ninh, Binh Phuoc)
    Trapeang Plong (Kompong Cham) Xa Mat
    (Tan Bien, Tay Ninh)
    Oyadav
    (Ratanakiri)
    Le Thanh
    (Duc co, Pleiku)
    Prek Chak
    (Kep)
    Xa Xia
    (Ha Tien)
    Cambodia Laos
    Dong Kralor
    (Stung Treng) by river
    Voeung Kam
    (Champasak) by river
    Trapeang Kreal
    (Stung Treng) by land
    Norng Nak Khien (Champasak) by land
    Cambodia Thailand
    Poipet
    (Banteay Meanchey)
    Aranyaprathet
    (Sa Kaeo)
    Cham Yeam
    (Koh Kong)
    Cham Yeam
    (Hat Lek, Trat)
    O'Smach
    (Oddar Meanchey)
    Chong Som
    (Surin)
    Choam
    ( Anlong Veng, Oddar Meanchey)
    Chong Sa Ngam
    (Sisaket)
    Prum
    (Pailin)
    Ban Pakard
    (Chantaburi)
    Daung
    (Kamreang, Battambang)
    Ban Laem
    (Chantaburi)

     

    Note:

    + Visa on arrival is available for all major international checkpoints.
    + Two passport-size photos are needed for visa processing.

  • PHOTOGRAPHY

    Obtain permission before photographing monks or the interiors of pagodas and temples.

    ELECTRICITY

    The electric current is 220 volts. Power blackouts are frequent, even in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. In small towns, the current can be off for long periods of time. Hotels usually have flashlights or candles to hand.

    CLOTHING

    Light cotton and linen clothing is best in tropical climates. Long trousers are recommended for visits to temples and pagodas. Long sleeved shirts and socks should be worn at dusk for protection against mosquitoes. Sunglasses, hats, and sunscreen are recommended for protection against the strong tropical sun.

    DRINK PLENTY OF BOTTLED WATER

    During the summer months you should be drinking a minimum of 2 liters per day. If you drink tea, coffee & alcohol you should increase you water intake accordingly as these will dehydrate you.

    It is not advisable to drink tap water in any Southeast Asian countries. Bottled water is recommended (approx. R1,000) but do check the expiry date before opening it. Ice is widely used in Cambodia and it is produced with treated water, but the transportation of it in huge blocks often involves dragging it along the ground, therefore cold water in freezers should be ordered to avoid any stomach upsets.

    WHAT TO DO IN A WAT

    The Khmer are a tolerant people and may choose not to point out improper behavior to their foreign guests, but you should dress and act with the utmost respect when visiting Wats or other religious sites (including the temples of Angkor). Proper etiquette in pagodas is mostly a matter of common sense.

    Unlike Thailand, a woman may accept something from a monk, but should be careful not to touch him or his robe. A few other tips include:

    + Don’t wear shorts or tank tops
    + Remove your hat when entering the ground of the Wats.
    + Remove your shoes before going into the vihara (sanctuary).
    + If you sit down in front of the dais (the platform on which the Buddha images are placed), sit with your feet to the side rather than in the lotus position (with your legs crossed).
    + Never point your finger towards a person or a figure of the Buddha.

    SHOPPING & DINING 

    ART & HANDICRAFTS

    Across the land of green rice paddies, shining blue waters, great wandering rivers and lush forests, the people of Cambodia are re-learning the arts of their ancestors.

    SILK WEAVING

    Gem-colored silk in a brilliant array of colors are stacked floor to ceiling in shops at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. This Cambodian handicraft has been passed down from generation to generation. You can visit silk weavers in various places in Cambodia including Kandal, Prey Veng and Takeo provinces. The colors of traditional Khmer silk costumes are historically associated with the days of the week as follows:

    Yellow for Monday, Purple for Tuesday, Green and Copper on Wednesday, Green for Thursday, Blue on Friday, Violet for Saturday and Red for Sunday.

    SILVER

    The art of the Silversmith reached its height in Cambodia during the 11th century when crafted objects were used primarily by Royalty and the upper classes for ceremonial purposes including funerals and religious rituals. You can find market stalls offering many silver items including intricate fruit and animal designs as well as traditional pieces.

    CARVINGS

    Wood carvings reflect strong spiritual beliefs with roots in animism from the pillars of a house to the elaborate motifs of the moon, stars, fruit and flowers. Houses are built with great attention given to the pillars, each having its own spirit of a woman, and roofs feature elaborate carved motifs. Miniature "Spirit Houses" are strategically placed at homes and other buildings and they are used for offerings of food, flowers and incense. Carved boxes and statues are used for ornamentation and furniture.

    Stone carving is another popular art form and again you will find many vendors in the main tourist markets offering pieces for sale. There is an excellent array of reproduction pieces available.