Instead of the more well known destinations in Southeast Asia such as Thailand and Vietnam, more and more travellers are choosing to also visit Cambodia. A must-see for most travellers to Cambodia is the temple complex Angkor Wat, but the country has a lot more to offer aside from this. Discover the beautiful landscapes with white sandy beaches, rice fields and green hills, and learn more about the horrific yet moving history of the country.


Facts and numbers

Cambodia is home to over 16 million people, of whom the majority are Buddhist. The capital of the country is Phnom-Penh. The official language of Cambodia is Khmer, though on a smaller scale you can find people speaking Chinese, Vietnamese and Cham, the language of a people that lives spread across a number of Southeast Asian countries. Many older Cambodians speak French, the preferred educational language in many schools and universities in the country. The use of English has been increasing since 1993 and has partially replaced French, which used to be the original primary foreign language. To travel to Cambodia, a visa is required, which can be easily applied for online. It is recommended to apply for the visa online before departure, if all of the requirements of this visa are met.

CapitalPhnom Penh
LanguageKhmer
Surface181,035 km²
Population16 million
ReligionBuddhism (96%), Islam (2%)
CurrencyCambodian riel (KHR)
Time difference6 hour (summertime) of 7 uur (wintertime)
Flight time11 to 12 hours
PlugsType A, C or G (travel pug required)
Tap waterNot safe to drink
VisaVisa is mandatory

Map

Cambodia is a country in Southeast Asia that borders Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. The country has a surface of over 181,000 km², a coastline of roughly 441 km at the Gulf of Thailand, and is divided into 24 provinces and the urban area Phnom Penh. The Mekong, the longest river in Southeast Asia, flows from Laos in the north through Cambodia to Vietnam in the southeast. Almost all of the borders with the neighboring countries of Cambodia are formed by low mountains. The interior of Cambodia consists of lowlands, which are fertile due to frequent floods. This is because a large part of the country is made out of rivers and lakes. Of note is the Tonlé Sap lake, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia that lies centrally in the lowlands. The surface of this lake kan rise to 16.000 km² in the rainy season.


History

Early history
In the first century after Christ, the kingdoms of Funan and Chenla arose in Indochina. The the sixth century after Christ, the kingdom of Chenla took over Funan and a large empire emerged that would become the ruling power in the region for the next 250 years. The period from the takeover of Zhenla until the moment the centre of power shifted to the west, near the Tonlé Sap lap, is called the pre-Angkor period.

In the ninth century, the Khmer kingdom came into being, with Angkor - the hole temple city, now seen as the largest religious construct in the world - as the capital. The Khmer empire stretched out over largest parts of Southeast Asia. Current-day Cambodia, large parts of Laos and Thailand, and even a piece of Vietnam belonged to the kingdom. After a number of wars with kingdoms from Thailand, the capital Angkor was captured in 1432, and the Khmer moved the capital to Phnom Penh, the current capital of Cambodia.

French rule and Vietnam war
To avoid the country from being fully taken over by Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia turned to the French. In 1863, the country become a protectorate of France and several years later, in 1887, the country joined the Union of Indochina along with the Vietnamese protectorates Tonkin and Annam (and later Laos). In 1953, the kingdom of Cambodia became independent from France under king Sihanouk, who governed the country as sole ruler.

During the Vietnam war, Cambodia was heavily targeted by American bombers. After Laos, Cambodia was the most bombarded country in Southeast Asia, even though the country did not even take part in the war. The Americans suspected that there was a hidden route from North-Vietnam through Laos and east Cambodia to supply the Vietcong and the Vietnamese army. This led to some 600,000 civilians casualties in Cambodia.

Khmer Rouge
In 1970, Cambodian officers under the command of general Lon Nol defeated the government of king Sihanouk and declared the Khmer Republic. A civil war broke out, and Sihanouk joined the communists, later known as the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge were supposedly fighting for an equal society, after the example of Mao Zedong in China. In 1975, they conquered Phnom Penh under the command of dictator Pol Pot, who tried to turn Cambodia into a communist agrarian state. The people were forced to move from the cities to the countryside. Anyone who did not cooperate or did not support the regime was forced with the use of violence, or questioned in torture prisons. Under the regime of Pol Pot, one and a half to two million Cambodians were murdered, a fifth to a quarter of the entire population.

Recent developments
In 1978, Vietnam invaded Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge were driven to the west. They continued to wage a guerilla war in the 80’s with the support of China. In 1991, a peace treaty was signed and Cambodia fell under the administration of the United Nations. In 1993, the country held elections for the first time in a long time, and Sihanouk became king again. However, the situation in the country remained unstable until 2003. Currently, the country is ruled by the CCP (Cambodian People’s Party).

Monk


Climate

Cambodia has a tropical monsoon climate, making it warm throughout the entire year. Temperatures fluctuate between an average of 30 degrees celsius in November and December to 35 degrees celsius in April. The country has two seasons, a dry season and a rainy season. The months November until May belong to the dry season, during which little rain falls. In the rainy season - from June until October - quite a lot of rain can fall.

Best travel time
The dry season - from November until May - is seen by many travellers as the best time to go to Cambodia. However, there are still benefits to travelling during the rainy season. During this time, there are less tourists in the country, making it less busy at some of the better known sights and the beaches. Accommodations and flights are usually also cheaper during the rainy season.

Month
Average max. temperature in °C
Avg. max. temp. in °C
Average min. temperature in °C
Avg. min. temp. in °C
Average number of days rain
Avg. number of days rain
January32211
February32221
March34233
April35246
May342514
June332415
July322516
August322516
September312419
October312419
November30239
December30224

People and culture

Buddhism plays a large part in the Cambodian culture and has been the state religion since 1989. The largest part of the population (about 95 percent) belongs to the Khmer. Aside from the larger minorities the Cham (an Islamic group), the Chinese and the Vietnamese, the country also has smaller minorities such as the Thai, the Laotians and a number of mountain people. The effects of the Cambodian civil war and the rule of the Khmer Rouge can still be clearly seen today. Due to the enormous number of deaths during the time of the Khmer Rouge, about half of the current population is under 22 years. Part of the population is illiterate, as the school system is still being rebuilt.

During a stay in Cambodia, it is advised to take into account local customs and normans and values, which can differ from British ones. For instance, not everyone appreciates having their picture taken. Furthermore, it is important to behave yourself respectfully at holy places, and to wear clothes that cover the shoulders and knees. Travellers planning to perform volunteer work in Cambodia are advised to read up on the possible negative consequences of this. Volunteer work in orphanages in Cambodia can cause (unintended) harm to the local population. It is also not recommended to discuss political issues in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge is a loaded subject in the country, one which the population generally would rather not talk about.


Money and currency

The currency of Cambodia is the Cambodian riel (KHR), also called the Khmer riel. Aside from that, the American dollar is also a frequently used payment method. Currently, £ roughly equals 4,464 Cambodian riel. Take note that many supermarkets, hotels and stores do not accept bills that are (lightly) damaged. With most ATMs in Cambodia, British debit cards can be used to withdraw money. Most of the time, you have the option to withdraw Cambodian riel as well as American dollars. It is also advised to bring a credit card along, in case the debit card is not accepted. Credit card companies do have high transactions costs for withdrawing money abroad. Also keep in mind that many banks have blocked usage of debit cards outside of the eurozone as a safety precautions. Check beforehand with your bank if you debit card can be used in Cambodia.

Life in Cambodia is generally very affordable for western tourists. A hotel room can be found for £ 20 to 30 per person per night. A cheap meal can be had for as little as £ 2,25, a larger meal in a restaurant will cost you about £ 8 per person. Entry tickets for the temple complex Angkor Wat currently cost 20, 40 or 60 USD, depending on the number of the days the complex is visited.

Temple


Visa

British tourists need a visa to travel to Cambodia. In most cases, the Cambodia visa can be easily applied for online by filling out the digital application cost and paying the cost. Next, a scan or photo of the passport as well as a passport photo or clear selfie must be provided. Visa applications for Cambodia are generally approved within a week. Travellers that are leaving in the near future and still do not have a visa can submit an urgent application. The visa is then usually issued within 24 hours. Check before applying whether you meet all of the requirements of the visa.
Apply for a Cambodia visa now


Safety and health

Safety risks
Cambodia is generally a safe country to visit, although there are a number of risks that need to be taken into account. In the countryside of Cambodia, primarily at the border with neighbouring countries, mines and bombs can be buried. Avoid these areas, which are clearly marked with warning signs.

The situation at the border with Thailand, especially in the provinces Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey, is tense. The borders in this area are not clearly indicated. It is advised to keep a safe distance from the border, to make sure you are not breaking any rules.

Cambodia has its share of criminality. Travellers are advised to watch out for pickpockets and street robbers, and to keep valuable documents in a safe place. Protests and political demonstrations are best avoided.

Vaccinations and medication
For a trip to Cambodia, a number of vaccinations and medicines are recommended. A vaccination against yellow fever is only mandatory for travellers that are coming from a country that has yellow fever (some countries in Africa and South America). Furthermore, a vaccination against hepatitis A and DTP is recommended for all travellers. Depending on the length of stay and the activities in Cambodia, vaccinations against typhoid fever, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies, Japanese encephalitis and measles can be wise. Take not that fresh water in Cambodia can have Schistosomiasis, and take necessary precautions (for example, by not swimming, diving or water skiing in fresh water).

Travellers are also advised to protect themselves against diseases that are transmitted by mosquitoes, such as malaria, zika or dengue fever. In some cases, it might be necessary to take tablets to avoid malaria. In most parts of the country, the risk of malaria is average. The highest risk is in the rainforest and in the border areas with Thailand and Laos. A far lower risk is in a wide belt through the middle of the country, from southeast to northwest along the Mekong to Lake Tonlé Sap. For all travellers, it is advisable to wear covering clothing (long trousers and long sleeves) and to rub uncovered skin with a protective agent such as DEET.

Contact a doctor or travel nurse well before departure for personal advice on the necessary vaccinations and malaria prophylaxis.