During my 3 month sabbatical off work, one of my six chosen countries to explore was Cambodia.
The choice to visit stemmed purely from the feedback I received from my Brother and Sister-in-law who had recently been there.
Oblivious to Cambodia’s history, I arrived with an open if not somewhat ignorant mind.
Below are a list of 10 helpful tips you should know about Cambodia:
- Tuk tucks / Motos: Don’t fall into the trap of getting on one without having first agreed a price for the journey. You don’t need a tuk tuk driver for the whole day. They are everywhere and easily come by especially in tourist areas. And haggling is the game! My only extra advice for solo travellers is to make sure you feel safe with the particular tuk tuk driver you find. Instinct pays off and if you do not feel comfortable then do not get on the tuk tuk!
- Haggle: Following on nicely form tip 1, be brave enough to haggle to avoid being ripped off and paying tourist prices for otherwise cheap goods and services. Learning the art of negotiating will help in all facets of your life. Having said that… be mindful that you are in a developing country and haggling a couple of dollars here and there makes less of a difference to your life than it does to theirs.
- Dust Mask & Sunglasses: Get a good pair of sunglasses to cover your eyes and a dust mask to cover your nose and mouth for the journey to the Killing Fields (or any other tourist place that is outside the main city). The Killing Fields are about 30min away from the city centre by tuk tuk. The majority of the trip is made on a dirt road as the main asphalt road is under construction. They may have finished the road by now (please let me know if this is the case in the comments section below!).
- Drinks: Drink only bottled water and avoid anything washed in tap water. It is not worth the hassle if you get sick and miss half of your holiday in bed or on the toilet.
- Food: Avoid salads or raw fruit that has been washed. It’ll have been washed in tap water riddled with bacteria that a western gut cannot tolerate. Get the nutrition you need from cooked vegetables and from uncut or skin covered raw fruits.
- Money: The US dollar is the second main currency used in Cambodia. The exchange rate between US Dollars and the Cambodian Riel is approximately 1 USD : 4100 KHR. Most ATMs in the country dispense both currencies, but it is much easier to handle dollars to keep track of your spending. When you arrive in the country you will need to fill out a Visa form which you can only buy using US dollars, and some places only accept USD so you may be better off converting to $ than the local national currency. Be sure to have a lot of $1 and $5 notes that are relatively new and in good condition as older or ripped notes may likely be rejected.
- Tipping: Make sure you have plenty of one dollar notes for tipping. It is normal and expected to tip for any and all services. A dollar in Cambodia can get you a long way.
- ‘Happy’ food: The word happy used in the context of food often refers to the presence of narcotics. Class C drugs such as marijuana/ ganja/weed are semi-legal in Cambodia. You find a lot of western people living on islands off the coast who enjoy this freedom. So if there is a happy pizza on the menu or someone offers you a happy cookie please appreciate that the food contains drugs. Drugs in general are readily available in Cambodia, but the consequences of drug taking (besides the obvious destruction of your physical and mental health) is the particularly poor quality and misinformation about what drug you are in fact being offered and the obvious law breaking consequences in a foreign country. My simple advise is: Stay away from drugs or anyone who offers you them. Or else, take them only when you are surrounded by people you love and trust and whom love and trust you in return!
- Dress Code: Whilst the country is fairly modern in terms of the requirements of clothing, it is best to bare in mind that a lot of the sites you visit will in affect be memorial grounds and/or religious sites. As such it is essential to carry a shawl or equivalent to cover your upper arms and wear bottoms that cover your thighs out of respect more than anything else. Shoes and hats should be removed prior entering temples.
- Toothpicks: It is common to find toothpicks to hand at eateries and it is typical Asian culture to use them with one hand covering your mouth and the other using the stick to pick away food morsels wedged in your teeth. Don’t be alarmed as this is pretty normal.
Do you have any more helpful tips that you think deserve a spot on this list? Please share in the comments section below!
Happy travels! 🙂