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Cambodia Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

There are no direct flights from the UK to Cambodia but a number of airlines offer single-stop options from Heathrow to Phnom Penh, while multiple-stop flights are available nationally. Thai Airways can take you from Heathrow via Bangkok to Phnom Penh. British Airways fly direct to Bangkok and from here and Bangkok Airways connect on to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Other airlines including Singapore Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Malaysian and Qatar Airways travel to Cambodia via their regional hubs.

Flying times from UK

Flying from the UK to Cambodia will involve one or two stops and will take around 14 to 16 hours.

Time zone

Cambodia is +7 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

UK citizens can obtain a visa upon arrival and will need to present a valid passport, one passport sized photograph and the current visa fee in cash per person. However, we recommend purchasing an e-visa online at www.evisa.gov.kh before you travel. The tourist visa is valid for 30 days from the date you actually enter Cambodia. It is important that you keep your departure form and that you have your passport stamped on arrival.

Do's and don'ts

A respectful way to greet others is to press your hands together at chest level and bow your head. This is known as ‘sampeah’. Public displays of affection should be kept to a minimum as they tend to be frowned upon.

It is polite to ask permission of any local people or monks before taking any photographs.

If you are going to a place of worship such as a pagoda or temple it is customary to remove your shoes, ensure your upper arms and legs are covered and remove your hat. You should not sit higher than a seated monk or touch a Buddha statue. Visitors to Angkor Wat should not wear skirts or shorts above the knee or tops that reveal bare shoulders. Those not following the dress code are liable to be refused admission. 

If you are invited to a person’s home, then removing shoes is a sign of respect and you should bring a gift for the host. If you are staying for dinner it is customary not to start eating before the host begins or sit until the eldest person has taken their seat.

When eating, only the right hand should be used. Cambodian culture considers the left hand to be unclean.

Do not to point your feet towards someone, tuck them underneath you when you sit, and do not touch a Cambodian on the head.

Money

The currency used in Cambodia is the ‘riel’, however the US dollar is accepted almost everywhere. Make sure your dollar bills are free of tears as they may not be accepted. In the west of Cambodia, you may also find the Thai baht currency is used. Cards are not widely accepted but larger hotels in all of the main cities do accept card payments. You can use ATM machines, just remember to inform your bank before you travel.

Tipping

In Cambodia salaries are low so tips can top up wages, although tips are not an expectation. If you visit temples, or other places of interest, there are often contribution boxes available for your donations. A guideline for tipping drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Cambodian cuisine is known as Khmer and it borrows dishes from other South East Asian countries, but with a distinctive twist. Rice and noodles are a staple in Cambodia, along with curries, which are less spicy than those found in Thailand. Black pepper is preferred over chillies, but you may find them served on the side and stir fried vegetables and garlic are often prepared. One of the secret ingredients used in Cambodian food is a paste known as ‘prahok’ which is made from salty fermented fish. Some typical dishes include:

Amok – a curry made from fish or other meat cooked in banana leaves and usually served with rice.

Bai Chi – a type of fried rice with Chinese sausage and soy sauce

Ka Tieu – a noodle soup made with pork broth

Babur – a stodgy rice porridge with bite size chunks of chicken or pork and vegetables

As for beverages, only drink bottled water. You can find iced coffee made with sweetened condensed milk and iced tea is also popular. Fresh coconuts are available everywhere and you can drink the milk straight from the fruit. Alcohol is widely sold in Cambodia and beer is very popular. Palm wine and rice wine are also available but just be wary of sanitation; you may want to avoid drinking some of the locally produced wines.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

There are more than two dozen public holidays a year in Cambodia. Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei, or New Year, is celebrated around the 13th April each year and takes place over three days to mark the end of the harvest season. Cambodians return to their home villages and spend time with their friends and family and traditionally Cambodians regard themselves as a year older rather than celebrating this event on their birthday.

In November each year the water in Tonle Sap changes direction and the Bon Om Touk Water Festival is celebrated. Over two million Cambodians attend a boat race on the river at Phnom Penh to watch.

Pchum Ben Ancestor’s Day is a 15-day celebration that runs from September to October and during this time it is thought that spirits are active and may even return to earth. A lot of time is spent at the pagodas as Cambodians pray for their ancestors and bring offerings of food to the Monks.

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony of Bon Chroat Preah Nongkoal marks the start of the rice growing season in May. During the ceremony, sacred oxen plough a ceremonial row and are then presented with different plates of food representing typical crops in Cambodia. Predictions are then made for the season ahead by a soothsayer. The oxen are also offered wine and if they drink, this is a sign of disaster ahead.

Shopping

Shopping in Cambodia is like walking into a treasure trove of silk, statues, silver work, art, carvings and textiles. From large scale shopping malls to boutiques and specialist shops and interesting markets to street vendors, there is a plethora of scintillating delights to cater for all your shopping needs. You can have tailor-made silk clothing created or look for other hand crafted items like baskets, rice paper prints, a kramer scarf, handbags, clothing and furnishings. The government and other aid organisations are encouraging local people to rediscover their talents as weavers and craftsmen and you should not leave Cambodia without visiting the market where you can find a large selection of souvenirs, curious items, antiques, carvings, Buddha statues and other novel items at excellent prices.

Suggested reading

The Rough Guide and Footprint are excellent books with information about the basics that every visitor should know. Milton Osborne's ‘Phnom Penh’ gives an insider's view of the sometimes overwhelming capital of Cambodia, from an Australian diplomat who was first posted in the city in 1959.

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on Cambodia the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

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Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Holiday Review

Just to let you know we are home from our gorgeous trip, and had the most wonderful time. Thank you so much. Overall, wonderful destination and brilliant choices.

OH - Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam - November 2015

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