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Cambodia Country Guide

Rice fields in Cambodia

Cambodia is a country of pleasant surprises and uniquely brave people. Its beauty and dazzling heritage have been overshadowed by a dark recent history, however, visitors to Cambodia will be mesmerized with its ancient temples and buildings, it's raw nature and its exquisite culture.

Cambodia History: what you must know

Telling the history of Cambodia is no easy task, its origins date back to the 5th millennium before Christ. According to a legend, the Khmers came into being when the princess of a dragon king united with Kaundinya, an Indian Brahman. On a particular day, Kaundinya sailed by and the princess went to greet him on a boat. He shot a magic arrow to her boat and the princess agreed to marry him. The princes' father drank up the waters of his land and gave them to the Indian foreigner as a wedding gift and the kingdom was named Kambuja.

For about 2000 years the country was influenced by the Hindu-Buddhist kingdoms of Funan and Chenla. The age of Angkor came after and lasted between the 9th and 15th centuries. By the time Angkor Wat (one of Cambodia's most popular tourist attractions) was built scholars beli eve that the empire had begun to crumble and lose control. Thais migrated to the region to escape from the Mongols, they grew in strength and attacked Angkor on several raids. In 1431 the Thais finally sacked the city and killed intellectuals, artisans, and dancers. The Khmer elite grew fearful of this invasion and began to migrate to Phnom Penh which eventually became the official capital of Cambodia.

Before the French arrived in 1863, there was a power struggle for Cambodia's leadership. The kings who fought over the throne often sought help from Thailand or Vietnam, but their protection came at a price. King Nrodom I was the ruler when the Frech invaded the country and in 1864 and he signed a treaty of a protectorate. This saved Cambodia from being divided between its two enemies. In the 1870s French officials pressed to have more control over Cambodia and in 1884 the country became a colony after Nrodom signed a treaty. This sparked the first major rebellion in the nation against its colonizers.

After Nrodom, Sisowatch ruled from 1904 to 1927 and modernization reached the kingdom. His son, Monivong reigned until 1941 and under his ruling, the first Cambodian-language newspaper affiliated with the Buddhist Institute in Phnom Penh and together they sent a nationalistic message to the people. When the king passed in 1941, Japanese forces occupied Frech Indochina and imprisoned several French officials. When WWII was over the Japanese were overthrown and Cambodia was once again, under French dominance.  On November 3rd, Cambodia finally became independent. Monivong's son, Sihanouk, held elections in 1955 having his own political movement he monopolized politics in the country. In 1960, Sihanouk named himself Chief of State.

Cambodia's Civil War

The communist began the civil war in 1968, Sihanouk fled and Cambodia was renamed the Khmer Republic. Americans tried to stop the communists but they were not successful. The most horrific time for Cambodians was yet to begin. Led by Pol Pot, referred to as Brother Number One, the country went through its darkest period, over 1.5 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Religion and family relationships were banned and intellectuals were quickly executed.

The Khmer Rouge was partially overthrown by a Vietnamese invasion in 1978 which lasted until 1989 when they finally withdrew. In 1991, there was the Paris Peace Accords and by 1993 Sihanouk was made a constitutional monarch.

When traveling to Cambodia it is not possible to ignore the damage the war caused. Even though Cambodia has been through much hardship and poverty is prevalent, there's hope for the country. This brave nation has begun to flourish and it is a potent holiday destination. Visitors to Cambodia will find world wonders and hypnotizing landscapes. Furthermore, they can learn about Cambodians bravery and resilience.

Some travelers combine a trip to Cambodia with visiting Thailand or Vietnam, both incredible countries in their own way.

Cambodia Basic Information

  • Country: Cambodia
  • Capital: Nom Pen
  • Population: 16
  • Currency: Riel (KHR)
  • Language: Khmer
  • Time Zone: UTC+7

When to Go

Cambodia is a popular destiantion all year round. Hoewer, some months are more pleasant for visitors than other due to the havy rains. If you wonder when to visit Cambodia, take note:

  • High Season: from November to February. Christmas and New Year are peak dates  in Cambodia. There’s some wind and the temperature is cooler, but pleasant.
  • Shoulder Season: April and October. This is the hottest period to visit the country. Temperatures remain in the 40 degrees. In October the weather is bearable enough to explore certain regions.
  • Low Season: spreads from May to September. Also known as rainy season, Cambodia is covered in cloud formations. Though there’s rain, it is a good time to head to the temples. The south is popular among Western visitors who are on summer holidays.

Cambodia is a good destination for:

Cambodia Entry Requirements

Cambodia requires a one-month tourist visa. Travellers must take a single passport-sized photo to complete the process. The passport-sized photo is an important requisite and not having one has monetary penalization. An online evisa is available too and it’s a fairly easy process to complete. Note that evisas are only accepted at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports and the two mainland borders Vavet/Moc Bai and Poipet/Aranya Prathet.

Most nationalities can obtain the visa upon arriving at one of their main airports, at the land borders or using the online visa system before their trip. However, citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Sudan should make prior arrangements.


Cambodia Country Atractions

Cambodia is a country with an incredible heritage and overwhelming history. Because we know that there’s much to see we’ve narrowed down Cambodia’s top attractions to help you plan your trip.

  1. Bayon: Set in the center of Angkor Throm, this temple was built in honor of Jayavarman VII, Cambodia’s most egocentric king. Bayon has 54 Gothic towers decorated with Avalokiteshvara smiling faces. It expands for 1.2 km featuring over 11,000 decorative figures.
  2. Angkor Wat: A seventh world wonder, it was built over the course of thirty years as a home for King Suryavarnan II who was already deceased. Its the largest temple complex in Cambodia and the biggest religious monument in the world. Visitors head to Angkor at 5:30 in the morning to see the sunrise. Beware of monkeys ready to take away your phone, food or anything you have on you.
  3. Ta Prohm: set in Siem Reap, the buddhist temple was featured in the Tomb Raider film. Swallowed by the jungle, it has been left untouched since its discovery. Ta Prohm has towers, courtyards and narrow corridors. Travellers are advised to head there early and it can take more than two hours to explore its wonderfully intricate architecture.
  4. Silver Pagoda: known as Wat Preah Keo or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Its floor is covered in five tons of gleaming silver. South the Royal Palace in phnom Penh, the temple is used for national and royal ceremonies.
  5. Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes: Tuol Svay High School was taken over on 1975 by Pol Pot’s security forces. It became a prision that became known as S-21 and it was the largest center of detention and torture Cambodia. Today, S-21 serves as a museum to tell the story of the crimes comitted during Khmer Rouge’s ruling.
  6. Sihanoukville: surrounded by a white-sand coastline and islands, Sihanoukville is ideal for a laid-back vacation. Serendipity Beach is perfect to party in the evening and Ostres Beach offers affordable bungalows and a more low-key atmosphere.

Travel Tips

When traveling to Cambodia it is important to be very aware of their painful history. We have a few recommendations for our travelers before heading to this great country.

  • It’s all about respect and consideration. Learn about the local culture and be polite when addressing Cambodians.
  • Respect local dress code standards, especially in religious sites. Remove your shoes, hats or head covering when entering a temple. Nude sunbathing is a big no.
  • Make contributions. The majority of temples depend on visitors’ donations. If you visit a Khmer home, a small gift to thank them is valued and appreciated.
  • Learn the sompiah, Cambodia’s greeting when you introduce yourself to new people. Palm ups with fingers raised can be considered offensive, therefore wave towards yourself with the palm down.
  • Show respect to the elderly or esteemed people by taking off your hat and bowing your head politely. Don’t pat or touch an adult’s head, this is because in Asisa the head is the most sacred part of the body.
  • Never raise your voice in Cambodia. It does not matter how upset you are, this is a strong sign of aggression and you can seriously embarrass the locals. If you must complain about something do so in a calm manner.
  • If you eat with chopsticks bear in mind that you should not leave them in a vertical position about the rice bowl. This looks like the incense sticks that are burned to honor the dead. This is true for all countries in Asia and it is not appreciated it, anywhere.
  • Monks do not touch women and should not be touched by women either. In case a woman wants to make a gift or give something to a monk, said object must be placed within reach of the monk.
  • Money advise, ATM withdrawals in cambodia are not a good idea, the exchange rate is poor and ATMs will charge you too. You can trade US dollars though and pay with a credit card too, though a fee is also applied to the latter.
  • Tuk Tuks will get you around. This is a popular means of transportation and it’s not expensive.
  • Buy a SIM card for data when you arrive. This can help you find where you need to go and in some cases, communicate with drivers or locals.