Angkor Wat - Guide to Cambodia

Guide to Cambodia

Cambodia Flag - Blue stripes on the top and bottom with a larger red stripe in the center and the Angkor Wat Temple in the center.
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Cambodia is probably in my top 5 favorite places I’ve ever visited. The people are so friendly and I’m a sucker for ancient civilizations and historical sites. At one time I really wanted to be an archaeologist and I spent my undergrad taking as many history classes in ancient civilizations as I could. I almost got a degree in history except in my last semester they didn’t offer the class I needed but they did offer one in psychology and that’s how I ended up with a psych degree.

Read everything you need to know to visit this beautiful country in our Guide to Cambodia. If you prefer to skip ahead to read specific articles about Cambodia you can go directly to the bottom of this page.

Cambodia Quick Info - Guide to Cambodia - information about Cambodia's language, currency, electricity, and Capital.

About Cambodia

Cambodia, officially the Kingdom of Cambodia, is a diverse and culturally rich country located in the southern portion of the Indochinese Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Cambodia shares borders with Thailand to the west, Vietnam to the east, Laos to the North, and the Gulf of Thailand to the south. With a rich history dating back to the Khmer Empire, Cambodia has a wealth of historical sites and monuments, the most famous being Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most significant archaeological sites in the world.

Cambodia is predominately flat with a few elevated mountains in the southwest. The Mekong River flows through the eastern side of Cambodia from Vietnam and in central Cambodia is Lake Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Tonle Sap is unique in that the flow of water changes direction twice a year and expands during the monsoon season by 4x and shrinks during the dry season.

Cambodia’s Ancient History

Surrounding countries had an influence on Cambodia, having been a part of India and then China at one time as well as Java, known today as Indonesia. Around 790 AD, Cambodia gained independence and the Khmer Empire began. The Khmer Empire flourished between the 9th and 15th centuries and the building of Angkor Wat began in the 12th century. However, sometime in the 17th century the complex was neglected and the land began to take over.

Angkor Wat and the surrounding temples were lost to the jungle until the late 19th century when during the French colonial period Western scholars and explorers began to show interest in the complex.┬áThe French archaeologist Henri Mouhot began documenting and studying the ancient Khmer civilization and it’s architectural wonders.

In the mid-1900’s restoration began on the Angkor temples and efforts to uncover other lost temples and protect them from further deterioration took hold. In the late 1900’s infrastructure in Cambodia improved and tourism boomed. Angkor Wat was designated as a UNESCO site in 1992 and interest in the temples grew even more.

Cambodia’s Recent History

Cambodia has a more recent dark history that took place in the 1970’s. In the late 1960’s Cambodia became involved with the Indochina conflict that included it’s neighbors Laos and Vietnam. The political instability in the region led to several coups and changes in leadership in Cambodia and ended with tragedy.

The rise of the Khmer Rouge regime, a communist guerrilla group, under the leadership of Pol Pot gained strength and in 1975 they captured the capital of Phnom Penh. Pol Pot set out to transform Cambodia into an agrarian society. The Khmer Rouge implemented radical policies forcibly removing Cambodians from urban areas and sent millions into labor camps.

The regime targeted intellectuals, professionals, and ethnic minorities resulting in torture, forced labor, starvation, and mass executions. Between 1975 and 1979, over 2 million Cambodian people died either through starvation or execution by the Khmer Rouge. The brutal rule drew international condemnation and Vietnam launched a military intervention invading Cambodia and overthrowing the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian Genocide has had lasting effects on generations of Cambodians and efforts for justice and accountability have been ongoing.

The recent history of Cambodia is very dark and heavy but also necessary to understanding the country and it’s people.

Best time to visit Cambodia

Cambodia has a tropical climate and has two distinct seasons: wet and dry. The dry season runs from November to April and during this time there is very little rainfall. The temperatures during the dry season are generally cooler in November and December (but not cold at all) and less humid than other months. I was in Cambodia at the end of November and it was still pretty hot and we swam every day.

In March temperatures start to heat up. From March through May, temperatures will be at their hottest reaching into the 100’s. The first time I went to Cambodia was in the month of May and I cannot stress how horrible the humidity is at this time. I’m from Texas and so I’m used to humidity but the humidity in Cambodia was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

The wet season in Cambodia starts in May and lasts until October. During this time Cambodia experiences heavy rainfall with the heaviest rains between June and September. Temperatures are slightly lower during this time of year but the humidity is stifling. Flooding can happen during the wet season, especially along the Mekong River and Tonle Sap Lake.

So when is the best time to visit Cambodia? Between November and March is the time to visit for the best weather. It’s not too hot or humid and the rain is minimal.

Areas of Interest in Cambodia

Cambodia has a lot for visitors to see from the ancient temples and historical sites to natural wonders and vibrant cities. Here are some places in Cambodia that are worth visiting.

  1. Angkor Archaeological Park: There are over 1000 temples or religious structures in Angkor Park but many of them are just remnants of what used to be a temple. However, there are plenty of other temples that are restored or in the process of being restored.
  2. Siem Reap: Siem Reap is located about 7 miles from Angkor Archaeological Park and is where people stay when they come to visit Angkor Wat. Siem Reap has a very vibrant nightlife, especially on Pub Street. Pub Street is exactly what it sounds like: restaurants and bars. You can also visit the markets in Siem Reap.
  3. Phnom Penh: The capital city of Cambodia is a lively city and is the place to go to understand more about Cambodia’s recent history. The National Museum of Cambodia and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields are located in Phnom Penh. Other places of interest are the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda.
  4. Battambang: Located in northwestern Cambodia, you’ll find well-preserved French colonial architecture, traditional Khmer villages, and scenic countryside. You can visit Phnom Sampeau which was a Khmer Rouge execution site, rice paddies and stilted villages, and the Bamboo Train.
  5. Kampot, Kep, Sihanoukville, and Koh Rong: These coastal towns in southern Cambodia have beautiful beaches and delicious seafood. It’s a great place to relax. Sihanoukville is Cambodia’s main beach resort and there are several beaches and beachfront bars and restaurants. From there you can take a short boat ride to Koh Rong island which has pristine beaches and clear waters.

Visa Requirements for Cambodia

Depending on your nationality, you might need a visa to visit Cambodia. Most people will need a tourist visa to visit Cambodia and you can either get an e-visa online before you arrive OR you can get one upon arrival at the airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap as well as some of the border crossings.

E-Visa

Cambodia offers an electronic visa option which you can apply for before arriving in Cambodia. You’ll apply for everything online and once approved (might take a few days) you’ll print it out and bring it with you. Most people will need to apply for the Visa T (just remember T for Tourist) and you can apply up to 3 months before your arrival. This will allow you to enter Cambodia ONCE and stay up to 30 days.

For the E-Visa you’ll need to choose a point of entry whether that’s at one of the airports or a land crossing. The E-Visa costs $30 + $6 processing fee. If you want to stay longer than 30 days you can apply for an extension at the Immigration office in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, or Sihanoukville. An extension will give you an extra 30 days in Cambodia.

Visa upon arrival

If for some reason you forgot to apply for your visa before you left from home or you decided on a whim to pop over to Cambodia, you can obtain a visa upon arrival. You will need to provide a 2×2 passport photo and have cash to pay the fee. It’s always a good idea to have extra passport photos with you because you never know when you might need one.

Getting to Cambodia

Cambodia has two international airports: one in Phnom Penh and one in Siem Reap. However, don’t expect to be able to fly directly into those airports outside of Asia. There are no direct flgihts from Europe or the United States. You’ll first have to fly into another International Airport and then continue on to Cambodia. You can fly into Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam or Bangkok Thailand and then get a flight from there to Cambodia.

Another way to get to Cambodia is to either take a bus or hire a driver from Thailand or Vietnam. You’ll have to stop at the border crossing and go through customs with your passport and visa but that only takes around 15-30 minutes depending on how busy it is. This is the way I did it both times I traveled to Cambodia and it was pretty straightforward. It’s no different than going through customs at an airport.

Guide to Cambodia: Budget

Cambodia currency is the Cambodian Riel but you can also just use American dollars. You can get either one out of the local ATM machines. One issue we had when we were there is that some stores and people will not take your money if there is any kind of tear or if something is written on it. This is true even if it came directly out of their ATM machine. Not every place is like that but just be aware that it can happen.

Accomodations in Cambodia

Travel in Cambodia is very affordable. There’s a reason why backpackers travel to Southeast Asia: because your money will go a long way! You can stay in budget hotels or hostels in Siem Reap for as little as $5 a night. You could splurge for a little bit nicer place with a pool for just $7 a night. Just know that these places have very basic amenities so if you want AC these might not be for you.

Of course you could spend more in Siem Reap and it will still be a bargain. For just $41 you can stay in a 5 star hotel in a Deluxe King Room. There is something for all budgets in Cambodia.

Food & Drink in Cambodia

Food will also be really affordable when you visit Cambodia. Meals in Cambodia are pretty diverse but typical of the Southeast Asia region. You’ll find a lot of meals with fish, rice, noodles, eggs, vegetables, and a variety of spices. Meals will range between a few dollars on up.

You can find food from street vendors for just a few dollars or sit in a nice restaurant for $10. Beer costs around $1 but other drinks can cost $3-5. This may not be the case though at your hotel bar and restaurant. Those will typically cost a little more. You’ll also find quite a lot of places with Western food like pizza and burgers.

Activities in Cambodia

The most expensive thing in Cambodia will probably be your entrance fee for Angkor Wat. You’ll have to buy an Angkor Pass from the official ticket center in order to get in to the Angkor Archaeological Complex. A 1 day pass is $37, 3 day pass is $62, and a 7 day pass is $72. The 3 day pass can be used on any 3 days during a 10 day period while the 7 day pass can be used on any 7 days during a 30 day period.

Guide to Cambodia: Getting Around

The best way to get around Cambodia is by local transportation. It’s so affordable that there isn’t a need to rent a car. Angkor Wat is about 7 miles from Siem Reap and you will need a way to get there and get around. Our favorite way to get around when we travel is by scooter and it only costs around $10 a day. Just know that in Cambodia they drive on the left side so if that scares you there are other options.

Taxis are available everywhere but this is the most expensive way to get around. You could try and haggle (it’s expected) and if you have multiple people in your group then it might be reasonable. You can also hire a driver for the day to take you around to the temples in Angkor Wat. This will probably run between $20-30 for the day. That will add up if you do that over multiple days which is why I suggest the scooter.

You’ll also find tuk-tuks everywhere. These sit 2-3 people and are more affordable than the taxi. You can also hire a tuk-tuk for the day to take you around the temples. Temples in Angkor Wat are not close to each other so you will need a way to get to them.

There isn’t a public bus system or train in Siem Reap but there is a public bus system in Phnom Penh as well as taxis and tuk-tuks. I do NOT recommend renting a scooter in Phnom Penh because it’s a lot more busy on the streets there and if you aren’t used to it it might be a little scary!

If you need to travel between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh you can either fly, take a bus, or hire a private driver. We took the bus and it was very affordable at around $12.

Map of Cambodia with locations to visit -
Cambodia Bucket List - Guide to Cambodia

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Cambodia Travel Guides

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