If you’re going to Southeast Asia, stop by Cambodia! It has a tragic history, and it’s home to one of the greatest historical wonders still standing – Angkor Wat. Whether you stay for a couple days or a couple months, it’s worth the time! While this is by no means comprehensive, you can get a great idea of how country might match you. Check out this tag to find more about Cambodia! Go to this tag to find more “Everything You Need to Know” posts!
Each metric is given an overall score between 1 and 10, and the ratings are briefly explained.
Go here if you are looking for: A cheap introduction to Southeast Asian culture and history, including majestic Khmer structures (Angkor Wat!), and beautiful beaches
This explains the prevailing sort of experience you might have in this country.
Overall experience: 6.86/10
What your travel experience might revolve around.
Natural and landscape views: 6
- How beautiful and unique are the landscape and nature views?
- The real landscapes aren’t easy to see unless you travel south towards the beaches. Cambodia has been through quite a bit of political turmoil (read: the Khmer Rouge) that has left much of its natural landscape transformed by humans. The islands you can access through Sihanoukville are stunning but crowded with tourists and tourist infrastructure. If you can go to the more off-path beaches and islands, you’ll see absolutely beautiful, clear water and pure white sand beaches. Snorkel in the ocean to see some gorgeous ocean life!
Historical attractions: 10
- To what extent can you see physical evidence of the country’s culture?
- Cambodia has two main historical attractions: one awe-inspiring and the other gravely thought-provoking. The first is accessible through Siem Reap, Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is both an imposing ancient temple structure and the collective name of the series of temples that are located in the Siem Reap area. Each of them has special characteristics and many have stood for hundreds of years. They are a wonderful way to get an up-close look at Buddhist and Hindu influences on architecture.
- The other attraction is the killing fields. The history behind these is much more recent and heart-breaking. During the Cold War era, the communist party led by Pol Pot gathered up all Khmer (Cambodian) citizens who had international ties, education, or opposing ideology and tortured and massacred them. Much of the evidence remains and is best accessible through Phnom Penh.
City culture: 7
- How should you expect locals to react to you? How does it feel to be in the city?
- Lots of tourists, lots of happy tourist industry workers. In Siem Reap, entire areas of the city are basically dedicated solely to tourists (only tourists or expats would go there). In other cities, there are tourist “regions” of town that you would likely spend most of your time in.
- How unique is the local food and how available is food from home?
- There are fantastic restaurants, and the seafood you find is likely to be exquisite. Look up the best restaurants in town and just walk in! They generally serve excellent food. In tourist districts, such as Pub Street in Siem Reap, you will find hordes of foreign foods (Italian!! And others) that will make you think you have magically teleported to another country.
- How much do souvenirs cost relative to everyday items and how representative are they of the local culture?
- If you want Southeast Asian souvenirs (things that have elephants, especially the elephant pants) you better get them here. You can get things that are 60-70% of the lowest prices you see in Thailand and sometimes at higher quality! The mass markets in Phnom Penh are a great place to start searching.
- How clean is everything, including trash along the streets, water, and food?
- In Cambodia, there isn’t much street food, so you’re going to be eating at restaurants or cafes most of the time. These can be clean, but it’s better to pick a classier place because getting sick is definitely possible. In the nearly two weeks that I was there, I got really sick once and had gastrointestinal problems pretty much the whole time.
Tourism services: 6
- Are there people who specifically serve tourists outside private hotels and accommodation?
- In general, you’re on your own, but you can find help surprising places. For Phnom Penh, the tuktuk (local version of a taxi, basically equivalent to a motorcycle pulling some covered seats) drivers will have small laminated posters of the popular attractions of the city that you can choose from. In Siem Reap, the drivers will have something similar and are all intimately familiar with routes through Angkor Wat. Near the beach, there are tour agencies and information desks that will provide free information in hopes you will book a boat or tour with them.
[Recommended Read: Everything You Need to Know About Thailand]
- Are you going to freeze or sweat to death?
- As in most of Southeast Asia, you will probably sweat to death. The bad part about being in Cambodia is that you won’t find AC in many public places, which just makes everything worse.
Currency: US Dollar and Cambodian Riel
- What currency is used? (Not a rated category)
- The cash system in Cambodia is quite unusual. Because of historical instability of the local currency, the vast majority of modern transactions are done in US Dollars. The only thing to be aware of is that change for portions of a dollar ($0.50, for example) will typically be given in Riels. US coins are not used.
Cost: 9 (higher rating means lower cost)
- Overall, is this country expensive or not?
- Everything is cheap, cheap, cheap. Hire a tuktuk driver to take you out to Angkor Wat for the entire day and the fair price is about $20. You can haggle for a lower price.
Approximate time needed to visit the whole country: 10 days
- How much time do you need to devote here? (Not a rated category)
- If you want to see most of the country, stay 10 days or up to 2 weeks. That’s enough time to get through Angkor Wat, the Killing Fields, and the beaches. If you want to stay longer, I met people who stayed on the Cambodian islands off the Sihanoukville coast for months. It’s a cheap country to live in.
Speed of Wi-Fi: 5
- How fast is the Wi-Fi?
- When you can get it, you should be able to do what you need to do but not much more.
Accessibility of Wi-Fi: 5
- Can you connect to Wi-Fi when you need it?
- In general, internet is pretty much available only in accommodations. If you book a slightly higher-quality bus for travel between cities, you may be able to access Wi-Fi on the bus! The quality isn’t great, but it was enough for me to use audio to call my friends and family.
[Recommended Read: How to Find the Perfect Travel Accommodations]
Culture and Immersion: 7.5/10
- What language do locals speak? (Not a rated category)
English level of the typical local: 8
- If you really needed help, how much could a typical local help?
- Short of English-speaking countries and especially for this region, the English level is excellent. Many locals can speak enough English to basically interact with you; some speak enough that communication won’t be a problem at all.
Approachability of locals if you can’t speak the language: 8
- If you can’t speak the local language, how willing are locals to patiently help you?
- People are generally happy to help! This is great because many of them at least know some basic English
Signage for an English speaker: 8
- If you can’t read the local language, can you read the signs?
- Signs will usually have Khmer at the top and English on the bottom.
- If you buy something (especially at street markets), how much do you need to haggle?
- Most things that you want to buy are already a great steal, but sometimes you can get a CRAZY low price if you spend some time haggling. In many markets, try to name a really low price and see the range of counteroffers. Use that to make your next offer.
[Recommended Read: How to Learn a Completely New Language While Abroad]
Intercity buses, trains, and planes: 7
- How easy is it to get from one city to another? How understandable is the system?
- Buses are definitely not as straightforward here than in many other countries, but many of them will take you where you want to go. The best way to do this is ask your accommodation staff what bus company they recommend, and buy a ticket online or in person (in my experience, online tickets may cost you slightly more) at least a couple hours before your departure. The nice thing about Southeast Asia is that sometimes, budget airlines offer incredible deals even after factoring in trips to and from the airport, and can be a cost-effective alternative.
Taxi reliability: 8
- How many taxis are there? Are they to cheat you? How friendly are the drivers to foreigners, especially if you don’t speak the local language?
- Like other Southeast Asian countries, the best option for getting around is tuktuk. Hail one down just like a taxi and let them know where you’re going. In Siem Reap, they can recommend some attractions to go to and schedules for Angkor Wat. In Phnom Penh, make sure you choose a tuktuk with a grate or little curtains on the sides to prevent people from trying to rob you (this is only a concern in Phnom Penh, and I wasn’t robbed during my time there).
Intra-city transportation: 8
- How easy is it to get where you want to go within the city?
- Just grab a tuktuk and name your destination. Most rides will cost you about $2 as long as you stay in the city (in 2016). If the driver tries to charge you more, walk away and hail the next tuktuk.
- If you want to get some exercise, how easy it is to walk from place to place?
- While you can often get from place to place by walking, I would not advise this due to both the sweltering heat and humidity and the low cost of tuktuks. If you walk, make sure to carry plenty of water and bring a hat.
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