– Area : 181 035 km²
– Population : 14.2 million people
– Capital : Phnom Penh
– Religion : buddismo
A trip to Cambodia not only offers glimpses into the country’s glorious (Angkor) and terrifying (Khmer Rouge period) history, but also a chance to experience a beautiful country and a beautiful culture. Tourism in Cambodia is no longer just about the past.
Nonetheless, travelers to Cambodia will be richly rewarded by doing a little research into the country’s recent history. Civil war and genocide are of central importance to contemporary Cambodia. Hostilities ended in the mid-1990s but the country continues to struggle to recover from the previous 20 years of violence. War has ceased but the power vacuum has quickly been replaced by a political system recognised as one of the most corrupt in the world.
Tourists are returning in large numbers, flocking to Angkor, a stunning complex of Hindu and Buddhist temples uncovered in the heart of Cambodia’s jungle. A visit to Phnom Penh, the nation’s capital, is the best way to understand the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge and is a must for all travellers. At the same time, travelling to places like Krati and Ratanakiri Province can help travelers understand Cambodians as they live today.
Events and Festivals
– Chinese New Year -Thanks to the large Chinese population in Cambodia, Chinese New Year is an important holiday even outside the Chinese community. It will fall some time between late January and late February every year following the lunar calendar. Many consider it the one day in Cambodia that everyone goes to bed with a full stomach.
– Chaul Cham or the Khmer New Year, is held in mid-April, this is a massive party that lasts for 7 days. People visit wats with offerings and prayers.
– Visakha Puja celebrates Buddha’s birth enlightenment and passing in nirvana. Candle-let processions take place at Angkor Wat. It falls on the eighth day of the fourth moon (in May or June).
– P’chum Ben or The Spirit Festival, is a celebration to honour ancestors in September or October, people make offerings to spirits at Buddhist Pagodas across the whole country.
– Bon Om Tuk celebrates the reversal of the Tonle Sap river and falls in early November. Boat races take placeall over the country. Phnom Penh has the largest celebration. The 2010 celebration attracted an estimated 2,000,000 visitors from outside the city (many city residents flee the city during this time). The city becomes very crowded, and as the events of the 2010 festival show, where close to 400 people died in one night, crowd control is a serious issue.
All visitors, except citizens of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam need a visa to enter Cambodia. The official price for a tourist visa is US$30 and US$35 for an Ordinary visa and people from most countries throughout the world can get a visa on arrival.
Visas can be obtained at Cambodian embassies or consulates. Visas are also available “on arrival” at both international airports, all six international border crossings with Thailand, some international border crossings with Vietnam, and at the main border crossing with Laos.
All are valid for one stay of up to 30 days. Those issued in advance expire 90 days after issue. In Phnom Penh (or elsewhere via agencies), tourist visas can be extended only once, allowing an additional 30 days at a cost of US$15.
Citizens of most nations can apply for an e-Visa online at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation website, through a service provided by a private Cambodian company (CINet). This is a normal Tourist Visa but costs US$25 instead of the normal US$20. The visa arrives as a PDF file by e-mail within 3 business days. The application requires a digital photograph of yourself (in .jpg format). You can scan your passport photo or have a passport sized photograph taken with a digital camera. There are other websites pretending to make a Cambodian e-visa. At best, these are just on-line travel agencies which will charge you more (US30$-45) and get the same US$25 visa for you; at worst, you may end up with a fake e-visa.
You need to print two copies (one for entry and one for exit) of the PDF visa, cut out the visa parts and keep them with your passport.
Khmer is spoken by 95% of the population. Additional languages are English, Vietnamese, Chinese, French and languages spoken by ethnic minority groups found in the far eastern and western parts of the country.
Many of the younger people in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have at least a grasp of English, Korean or Japanese.
Cambodia’s food is mainly rice with some sort of curry, more like Thai curry than Indian curry. Cambodia is also well known for its sour soups, and when Cambodians eat together there is usually a soup involved. International foods are available especially in the major cities. There is also plenty of fresh fruit to eat like pineapple, but most Khmers like to eat their fruit a little unripe.
Typical Khmer dishes include:
– Amok – Arguably the most well known Cambodian dish. A coconut milk curried dish less spicy than those found in Thailand. Amok is usually made with chicken, fish, or shrimp, plus some vegetables. It is sometimes served in a hollowed-out coconut with rice on the side. Quite delicious.
– K’tieu (Kuytheav) – A noodle soup generally served for breakfast. Can be made with pork, beef or seafood. Flavourings are added to the customers taste in the form of lime juice, chili powder, sugar and fish sauce.
– Somlah Machou Khmae – A sweet and sour soup made with pineapple, tomatoes and fish.
– Bai Sarch Ch’rouk – Another breakfast staple. Rice (bai) with pork meat (sarch chrouk) often barbequed. Very tasty and served with some pickled vegetables.
– Saik Ch’rouk Cha Kn’yei – Pork fried with ginger. Ginger is commonly used as a vegetable. This tasty dish is available just about everywhere.
– Lok lak – Chopped up beef cooked quickly. Probably a holdover from the days of French colonization. Served with a simple dipping sauce made from lime juice and black pepper, lettuce, onion, and often with chips.
– Mi/Bai Chaa – Fried noodles or rice. Never particularly inspiring, but a good traveller’s staple.
– Trey Ch’ien Chou ‘Ayme – Trey (fish) fried with a sweet chili sauce and vegetables. Very tasty. Chou ‘ayme is the phrase for “sweet and sour”.
– K’dam – Crab. Kampot in the south is famous for its crab cooked in locally sourced black pepper. A very tasty meal.
Iced coffee is ubiquitous in Cambodia. It’s made Vietnamese-style, freshly brewed
and mixed with sweetened condensed milk. Walk past a local eatery any time of the day and you are bound to see at least a table of locals drinking them. One glass costs 1,500-2,000 riel. Iced tea made with lemon and sugar is also refreshing and ubiquitous.
Fresh coconut can be found everywhere, you could say it is ubiquitous, and is healthy and sanitary if drunk straight from the fruit.
Other than unexploded ordinances (UXO), bombs and other explosives left over from wartimes, Cambodia is pretty safe. In order to avoid unexploded ordinances, it is best to stay on marked trails and official roads at all times. This is because every year landmines that have been buried by rains can resurface meaning places have to be cleared regularly. The dangers of mines and unexploded ordinance to travelers is minimal, though. While Cambodians, especially children, in remote rural areas are still victimized by the remnants of the war, there are no reports of travelers ever being killed or injured by mines or UXO.
The other common threat to travellers are pick-pockets. Make sure you watch your bags and pockets at all times from pick-pockets, many of whom are street children. Some of them are very skilled and can get violent if confronted.
Lastly, watch out when walking on the beach late at night alone in some areas of the coast, as there have been some attacks on travellers lately. One attack involved a traveller getting stabbed by a local gang on the beach at around 10:00pm.
In general, staying safe in Cambodia is the same as being safe anywhere else. Always be aware of yourself, your possessions and your surroundings.
Internet bars are starting to appear in most major towns in Cambodia. Connection speeds vary as does the quality of the computers. The best places to go online definately are Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and outside of these centers it’s generally also more expensive. In general prices are not much more than US1-2 an hour. Remember to take off your shoes when you enter as a sign of respect and to watch out for small shrines that are on the ground.
Cambodia’s national postal service offers a wide range of services, though in general things go slowly and are not always very reliable. That said, things have been getting better over the years, and you can expect for your postcard or letter to finally arrive after 5-10, depending from where you send it (avoid small towns) and to where you send it.