We are open today until 4:30 pm. Call 020 7590 0613

Cambodia

Our Cambodia Travel Guide

Introduction

Whether it’s your first time travelling to Cambodia or you’ve been there before, read our guide on the country’s history, etiquette, tipping culture, food, festivals and more.

At a glance

Flying time from UK
14-18 hours hours

Time zone
GMT +7

Currency
Riel (CRI)= 100 sen

Language
Khmer. Chinese and Vietnamese also spoken

Travel advice
Check the FCO for latest visa & travel advice

Travel Guide

Overview

Cambodia has recovered from indiscriminate carpet-bombing by the US, the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge and decades of civil war to become a destination of choice for adventurous travellers.

The country's identity is forged around the fabled city of Angkor, the largest and most breathtaking temple complex in the world, and Cambodia's spiritual and cultural heart. In the last decade and a half the nearby town of Siem Reap has become a tourist hub with excellent restaurants and boutique hotels set among French colonial-era shop fronts.

The shabbily chic capital, Phnom Penh, sprawling west from the picturesque Sisowath Quay at the confluence of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers, is a beguiling mix of wide boulevards, Buddhist temples and bustling markets with a lively nightlife.

Ecotourism has taken off in Virachey National Park in the eastern highlands, the rolling hills of Mondulkiri and the lush rainforests of Koh Kong on the southwestern border.

The tropical islands off the coast of Sihanoukville offer diving, snorkelling and trekking paths, where large-scale development has so far been kept at bay. Koh Rong and Koh Rong Saloem are ringed by white-sand beaches and have the most appealing beach resorts, while both Koh Rong Saloem and Koh Ta Kiev, just an hour from Sihanoukville, have forested interiors with fascinating wildlife.

Culture & etiquette

"Negotiate a river by following its bends; enter a country by following its customs."
Cambodian proverb

Cambodian people are open and friendly, with a strong sense of courtesy and respect. Everyone who acts politely will receive a warm welcome.

Theravada Buddhism teaches that life and death are intertwined through the concepts of reincarnation and karma: depending on their behaviour in this life, each person will come back in their next life as a higher or lower being; if you act well, you will have good karma.

Theravada Buddhism has the following principles:

  • Understand the cosmos
  • Have the right intentions
  • Speak the right words
  • Perform the right deeds
  • Earn a living in the right way
  • Make the right effort
  • Be intellectually alert
  • Meditate

Buddhism also reinforces a sense of hierarchy within society. Parents are superior to children, teachers to students, managers to subordinates, and even monks will walk in rank order with the most junior at the rear.

Cambodia is also a collective society - individuals take second place to the group - and subtle communication styles are employed in order to minimise the chances of causing offense and to maintain harmony.

The concept of 'face' ties in with this collective outlook. Protecting both one's own and other people's honour, dignity and public reputation is extremely important.

As in other eastern cultures, the feet are regarded as the inferior part of the body, so never indicate, point or touch a person, sacred object (including temples) with your feet.

Ask permission before taking pictures of people, especially monks. Dress in appropriate clothing when entering religious and cultural sites. Visitors should not wear skirts, shorts above the knee or reveal bare shoulders at cultural sites, including Angkor Wat, as you will be refused permission to enter if not adhered to. You are expected to remove your shoes when entering temples and private accommodation. It is also advisable to remove your hat or head covering. Bear in mind that monks should not generally be touched by females.

Drink

Cambodia is all about hydration - it's so hot that it's vital. It's also vital to stick to bottled water, and to avoid ice outside bigger cities. Beer is inexpensive and extremely popular - with plenty of competition among the brands - most Khmer restaurants and bars will have a 'beer girl' promoting a particular brand. Of the local beers, Angkor is the most popular, and is extremely affordable. Heineken, Tiger, San Miguel, Carlsberg, Grolsch, Fosters - all the usual suspects are present and correct. While local beer is good, it's best to avoid local spirits and some of the local wines - palm wine for instance is cheap but pretty potent. Hotels and bars and restaurants in popular tourist spots are well stocked with international brands.

Tikaloks - the Cambodian version of a fruit smoothie - are popular, but watch out for ice in the provinces, and the amount of sugar added - and you may want to pass on the offer of adding a beaten egg, which makes the concoctions very frothy.

Chinese tea is popular, and often arrives free of charge in restaurants to accompany meals; but more popular still is coffee, served black or with condensed milk, which makes it rather sweet. Most regularly consumed is Khmer iced coffee - rich, strong, and poured over a lot of ice with sweetened condensed milk. If you're sure of the ice, this is a cooling and energising shot perfectly suited to the climate.

Festivals

Cambodia's national festivals are intertwined with Theravada Buddhist rituals celebrating the ebb and flow of life. The major festivals are:

January/February (moveable) - Meak Bochea. Candlelit processions on the full moon day of the third lunar month, commemorating the spontaneous visit of 1,250 monks to do homage to the Lord Buddha.

14-16 April - Khmer New Year. Three days of celebrations draw Cambodian families together from all across the country.

April/May (moveable) - Visaka Bochea (Buddha Day). Prayers and offerings to the monks to commemorate the Buddha's birth, enlightenment and passing into Nirvana.

May (moveable) - Royal Ploughing Ceremony. Ritual ploughing of a field in Phnom Penh with sacred cows by representatives of the king marks the start of the planting season.

September/October (moveable) - Pchum Ben (Ancestors' Day or Festival of the Dead). The culmination of a 15-day observance called Dak Ben, during which Khmers make offerings to dead ancestors and light candles to guide the spirits of the dead.

November (moveable) - Bonn Om Touk (Water Festival). Three-day festival of river parades, boat races, music and fireworks mark the annual reversal of the water flow between Tonlé Sap and the Mekong.

Food & drink

"I am an anti-colonialist, but if one must be colonised it is better to be colonised by gourmets."
King Norodom Sihanouk

Like other Southeast Asian cuisines, Cambodian food is all about balance and contrast - perfectly poised combinations of salty and sweet, bitter and sour, fragrant with fresh herbs and spice. The sweetness often comes from palm sugar, the sour notes from lime or tamarind, but coriander, lemongrass, ginger, black pepper (the pepper from Kampot is considered to be one of finest on the planet) all contribute to the fresh flavours of Khmer cuisine, which is influenced to an extent by the culinary cultures of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. In addition, like Vietnam, Cambodia was a French Indochina Colony, so here too you'll find baguettes, made into sandwiches, thickly spread with pâté, or topped with topped with spicy ground beef, or served with soup.

A typical meal will consist of three or four dishes, as well as a samior, or soup, with each dish serving as a contrast to the other, in terms of spicing, texture and temperature, with a good helping of garnishes, herbs and pickles - the condiments are as important as main courses.

Rice and fish will invariably feature - these are the foundation of Khmer cuisine, both in plentiful supply thanks to the abundance of water everywhere, in particular the mighty Mekong River, and the Great Lake or Tonle Sap. In the southwest, along the coast, the emphasis is on seafood, as you'd expect, but throughout Cambodia, even when fish itself is not part of a meal, there is barely a dish that does not feature fish paste (prahoc) or fish sauce (trey).  

Cambodian specialities include:

Amok - possibly Cambodia's best known and most popular dish, a mild fish curry made with coconut milk, steamed in a banana-leaf cup. The aromatic curry paste used - kroeung - is made from lemongrass, fresh turmeric, shallots, galangal, garlic and just a touch of chilli, and imparts a fragrant piquancy to proceedings.

Bai Sach Chrouk - this breakfast dish is often sold out by 9 am, which is a shame as it would taste just as good any time of day. Thin slices of pork, marinated first in soy, garlic and coconut milk, then slowly grilled into succulent caramelised perfection, served with rice, and green tomatoes and cucumber and pickles on the side.

Kuy Teav - another breakfast favourite, but eaten all day, a tangle of noodles and greens in a light pork broth, garnished with fried garlic, served with a side of chilli sauce, to be stirred in according to taste, before a squeeze of lime.

Nom Banh Chok or Khmer noodles - sold in the mornings by women carrying the ingredients in baskets hanging from a pole on their shoulders, this is a beloved Cambodian institution. Each bowl is prepared to order, with rice noodles topped with your choice and combination from fresh mint leaves, green beans, banana flowers, cucumbers, green beans, basil, and other fresh greens, before the lot is covered in a thin fish-based curry redolent with lemongrass, kaffir lime and turmeric root.

Khmer red curry - like Thai red curry, this is based on coconut milk, but is far less spicy, and usually served with bread, not rice, a French influence that lingers. The base is the fragrant spice paste known as kroeung, and common ingredients are beef, chicken or fish, together with aubergines, green beans and potatoes.

Lap Khmer - spicy and refreshing, this salad stars thinly sliced seared beef, dressed with lemongrass, mint, basil, fish sauce, shallots, garlic and a heap of fresh red chillies. The beef can also be prepared 'ceviche style' by marinating it in lime juice. Either way, this dish packs a punch.

Kdam chaa - a speciality of the seaside town of Kep, this fried crab is spiced with green, locally grown Kampot pepper.  The green variety can only be sampled in Cambodia, though the dried black version is available elsewhere - this is a pepper much prized by gourmets.

Ang dtray-meuk - another seaside special, fresh squid brushed with fish sauce or lime juice before being grilled over charcoal - the vendors carry the portable stoves on their shoulders as they walk along the shore. The skewers of squid are served with a sauce made from fish sauce, lime juice, garlic, fresh chillies and sugar.

Fresh fish on the fire lake - this delightfully named dish is a special occasion favourite, served at parties but also in some restaurants. A whole deep-fried fish is finished at the table in a curry sauce made from fresh coconut milk, yellow kroeung paste and chillies. Vegetables are cooked in the curry and the whole lot is served with rice or rice noodles.

Geography

Cambodia is bordered by Thailand to the west, Vietnam to the east, and Laos to the north, with 443km of coastline looking out on the Gulf of Thailand. It lies completely within the tropics, with its southernmost point a little over 10° above the Equator. Much of the land consists of rolling plains with an elevation of less than 100 metres. Dominant features are the large, almost central, Tonlé Sap (Great Lake) and the Mekong River, which crosses the country north to south from Laos into Vietnam. This vast basin and delta region is rimmed with the Cardamom and Elephant Mountains to the southwest and the Dangrek Mountains to the north. Highlands in the east and northeast merge into the Central Highlands of Vietnam.

The highest mountain in Cambodia is Phnom Aural in the Cardamom range at 1,771 metres, while the Elephant range rises to elevations of between 500 and 1,000 metres. These two ranges are bordered on the west by a narrow coastal plain giving way to Kompong Som Bay, the port of Sihanoukville and a dozen tropical islands.

Getting around

Your Wexas consultant will be able to organise the best combination of transport around the country to suit your needs and itinerary.

Internal flights connect Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Ratanakiri and Koh Kong. Bus travel can be uncomfortable and even hazardous, as there are dozens of bus crashes annually. Hiring a taxi over long distances is often a viable option to undercut plane fares while seeing more of the countryside.

Seasonal ferries operate along the major rivers, and luxury boats operate between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh (continuing to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam).

The railway network built by the French in the 1930s and 40s was run down by neglect and civil war damage until services were suspended completely by 2009. Refurbishment funded by Australian aid and the Asian Development Bank stalled in 2012, and discussions continue with China over funding a new 250-kilometre stretch of line between Cambodia and Vietnam.

Until recently it was possible to travel long distances on the rail lines between Phnom Penh and Battambang on improvised 'bamboo trains' consisting of a steel frame overlaid with bamboo poles resting on wheels taken from abandoned tanks, and powered by small motorbike or tractor engines. Today only an 8km service aimed at tourists remains near Battambang.

Hiking and off-road cycling tours can also be combined with wildlife or temple excursions.

History

"The lessons of the past should steer us towards ensuring lasting legacies for generations yet to be born."
Hun Sen

Cambodia's prehistory is sketchy but stone tools dating from 4000 BC have been found in a cave in northwestern Cambodia and rice has been cultivated since long before the 1st century. The first Cambodians probably migrated from the north, though little is known about their language or customs.

Chinese traders of the 1st century reported the existence of inland and coastal kingdoms in Cambodia whose alphabets, art forms, architecture, religious and class systems reflected Hindu and Buddhist influence. Local beliefs in the power of ancestral spirits coexisted with the Indian religions and remain powerful today.

Cambodia's modern culture has its roots in the 1st to 6th centuries in a state known as Funan, the oldest Indianised state in Southeast Asia, which rose to eminence from its base in Mekong Delta Vietnam to spread as far west as Burma and south to the Malaysian peninsula. The Mon-Khmer family of languages, containing elements of Sanskrit, developed during this period. From the 6th century, populations began to concentrate along the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers, via the development of wet-rice agriculture. From the 6th to the 8th century these lands became a collection of competing kingdoms ruled by autocratic kings.

The first stone inscriptions in the Khmer language and the first brick-and-stone Hindu temples in Cambodia date from the 6th and 7th centuries. Legend suggests that King Jayavarman II settled in Angkor proclaiming himself 'universal monarch' of the region in 802, and set about unifying the fractured kingdoms. The next 600 years saw powerful Khmer kings dominate much of present-day Southeast Asia and build the extensive Angkor temple complex. The Angkor kings also devised a sophisticated irrigation system that includes barays (vast man-made lakes) and canals supporting three rice crops a year. Part of this system is still in use today.

Among the Khmer builder-kings were Suyavarman II, who built the Hindu temple Angkor Wat in the mid-12th century, and Jayavarman VII, who erected the Bayon temple at Angkor Thum and other large Buddhist temples half a century later. Jayavarman VII also built hospitals and rest houses along the roads that crisscrossed the kingdom. But his extensive public works exhausted supplies of local sandstone and temple construction ground to a halt.

The Khmer kingdom fell into decline in the 13th and 14th centuries with the rise of powerful Thai kingdoms that had once paid tribute to Angkor, who now waged a series of wars against Khmer territories. The introduction of Theravada Buddhism, with its egalitarian ideas about enlightenment through meritorious conduct and meditation, also undermined the hierarchical structure of Khmer society and the power of prominent Hindu families. After a Thai invasion in 1431, what remained of the Khmer elite shifted southeast to Lovek, near present-day Phnom Penh.

The four centuries of Cambodian history following the abandonment of Angkor are poorly recorded, but Lovek remained an important regional trading post and retained its language and cultural identity in the face of frequent incursions into the wider region by the Thai kingdom of Ayutthaya and Vietnamese troops.

In the late 18th century, civil war in Vietnam and disorder following a Burmese invasion of Ayutthaya spilled over into Cambodia and the warfare that ensued between newly established dynasties in Vietnam and Thailand beginning in the l830s came close to destroying Cambodia.

The warring neighbours were eventually usurped in 1864 when French colonisers persuaded King Norodom I to sign a treaty of protectorate. Norodom remained on the throne for another forty years, and the French supported and strengthened the power of the court. By 1907, under Norodom's successor Sisowath (1904-27), the French pressured Thailand into returning the northwest provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Sisophon in return for concessions of Lao territory, and Angkor came under Cambodian control for the first time in over a century.

The French organised a Cambodian civil service along French lines and built roads, ports and other public works. They also restored the Angkor temple complex and deciphered Angkorean inscriptions, giving Cambodians renewed pride in their medieval heritage and identity. Because France left the monarchy, Buddhism, and the rhythms of rural life undisturbed, anti-French feeling was slow to develop.

During World War II Japanese forces occupied much of Southeast Asia, but the French were unhindered in Cambodia until the fall of Paris to the Germans in 1944 left French colonial interests in disarray. Although on the verge of defeat in 1945, the Japanese took control and installed a nominally independent Cambodian government under the recently crowned King Sihanouk. France reimposed its protectorate in early 1946 but allowed the Cambodians to draft a constitution and to form political parties.

Fighting erupted throughout Indochina in the post-war years as nationalist groups, some with Soviet backing, struggled for independence from France. Most of the fighting in the First Indochina War (1946-1954) took place in Vietnam, but Communist guerrilla forces allied with the North Vietnamese gained control of much of Cambodia. King Sihanouk nonetheless skilfully negotiated Cambodia's independence from the French 1953, a few months ahead of Vietnam, and the Geneva Accords of 1954 acknowledged Sihanouk's government as the sole legitimate authority in Cambodia.

Sihanouk's campaign for independence sharpened his political ambitions and in 1955 he abdicated the throne in favour of his father to pursue a full-time political career. He formed a national political movement known as the Sangkum Reastr Niyum (People's Socialist Community), which won all the seats in the national elections of 1955. Sihanouk served as prime minister until 1960, when on the death of his father he was named head of state.

In the late 1950s the Cold War had intensified, and the US, the Soviet Union and China all courted Sihanouk, seeking to bolster their position in the region. Pursuing a neutral line, Sihanouk smartly drew substantial economic aid from each country.

In 1965, suspecting US-sponsored plots against his regime, Sihanouk broke off diplomatic relations with the US and allowed the North Vietnamese to set up bases on Cambodian soil. As war in Vietnam intensified, domestic opposition to Sihanouk from both radical and conservative elements grew. The Workers Party of Kampuchea (later the Communist Party of Kampuchea, or CPK), which had gone underground after failing to win any concessions at the Geneva Accords, took up arms again. In 1969, US president Richard Nixon authorised a bombing campaign against Cambodia in an effort to destroy Vietnamese Communist sanctuaries.

In March 1970 pro-Western elements in Cambodia's National Assembly deposed Sihanouk while he was abroad and General Lon Nol, the country's prime minister, assumed power. In October 1970 Lon Nol inaugurated the Khmer Republic. Sihanouk, in asylum in China, established a government-in-exile allied with North Vietnam and dominated by the CPK, for whom Sihanouk coined the expression Khmer Rouge ('Red Khmers').

The US continued bombing Cambodia until 1973. By that time, Lon Nol's forces were fighting not only the Vietnamese but also the Khmer Rouge. The US bombing devastated the Cambodian countryside and the fighting severely damaged the nation's infrastructure, brought high numbers of casualties and forced hundreds of thousands of refugees into the cities. In 1975 the Khmer Republic collapsed, and Khmer Rouge forces occupied Phnom Penh three weeks before North Vietnamese forces claimed victory in South Vietnam.

Whilst stopping short of declaring itself a Communist state, the new Democratic Kampuchea (DK), propped up by Chinese and North Korean aid, introduced intensive and brutal socialist reforms. Freedom of speech, movement, association and religion were banned and the regime controlled all communications and food supplies. Illiterate rural Cambodians who had fought with the Khmer Rouge in the civil war were promoted to government, while intellectuals, merchants, bureaucrats and anyone suspected of disagreeing with the party were forcibly relocated, deprived of food, tortured, or sent to forced labour camps.

The DK leader Saloth Sar, under the pseudonym Pol Pot, became one of the 20th century's most notorious dictators. Chinese and Vietnamese minorities in Cambodia were expelled or massacred and purges of party members accused of treason were widespread. Hundreds of thousands of suspected collaborators with Vietnam in eastern Cambodia were killed, and during four years in power, the Khmer Rouge murdered, worked or starved to death 1.7 million Cambodians - more than a fifth of the country's population.

On Christmas Day 1978 Vietnam launched a full-scale invasion of Cambodia, toppling the Pol Pot government two weeks later and declaring a People's Republic of Kampuchea (PRK). As Vietnamese tanks closed in on Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge fled westward into the jungles and mountains along the Thai border. The Vietnamese installed a new government led by former Khmer Rouge officers, including future prime minister Hun Sen, who had defected to Vietnam in 1977.

The pro-Soviet PRK relied heavily on propaganda to promote unity and establish its rule whilst continuing to do battle with Khmer Rouge insurgents. The former S-21 prison at Tuol Sleng, renamed Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes, was filled with gruesome displays of skulls and bones, and photographs and paintings of Khmer Rouge atrocities. The PRK's slow reconstruction of the country included the repair of 700 monasteries among the 3,600 that had been damaged or destroyed under Pol Pot, and Buddhism was partially restored as the state religion.

In 1982 a government-in-exile was established in China with Sihanouk as president. Although recognised by the UN, it received little support from Cambodians inside the country and the three member groups of the coalition continued to independently resist the Phnom Penh regime on the ground.

In 1984 the Vietnamese overran the major rebel camps inside Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge and its allies retreated into Thailand, from where they engaged in guerrilla tactics including shelling government-controlled garrison towns, planting landmines, attacking road transport, blowing up bridges, kidnapping village chiefs and targeting civilians. Meanwhile the Vietnamese laid the world's longest minefield, stretching from the Gulf of Thailand to the Lao border, in an attempt to keep the guerrillas at bay, and many thousands of rebels, government soldiers and civilians were injured or killed by mines. Hun Sen became Prime Minister in 1985 and has remained as the head of various coalition governments ever since.

"In Cambodia, Sihanouk was immensely popular. We barely noticed his faults, like allowing corruption to go unpunished, and keeping incompetent people in the government. Few of us were educated enough to care. When he spoke to us in his loud, high-pitched voice, shouting and gesturing wildly, eyes bulging with excitement, we listened with respect."
Haing S. Ngor, Surviving the Killing Fields

 As the Cold War came to a close Vietnam, its economy in tatters, withdrew all troops from Cambodia, which encouraged the opposition coalition - still dominated by the Khmer Rouge - to launch a series of offensives to force the Phnom Penh government to the negotiating table.

Diplomatic efforts to end the civil war began to bear fruit in September 1990, when a peace plan was accepted by both the government and the resistance groups. Under the plan a coalition of all factions, the Supreme National Council would be formed under the presidency of Sihanouk. Meanwhile the UN Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) would supervise the administration of the country for two years with the goal of introducing free and fair elections.

The election of May 1993 delivered a coalition government with the compromise appointment of joint prime ministers in the shape of Hun Sen and Sihanouk's son Prince Ranariddh, and the following September the government ratified a new constitution restoring the monarchy and establishing the Kingdom of Cambodia. Sihanouk became king for the second time.

In 1997 Hun Sen staged a violent coup and ousted Prince Ranariddh as co-prime minister. After another election in 1998 Hun Sen continued as sole prime minister, Ranariddh became president of the National Assembly and the constitution was amended to create a Senate.

Pol Pot died in 1998, and by early 1999 most of the remaining Khmer Rouge troops and leaders had surrendered. Rebel troops were integrated into the Cambodian army and surviving leaders were arrested and charged with genocide.

At peace for the first time in thirty years, Cambodia continued to face domestic problems including a stagnant economy, a runaway birth rate, an AIDS epidemic, widespread deforestation and human rights abuses. Over the next few years, the country began to stabilise. It was admitted to ASEAN in 1999, and joined the World Trade Organisation five years later. AIDS and the high birth rate were brought under control, logging was reduced, and a strong garment-manufacturing industry and tourism growth attracted foreign investors and aid organisations. Sihanouk stepped down as king in 2004 due to ill health, in favour of his youngest son Sihamoni.

In 2009, after years of delay, the first trial of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal got under way in Phnom Penh. The defendant Kaing Guek Eav (better known as Comrade Duch), who had been in custody for ten years, was convicted in 2010 and sentenced to an additional 19 years for his role in the notorious S-21 prison massacres.

Sihanouk died of a heart attack in October 2012 and the following February tens of thousands turned out in Phnom Penh for his cremation. In March 2013 former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary died while awaiting trial for genocide, leaving Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, now in their 80s, as the last remaining DK leaders still alive and under arrest by the UN-backed tribunal. In June 2013 the Cambodian government passed a bill making it illegal to deny the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

"The Cambodians' great misfortune is that they always have terrible leaders who make them suffer. I am not sure that I was much better myself, but perhaps I was the least bad."
King Norodom Sihanouk

Shopping

Handmade stone and wood carvings, silver jewellery, silk clothing and accessories including the ubiquitous chequered cotton scarf the krama are widely available, with the best quality and variety on offer in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The hill tribes of Mondulkiri and Ratankiri produce small quantities of hand-woven cotton, and silk kramas are made in Kompong Cham and Takeo. Phnom Penh's busiest markets are the art deco Central Market (or Psar Thmei), the Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tom Pong) and the Night Market (Psar Reatrey). Angkor Night Market and Artisans d'Angkor are two of the best places in Siem Reap to shop for silks and handicrafts.

Tipping

Tipping is not traditional, but salaries are low and service usually extremely hospitable, so do reward those who help you. Even a tip of $1 can represent half a day's wages. Upmarket hotels often add a 10% service charge, but it's rare that this trickles down to the waiters, porters or maids, so try to hand out tips personally to hotel staff, drivers and guides where justified, and leave a donation at temples, especially if a monk has taken you around.

Where to eat

"Street foods are readily available and always cheap. These stands are very popular in Cambodia. It is a common sight in Phnom Penh to see people on side streets sitting in rows on squat stools eating their food. Cambodians eat constantly, and everything is there to be savoured if you have money in your pocket."
Loung Ung, First They Killed My Father

Cambodia is a great country to grab some food on the go - and a lot of the food is on the go - the numerous street vendors here carry braziers on poles on their shoulders, or push carts laden with ingredients, or spot potential customers from bicycles with baskets filled with fresh fruit, or zoom along on motorbikes with cooktops attached to the side. Then there are the lively markets, and casual open-front eateries setting up tables on the sidewalks, and strategically placed stalls.

Between them, they all dish out a stunning variety of snacks and more substantial meals, from simple crepes to filling noodle-based soups. The busiest stalls and vendors are the ones to head for, a rule that applies around the world. Some of the produce is exotic - snakes, tarantulas and beetles on one end of the spectrum, delicious fruit such as rambutan, jackfruit and mangosteen on the other.

There are cafés, casual eateries and informal restaurants in all the cities, as well as Western fast-food chains in the bigger ones.  The restaurants in the upscale hotels are as sleek and sophisticated as any in the west, serving a wide range of international cuisines. And of course, Cambodia's French Colonial past means that there are cafés and restaurants galore serving perfect steak au poivre and excellent wine.

Why book with Wexas Travel?

At Wexas, we specialise in bespoke travel experiences. Our itineraries are just samples of what we can arrange, and can be changed depending on your precise needs, finances and ideas by our experienced destination specialists.

Contact one of our consultants on 020 7590 0613 to discuss how we can tailor your holiday.

Learn why Wexas is the leader in creating luxury holidays. What is tailor-made travel?

Expert advice & support

Visit us in our London office

Let our travel specialists curate the perfect holiday:

  • Inspirational ideas based on experience
  • Established for over 45 years
  • Tailor a holiday to your precise requirements
  • Personalised quotes and documentation
  • In-depth Wexas travel guides

Every step of the way

Every step of the way

Our services are with you from start to finish:

  • Dedicated personal consultants
  • Wexas Travel App
  • Free airport lounges on qualifying bookings
  • Care and guidance pre, post and during holiday
  • Full financial security: ABTA & ATOL protected