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Everything you need to know before you travel to Cambodia

Cambodia is a country of incredible beauty, with famous breath-taking temples, fertile plains dotted with rice fields, and a history unlike any other. The dominant religion is Buddhism, which places value on hospitality and kindness. Each year, Cambodia draws millions of tourists who come to enjoy the country’s incredible sights and enter the walls of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat – one of the Seven Manmade Wonders of the World.

The ancient Khmer Empire ruled much of Southeast Asia for centuries and gave Angkor Wat to the world. However, for four years in the late 1970’s Cambodia came under the control of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime and fell victim to a failed political ideal that left over two million of the nation’s citizens dead from disease, malnutrition and persecution.

Many people only know of Cambodia in terms of these two periods but there is far more to this country than ancient temples and past tragedies. Its topography and climate are as varied as its culture. The Tonle Sap Lake at the heart of Cambodia is one of the richest freshwater fishing grounds in the world and is home to a variety of migratory birds. Cambodia’s mountain and jungle areas abound with rare and beautiful fauna. In these regions the indigenous tribal peoples continue to follow a centuries-old way of life. Cambodia has its own unique and much underrated cuisine and produces delicious, organic meat and fruit. This was showcased in Rick Stein’s Asian Odyssey cooking programme.

The burgeoning tourist industry has brought relative wealth to some provinces while in others, the life of Cambodia’s agricultural workers has changed little in a millennium. The Khmer people have a warmth, strength and spirituality that is a surprise and delight to most visitors. There seems to be an unquenchable spirit, humour and gentle pride in most Cambodians that perhaps explains how they have succeed in surviving years of political experimentation and civil war.

Money, Expenses & Credit Cards

The official currency in Cambodia is the Cambodian Riel with the following notes in circulation; 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000 and 10000. Thankfully to keep things simple the US dollar is accepted pretty much everywhere. However please make sure that your dollars aren’t torn or marked in any way as this can lead to them being rejected.

The exchange rate for Cambodia Riel to US dollar is around 4000 Riel = $1 or 5000 Riel = £1.

We recommend you allow around $15 to $30 a day for basic day to day expenses such as drinks and meals. To give an idea a beer will set you back $1, a 2 course lunch $8 and a 2 course dinner $12.

Also please be aware that it can be hard to break big notes ($100, $50) in some parts of the country, when you get a big note try to exchange it for smaller denominations at your hotel or before you arrive, as in some places they simply won’t be able to provide enough change.

There are several national banks where you can change or withdraw money and most towns in Cambodia now have ATM’s. Visa, JCB, Master Card and American Express credit cards are accepted in major stores, however you will sometimes need to present identification when using your credit card.

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Country Profile

  • Full name

    Kingdom of Cambodia

  • Population

    14.8 million (UN, 2009)

  • Population Make Up

    Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%, Other 4%

  • Capital and largest city

    Phnom Penh

  • Area

    181,035 sq km (69,898 sq miles)

  • Time Zone

    1GMT + 7 Hours

  • Major language

    Khmer

  • Major religion

    Buddhism 95%

  • Life expectancy

    59 years (men), 63 years (women) (UN)

  • Main exports

    Clothing, timber, rubber

  • Economy

    Agriculture 75%, Services and Industry 25%

  • GNI per capita

    US $600 (World Bank, 2008)

  • Intern. dialling code

    +855

Main Festivals

  • 15th February

    Meak Bochea Day (death of Buddha)

  • 14th to 16th April

    Cambodian New Year

  • 12th May

    Royal Ploughing Day Ceremony

  • 18th to 20th September

    Pchum Ben Day (Ancestors Day)

  • 24th September

    Constitution and Coronation Day

  • 9th November

    Independence Day

  • 16th to 18th November

    Water Festival (Bonn Om Touk)

Please note: Dates of some festivals can change slightly from year to year.

Cambodia – A Brief History

Human settlement in Cambodia dates back at least 7,000 years.

Early Kingdoms
Chinese sources from the first century A.D. describe a powerful kingdom called “Funan” in Cambodia, which was strongly influenced by India. Funan went into decline in the 6th century A.D., and was supplanted by a group of ethnically-Khmer kingdoms that the Chinese refer to as “Chenla.”

The Khmer Empire
In 790, Prince Jayavarman II founded a new empire, the first to unite Cambodia as a political entity. This was the Khmer Empire, which lasted until 1431. The crown-jewel of the Khmer Empire was the city of Angkor, centred around the temple of Angkor Wat. Construction began in the 890s, and Angkor served as the seat of power for more than 500 years. At its height Angkor covered more area than modern-day New York City.

Fall of the Khmer Empire
After 1220, the Khmer Empire began to decline. It was attacked repeatedly by the neighbouring Tai (Thai) people, and the beautiful city of Angkor was abandoned by the end of the 16th century.

Thai and Vietnamese Rule
After the fall of the Khmer Empire, Cambodia came under the control of the neighbouring Tai and Vietnamese kingdoms. These two powers competed for influence until 1863, when France took control of Cambodia.

French Rule
The French ruled Cambodia for a century, but viewed it as a subsidiary of the more important colony of Vietnam. During World War II, the Japanese occupied Cambodia but left the Vichy French in charge. The Japanese promoted Khmer nationalism and pan-Asian ideas. After Japan’s defeat, the Free French sought renewed control over Indochina. The rise of nationalism during the war, however, forced France to offer increasing self-rule to the Cambodians until independence in 1953.

Independent Cambodia
King Sihanouk ruled newly-free Cambodia until 1970, when he was deposed during the Cambodian Civil War (1967-1975). This war pitted communist forces, called the Khmer Rouge, against the US backed Cambodian government. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge won the civil war, and set to work creating an agrarian communist utopia by exterminating political opponents, monks and priests, and educated people in general. Just four years of Khmer Rouge rule left 1 to 2 million Cambodians dead- about 1/5 of the population. Vietnam attacked Cambodia and captured Phnom Penh in 1979, withdrawing only in 1989. The Khmer Rouge fought on as guerrillas until 1999. Today, Cambodia is a peaceful and democratic nation.

Towns & Cities in Cambodia

Have a look at all the cities and towns of Cambodia

Cambodia has no shortage of captivating destination to visit on your holiday. Refer to our Towns & cities guide to plan the perfect trip.

Essential Cambodia Travel Information

(Check out our helpful travel information before leaving home)

Our Favourite Hotels in Cambodia

View our recommended hotels for your next Cambodian holiday

There are so many beautiful hotels to choose from in Cambodia. So we have selected a few of our most favourite and characterful hotels; giving you a taste of what you can expect.

Our most popular activities in Cambodia

Browse through our Cambodia Activity suggestions and get some inspiration.
We can then add any activity you want and tailor-make a Cambodia holiday just for you!

Our most popular Cambodia Holidays

Browse through our Cambodia holiday suggestions and get some inspiration.
We can then tailor-make a Cambodia holiday just for you!

Postcards of Cambodia Photography Tour

Postcards of Cambodia Photography Tour

15 Days / 14 Nights
Price from: $1,899 per person

Angkor Temples & Gulf of Thailand (Cambodia & Thailand)

Angkor Temples & Gulf of Thailand (Cambodia & Thailand)

8 Days / 7 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

Cambodia & Vietnam Boat Cruises

Cambodia & Vietnam Boat Cruises

3 to 8 Day Cruises
Price from: $POA per person

Discover Cambodia’s Wild Side

Discover Cambodia’s Wild Side

8 Days / 7 Nights
Price from: $1,799 per person

Cardamom Mountain Extreme (Dirt Bike Adventure)

Cardamom Mountain Extreme (Dirt Bike Adventure)

8 Days / 7 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

Golf & Temples Cambodia

Golf & Temples Cambodia

5 Days / 4 Nights
Price from: $799 per person

Cambodia Cleansing Wellness, Yoga & Spa Retreat

Cambodia Cleansing Wellness, Yoga & Spa Retreat

6 Days / 5 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

Cambodia Joining Group Tour (Solo Trip)

Cambodia Joining Group Tour (Solo Trip)

13 Days / 12 Nights
Price from: $2,259 per person

Cambodia Hotspots

Cambodia Hotspots

6 Days / 5 Nights
Price from: $899 per person

Cultural Cambodia

Cultural Cambodia

11 Days / 10 Nights
Price from: $1,499 per person

Beaches of Cambodia

Beaches of Cambodia

11 Days / 10 Nights
Price from: $1,199 per person

Explore Cambodia

Explore Cambodia

14 Days / 13 Nights
Price from: $1,699 per person

Following the Nine Tailed Dragon (Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam)

Following the Nine Tailed Dragon (Cambodia, Laos & Vietnam)

18 Days / 17 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

Heritage of Indochina (Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia)

Heritage of Indochina (Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia)

15 Days / 14 Nights
Price from: $POA per person

Wildlife & Adventure Tour of Cambodia

Wildlife & Adventure Tour of Cambodia

12 Days / 11 Nights
Price from: $1,859 per person

Siem Reap Tour

Siem Reap Tour

4 Days / 3 Nights
Price from: $599 per person

Cambodia’s Secret Temples

Cambodia’s Secret Temples

7 Days / 6 Nights
Price from: $1,299 per person

Cambodian Elephant Adventure

Cambodian Elephant Adventure

4 Days / 3 Nights
Price from: $799 per person