How is life in Cambodia

11 things you should know about Cambodia

The Kingdom of Cambodia is still one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia. The country looks back on a long, troubled past. Today Cambodia is a popular travel destination in Southeast Asia. The country's economy has recovered. There is construction going on in many places and some areas, such as the city of Sihanoukville, are changing extremely quickly.

Would you like to travel to Cambodia and are you looking for an initial overview of Cambodia as a travel destination? Then you have come to the right place for your travel preparation with the following eleven topics that you should know about Cambodia!


1. Where is Cambodia located?

The Kingdom of Cambodia is located in Southeast Asia and has access to the Gulf of Thailand. Its neighboring countries are Vietnam in the south and east, Laos in the north and Thailand in the north and west. No wonder that a trip to Cambodia is often combined with a trip to neighboring countries.

2. How big is Cambodia and how many people live there?

In Cambodia, around 14.5 million people live in an area of ​​181,040 square kilometers. This corresponds to about half the area of ​​Germany, but the population is not even a fifth of that in Germany.

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3. What language is spoken in Cambodia?

95% of Cambodians speak Khmer, an Austro-Asian language. Khmer is also the official language in Cambodia. In addition, Vietnamese, Chinese, Cham and some other minority languages ​​are used in everyday life.

Khmer is spoken in Cambodia. There is also its own font.

In the tourist centers you can also have a basic conversation in English. In the country and outside the tourist areas, however, it becomes more difficult to communicate in English.

4. What is the name of the capital of Cambodia?

Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and also the economic center of the country. It is estimated that around 1.3 million people live in Phnom Penh. If the surrounding area is included, there are around 2.9 million inhabitants. The second largest city is the coastal city of Sihanoukville with around 210,000 inhabitants, followed by Battambang with around 176,000 inhabitants. (Source: Wikipedia) The published figures vary greatly depending on the source, often including the surrounding area or the entire province. In another post you can read about the top sights in Phnom Penh.

View of Phnom Penh at night.

5. What currency is used in Cambodia?

US dollars and Cambodian riels (KHR) are used in parallel in everyday life. Most prices are quoted in US dollars, with units smaller than one US dollar billed in riels. At first it feels unusual when, for example, 2 dollars and 3500 riels are charged at the cash register.

So that your money goes smoothly during your trip, I have put together a few tips for money in Cambodia for you in the blog.

6. Do I need a visa to enter the country?

No tourist visa for Cambodia until further notice

To curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19), Cambodia will not issue tourist visas and e-visas from March 31st. According to official information, the restriction applies until April 30, 2020. At the last research time (May 4, 2020) the service for e-visas was still blocked.

Furthermore, Cambodia has imposed an entry ban for travelers from Germany, France, Spain, Italy, the USA and Iran since March 17, 2020. This applies until further notice. Source & further details: Federal Foreign Office Germany

The visa regulations for Cambodia before the coronavirus epidemic

A “Visa on arrival” is available directly at the border or at the airport. The price for a 30 day visa is $ 30. You can also apply for a visa in advance at the embassy (US $ 35) or an e-visa (US $ 30 + US $ 6 processing fee) on the official website.

I recommend that you apply for an online visa for your trip. It is six dollars more expensive than directly at the border, but you will probably save yourself a lot of trouble and money overall. Above all at the land border crossings, people get ripped off as much as they can.

The Poipet / Aranyaprathet border crossing on the border with Thailand is particularly notorious. However, if you already have your visa in your passport, then you can bypass some neppers and smugglers who want to take you to private visa services, for example, or help you fill out forms, of course for a fee.

For the tourist online visa for Cambodia you need:

  • a scan of the first page of your passport
    You can also take a good look at the page. Make sure the image is sharp, undistorted, and free of reflections. Some of the data in the visa application is read directly from this page and inserted into the visa application for Cambodia. Very comfortable, all you have to do is control it.
  • 1 passport photo (digital)
    The passport photo is automatically read from the scan of the first page when applying for an online visa. Make sure that this passport photo in the passport meets the requirements, e.g. is black and white. Then upload a passport photo directly.
  • a printer
    The Cambodia e-Visa must be printed out twice

An e-Visa for Cambodia is issued within three days, and you usually have it in your hand after a few hours. The application is very straightforward. Please note that the visa requirements differ depending on your nationality.

7. What does the flag of Cambodia look like?

The flag of Cambodia in its current form was first used in October 1948, but was then replaced by another for 23 years from 1970.

After the end of the civil war and the Khmer Rouge regime, the old flag has been hoisted again since September 24, 1993. It shows Angkor Wat in the center on a red background and two blue stripes above and below.

8. What is Angkor Wat about?

In short, there are many other temples and palaces of the Khmer Empire in the area around the famous Angkor Wat temple, the oldest buildings of which date back to 802 and were mainly used until 1431. The last temples were built in the era of Jayavarman VII until 1219 at the latest.

A highlight during the trip through Cambodia: Angkor Wat.

Today, many of the buildings can only be viewed as ruins, Angkor Wat is one of the best preserved. The walled city of Angkor Thom with the bayon in the center should also be an integral part of every tour. Incidentally, most travelers visit Angkor Wat from Siem Reap. The city is the tourist center near the ruins. In another post you can find my travel tips for Angkor Wat.

9. Who or what was the Khmer Rouge?

If you are planning a trip to Cambodia, you will quickly come across the term “Khmer Rouge”. The rule of the Khmer Rouge heralded the darkest chapter in Cambodia's history. The roots go back to the Kampuchea People's Revolutionary Party (KPRP), in which the name Pol Pot plays an important role. A socialist peasant state is to be established. After taking power, the Khmer Rouge began senseless mass executions of its own people.

For the Khmer Rouge, leading military commanders, monks, the upper class, intellectuals, those with knowledge of foreign languages ​​and even people wearing glasses were not compatible with the new social order. Up to two million people were killed between 1975 and 1978 using unimaginably cruel methods.

The capital, Phnom Penh, was almost completely depopulated by the Khmer Rouge within two days.

On December 22, 1978, the Vietnamese army marched in and tried to put an end to the reign of terror. The leadership fled to northwest Cambodia and Thailand. The country was renamed the People's Republic of Kampuchea (VRK).

The governments of the USA, China and Thailand and many other states in the west viewed the Vietnamese occupation as an aggressive act against the self-determination of the peoples and continued to support Pol Pot.

In 1982 the coalition government Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) was founded in Thailand. It was recognized internationally as a government in exile. The Khmer Rouge was still the strongest military force, but the attacks on Cambodian territory could be repulsed regularly.

The sad story is documented at the Killing Fields in Cambodia, e.g. near Phnom Penh.

It was only when the US and China changed their support policies in the mid-1990s that the guerrilla warfare of the Khmer Rouge came to an end. From July 1991 the guns were idle and the Paris Conference was supposed to end 13 years of war in Cambodia.

Remember today, for example. the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh or the Killing Fields to the reign of terror of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.

10. How do you travel in Cambodia?

The road network is well developed between the major cities such as Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap. The trip still takes time, you shouldn't expect any highways. Construction is currently underway on a new trunk road from Phnom Penh to the north and to the Thai border. Car traffic is increasing rapidly in Cambodia. Pedestrians and cyclists do not have an easy life in Cambodia. It is extremely dusty along the roads. The fine sand is thrown up by the road, irritates the eyes and makes the air stuffy. In the cities sidewalks are parked or are used as a traffic route by mopeds when there is a traffic jam. In addition to buses, tuk-tuks and moped taxis are public transport options in the cities.

Intercity buses in Cambodia

If you are traveling without your own means of transport, you have various options for traveling overland. Buses run as public transport between the larger cities. The trip is very cheap compared to Europe. Air-conditioned buses are used on main tourist routes. In rural areas, to unknown destinations in Cambodia away from the tourist crowds, minibuses usually drive. These regions include, for example, the northeast and east.

Mini buses go to the most remote areas of Cambodia.

National bus connections in Cambodia including online ticket

Online bus tickets are also offered on the Internet for the main routes. Here is a selection of the most important bus routes for which you can buy bus tickets online:

You can search for other bus connections in Cambodia here *.

International bus connections

There are also some international bus services from Cambodia to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. Here you will find the most important international bus connections for which online tickets are available:

You can search for other international bus connections from Cambodia to neighboring countries here *.

Bus from Phnom Penh to Poipet, to the Thai border.

Train trip in Cambodia

For a long time, train traffic in Cambodia was completely shut down. Freight trains have been running again since 2013, and passenger trains since 2016. The journey is possible by train on the southern route from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville and also on the northern route from Phnom Penh to Battambang and on to Poipet on the Thai border. Royal Railway Cambodia passenger trains run several times a week on both routes. Another route runs from the main train station to the airport within Phnom Penh. Timetables are changed frequently. I have put together all the important travel tips for train travel in Cambodia including timetables, tickets and safety tips in the article Cambodia by Train.

Even if everything seems a bit improvised at the moment, you shouldn't be put off by a train journey through Cambodia. The train journey is a special experience. You can find my documentary about the adventurous journey by train through Cambodia on YouTube.

(If the video cannot be started, please click here)

In another post you will find tips and a video about the popular bamboo trains in Battambang.

By ship through Cambodia

I am particularly fascinated by the journey on the Sangker by boat between Battambang and Siem Reap. But passenger boats also operate on the Tonle Sap between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Cross-border trips are also possible e.g. by boat on the Mekong from Cambodia to Vietnam.

Flights within Cambodia

Air traffic is playing an increasingly important role, especially in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. At both airports you will find international connections, e.g. to Thailand. There are many flight connections to China at Sihanoukville Airport. Flights are also offered on the relatively short route from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap *.

Journey on the pickup truck bed

Beefy pickups can be found both in the cities and in the far corners of the country. However, if you really want to travel cheaply, you are not allowed to take a seat in the driver's cab. Various goods are stacked on the loading area and of course there are often other passengers sitting there. Headscarves and face masks provide some protection against the sun and dust.

The journey on the pickup truck bed is one of the most dangerous travel options in Cambodia.

On the country road, however, the bumpy roads are bumped at top speed; in the city, the passengers have apparently learned to deal with sudden braking. Pickup truck ride is probably the cheapest way to get around in Cambodia, but it's also quite dangerous and by no means recommended.

11. What is the tourist infrastructure like in the cities?

The tourist centers offer a variety of accommodation in different price ranges. Cash at the ATM is also easily available everywhere there. Away from the tourist routes, you have to expect simpler conditions.

Internet and SIM card in Cambodia

WiFi is standard in the accommodations and the mobile internet is also well developed. On my last trip to Cambodia (2019) I used a Metfone SIM card. In a Metfone store, I received $ 11 ($ 1 for the SIM card and $ 10 Top Up) 15 GB of data credit for 30 days in just a few minutes. Passport is required to purchase SIM card in Cambodia.

Basically, the mobile internet in Cambodia worked very well in 4G quality. In densely built-up areas with many tourists, such as in the evening in the area around the “Golden Lions Roundabout” in Sihanoukville or on the waterfront in Phnom Penh, the internet connection became very slow or came to a standstill.

Cambodia: An interesting travel destination

Cambodia is developing into a popular travel destination. Angkor Wat, the capital Phnom Penh, beaches and even remote areas are popular holiday destinations. The country is changing extremely quickly in some areas. There are a few things you should know when preparing your trip to Cambodia. With these eleven topics you already have a good basic overview of this travel destination. Are you looking for more information? Then browse through the overview with travel tips and travel reports from Cambodia.

Cambodia is fascinating! Since 2010 I have spent over 10 months in Southeast Asia. Are you planning a trip to Cambodia? You get an exciting overview of travel highlights, insider tips and deep insights into the country in my DVD about Vietnam & Cambodia. Curious? Have a look!

Sources: Palmer / Martin 2009 (especially history), view the latest edition of the book here *; own experiences

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Important information, such as travel tips or timetables, are updated regularly in this post. Save the URL of this post for your travel planning so you don't miss an update.

Information can also change quickly. Did you have different experiences during your trip or did something change? Then I look forward to your information. Please send them to me on this page. A small gift is raffled off as a thank you every quarter.

This entry was published for the first time on February 9, 2011 and last updated on November 11, 2019.

Category: Cambodia