7 Things you Should Know Before Traveling to Cambodia, Plus – How to Interact Like a Local

These travel “tid bits” will help you plan smart and get acquainted with the local customs of Cambodia. After-all, you wouldn’t want to offend the locals because you didn’t know their quirky, social rules! Keep reading to find out my top must-do’s for interacting with Cambodians, the right visa that will make country-hopping easier,  and my recommended list of books, films and articles you should check out.


READ-UP BEFORE YOU GO

Cambodia Tribunal
Article on the Khmer Rouge History – a must read!

Cambodia’s School of Hope: How the Spitler School educates and empowers impoverished children in Cambodia
A moving book about ordinary people making a huge impact

The Killing Fields
Oscar Winning Film about the Khmer Rouge …if you’re feeling lazy to read!

My Khmer Heart
Winner of the Best Documentary award at the Hollywood Film Festival in 2000, and tells of Geraldine Cox’s story and the children of Cambodia she has devoted her life to. It is based on her autobiography – Home is Where the Heart Is


Etiquette

As a conscious traveler in Cambodia, it is important to interact with the locals in a respectful way. By following proper etiquette, you can make your connections with people much more engaging, leading to a deeper understand and appreciation of the country. Here are my top 10 must-follow rules for interacting with Cambodians:

Stay Cool

Similar to most of Asia, it is completely rude and embarrassing for people to lose their temper in public. So no matter what the situation is, never shout or criticize people in front of others

Allow the other person to “save face”

When you are negotiating a market or elsewhere, allow the other person to “save face’ by giving just a little back on the final price you agree upon. When someone gives you a gift, refuse it politely at first, but after some coercing on their end, accept it warmly – always with both hands. Give others compliments on a regular basis when warranted. This goes a long way!

Leave your Left Hand out of it

When conducting business or when eating with others, use your right hand. The left hand is for “dirty tasks” such as using the restroom.

Like Mother said – Don’t point fingers

When trying to point toward something – use your right palm as an alternative. Pointing your index finger is considered rude.

Respect the Head

The head is considered the most revered part of the body, while the feet are the lowest. Therefore, never touch a person on the head – this includes children!   And always remove your hat when entering a home or temple.

Remember your Feet

Make sure you tuck your feet underneath you when sitting on the ground. And most importantly, always remove your shoes before going inside a temple or someone’s home.

Give a Traditional Greeting

Known as Som Pas – the traditional greeting in Cambodia is putting your two hands together near your chin and giving a slight bow. The higher your hands, the more respect this shows. However, if a Cambodan shakes your hand, always return their greeting of choice.

Stay away from PDA

Cambodians frown on PDA or “public displays of affection.” So be mindful of how you interact with your significant other.  Also, be mindful when interacting with locals of the opposite sex. Even a small friendly gesture like placing an arm around someone for a photo can be offensive depending on the circumstance.

Respect the Robes

While in Cambodia you will certainly have the opportunity to interact with monks dressed in bright orange robes. Keep in mind that they are the highest respected people group in the country, so treat them as such by following these tips:
When a monk sits down, always sit down next to them before directing a question or a comment toward them.
If you’re a woman – never hand anything to them or touch them as a sign of respect.

Always Bring a Gift

If you are invited to someone’s home for dinner, always bring a gift. Small gifts such as flowers, fruit or candy are most common. When you offer the gift – always use both hands.


WHEN TO GO

Cambodia has a tropical climate that remains warm to hot year round. The best months to visit Cambodia are November through to February/March as it’s dry with temperatures between 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit (20 to 30 degrees Celsius). By mid-March the temperatures start creeping up into the 80’s (30’s) and by May, Cambodia is at its hottest – approximately 104 (40) degrees.

The wet season runs from June to October. Some travelers prefer to avoid Cambodia during the rainy season due to the obvious disadvantages, but for many it is a beautiful time of year where the landscape becomes lush and picturesque. Also the rainfall is fairly predictable, occurring in the afternoons or evenings for a couple of hours at a time. Flooding, however, has become a problem in recent years.

Generously provided by The Spitler School Foundation


Where to Stay

There is a wide selection of accommodation throughout Siem Reap to suit every budget. For those on a tight budget there are hostels as cheap as $1 USD a night, where you will be sleeping in a dormitory with individual mosquito nets. Unfortunately there will be no fan or air conditioning.

For those who have slightly more to spend you will be able to pick up a room for approximately $4 – $8 USD a night at a guest house. You will have your own room with fan and for the most part an en suite.

For slightly more you will be able to find accommodation in a guest house with air conditioning, a refrigerator and wifi.

For those looking for a little more luxury you will find accommodation with a swimming pool and gym for as little as $17.

Siem Reap also has a good variety of 4/5 star hotels including Le Meridien Angkor, Grand Hotel D’ Angkor Raffles, Park Hyatt Siem Reap and the Sokha Hotel (Cambodian’s own chain of luxury hotels) as well as numerous boutique hotels. You can expect to pay anything from $100 – $500 a night.

The longer you stay the more likely you will be able to strike a deal with the owner or manager for a reduced rate.

If you are planning on staying in Siem Reap long-term then it is possible to rent an apartment or house either on a monthly or yearly basis. Unfortunately there are not a great deal of them to be found and can be rather pricey.

If you would like to stay at a guest house where many of the residents are engaged in volunteer activities, check out the Seven Candles Guest House, which is associated with the Ponheary Ly Foundation.

Generously provided by The Spitler School Foundation


GETTING AROUND

Tuk-Tuk

These two-wheeled carriages pulled behind a moto provide a breezy way to travel.  They are a bit safer, but slightly more expensive than bike taxis or moto’s. Be sure to negotiate the fare before you get-in. Expect $1 USD for a 5-minute trip and around $3 for across town.

Bike Taxi

Also known as “motodop”, bike taxis are widely available in major cities. Generally priced at $1 USD per trip.

Car Taxi

There are no metered taxis in Cambodia, so hard negotiation is required before accepting a taxi ride to avoid a dispute afterwards.


What to Wear

Modest attire is a general rule in the country. Although many tourists wear shorts because of the hot and humid weather, Cambodians cover up as much skin as possible. Actually, shorts are only worn by school children.

Light weight clothing that protects you from the sun is suggested. If you are woman, make sure to cover your knees and shoulders. Men typically are modest as well, wearing collared shirts and long pants.

You can relax these rules if you are in large tourist zones like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but always dress conservatively if you are planning on visiting a temple, someone’s home or a local village to volunteer.


VISA

Applying for a Cambodian visa is very simple, and actually the country is still one of the easiest countries to move to (if you are planning on being in Cambodia for an extended period of time volunteering, working or traveling.) There are two types of visas which are available to you:

T- Class

The tourist visa is valid for 30 days inside the country and costs $30 USD to obtain. You can renew this visa one time for an additional 30 days for a fee of $45. After this, you must leave the country before re-entering with a new visa. Therefore, if your stay in Cambodia could be extended, I would skip the T-Class and go straight for the E-Class.

E- Class

This is known as an “ordinary visa” and is also valid for 30 days. It cost $35 to obtain. The main difference is that you can keep on extending this visa indefinitely –  for 1, 3, 6, or 12 months. However, if chose to extend it, I would suggest extending it  for 6 or 12 months, as these visa types are multiple-entry.  The shorter extensions of 1 to 3 months are single-entry only, making those weekend trips to Vietnam or elsewhere more difficult.

Applying

You can apply for a visa before you travel to Cambodia or upon arrival at the international airports of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. If you obtain your visa upon arrival at the airport, please note that some airlines will not allow you to enter with a one-way ticket. However, if you have a round-trip ticket, obtaining your visa at the airport is very simple. The paperwork is handed out on the plane prior to arrival. You just fill it out and then get in line at the airport with a passport, valid for atleast 6 months; a passport sized photo (or an extra $2 fee); and the full visa fee in U.S. dollars. If you don’t have dollars, there is an ATM at the airport.

If you don’t want the hassle of standing in line after your long flight, you can apply for an e-Visa online. These are only valid for T-Class visas and those entering the country at the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap Airport. You can get your Cambodian e-Visa online at www.evisa.gov.kh

If you are from the countries of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Sudan, you are not permitted to obtain an e-Visa or a tourist visa upon arrival. You must apply at the Cambodian Embassy in your country and must have a round-trip ticket and a sponsor letter.

If you want to extend your passport while in the country, it is suggested to go to a travel agent and contract them to turn in the paperwork for you. Going directly to the Department of Immigration yourself is a hassle!


THE GLOBAL COMMUTE’S RECOMMENDED TRAVEL SPECIALISTS

DragonFly Tours

This company offers a selection of fundraising tours in partnership with Cambodian NGO’s and ethical businesses helping to rebuild Cambodia.
Website: www.dragonflytourscambodia.com

AboutAsiaTravel

Donating 100% of profits to local communities in Cambodia through education – they can customize a private journey for your needs. They are geared toward more discerning travelers who like special access and private arrangements that are also authentic.
Website: www.aboutasiatravel.com

Grasshopper Bicycle Tours

This small, boutique company offers cycling trips throughout Asia. I am fond of Grasshopper because they share my love of sustainable, socially responsible and adventurous travel. They take their cyclers to cultural enriching sites and present them in a profound way, so travelers can experience the country in its true form. They also focus on out-of-the-way places where tourists are few.
Website: grasshopperadventures.com

Do you have a recommended travel specialist I forgot to mention? – shoot me an email to tell me why!

 

Feature Photo Credit: carrielambing/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock

2 thoughts on “7 Things you Should Know Before Traveling to Cambodia, Plus – How to Interact Like a Local

    1. Hi Emmanuel – Thanks for your question! Can you clarify what exactly you mean? I would like to be as helpful as possible.

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