Cambodia is a developing country that has just emerged from a 30-year period of upheaval and civil unrest and is putting increasing emphasis on tourism to improve its economy. During the reign of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79), around 2 million of Cambodia’s then 7 million population were killed, many in the “Killing Fields” later made infamous by the book and film. After the Vietnamese invaded and overthrew the Khmer Rouge, the country was caught in a series of guerrilla wars until a peace accord was negotiated in 1991. In 1998 they held the first real elections which passed off relatively smoothly and the country has been largely stable since then.
Many books have been written on the history of Cambodia from pre-Angkor through that era and the building of the Angkor Wat temples to post Khmer Rouge. They explain in much more detail, and in some cases much more graphically than we could, the history of the country. Below are some books and websites, in no particular order of merit, which we recommend you check out if you want to know more.
A History of Cambodia (David Chandler)
Angkor: An Introduction to the Temples (Dawn F Rooney)
Ancient Angkor (Michael Freeman, Claude Jacques)
Stay Alive, My Son (Pin Yathay)
A Cambodian Prison Portrait (Vann Nath)
Cambodia 1975-1982 (Michael Vickery)
River of Time (Jon Swain)
Voices from S-21 (David Chandler)
How Pol Pot Came to Power and The Pol Pot Regime (Ben Kiernan)
Cambodian genocide program (Yale University)
When Clouds Fell from the Sky (Robert Carmichael )
As with the history of Cambodia there is much to say about the present day and most of it has already been done extensively, so what follows is our very rough guide to the country. Below, we have again put together a list of books and websites you may wish to consult to fill in the gaps. Obviously, if you have any specific questions, drop us an e-mail and we’ll do our best to answer your queries.
Although most tourists will visit the temples in Siem Reap , the capital Phnom Penh (PP) and the beaches of Sihanoukville (Snooky), people are also increasingly visiting some of the provincial towns attracted by the colonial architecture and friendly people, as well as the islands off the coast which provide good diving, white sand beaches and exclusivity. You can visit any time of year although the best months temperature-wise are from Dec – Feb (dry and not too hot ). The official language of Cambodia is Khmer but English is widely spoken and French often spoken by older Khmers. Visas cost US$30 for a tourist visa (you will need 1 pass photo) and are available at Phnom Penh’s Pochentong airport on arrival and most border crossings. You can get a visa extension in PP or Snooky for 1 month. To get into the country, you can now either fly to PP or Siem Reap, cross by road from Thailand at Poipet or Koh Kong or from Vietman at Mae Bok or by boat at Chau Doc on the Mekong. The Laos/Cambodia border is an off/on affair best attempted if you have plenty of time. Link to getting to us from abroad
Cambodia’s official currency is the riel, however US$ are the general currency of choice for everyone. You may get your change in riel, current rates being around 4000r to the US$. You can change travellers cheques (US$ are the most acceptable) at most banks and get cash advances on most major credit cards. ATM machines are widely available all over the country particularly in PP, Siem Reap and Snooky. Be aware that on the islands there are still no ATM’s and internet is often not available.
On the mainland, internet access has been getting faster over the years and is now widely available: most places you stay at will offer free wifi. Postal service has improved over the years. If you send a package home the best way is with EMS as it is cheaper than DHL. It is easy to pick up a local SIM card and they are easy to top up. Don’t forget to ask for the special code to call abroad, you use this before the country code and you can make cheap calls home.
As far as getting around goes, there are buses to and from the main cities and towns. The roads have been improved through the whole country. You can also fly between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville and Siem Reap and PP. There are limited flights between PP and Snooky. Once in town, motodops (motor bike taxis) are common, although not the safest form of transport, or you can usually arrange a private car for daily hire. Tuk-tuks (a moto with trailer) have become the most popular form of transportation and we also have some metered taxis now.
You can hire a motobike yourself, but don’t do it unless you’re already a confident rider – one ride on a motodop in PP will answer why! Please wear a helmet as it is the law now and obey the traffic rules. You officially need a Cambodian driving license to drive here but sometimes you can get away with it: you might get a $2-3 fine if you don’t have one. Driving in Cambodia is totally different than at home so be extra careful.
Siem Reap, PP and Snooky all have a mixed range of accommodation, so you can choose depending on your budget – anything from US$3 to US$3000 per night. Ditto with eating out – you can pretty much get anything, and we do mean anything. Cambodia has gone through some major positive changes over the years and supermarkets are much better stocked with products. Siem Reap and PP tend to be more expensive than elsewhere and for obvious reasons have the widest choice of restaurants and supermarkets. All towns have their own local markets. Cambodia has now got some bigger chains in the country like Burger King, KFC and Pizza Hut.
That’s it for our brief guide. Check out the sites and books below if you want to know more:
http://talesofasia.com (Gordon Sharpless)
http://www.bayonpearnik.com (Bayon Pearnik)
http://www.canbypublications.com (Canby Cambodia Guides)
http://www.cambodia-web.net/camtourist/index.htm (Cambodia Ministry of Tourism)
http://wwwcamnet.com.kh/cambodia.daily (The Cambodia Daily)
http://www.phnompenhpost.com (Phnom Penh Post)
http://www.lonelyplanet.com (Lonely Planet Guides)
http://www.roughguides.com (Rough Guides)
http://www.cambodia2000.com (The Complete Cambodia Phonebook