Cambodia’s national language is Khmer and unlike the other languages of the region is not a tonal language. As in other former French colonies the educated older generation often speaks very good French while the younger generation prefers English. Outside the major centers of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap most people speak only Khmer, but you will always find somebody who speaks English wherever you go.
TIME DIFFERENCE | India +1.5 hours
ELECTRICITY | Cambodia uses 220V, and a mixture of flat 2-pin, round 2-pin or 3-pin plugs. It is recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor. Power outages are quite common but most hotels have their own generator.
VISAS | Visa on Arrival service is available for most nationalities on international flights arriving in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, as well as most land crossings with Laos, Vietnam and Thailand..
SHOPS | For fine silks, textiles, statues and carvings along with silverwork and even art, Cambodia is a treasure trove. The Buddhism-themed items are sold in boutiques, on the street and in large markets both in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and, generally speaking, specific items for sale are to be found in specific parts of the towns.
MONEY | The official currency is the Cambodian Riel (pronounced ‘real’), although US Dollars are accepted everywhere. ATMs distributing US Dollars are found in the main cities and moneychangers throughout the country.
CLIMATE | A tropical monsoon climate, dividing into the cool, dry, north-eastern monsoon from November to February and the humid south-western monsoon from May to October. The most comfortable months in which to visit are December and January, when it is cooler and less humid. By April the heat and humidity are stifling, and temperatures often reach 40%C (104%F).
FOOD | Khmer cuisine is very similar to Thai, but less spicy. Fish in varying forms is the staple ingredient. One speciality is grilled freshwater fish wrapped in lettuce or spinach and dipped in a nutty fish sauce. (Cambodia is home to the largest freshwater lake in south-east Asia.) Cambodians are particularly fond of coriander, mint and lemongrass, a pleasant combination that appears in many dishes. It is also usual for meals to include a soup of some kind. Like Laos, the French colonial influence is best sampled in the freshly baked bread. For the sweet tooth, sticky rice cakes and jackfruit pudding are the order of the day.
HEALTH | Vaccinations are recommended for typhoid, hepatitis, rabies and Japanese encephalitis. Malaria is present throughout the country all year round and there is high resistance to chloroquine and sulfadoxine/pyrimethamine, so it is best to check current medical advice before you go.
EVENTS | January/February Lunar New Year is celebrated by ethnic Chinese and Vietnamese. April Khmer New Year celebrations bring the country to a halt for three days, with plenty of water and talcum powder throwing. May Chat Preah Nengkal, or the Royal Ploughing Festival, takes place near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. November Bom Om Tuk is the most important festival in the Khmer calendar, celebrating the end of the wet season. This is definitely the best time to visit Phnom Penh or Siem Reap.