As another looong vacation presented itself, we seized the opportunity to travel to a Southeastern Asian country that is unlike Japan in almost every way. It’s one of the world’s poorest countries. The majority of roads are bumpy, made of dirt, and lined with piles of or littered garbage randomly strewn about. There is an area where rural people live off of a contaminated river (drinking, cooking, bathing, etc.). The things you buy in the market wiggle and jump. Where the daily average wage is equivalent to $2-3 USD. There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks. And most restaurants, barbers, stores, etc. are open air shops (with bugs and insects everywhere). This is Cambodia. And this is one of my favorite countries.
Spending about one week in Siem Reap and the surrounding area, and unfortunately only one day in Phnom Penh, I found this country to be very captivating- regardless of it being one of the most poverty stricken countries in the world. Its poverty may be the first thing that grabs your attention while visiting, however, you will soon discover that there’s so much more that this country has to offer! Its rich culture, architecture, and amazing Khmer people are what make traveling in Cambodia a worthwhile experience I can’t even begin to describe. To be able to wander among the ruins and ponder their depressing yet incredible history, along with observing and interacting with the locals in their everyday lives, is truly an enriching reward.
So take a look at what shapes the country of Cambodia, where we had a lifetime adventure. It’s no wonder that Cambodia is also known as the ‘Kingdom of Wonder!’ Hopefully one day you will be able to experience your own journey here too!
Location: Officially known as the ‘Kingdom of Cambodia,’ this wondrous country is located in Southeast Asia, bordered by Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.
Capitol: Phnom Penh
There are currency exchange booths at the airports and plenty throughout town. However, USD $ is widely accepted (except US coins) and we found almost no need to have much riel with us (unless you are a collector of currencies). Although, if you pay in American dollars, the change will be Cambodian riel. Credit cards such as Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted and many ATM’s are around as well.
*Something to Think About: It is not possible to buy Cambodian Riel anywhere but in Cambodia because it is not exchanged on any financial (stock) market like the USD. I did not know this! *
Government: Multi-party liberal democracy under a constitutional monarchy
Language: Official language is Khmer, although English is widely known and/or spoken.
King: Norodom Sihamoni (2004)
Prime Minister: Hun Sen (1998)
Religion: Official religion is Buddhism equaling about 90% of the population. Islam and Christianity also exist but aren’t as prevalent.
Population: Approximately 15.4 million people live in Cambodia. 90% of the population are Khmer, 5% are Vietnamese, and Chinese/Other fill the remaining 5%.
History: Squished between Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia has been pushed and pulled between them for centuries, with the more recent French and U.S. interventions causing additional devastation. The United States’ secret war in Cambodia between 1969 and 1973 killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more, setting the stage for the 1975 takeover by the communist Khmer Rouge. Its attempt to forcibly transform the country resulted in the deaths of millions in the course of the Khmer Rouge’s four-year rule. The country is still struggling to recover from the ravages of its recent history.
Food: Really good Asian and most Western food are available for around $2-$7 dollars! Draft beer can range from $.50-$2, fruit juice $1-$2, and bottled water $.50-$1! All of this of course is assuming that you are eating at local restaurants, not indulging in the airport cuisine or ordering room service 😉
Climate: Cambodia has a tropical climate with a rainy, monsoon, and dry season. Its bathed in sunshine almost year round with a high average temperature, so don’t forget that sunscreen! Between June and October it may rain every other afternoon but rarely in the morning. Dry season runs from November to April, with October to January being the “coolest” (relatively speaking!) time of year.
Dress: The Khmer people are modest and dress conservatively. When visiting pagodas and temples, revealing clothing must not be worn. Bare shoulders and knees will be viewed as disrespectful. Many foreigners use sarongs to wrap around their shorts or shoulders when they enter into the temple areas.
Visa: The Cambodian government has a simple and straightforward on-line application for an e-via. This is the fastest and most efficient option, however, you do have the option to obtain a visa after arriving at the airports. A passport photo and US$30 are required to apply for a visa.
Health and Vaccinations: No vaccinations are mandatory, but some are recommended. Of course you should check with your doctor or travel clinic. There are numerous pharmacies where treatments for common traveler’s ailments can be found. Some say that the areas of Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are safe to drink the water, but I would stick to bottled water (which is available everywhere).
Tipping: Tipping is not a typical practice in Cambodian culture but they are very gratefully received.
Did You Know?? 20 Interesting Things You Might Not Know About Cambodia:
- Cambodia’s flag is the only one in the world to feature a building, Angkor Wat.
- Because of the genocide in the ’70’s, up to 60% of the population in under thirty.
- It’s estimated there are still about 4 million land mines still to be cleared in Cambodia! And that it will take about a decade before all of them are completely cleared up!
- Most Cambodians don’t celebrate their birthdays and many of the elder don’t even know how old they are.
- While Cambodia is renowned for cooking up creepy crawlies, most people eat fish and rice.
- The birth rate in Cambodia is three times higher than the death rate.
- There are no McDonald’s or Starbucks and never has been. Although when we were there, we did see signs in the airports for Starbucks “coming soon.” Cambodia’s McDonald’s equivalent is “Lucky Burger,” which mirrors pretty much everything you can find at McD’s.
- There are no orphanages in Cambodia.
- Cambodians love to sleep outside in hammocks.
- While sitting on the floor or a chair, it is considered rude to point feet, particularly the soles, towards a person opposite of you.
- In Cambodia, greeting is formally done by joining both the palms together in front of you and then bowing. This is called Sonmpeah.
- The major export products are rice, timber, fish, garments, and rubber.
- Cambodia has the largest inland lake in Southeast Asia called the Tonle Sap.
- Angkor has been one of the biggest cradles of civilization. A team of international researchers in 2007 used satellite photographs and other modern techniques to conclude that it was the largest pre-industrial city in the world, with an urban sprawl of 1,150 sq. miles that probably supported up to a million people!
- Some local sports of Cambodia include traditional boat racing, buffalo racing, and Khmer traditional wrestling.
- Country’s motto: “Nation, Religion, King.”
- Tarantula kabobs are considered a delicacy here.
- You can buy rapid tests for Malaria in pharmacies.
- Cambodia is the least explored country in Southeast Asia.
- “Rice” and “Live” are the same word in Khmer language. It said that’s because “rice means to live (or life) for Cambodians.”
Our roots will forever be from here, America, born and raised. Yet, life requires us to move more frequently than we care to count. Whether living stateside or abroad, you can always find us traveling somewhere. We scout out places that you only think you can dream of one day seeing and we seek out those that aren’t found in guidebooks. We then bring them to life here in our travel memos, so hopefully, one day you too can visit them or at least be able to live vicariously through us. This blog isn’t just about crossing off places from a bucket list. It’s about absorbing and learning how other cultures grow and fit into the same world that we do. Life is short and the world is big. Enjoy and get out there!