Cambodia is a Southeast Asian nation whose landscape spans low-lying plains, the Mekong Delta, mountains and Gulf of Thailand coastline. Its busy capital, Phnom Penh, is home to the art deco Central Market, glittering Royal Palace and the National Museum’s historical and archaeological exhibits. In the country’s northwest lie ruins of Angkor Wat, a massive stone temple complex built during the Khmer Empire.
HOW TO GET TO CAMBODIA
All visitors, except citizens of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Laos, Thailand andVietnam need a visa to enter Cambodia. The official price for a tourist visa is USD30 or USD35 for an “ordinary visa” also known more commonly as “business visa”. Staff may try to charge more at some land border crossings: hold out for the official price, particularly at major crossings, but don’t be upset if you have to pay USD1-2 extra. The major difference between a tourist and an ordinary/business visa is that a tourist visa can only be extended once, for maximum 2 months of stay in Cambodia, whereas an ordinary/business visa can be extended for periods up to a year or more.
Visas can be obtained at Cambodian embassies or consulates. Visas are also available “on arrival” at both international airports, all six international border crossings with Thailand, some international border crossings with Vietnam, and at the main border crossing with Laos.
Tourist visas: all are valid for one stay of up to 30 days. Those issued in advance expire 90 days after issue. In Phnom Penh (or elsewhere via agencies), tourist visas can be extended only once, allowing an additional 30 days at a cost of around USD30.
Visa-E, Ordinary or Business visa – this is the best choice for those wishing to stay for over two months with multiple entries, as a business visa can be extended indefinitely (approximately USD155 per 6 month extension and USD290 per 12 month extension) and have multiple entry status when (and only when) extended. Most Phnom Penh travel agencies process the extensions. Foreign nationals of some countries from South Asia (including India) and Africa are recommended to apply for a Business visa at the Cambodian missions in their own countries as the conversion process from a Tourist visa to a Business visa within Cambodia can be expensive and annoyingly burdensome (c. USD200 for conversion from Tourist visa to Business visa and another USD285 for a one year extension). There is always some more commission involved if you are travelling from a developing country to the range of USD30-40. However, once you are in possession of a long-term Business Visa, travel into and out of the country is very convenient and painless.
Cambodia has international airports at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Direct flights connect Phnom Penh International Airport (previously Pochentong International Airport) with mainland China (Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai), Hong Kong, Laos (Vientiane), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore, South Korea (Incheon), Taiwan (Taipei), Thailand (Bangkok) and Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh City).
Direct flights connect Siem Reap – Angkor International Airport with mainland China (Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai), Laos (Pakse, Vientiane), Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur), Singapore, South Korea (Incheon, Busan), Thailand (Bangkok), Qatar (Doha) and Vietnam (Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City).
Travellers specifically going to visit the Angkor temple ruins may prefer to use Siem Reap as it’s only a few minutes away from the main sites; however as Bangkok Airways has a monopoly on direct flights between Bangkok and Siem Reap, it’s a lot cheaper to fly to Phnom Penh and to take a bus (or cross overland from Bangkok).
Low-cost carrier Air Asia has introduced flights from Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok to Phnom Penh and Kuala Lumpur to Siem Reap. Tiger Airways now has direct daily flights between Singapore and Phnom Penh, while Jetstar Asia has begun flying from Singapore to Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
Lot of roads goes from neighbor countries to Cambodia, buses and cars are also used to get to Cambodia from other Asia countries.Sometime is better if you rent a car or trailer and make a road trip to Cambodia , Cambodia has lovely nature.
WHAT TO SEE AND WHAT TO DO IN CAMBODIA
Cambodia has some of the most beautiful beaches in Asia , its less crowded than Thailand and in my personal opinion much more beautiful than Thailand.
Koh Kong Island is considered one of the best beaches in SE Asia. There are no accommodations on Koh Kong Island as it is military run and therefore illegal to spend the night, however day trips are offered various operators in Koh Kong.
Along highway 4 (Sihanoukville – Phnom Penh), about 30 km south of Traeng Trayoung, 20 km north of the Koh Kong turn-off, there is on the west side of the road a small turn-off which leads to a nice set of rapids called O’bak Retes. Great place to stop. This is what is referred to as the ‘Tatai Waterfall’ by tour operators. You can walk from the entrance to the waterfall, it’s about 30 minutes, or you can take a dirt bike through if you have one. Would not recommend to take a scooter down as the terrain is rough and you have to cross a couple of deepish streams.
There are three things to do in Koh Kong which are easily accessible and vey beautiful to see: Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary (2 km out of town) it is an org run by local villages tying to preserve their local habitat. It is part of probably the largest mangrove estuary left in Asia. You can get there by bike; by foot; tuk tuk. If you hoof it ;wear a hat; bring water; and start walking early in the morning. It probably woud take 1.5 hours to walk. You pass some really interesting plant life growing in sand and mangrove mud flats. You can take a boatride on the estuary (hire a boatman) for about $20; it is worth it. There are 3 options now for the boat ride, $5 back to the parking lot, $10 something labelled “Koh Tai” (30 minutes), and another option for $20 (1 hour). I asked for the $10 ride but in reality the boatman just took me back to the parking lot — seems like a scam.
Baklang Beach. accross the bridge toward Thai border and turn left at the kings statue (looks like a Buddha). You can bike it. Very nice mangrove tidal flats. It is an easy 5km. There is a row of fish shacks lining the beach. If you want to eat something… ask the price first… the food tends to vary in quality, better to have a cold drink. During the rainy season the water is muddy but a very nice respite during the dry season. Baklang vilage is further down the road. Some fishing boats thats about it. If you bike go early and leave plenty of time; be back by dark. This is also referred to as Koh Yor Beach by tour operators.
The temples of Angkor are highly symbolic structures. The foremost Hindu concept is the temple-mountain, where the temple is built as a representation of the mythical Mount Meru: this is why so many temples, including Angkor Wat itself, are surrounded by moats, built in a mountain-like pyramidal shape and topped by precisely five towers, representing the five peaks of Mount Meru. The linga, representing the god Shiva, was also critical and while the lingas themselves have largely gone, linga stands (carved, table-like blocks of stone) can be found in many if not most rooms in the temples. There was also a political element to it all: most kings wanted to build their own state temples to symbolize their kingdom and their rule.
While early Angkor temples were built as Hindu temples, Jayavarman VII converted to Mahayana Buddhism c. 1200 and embarked on a prodigious building spree, building the new capital city of Angkor Thom including Bayon, Ta Prohm, Preah Khan and many more as Buddhist structures. However, his successor Jayavarman VIII returned to Hinduism and embarked on an equally massive spree of destruction, systematically defacing Buddhist images and even crudely altering some to be Hindu again. Hinduism eventually lost out to Buddhism again, but the (few) Buddha images in the temples today are later Theraveda additions.
Ruins of The Black Palace or “Damnak Sla Khmao” ( Situated 10 km from the hill station) was King Sihanouk‘s residence. It was built by brick and black wood in 1936. The doors and windows were all gone but the villa is still in good shape. You will find amazing view of the cliff behind and also beautiful sunset at the late afternoon.
The Old Catholic church was built by the French in the early 1920s as part of the French township on Bokor Mountain. The church‘s interior is surprisingly well kept. Here at the cliff behind, it is known for beautiful and romantic sunset.
Le Bokor Palace Hotel and Casino is a historical hotel built by colonial French and opened in 1925.
Popokvil Waterfall: Popokvil means “swirling clouds” which is totally appropriate as most of the time the mists do whorl just above the waterfalls. The best time to visit is during the rainy season (May to October) when the waterfalls are at their most beautiful.
Wat Sampove Pram:“Wat Sampov Pram” or “5 boats Wat” came from the five oddly-sculpted rocks nearby resembled boats. The beautiful legend of the boats will be told by resort expert guide. Wat Sampov Pram was built in 1924 by King Monivong. Behind the temple is breath-taking view of the sapphire sea and emerald green jungle you will be amazed.
Lok Yeay Mao Monument: The huge Lok Yeay Mao monument was constructed in 2010 with 29 meters high, sitting in meditation posture and facing to the coastal area. Lok Yeay Mao is considered a protector spirit of travelers, fishermen and hunters.
100 Rice Fields or Veal Sre Mouy Roy: You might be interested in its beautiful name and then you will be more surprised to see the real view of “Veal Sre Mouy Roy” or “100 Rice Fields”. That is the rock fields which look like hundreds of paddy fields divided by hundreds of dikes. It is one of the ideal place to keep your fun posts in your camera.
500 Rice Fields Sacred Meditation Area: Bokor Mountain boasts the unrivaled atmosphere and environment for both activities and serenity. A few kilometers away from Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, Bokor Meditation Areas are lying amidst the jungle.
This lake is one of the most unique ecological water wonders in the world. It is the largest lake in South East Asia and changes in size and dimension every wet season. With a minimum size of 2,800 km² and about 1 m depth during the dry season, the lake is fairly small. During the wet season the water of the Mekong river becomes so powerful, that it reverses the flow of the Tonle Sap river and pushes the surplus of rain water back into the Tonle Sap lake. This transforms the lake into a huge natural water reservoir and the lake’s size increases to approximately 15,000 km² with a depth of 8 m.
The Tonle Sap River connects the lake with the River Mekong at Phnom Penh, in the south east.
Irrawaddy Dolphin Watching, The best spot to watch the dolphins is Kampi village, 15 km north from Kratie.. There are only around 85 dolphins in the Mekong, but there is a very good chance to see some at Kampi. As river dolphins, these animals don’t generally approach boats show curiosity towards tourist boats like some marine dolphins do. There is no best time of day to see the dolphins as their activity patterns don’t change much over the course of the day, though it can be pleasant with the setting sun late in the day, and fiercely hot in the early afternoon. The dry season offers generally better opportunities to see groups together and spectacular behaviour (rare though it is), and in wet season the boat trip is considerably longer as the animals move several kilometres upstream from the tourist site. To protect the dolphins, you should ensure that your boatmen follows the dolphin watching guidelines provided and only use oars when near the dolphins.
There is an interesting fruit bat roost in the grounds of the old governors residence (a nice colonial era building). This is behind the market on the first road off the river. If the gate to the old governors building is open, you may be in luck, the house itself is sometimes left unlocked. All of the original furnishings are missing, but some of the bathroom fixtures remain and the house itself gives off a haunted vibe.
The grasslands and rice-fields surrounding Kompong Thom of an extreme importance for wildlife conservation. These areas hold the largest global population of the endangered Bustard the Bengal Florican as well as occasional large waterbirds from the Tonle Sap floodplain (Adjutants, Pelican, Painted Stork). Other species include large numbers of wintering palearctic passerines (including Dusky Warbler, Yellow-breasted Bunting, Siberian Rubythroat) and the globally vulnerable Manchurian Reed Warbler. In March large numbers of Oriental Plover pass through the area making this possibly the best area in the world to see this species.
The areas also offer a glimpse of everyday life in the Cambodian countryside with many fishermen, ox-carts and small scale farmers. The best way to visit the grasslands is by en-listing the help of a moto-dop driver from in-front of the Arunras guesthouse. A number of these know the area (around Rolous village about 5km towards Phnom Penh) and speak English.
ACCOMMODATION IN CAMBODIA
Western-style accommodation is available in most major towns the country over; even less-touristic places such as Kampong Chhnang have a number of affordable guesthouses or hotels. Basic guesthouses can go as low as US$2/night in the countryside but prices in the cities are usually in the US$5-10 range. At the budget end, expect to provide your own amenities such as towels, etc. If you want air-con and hot water, the price creeps up to close to US$10-20, and you can easily pay over US$100/night if you want to stay in a branded five-star hotel.
Cambodia is a safe and friendly country with the usual exception of large cities late at night, particularly Phnom Penh. Bag-, phone-, and wallet-snatching, especially from those on motorcycles, is a very common problem in Phnom Penh. Be discreet with your possessions, especially electronics, and as always, take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas. If you are renting a motorcycle, it has been advised to purchase and use your own lock for securing it as some of the less scrupulous staff at rental companies have been known to use their copy of the key to steal bikes and leave the traveler paying the exceptionally high value estimation.