Tours are operating in all cities. Click here for our COVID-19 Health & Safety updates.

Cambodia Travel Tips: Know Before You Go

Article by Lost Plate Food Tours

Pin it

Share on pinterest

Share it

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Pin it

Share on pinterest

Share it

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on whatsapp
Share on email

Cambodia is generally a pretty easy place to travel. English is widely spoken, people are friendly, and expenses are pretty reasonable once you touch ground. Even so, our Cambodia travel tips will make your trip extra-comfortable. 

Visa on Arrival

All international airports and over-land immigration centers offer visas on arrival for most passport holders (ASEAN passport members don’t need one for a certain amount of time depending on the country.) You need to bring a passport-sized photograph of yourself against a white background as well as $20-30 USD in cash depending on the visa you’re applying for. If you don’t have the photo, don’t worry- they can scan your passport for a photo for a $1-2 USD fee. 

Alternatively, you can get an e-Visa online at www.evisa.gov.kh and skip the line. 

If you are traveling overland, we’ve heard reports on people being overcharged at the border, mostly at Poipet. It’s rare but can happen. We highly recommend saving yourself the hassle and headache by applying online for an e-Visa. The website link above covers all the big land ports,  just make sure you know which one you are passing through. 

Visas on arrival are processed in-house and typically take 10—15 minutes but can take longer if you’re arriving during tourist season (Nov-Jan.) All flights will give you an arrivals form and a customs form to fill in midair, but not all flights offer a visa application form. It doesn’t hurt to ask though. You can fill it out on the plane or in line, but just make sure you have the form, photo, and cash ready when you get to the front. 

Visas on arrival typically last 30 days. Tourist visas are the cheapest option but only offer single entry; if you are hopping around South East Asia it might be worth getting an Ordinary visa for a few more bucks that allow multiple entries and is easy to extend at any travel agency in the country without having to cross a border.

English is Commonly Spoken

A legacy of the UN’s brief rule here, English is widely spoken in most urban areas which makes Cambodia easy to travel and navigate for English speakers. Most menus and signs will be in English, and vendors operating in busy areas are all able to speak English.

US Dollars and Khmer Riel are Interchangeable

The local currency is based on the US dollar and its largest printed denomination is 50,000 Khmer Riel – or $12.5 USD. The economy here is still based on the US dollar, another legacy of the UN’s governance here in the early 1990s.

The US dollars are accepted everywhere and officially exchanges at 4100 Riel, however, most places accept 4000 Riel to $1 USD for the sake of simplicity. Anything below $1 USD uses Khmer Riel exclusively – American coins are not accepted here. We recommend just carrying USD for larger bills so your wallet isn’t stuffed with small denominations. 

Cash Only, Please**

Most places will not accept plastic- even restaurants and bars that seem like they should. Those that do typically display a Visa or MasterCard sign at the door. But don’t expect it or travel without cash- roughly 70% of all the money in Cambodia is in cash- here cash is truly king. 

There’s also a set of local attitudes towards cash that may be unfamiliar- local establishments refuse $100 bills because they’re seen to be a nuisance to break. Most places will not accept bills with rips or tears- even really tiny ones. Bills that have a small stain, or a bit of ink on them are known to be turned away too. There’s a belief here that banks will not accept them (which is untrue) so no one else does. Even those without bank accounts to deposit into will not accept these unwanted bills- less than 4% of Cambodians have a bank account. In fact, it’s the people who do have bank accounts that will accept the bills readily. Most foreign businesses (or ones that cater to foreigners) will accept big bills, or slightly mistreated ones because they will be depositing them into their accounts anyways. Go figure. 

Getting Around: Tuktuks & Rideshare Apps

The easiest, cheapest, and most efficient way around the city is by Tuktuk. Most hotels always have a few drivers waiting outside on the street to take guests to their destinations and are also ubiquitous throughout the city. You need to haggle the price before you start your journey. $2 USD is a typical price for a standard 10-minute ride around town. You are likely to be charged the “tourist fee” which is typically only a dollar or two more than standard local fares. Or just try what locals do – don’t mention price until you arrive at your destination, say thanks, then give them a couple of bucks and walk away. If the driver is unhappy they will let you know!

If you don’t want to deal with the stress of haggling and navigating the city, there are two big ride-share applications to use: PassApp and Grab. PassApp is the most popular local application and can find you 2-seater tuktuks, 4-seater cars, and 6-seater four-wheel drives to take you around the city. You can set pick-up and drop-off locations around town for pre-negotiated rates. The prices are exceedingly reasonable and far better than you’d be able to negotiate with a tuktuk on your own. Payments are made in cash.

Uber sold its local business to Grab, an international application that is relatively new and growing. This is the best way to get to the airport or destinations a bit further in the city. It also has the option of getting the old-school 4-seater tuktuks if that’s something you prefer, and also allows you to pay via credit card- which is very useful if figuring out a foreign currency is confusing to you.

Important: Please be careful with your belongings, bags, and phones during any tuktuk ride – have them hidden or secured and not within reaching distance of people outside. Drive-by thefts by motorbike are unfortunately common in Phnom Penh in areas where tourists are known to frequent.

Using ATMs

We recommend using ABA and ANZ ATMs as they are partnered with the Bank of Canada and Australia/New Zealand, respectively. Your debit or credit cards are less likely to be flagged by these reputable international banks. They both allow you to withdraw USD and KHR and are easy to locate on Google Maps. They will charge you $4-5 USD to use their service for each withdrawal. Keep in mind that $100 bills are not accepted at most places without a big purchase- so do what we do and withdraw $10 less than you usually would- $90 instead of $100, or $190 instead of $200, so you have convenient bills to carry around. 

Besides hotels, shopping malls, and Lexus dealerships, it’s rare for places to accept cards. Cambodia is still a cash-based economy, so even higher-end bars and restaurants only accept cash. If you forget, don’t worry, most establishments will be able to direct you to a nearby ATM.

Power Outlets & Adapters

While US, European and UK power outlets can be found in Cambodia, the typical flat 2-pronged US outlets are the most accommodated, but not by a large margin. Due to the UN occupation, it’s very common to see multi-pronged sockets everywhere. Voltage in Cambodia is 230 volts (US voltage is 120), so you may still need an adapter if your device is unable to handle the higher voltage. Most electronic devices will not have a problem, but items like hair dryers sometimes do not work without an adapter.

If your devices use UK or European plugs then we recommend you bring an adapter, but if you forget they are quite cheap at the local markets or minimarts! Your hotel should also be able to provide something helpful for you, but its always best to have a personal one at hand. 

Get a Local SIM Card

Sim cards are cheap and worth the trouble. You can pick them up at many ports of entry, and the Phnom Penh airport even gives SIM cards for free with unlimited prepaid plans (which are usually a bit pricier than the local plans, but hassle-free.)

We recommend Smart or Cellcard– these are the biggest and fastest operators in Cambodia. Smart and Cellcard shops at the airport will charge around $7 for a sim card with unlimited data for a fixed time. If you’re going to get one later, make sure you bring your passport as all SIM card purchases usually need to be registered.

Alternatively, many street-side cellphone shops also sell sim cards. You’ll find them around any market- just look for the stores displaying cellphones in the glass cases. They will charge about $3 but passports are not required. English will be limited, and the sim card will have no balance, but by using a pre-paid plan you could spend less than $5 a month on plenty of data, texts, and local calls.

Data here is very cheap, and $2 for a week-long stay is more than enough pre-paid phone credit to buy. It’s easy to purchase additional credit any time by visiting a street-side mom-and-pop shop (the ones that sell a little bit of everything, with a big orange cooler out front). If you’re not sure, literally ask anybody to point you in the right direction and you will get help. Let the vendor know what carrier you’re using and how much you’d like to top-up. They’ll give you a scratch-off code card that has instructions on how to input on your phone.

 

If you are visiting the islands off the southern coast: please check if your hotel has wifi. The islands have to set up their power and water independently, but they can’t set up cell towers, etc, so many hotels do not offer wifi there. Those that do often have very shaky connections (check the reviews, people!)

Metfone is also a good choice as it is more reliable on the islands, but it’s not as commonly used on the mainland and will be harder to top-up. The islands are perfect to escape the modern world, but if you need to be contactable or if you are staying for a long time it could be worth just getting another Metfone sim for that leg of the trip- or re-booking someplace that has reliable wifi.

Tipping is Welcome But Not Mandatory

We don’t have a tipping culture here, so it is not expected, but it is welcomed and appreciated if you do feel like service was exceptional. Tipping is only really a *thing* at massage parlors; when your masseuse is waiting to see you out at the lobby after your massage, show your appreciation for skill by slipping a couple of bucks. It’s still not mandatory though, but just more common here. 

At massage parlors and everywhere else, there are no guidelines at all about what percentage of the bill is expected based on the level of service delivered, so just go with your gut if you feel like giving an extra “thank you.”

Check Out Our Free Travel Guides

Our free travel guides for Siem Reap and Phnom Penh outline all of the best places to eat, where to stay, and what to expect when traveling to each city. 

Related Posts:

Lost Plate Cambodia Food Tours

Must Try Cambodian Food – Local Dishes You Cannot Miss

If you want to try the best food in Cambodia, our first recommendation is our local food tours that will take you to no-menu, no-English humble eateries, where the best food is always hiding. If you’re at a local place with an English menu, or your hotel’s got local fare on room service, then here’s a list of Cambodian foods to try.

Read More »
Phnom Penh Hidden Bar Tour Featured in Prince of Craft Beer Tasting

Phnom Penh Craft Beer & Breweries

The small yet rapidly growing micro-brew scene in Cambodia’s capital is what everyone in the West reminisces about. Passionate brewers setting up shop in their garage (or as close to a garage as you can have in Phnom Penh,) tinkering with local ingredients and brewing batches big enough to share at one or two bars. The result is some of the best beer you can find in Asia…and drinking it in some of the most intimate hidden gems that you’ll find anywhere.

Read More »

Sign up for our newsletter!