Sunrise over Angkor Wat, Cambodia

Cambodia Quick Guide

  • Population: 14.9 million
  • Median Age: 23.3  years
  • Capital: Phnom Penh
  • Government: Multiparty democracy under a constitutional monarchy
  • Language: Khmer (official) 95%, French, English
  • Currency: Riel (official), however the dollar (USD) is the unofficial currency and is more widely used than the riel
  • Size compared to US: Slightly smaller than Oklahoma
  • Religions: Buddhist (official) 96.4%, Muslim 2.1%, other 1.3%, unspecified 0.2%
  • Ethnic Groups: Khmer 90%, Vietnamese 5%, Chinese 1%, other 4%
  • GDP: $12.8 billion (2011), ranked 121st in the world
  • GDP Growth Rate: 6.1% (2011 est.)
  • Visa Information: US citizens can obtain a 30 day single entry visa-on-arrival at any border crossing or airport. You must fill out a form at immigration, then attach a passport photo and pay $20 USD. The visa takes up an entire page in your passport, so make sure you have enough pages before you leave. More information about entry/exit requirements can be found on the State Dept website.
  • Transportation: The route from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh is paved as is the route from Phnom Penh to Poipet. Once you get off the major routes then I think it’s unlikely you’ll be on good, paved roads. The coach buses aren’t as nice as in neighboring Thailand, but you probably won’t have to take an overnight bus to get anywhere in Cambodia anyways. We took a coach bus with Mekong Express from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, which was a 6 hour drive and cost $11 each. There is a boat that runs in between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh as well, but unfortunately there was no water in the river when we were there in March. From Phnom Penh we took a coach bus with Capitol Tours to Poipet (the border town to cross into Thailand), which took about 7-8 hours. The distances are not far but the buses stops every 90 minutes and there are only single lane roads so you can’t make good time. Once in Poipet we crossed the border into Thailand where we switched to a mini-van for the 4 hour journey to Bangkok.
  • Weather: We visited Cambodia in late March and it was very hot with temperatures in the 90s (F). It was also extremely dry and the landscape looked like it hadn’t rained in months. Like its neighboring countries, I believe Cambodia’s monsoon season usually starts in May. Siem Reap seemed hotter to me than Phnom Penh, but it was cloudy when we visited Phnom Penh so that probably accounts for the difference.
  • Food: To be honest I can’t say that we ate too many authentic Khmer meals, but the dishes we did try were very good. One of the most popular dishes is fish amok, which is usually some type of freshwater fish fillet wrapped in a banana leaf with a bunch of different spices such as lemongrass and garlic. This was probably my favorite meal in Cambodia.
  • People: The Cambodian people are really sweet and deferential. Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, and it’s only been 30 years since the Khmer Rouge was in power, so it will definitely take some time for the country to fully recover. Despite their hardships the people seem optimistic about the future, especially those working in the tourism industry, which seems to have really taken off in places like Siem Reap.
  • Dress: Women in Cambodia dress western for the most part, so visitors can wear whatever they like.