Welcome to Travel Planning 101. Find country specific information about where you are going and what to do to prepare to get there!
- Travel highlights of the country.
- Fun facts and background information.
- History notes, facts on currency, health, holidays and transportation.
- Pre-departure tips, when to go, and visa information.
- Information on weather and electricity plugs.
- Suggestions on things to do if you have extra time to explore on your own.
Places To See
Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Rising amid 129 mass graves (43 of which remain untouched) is a blinding white stupa memorialising the approximately 17,000 people executed here by the Khmer Rouge between mid-1975 and December 1978. Displayed on shelves behind the stupa's glass panels are over 8000 skulls found during excavations here in 1980 - a moving reminder of Cambodia's dark past.
Some of the skulls still bear witness to the fact that their owners were bludgeoned to death for the sake of saving precious bullets. Certainly, wandering to sounds of joyful children playing at a nearby school and spotting human bone and clothing poking from the churned ground startlingly brings home the striking contrast of Cambodia today to the dark abyss of its recent past.
Bokor National Park
One of Cambodia's premier protected areas, Bokor National Park clings to the southern tip of the Elephant Mountains. Besides a refreshingly cool climate, the park possesses secluded waterfalls, commanding ocean views, an abandoned and eerie French hill station (elevation 1080m/3543ft) and exceedingly elusive animals like tigers and elephants.
At great financial and human expense (many indentured labourers perished in the process), the French forged a road into the area in the first quarter of the 20th century. A small community was created and soon the grand colonial hotel, known as Bokor Palace, was inaugurated in 1925. The hill station was twice abandoned: first in the late 1940s when the Vietnamese and Khmer Issarak (Free Khmer) forces overran it while fighting for independence against the French, and again in the early 1970s when it was left to the invading Khmer Rouge. It now has a genuine ghost-town feel, especially when thick mists envelope the skeletons of the original structures.
Temples of Angkor
Prepare for divine inspiration! The temples of Angkor, capital of Cambodia's ancient Khmer empire, are a perfect fusion of creative ambition and spiritual devotion. The Cambodian god-kings of old each strove to top their ancestors in size, scale and symmetry, culminating in the world's largest religious building, Angkor Wat, and one of its weirdest, the Bayon.
The hundreds of temples surviving today are the sacred skeleton of the vast political, religious and social centre of an empire that stretched from Burma to Vietnam and which, at its zenith, boasted a population of one million.
The temples of Angkor are the heart and soul of the Kingdom of Cambodia, a source of inspiration and national pride to all Khmers as they struggle to rebuild their lives after years of terror and trauma. Today, they are a point of pilgrimage for all Cambodians, and no traveller to the region will want to miss their extravagant beauty.
When to go?
The ideal months to be in Cambodia are December and January, when humidity is bearable, temperatures are cooler and it's unlikely to rain. From early February temperatures start to rise until the killer month, April, when temperatures often exceed 40°C (104°F). Come May and June, the southwestern monsoon brings rain and high humidity, cooking up a sweat for all but the hardiest of visitors.
The wet season (May-Oct), though very soggy, can be a good time to visit Angkor, as the moats will be full and the foliage lush - but steer clear of the northeast regions during those months, as the going gets pretty tough when the tracks are waterlogged.
The country's biggest festival, Bon Om Tuk, is held in early November, and is well worth catching. Others you might like to plan around include the water festival in Phnom Penh, or Khmer New Year.
Travel Visa Overview
Most visitors to Cambodia require a one-month tourist visa (
European plug with two circular metal pins
Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades
This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death.
Japanese B encephalitis
This mosquito-transmitted viral infection of the brain is a risk only in rural, rice-growing areas, and is thought to be a very low risk for travellers. It can be fatal, however, and may cause permanent brain damage in those who recover. There is an effective vaccine, and you should take measures to avoid mosquito bites.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave.Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
There are 6 known types of viral hepatitis:A, B, C, D, E and G. G is not dangerous. A and E are passed on by the fecal-oral route of transmission; there is a vaccine. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. A and E cause an acute illness, but you will recover fully from it.
B and D are passed on via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. They can be passed on by close contact, sexual contact, and blood-to-blood contact. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. There is a vaccine.
Hepatitis C is only passed on from blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine.
Also known as enteric fever, typhoid is transmitted via food and water. Symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are a major source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease.
The symptoms vary, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains.
You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases.
Seek medical help for any fever. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating. Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
From December to April the climate in Cambodia is at its driest with abundant sunshine and temperatures often reaching 40ºC (104ºF) in April, the hottest month. The humid southwestern monsoon from May to October sees rain fall mostly in the afternoon, accounting for 70-80% of annual rainfall. The highest temperatures around this time average just above the 30ºC mark (around 88ºF).
History and Culture
Pre-20th Centure History
Very little is known about prehistoric Cambodia, although archeological evidence has established that prior to 1000 BC Cambodians subsisted on a diet of fish and rice and lived in houses on stilts, as they still do today. From the 1st to the 6th centuries, much of Cambodia belonged to the southeast Asian kingdom of Funan, which played a vital role in developing the political institutions, culture and art of later Khmer states. However, it was the Angkorian era, beginning in 802, that really transformed the kingdom into a political, cultural and spiritual powerhouse.
Forces of the Thai kingdom of Ayudhya sacked Angkor in 1431, leaving the Khmers plagued by dynastic rivalries and continual warfare with the Thais for a century and a half. The Spanish and Portuguese, who had recently become active in the region, also played a part in these wars until resentment of their power led to the massacre of the Spanish garrison at Phnom Penh in 1599. A series of weak kings ruled from 1600 until the French arrived in 1863. After some gunboat diplomacy and the signing of a treaty of protectorate in 1863, the French went on to force King Norodom to sign another treaty, this time turning his country into a virtual colony in 1884.
Following the arrival of the French, a relatively peaceful period followed (even the peasant uprising of 1916 was considered peaceful). In 1941 the French installed 19-year-old Prince Norodom Sihanouk on the Cambodian throne, on the assumption that he would prove suitably pliable. This turned out to be a major miscalculation as the years after 1945 were strife-torn, with the waning of French colonial power aided by the proximity of the Franco-Viet Minh War that raged in Vietnam and Laos. Cambodian independence was eventually proclaimed in 1953, the enigmatic King Sihanouk going on to dominate national politics for the next 15 years before being overthrown by the army.
In 1969 the United States carpet-bombed suspected communist base camps in Cambodia, killing thousands of civilians and dragging the country unwillingly into the US-Vietnam conflict. Sihanouk was overthrown in a military coup in March 1970 and his successor General Lon Nol moved closer to the Americans. Sihanouk forged an alliance with the Khmer Rouge communists and the small guerrilla force swelled to an army of thousands in a matter of weeks. American and south Vietnamese troops invaded the country to eradicate Vietnamese communist forces but were unsuccessful; they did manage, however, to push the Vietnamese and their Khmer Rouge allies further into the country's interior. Savage fighting soon engulfed the entire country, with Phnom Penh falling to the Khmer Rouge in April 1975.
Over the next four years the Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot's leadership, systematically killed an estimated two million Cambodians (targeting the educated in particular) in a brutal bid to turn Cambodia into a Maoist, peasant-dominated agrarian cooperative. Currency was abolished, postal services were halted, the population became a work force of slave labourers and the country was almost entirely cut off from the outside world. Responding to recurring armed incursions into their border provinces, Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1978, forcing the Khmer Rouge to flee to the relative sanctuary of the jungles along the Thai border. From there, they conducted a guerrilla war against the Vietnamese-backed government throughout the late 1970s and '80s.
In mid-1993, UN-administered elections led to a new constitution and the reinstatement of Norodom Sihanouk as king. The Khmer Rouge boycotted the elections, rejected peace talks and continued to buy large quantities of arms from the Cambodian military leadership. In the months following the election, a government-sponsored amnesty secured the first defections from Khmer ranks, with more defections occurring from 1994 when the Khmer Rouge was finally outlawed by the Cambodian government.
The uneasy coalition of Prince Ranariddh's Funcinpec and Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party fell violently apart in July 1997, and when the dust settled Hun Sen assumed sole leadership of Cambodia. Elections in mid-98 returned Hun Sen to this position, despite grumbling from opposition candidates about dodgy electoral practices. While his democratic credentials are far from impressive, the one-eyed strong man has proved to be something of a stabilising force for Cambodia.
Pol Pot's death in April 1998 from an apparent heart attack was greeted with anger (that he was never brought to trial) and scepticism (he has been reported dead many times before). The UN has pulled out of trials of other surviving top level Khmer Rouge leaders on war crimes charges because the independence of the tribunals is doubtful.
When the mercurial King Sihanouk abdicated in 2004, the throne passed to his low-profile son, King Sihamoni, who has brought renewed credibility to the monarchy. In the July 2008 parliamentary elections, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) of Prime Minister Hun Sen - a political survivor if there ever was one - won 72 out of 123 seats in parliament, while the opposition vote was split across several parties. In 2009 Cambodia's economy took a battering from the global economic storm, with investments down, house and land prices tumbling and visitor numbers reduced.
Overall, Cambodia is at a crossroads in its road to recovery from the brutal years of Khmer Rouge rule. Compare Cambodia today with the dark abyss into which it plunged under the Khmer Rouge and the picture looks pretty optimistic, but look to its more successful neighbours and it's easy to be pessimistic. Cambodia must choose its path: pluralism, progress and prosperity or intimidation, impunity and injustice. The jury is still very much out on which way things will go.
© 2007 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. All rights reserved.