With a history both inspiring and shocking, Cambodia is a country most visitors struggle not to fall in love with. It is a vibrant and rich landscape of lush-green rice paddies lined with red roads and towering palms; of communities living on the water of the floating villages which edge the life-line that is the Tonle Sap Lake; of ornate Pagodas, French colonial architecture, and the imposing grandeur of the Angkor Temples.

Cambodia is home to 15.4 million people, who mainly reside in the rural provinces. Despite the growing tourism industry of the Angkor Temples, Siem Reap remains the 2nd poorest of Cambodia’s 25 provinces. One third of the population earn less than $1 per day, and access to quality education and healthcare is very limited. More than 60% of the population is under the age of 30, making it a country that is growing and changing very rapidly.

At Salariin Kampuchea our aim is to educate this young population to help them cope with their changing society, work their own way out of poverty and lead successful lives.

Cambodia DOs and DON’Ts

If you want to travel or volunteer, then you probably want to experience new things. In coming to Cambodia you are entering a culture that is very different to the Western world, and some of the things that you see as normal may be strange or disrespectful in Khmer society. Take a moment to read the following advice in order to make your transition into Cambodian culture as smooth as possible.

Greetings and Social Gestures

  • In Siem Reap and Phnom Penh many Cambodians are accustomed to shaking hands, but traditionally the ‘Sampeah’ (palms together in a prayer-like gesture) is used. Hold hands just below the chin for regular greetings, if you are greeting an elderly person, or someone of high social status, then hold hands higher up, just below the nose.
  • It is considered extremely rude to touch someone’s head.
  • Similarly, as feet are the lowest part of the body, you should not point your feet at anyone, rest them on furniture, or step over anyone.
  • Public displays of affection between men and women are frowned upon.
  • It is deemed to be very rude to point directly at someone.


  • When visiting any religious building you should dress neatly and conservatively: shoulders and knees should be covered.
  • Remove shoes when entering any building containing a Buddha image or object.
  • Monks should not be touched by, or touch, women.
  • Always sit lower than a monk.


  • Cambodians are very conservative people. It is deemed inappropriate to have shoulders, cleavage or upper legs uncovered. A bare midriff, at any time, is a big no-no. Men should not walk around topless unless in swimming areas. Wear t-shirts which cover shoulders, and long shorts/skirts. This is particularly important in working environments and in religious buildings.
  • At hotels and on the more touristic beaches, swimsuits/bikinis are generally accepted, but if you are swimming in a more public place such as the lake, women should wear shorts and a t-shirt.
  • Sandals and flipflops are acceptable footwear in all but the most formal occasions.
  • Shoes should be removed when entering homes and religious buildings. Some shops and businesses will also have this rule. If there is a pile of shoes outside the door, follow suit.
  • If you are invited to a wedding, go as glamorous as possible. Bright colours, glitz, high heels, lots of make-up and big hair are all encouraged. You will never be over-dressed! Men should wear a shirt, long trousers and shoes.

Khmer Beliefs and Social Customs

  • Khmer people believe in spirits and ghosts. Be careful not to mock this. A Khmer friend might be scared to enter a building or go to a certain area because of restless souls. Try to be sensitive to their fears and beliefs.
  • It is rude to raise your voice or show anger. Be passive and keep your cool.
  • Khmer people are very friendly and social. If they speak English, they will often stop you in the street or cycle/ride alongside you and chat so they can practice.  Smile and speak back, this is normal here!
  • Try to learn a little of the language. Whatever little you do attempt will be much appreciated and met with lots of smiles and laughter[D.H.1] .


  • Make sure you get all the appropriate vaccinations before you come to Cambodia. Seek advice from your doctor about what is necessary. Siem Reap is a low-risk malaria area, but in other parts of Cambodia it is more prevalent.
  • There is no ambulance service, as such, and medical facilities are not what you might expect in the West, particularly in rural areas. There are international hospitals and western doctors in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.
  • Most medications and drugs are available for purchase in Cambodian pharmacies. Be aware they may not have the brand/dosage you require so come prepared with necessary medications.


  • Avoid cycling or walking alone after dark. Motos and tuktuks are cheap and can easily be hailed in the street.
  • Bag-snatchings and thefts do occur here. Don’t carry large amounts of money and valuables with you, particularly after dark.


Cambodia (or Kampuchea as it is known locally) is a South-East Asian country lying between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. Its capital is Phnom Penh, which is also the largest city with a population of around 1.5to 2 million.

Most of the country is made up of a low-lying alluvial plain, which accounts for its distinctive flat landscape. The soil is rich in minerals and nutrients which nourish the thousands of square kilometres of vibrant green rice paddies. The south of the country is made up of the Mekong Delta, and the northern borders to Laos and Thailand are mountainous.

At the heart of Cambodia lies Tonle Sap (Great Lake), the largest lake in South-East Asia. During the monsoon season the lake can grow to four times its normal size, causing the Mekong river to flow Northwards into the lake. The riverflow reverses during the dry season, , flowing back down the country. This makes Tonle Sap one of the greatest freshwater fish sources in the world. It is a lifeline to Cambodians, with many residing in floating and stilted villages along its periphery.


Cambodia has a wet season (June-October) and a dry season (November-May).

Wet Season

75% of Cambodia’s annual rainfall comes during the monsoon season from June to October. Rainfall tends to come in a single 2-3 hour shower, rather than continuous rain from morning until night, which rarely occurs. Flooding is common during this time, and travel can be affected due to road damage.

Dry Season

November to February is the Cambodian ‘winter’. Temperatures fluctuate from around 25-30⁰C by day. This coincides with the tourist high season, as many visitors take advantage of the cooler temperatures. March to May is hot season. Temperatures generally lie in the mid 30s, with occasional peaks in the low 40s.


Cambodia’s history is one of great extremes. At one time, it was the dominant power in South East Asia, ruling over much of what are now Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. At times, however, the Kingdom has been in danger of disappearing from the map entirely. Perhaps most famously, Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge rule over Cambodia led to the decimation of the population; a horrific event which still casts a large shadow over the country. Today it is a nation in recovery, dusting itself off and finding its feet in a modern and fast-changing world.

Early History

Cambodia’s origins lie in the southern sea-bordering provinces and were certainly heavily influenced by the Chinese and their sea-fairing sub-continental neighbour, India. Its great rise came in the Angkorian era with King Jayavaraman II, who was the first in a long line of monarchs to rule over the rise and fall of the greatest empire mainland South East Asia has ever seen. The various monarchs of this time were responsible for the construction of the many great temples of Angkor, a show of their power, wealth and religion.

The Angkorian reign eventually came to an end due to overspending, and the overworking of its labour force and once-mighty irrigation system. The Thai and Vietnamese grew in strength and took parts of Cambodia. The Angkor region was under constant dispute, eventually leading to Phnom Penh’s establishment as the new capital.

In the late 1800s the French moved into Cambodia, protecting the country from its neighbours and beginning the long and influential French reign in Indochina. After World War II, Cambodia once-more became independent, with Prince Norodom Sihanouk leading the country into a prosperous era in which tourism boomed and Phnom Penh  transformed into a business and cultural centre of South East Asia.

The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Rouge

As the War in Vietnam took hold, Cambodia’s political strength was under threat. Sihanouk, fearing Thai and South Vietnamese invasion, sided with the Chinese and North Vietnamese in the conflict, allowing Viet Cong forces to use Cambodian territory in their battle, before he was deposed. This eventually led to a South Vietnamese invasion and the USA’s carpet bombing of much of Eastern Cambodia.

Under Pol Pot’s reign, the Khmer Rouge rose as a force fighting for Cambodia. Many citizens joined in support of their King, Sihanouk, who had made alliances with Pol Pot prior to deposition. With the support of the South Vietnamese, the Khmer Rouge grew in strength through the 1960s and 1970s, eventually taking Phnom Penh in 1975. As they grew in power, they began executing those within their ranks who did not share the exact ideology of the radicals. This marked the beginning of the internal purges and mass killings that would rip apart Cambodia, and eventually lead to the fall of the Khmer Rouge.

Pol Pot’s aim was to transform Cambodia into an agrarian cooperative, driven by peasants. He broke up all that Cambodians held close: family, food, culture and religion. He killed the intelligentsia and sent the people – even the very young, old and infirm – out to work on the land for long hours, feeding them little to no food. Many starved to death; others were executed by Khmer Rouge Cadres. It is estimated that between 1 and 3 million people were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

Throughout the 80s and 90s, a complex war raged throughout the region as various forces fought to gain control over the country. With UN help, in 1993 the first democratic election was held in Cambodia. Over time, the war subsided and peace has come to Cambodia, though there is still some way to go before Cambodia can truly call itself a free country. The last decade, however, has seen the first local and provincial elections take place, giving a voice to more and more people. Things are finally moving in a positive direction for this fascinating country.


Cambodia’s tourist industry is growing fast. The Angkor Temples are widely deemed to be the ‘eighth wonder’, and as result Siem Reap is becoming a tourist hot-spot, with thousands of visitors passing through on a daily basis. Its growing popularity as a must-see destination, however, is not only down to the spectacular Angkor Wat. Cambodia’s ever smiling and friendly people are what most people cite as the highlight of their trips.

Getting Here

Air:  Both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap both have international airports. Flights connect into the country from a multitude of destinations. Some of the most popular are Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpar and Seoul.  

Land: Hundreds of people make the overland trip from Bangkok to Siem Reap every day. You can get to the border town of Aranyprathet by bus, which will cost around 400baht (12 USD), or by train for 48baht ($1.50). A bus to Siem Reap from Poipet, the Cambodian town on the other side of the boarder, will cost about $10. Alternatively a taxi (which is much quicker and more comfortable) is $48 for the whole car.

If you’re coming from Vietnam or Laos, buses run daily and cost between $15 and $25 depending on the length of the journey. Beware that trips can take significantly longer than advertised.


Tourist visas can be obtained upon arrival in Cambodia. A month-long tourist visa costs $20, and you must take a passport-sized photo of yourself. Beware of visa scams, particularly at the Thai border. You shouldn’t pay more than $20, and you obtain your visa from the official office AFTER you have been stamped out of Thailand.

Getting Around

Motorbikes and tuktuks are the most common mode of transport in Siem Reap. You should agree on a price with your driver before you leave. You can get to most places within the town for less than $3. Drivers will also offer deals on taking you around the temples and to other tourist attractions.

Alternatively, a great way to see Siem Reap is by bicycle. You can rent one for around $1-2 per day, or buy one second-hand for around $35.


Cambodia uses two currencies: US Dollar and Cambodian Riel.

1 USD = 4000 Riel

Both are accepted throughout the country, though for transactions of $1 or more, USD is more commonly used. US coins are not legal tender, and your change will be given in riel.

ATMs throughout Cambodia issue US Dollars.

When attaining dollars for use in Cambodia, try to make sure they are fairly new banknotes (issued within the last 10 years) and not torn or damaged, as many businesses will not accept old or lightly damaged notes.

What to See and Do

Cambodia’s (and in particular Siem Reap’s) tourism industry has exploded over the last decade. A multitude of hotels, restaurants, shops and tour companies have opened, capitalizing on the huge amounts of money that is now coming into the country. Despite Siem Reap lying at the heart of this economic boom, it remains the second poorest of Cambodia’s 25 provinces, proving that the vast majority of this money is not actually filtering down to the local people. Many businesses take advantage of the cheap labour-force to make huge profits.

However, there are responsible tourism businesses out there that care about their staff, the environment and ensure that the money generated from tourism goes back into the local economy. Similarly, you can ensure you are benefitting local people by making your purchases in the markets and from roadside stalls. Every penny you spend goes directly to the local people and their families. 

Please take a little time to check out the information we have compiled for you here, in order to ensure the time and money you spend in Cambodia is spent in the best possible way.

In Siem Reap

Temples of Angkor

Without a doubt Cambodia’s most famous attraction, the Temples of Angkor are a breath-taking sight. They are the remains of the Khmer Empire which ran from the 9th-14th Century. The Khmer kings built huge and beautiful structures as symbols of their power, wealth and religion. Widely deemed to be the ‘eighth wonder’, this sprawling park of spectacular structures is a sight not to be missed. You can hire a local tuktuk driver for the day for $15-20. Likewise, there are a multitude of English-speaking local guides available too. If you are keen to cycle, most guides will also do this. Ask at your hotel or guesthouse for more information.

Tonle Sap (Great Lake)

The largest lake in South East Asia, Tonle Sap is crucial to the livelihood of Cambodia. In the wet season, it swells to four times its size. It is a rich source of freshwater fish and irrigation for the country. Many locals live in and on the lake, in boats and buoyed structures in the many floating villages, and in towering stilted houses. You can visit both easily from Siem Reap by tuktuk, and then boat. The cost of your boat will include a local guide.

Afterwards, you might like to go up Phnom Krohm, a ‘mountain’ or hill which lies next to Tonle Sap. At the top is an Angkor Temple. You’ll need a temple pass to see it by day, but after 5.30 it’s free and you get the added bonus of seeing the sunset over Tonle Sap. A beautiful sight.

The Landmine Museum

The landmine museum was set-up by Akira, a man who has dedicated his life since the end of conflict in Cambodia to detonating and removing some of the many thousands of landmines from the land. The museum tells his fascinating story, as well as giving a good overview of the conflict in Cambodia and the situation regarding landmines today. The museum is also a school and orphanage for victims of landmines.

West Baray

A vast man-made lake built during the great Angkorian Era. Kings built huge irrigation systems in order to produce multiple rice crops in the year. These not only increased their wealth, but it is believed they had symbolic value too: perhaps as religious tributes, but also as a show of their power. Today the lake is a haven for local Cambodians, who go there on holidays and during festivals to relax, swim, and eat food with their friends and family. Not many tourists frequent the Baray, making it a great place to get a taste of the real Cambodia. Lounge in hammocks and enjoy a cold beer and some of the local delicacies the many passing sellers have to offer, before renting a tube and enjoying the water. Remember this is a place for locals and Khmer culture is very conservative so dress appropriately. For ladies, even when going for a swim, have shoulders covered and long shorts on.

The Local Markets

Siem Reap is over-run with tourist markets, but you can get a real taste of Cambodia if you visit one of the many local markets. ‘Ph’saaChah’ (Old Market) is located in the centre of town and is a treasure trove of both tourist stalls selling souvenirs, t-shirts and jewellery; and local stalls selling everything from fresh meat to cigarettes, from hardware to haircuts, and from noodle soup to washing detergent. For an even more authentic experience visit the sprawling ‘Ph’saaLeu’ on National Route 6.

Try the Local Cuisine

Siem Reap is awash with excellent restaurants. You can eat any cuisine of the world at bargain prices and in beautiful surroundings. With so many restaurants around, it can be difficult to choose, so why not try one of many great restaurants whose profits support local NGOs. Haven, Joe to Go, SoriaMoria and Green Star are just a few examples of businesses which provide great food and service, and all for a great cause. For more info click here.[insert hyperlink to LINKS section]

Most restaurants offer local fayre, though some of the tastiest examples you can find will be cooked street-side, in one of the many vendors that line most side streets in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Plastic chairs and throw-away chopsticks may not be to everyone’s taste, but for around $1 you can sample some of the best dishes Cambodia has to offer: fried rice, fried morning glory in oyster sauce, BBQ meat (the frog is particularly good!), hot & sour soup, and so much more.

Explore the Countryside

Siem Reap as a town has a lot to offer, but jump on a bicycle (hire costs $1-2 per day) and cycle a few kilometres out into the countryside and a whole new world will open up to you. 10 minutes outside the city and you leave the paved roads, the flash hotels and the buzz behind. Cambodia’s countryside is one of great beauty. See water buffalo languishing in the water of the vibrant green rice fields; children climbing mango trees and swimming in the irrigation ditches and rivers; buy a sugarcane juice from a roadside seller; and see some of the many beautiful pagodas which are scattered throughout the countryside. If you prefer to go with a guide to see more of the local country life and traditions you can go with one of the bicycle tour companies such as CORT Adventure

Phnom Penh

TuolSleng Genocide Museum

Security Prison 21 is a former school, which the Khmer Rouge turned into a prison and interrogation centre. A fascinating and chilling insight into the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime, the museum features thousands of photos of the innocent victims who passed through the prison on their way to execution at the Killing Fields.

The Killing Fields at Choeung Eck

The most famous and visited site of the Khmer Rouge massacre. A former orchard about 17km South of Phnom Penh, is the site where thousands of remains have been excavated from the mass graves. Eerily peaceful, the site is now a memorial marked with a Buddhist Stupa. It is glass sided, and contains the skulls of more than 5,000 humans found on the site.

The Russian Market

A great place to pick up some souvenirs and grab some fried noodles for lunch. This place sells pretty much everything and you’ll meet all walks off Khmer life within this great labyrinth. Make sure you take time to explore the food section, where you’ll find a friendly old gentleman proclaiming to sell the ‘Best Coffee in Phnom Penh’. And he might just be right. Both the hot and iced versions (with or without the traditional condensed sweet milk) are strong and tasty. It is undoubtedly a more authentic alternative to one of the multiple air-conned American-style coffee-houses which are popping up all over the city.


The Bamboo Train

This is the train in its most rudimentaryform. The infamous bamboo train as a half hour of clicktey-clacking down a crudely-connected single track which traverses various bridges and paddie fields through the Battambang countryside. You sit, al fresco, a-top a single, lightweight bamboo platform (at times with bags of rice/motos/livestock for company) and rattle along at speeds of up to 15km/h. This is bracing, to say the least, particularly if you get caught in a monsoon downpour. Should you come upon another train heading in the opposite direction, the one with the lightest load must de-rail, and allow the other past. A lot of fun!

The Killing Caves at Phnom Sampeu

Another stark reminder of Cambodia’s shocking history, the ‘Killings Caves’ as they have come to be known lie in the mountainside of Phnom Sampeu. Khmer Rouge Cadres pushed victims over a steep precipice into the cave. Hundreds of skulls remain as a reminder of the atrocities.  Continue climbing the steep paths, or get a moto to the top, where you will see Wat Banan, an Angkorian style Temple with spectacular views across the Battambang countryside.

Going further?

Cambodia is much more than just these places. It is a rich and varied country with lots to see and experience. Find out more about other things to see and do in Cambodia at the following links:



Thinking of volunteering in Cambodia? Get informed first.

[D.H.1] Thousands of good-intentioned people head this way to volunteer every year. Sadly, however, many do not get the experience they are looking for. Please take the time to read the following articles to learn more about responsible volunteering:

Thousands of children live and work on the streets in Cambodia. Giving them money, however, does not help them in the long run. To find out more go to the following links:

For more information on ensuring tourism benefits Cambodian people, visit:

ConCERTSiem Reap

Travel Cambodia

Be a responsible traveller. Make sure you make the right choices as a tourist in a developing country:

Find below links to some of our partner guesthouses, restaurants and travel companies.

Siem Reap

CORT Adventure, Siem Reap – Explore the real Cambodian Countryside

Cashewnut Guesthouse, Siem Reap

Jasmine Lodge

Travel Partner, Siem Reap

The rest of Cambodia

Battambang Resort

Dining in Siem Reap

Father’s Restaurant – Locally owned restaurant serving a great selection of reasonably-priced Khmer and Western dishes.

Haven – a sleek and sophisticated dining experience with a conscience. Haven is a training restaurant for adult orphans, giving them the skills and experience to succeed in life.

Joe to Go – all profits go to ‘The Global Child’ a NGO providing schooling to street children. A varied menu and even a fashion boutique upstairs.[W2] 

Soria Moria – a hotel and restaurant offering a fine selection of Khmer and Scandinavian food and drink. They work in partnership with several NGOs, offering training and work to underprivileged Cambodians. See their website for more information about their responsible tourism policy.