Geography & Climate
Cambodia covers an area of 181,035 square kilometers and is divided into 21 provinces. It is bordered to the North by Thailand and Laos, to the East and South by Vietnam, and to the South and Southwest by the Gulf of Thailand. Much of Cambodia is relatively flat with vast tracts of land given over to rice production. Other areas of Cambodia are mountainous, including the Dangrek, Cardomen and Elephant mountain ranges.
Climate and Seasons
As a tropical country, Cambodia is bathed in almost all year sunshine and has a high average temperature. There are two distinct seasons, the dry and the monsoon. The monsoon lasts from May to October with southwesterly winds ushering in the clouds that bring seventy five to eighty percent of the annual rainfall often in spectacular intense bursts for an hour at a time with fantastic lightening displays. The dry season runs from November to April averaging temperatures from 27 to 40 degrees Celsius. The collest and most comfortable for those from cooler climates is from October to January.
The Cambodian language, Khmer, is part of the Mon-Khmer family and has its origins in Sanskrit and Pali. It is spoken all over the country except in some tribal areas where local indigenous languages are used. In larger towns and cities English is spoken by an increasing number of educated people. French is spoken by some of the older members of society and Chinese by many of the business people. All facilities catering to tourists employ English-speaking staff or whom speak German, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese and even Russian.
Though abolished during the Pol Pot regime the official religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is also practiced in Laos, Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka. Theravada Buddhism was introduced to Cambodia in the 12th Century by King Jayavarman VII, where it replaced Hinduism. Much of this is in evidence at Angkor Wat where Buddhist statues sit atop Hindu Plinths.
All visitors to Cambodia should have up to date inoculations as recommended by their doctors. Visitors should take preventive measures against mosquitoes as in any tropical country, especially at dusk. Health insurance, especially medical evacuation cover is recommended as international standard healthcare is minimal, especially in rural areas.
Although Cambodia is not a Malaria risk-free country, your health will not be at risk if a proper precaution is undertaken. Consult your doctor is our best advice. Generally, the anti-malarial pills like Chloroquine and Mefloquine are recommended, however, if you were going to the remote area, then Doxycycline may be a better choice. Proper clothing and insect repellent can help a lot from insect disturbance.
We have included a list of some major hospitals and medical centers in Cambodia in case of emergency need. It seems that most of them do not currently have any website. If we were able to find one, we will add it here. To call Cambodia, dial (855) and Phnompenh prefix (23)
Access Medical Services
No.4 Street 432, Sang-kat Bong Trak, Phnompenh
Tel: (015) 913358, 913831-405
AEA-SOS International Medical Center
No. 161 Street 51, Sangkat Boeung Peng
Tel: 216911 Fax: (855-23) 215811
Tel: 914093 Fax: (855-18) 810785
European Medical Clinic
Tel: 916413 Fax: (855-23) 364656
Phnompenh Medical Services
No. 181, 1st Floor Norodom Boulevard, Phnompenh
in front of Red Cross Medical Center
Raffles Medical Center
Sofitel Cambodiana, No. 313 Sisowath Boulevard
Office No.7, Ground Floor
Tel: 426288 ext.650
Sihanouk Hospital Center
No. 363 Street 271
Tel: 723273, 982571
There is a large choice of entertainment venues around Phnom Penh from lively nightclubs to quieter social venues to karaoke bars and fully licensed casinos. For those interested in cultural offerings, there is traditional Cambodian music and dance, especially the graceful and popular Apsara dancing which dates back to the Angkorian period, the Russian trained royal ballet, performances of classical Western music and the French Cultural Center offers something different every night from dance to theatre to cinema and music. Bars and night clubs are widely available especially overlooking the river. One such place is the Foreign Correspondents' club, an interesting meeting spot for expatriate residents and foreign visitors. In addition, many international hotels provide live entertainment for their guests such as jazz pianists and vocalists singing contemporary ballads. Cambodia's guests are never short of anything interesting to do regardless of taste and personal preferences.
Events & Festivals
Cambodia has a wealth of traditional and international festivals. Most of these are a time of great rejoicing for the predominantly rural populace, many of whom flock to the capital to join in the celebrations and witness the organized fireworks displays which accompany the festivals. It is at these times the nation unites with a shared common understanding of values and traditions and they are looked forward to with great expectation. Even in times of hardship people try even harder to make these times special. All the traditional festivals are influenced by the concepts of Buddhism, Hinduism and royal cultures. The following are the most important of the celebrations organized throughout the year.
Water festival (October or November)
This vast festival is probably the most extravagant festival in the calendar. Over three days starting with the last full moon day in October or the beginning of November up to a million people from all walks of life from all over the country flock to the banks of Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers in Phnom Penh to watch hundreds of brightly colored boats with over 50 paddlers battle it out for top honors. The boat racing dates back to ancient times marking the strengths of the powerful Khmer marine forces during the Khmer empire. In the evening brightly decorated floats cruise along the river prior to and complimenting the fireworks displays. there is often a parallel festival at Angkor Wat and although it is smaller in scale it is just as impressive due to the backdrop of Angkor Wat.
The festival marks the changing of the flow of the Tonle Sap and is also seen as thanksgiving to the Mekong River for providing the country with fertile land and abundant fish. It is at this time when the river flow reverts to its normal down stream direction. The remarkable phenomenon that is the Tonle Sap sees the river flowing upstream during the rainy season and then change direction as the rains cease and the swollen Tonle Sap Lake empties back into the Mekong River leaving behind vast quantities of fish.
Pchum Ben (September)
This is the most culturally and religiously significant event of the year and is celebrated in September. This festival of souls concentrates on blessing the souls of ancestors, relatives, and friends who have passed away. All Buddhist temples, especially Wat Phnom, are the focal points for this festival and most Cambodians visit the temples to make traditional offerings and pray.
King Sihanouk's Birthday Celebration (October 31)
This celebration revering the country's influential king take place in late October or early November. People from all over the country come to the capital to join in celebrations and festivities held throughout the capital. Often the King's birthday and Water festivals coincide resulting in a mammoths celebration in front of the Royal Palace and along the riverfront. Provincial villagers who would ordinarily have no reason to visit Phnom Penh will save up and make this occasion their sole visit to the capital.
Khmer New Year's Day (Mid April)
Celebrated at the same time as the Thai New Year all over the country, this festival marks the turn of the year based on the ancient Khmer calendar and also marks the end of the harvest done during the year. Cambodians decorate their homes to please the Heaven God and many people can be seen on the streets armed with small bags of water and water pistols to bless people passing by. This festival is one of the happiest times of the year with joyous smiling faces everywhere you turn. Cambodians do recognize International New Year on 1 January but there are no celebrations then.
Angkor Festival (November or December)
This festival is a showcase of performing arts with Angkor Wat as a backdrop. Performers from all over Asia attend this festival performing great epic stories from myths and legends, including the Ramayana, with their own national dance costumes and musical and rhythmic inter-pretations. King Sihanouk often attends when he is in residence in Siem Reap and other dignatories come to witness this wonderful spectacle.
Royal Ploughing Day (May)
Cambodia has a deep connnection with the Earth and farming, and there is a deep astrological belief that the Ox has an instrumental role in determining the fate of the agricultural harvest each year. Every year, in May, this cultural ceremony takes place in the large park next to the Royal Palace and in front of the National Museum. The King plays a key role in driving the Ox and depicting real ploughing activities in the process of growing rice. The Ox is given a selection of foods and beverages to consume and the royal soothsayers interpret what the Ox has eaten. For this festival both men and women can be seen wearing brightly colored traditional Khmer costume.
Independence Day (November 9)
This important ceremony takes place at the site of the Independence Monument at the junction of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards. This ceremony celebrates Cambodia's gaining of independence from France in 1953. All over the city flags adorn the shop fronts and bunting stretched over all the main thoroughfares as a sign of national pride.
Chinese New Year (January or February)
Due to the large number of people of Chinese descent who run much of Cambodia's business enterprises; and also Vietnamese immigrant communities, the Chinese New Year is widely celebrated, especially in Phnom Penh. No Chinese festival would be complete without fireworks and this time of year is no exception with many wealthy families organizing their own private displays which light up the skies for all to see.
National Day (January 7)
One of the more recent additions to the festival calendar, this day marks the end of the Khmer Rouge Regime. However for many Khmers it also marks the start of the Vietnamese regime seen as another period of foreign occupancy.
International Half Marathon (Late December)
This International Half Marathon is held at Angkor Wat and attracts competitors from all over the world. Thousands of people come to see this international event held in the spectacular setting that is Angkor.
Other Holidays and Festivals
Cambodia also celebrates other special days including: International Women's Day (8 March), International Worker's Day (1 May), Genocide Day (9 May), Vesak Bucha Day - the anniversary of the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha (Late May), Ploughing the Holy Furrow (Late May), Chol Vassa - Buddhist Lent (July), and International Human Rights Day (10 December).
The official currency in Cambodia is the Riel which come in denominations of 100, 200, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 50000 and 100000 notes. However, in the major towns and cities, US dollars can be freely spent though travelers are recommended to use smaller denomination notes as change may be difficult. Most places will refuse old, tatty or damaged US bills. Due to the economic problems in the region, the currency has slipped from 2500 Riels to 3700-3900 per one US dollars (at the time of this writing), meaning Cambodia is an even better value for money tourist destination than before. Popular local and international currencies can be exchanged openly and freely. Major credit cards are only accepted in a few places so traveler cheques or cash are recommended.
In Cambodia, there are no ATM machines, thus getting cash from your credit card is nearly impossible. Travelers may cash advances from their credit card at some shops, but
the latter will charge high handling fees.
Traveler Cheques (TC) - You can exchange TC at any bank in Cambodia, but you have to pay about 2-4% extra for converting it into US$ bill.
As an advice, you should carry USD cash (with $20 and $100 notes) in addition to traveler cheques and credit card. Do not exchange all of your cash into the local currency at one time, but gradually. It is very difficult to exchange back to foreign currency - practically impossible for ordinary tourists!