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1. When is the best time to visit Cambodia?

Cambodia has a warm and humid climate year round. The dry season runs from November to May, and the wet from June to October. The best time to visit is between November and February, when the weather is dry and mild. Humidity and temperatures are at their highest between March and May. While the rainy season poses practical challenges, it can be an interesting and less busy time of year to visit. During this season rain falls mainly in the afternoon and the waterlogged land transforms into a tropical green haven.

If you travel in the month of April, you may catch the Khmer New Year. One of the biggest festivals in Cambodia, it celebrates the end of the traditional harvest season. Locals take three whole days off work to return home to their families for the festivities. The festival is all about farmers taking time to rest after the harvest and spend time with their families. Usually different types of purification ceremonies take place, fun games are played and temples are visited.

Another wonderful festival to behold is Meak Bochea, the most important festival for monks in Cambodia. Monks from all over the country gather for the festival on the full moon in the third month in the Khmer calendar. The event marks the beginning of the religious festival season. It pays homage to the historical moment when Lord Buddha preached a sermon to 1250 monks at Rajagaha Valuwan Vihara. The monks usually gather in a procession to meditate and pray in the morning. Then, under the full moon they perform rituals with incense at the temple alter.

2. What is Cambodia famous for?

Cambodia‘s most iconic attraction is the Angkor Wat temple site, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. The temples are so iconic within the country that they even feature on the national flag. Situated at the heart of Cambodia, the temple has been functioning continuously since it was built in the 12th Century. It has served as a royal centre for a dynasty of Khmer (Cambodian) kings. While originally constructed to worship the Hindu god Vishnu, over time Buddhist elements were added. In the 14th century it was officially transformed into a Buddhist temple. 

Ankgor Wat is the world’s largest religious structure. It covers 400 acres of land and is believed to have taken three decades to construct. Its intricate carvings and traditional architectural style is an excellent example of Khmer culture at its peak. Some 72 major temples make up the site, and are all ringed by a 3km moat. You can witness spectacular views of the moat and surrounding jungle from the top of the main temple building.

The royal palace of Phnom Penh with its Silver Pagoda is also considered a national treasure. The palace was constructed as the seat of the King of Cambodia over a century ago, and the pagoda is one of its grandest features. The pagoda itself was constructed in 1892, and is comprised of and adorned with many precious materials. An Italian marble staircase leads up to it, and the iconic solid gold Buddha adorned with 2086 diamonds sits within. Also within are other lavish gifts from heads of state to Cambodian royalty. On the walls of the pagoda, there are displays of some of the finest Khmer artisanship.

3. How many days are needed in Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat?

Because of the sheer size of the Angkor archaeological complex, we’d recommend spending two to three days exploring the grounds. This should afford you time to take in the marvellous temples at a leisurely pace and for adequate rest stops. There are many different temples to explore on the complex. The main temple – Angkor Wat – is the best preserved and is adorned with thousands of magnificent stone carvings. Alternately, for a less refined and highly atmospheric experience of the temples, take a visit to Ta Phrom. This temple has been left unrestored, and is a wilderness of huge tree trunks snaking around the intricate stonework ruins. 

Another favourite amongst travellers is Bayon temple. It has some 216 giant stone towers carved with faces scattered throughout. Baphuon is a temple mountain dedicated to the Hindu god, Shiva, and offers spectacular views of the entire archaeological site. Also worth a visit is Phimeanakas, situated within the walled city of Angkor Thom. This temple takes the shape of a three-tiered pyramid and the site also features the Terrace of the Elephants. The terrace was used by king Jayavarman VII as a platform to display his victorious army after a naval battle on the Tonle Sap lake. 

4. What other things are there to do in Angkor Wat?

While the temples are Siem Reap’s main attraction, there are also many other things to see. You should plan for this when organising your stay in the city. For more Khmer artisanship, head to the Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Centre to admire modern takes on traditional Khmer culture. Tonle Sap Lake is also a must-see. This huge expanse of water is home to many floating villages. These curious communities rise and fall with the waves, equipped with everything from schools to butchers and churches.

You can also see more religious sites, and find a respite from the heat, at Phnom Kulen. Situated in a rainforest-shrouded national park, it is the perfect place to head for a picnick. You can take a gentle hike to the top of the mountain where you will find several waterfalls to cool off in. The site is popular among locals and can also be scaled by car. If you plan to drive to the top of the mountain, we recommend setting off early as the route is one way only and can get congested later in the day.

5. What is Cambodian food like?

Cambodian (Khmer) food has adopted flavours from the neighbouring cuisines of Vietnam and Thailand. However, dishes tend to be less spicy, sweeter and more aromatic in taste. With abundant waterways and ideal paddy soils, the staple diet is fish, rice and soups. In contrast to other Asian countries, herbs play the starring role here, which means that dishes are very flavoursome. Think fresh herbs combined with tangy pickles, and coconut based curries with lime.

The Cambodians’ national dish is Samlor Kako. This spiced soup dish is filled with flavourful herbs and vegetables, along with your choice of fish, chicken or pork. We’d also recommend trying nhom – a dish of fish, herbs and vegetables. Another national favourite is Amok. This is a creamy curry of white fish (or a substitute of chicken or prawns) marinated in coconut milk and curry paste and served with rice. Traditionally, it is cooked and served in a steamed banana leaf. If you’re not a fan of fish, you can try Lok Lak. This is a dry dish made from salted shredded beef, fried and served on a bed of lettuce. It is served topped with a fried egg and a side bowl of rice.

You can also try some of Cambodia’s more unorthodox delicacies if you’re feeling adventurous. These include grilled frog, deep-fried tarantula and prahok, a fermented fish paste used as seasoning in many local dishes.

If you have a sweet tooth, try Cambodian pumpkin custard as a treat! Often made for special occasions, this sweet and creamy desert is sometimes served with coconut cream. Alternately, enjoy some Num ansom chek, a steamed banana cake, served rolled in a banana leaf. This cake is a common desert in Cambodia and is popular during the Khmer New Year when they are offered to monks as gifts. You can also indulge in a Khmer Layer Cake for the ultimate decadence. Usually served during Buddhist holidays, it comes in all different shapes and colours. The sponge is made up of rice flour, palm sugar and coconut cream that is steamed to give it a smooth texture. With its bright colours, it can often look a little bit like jelly! 

6. Is Cambodia safe for solo travellers?

Yes, Cambodia is safe to travel solo. The locals are innately hospitable and always willing to lend a helping hand. It is a safe country, like anywhere, if you are sensible and respectful. The country is also situated on the Southeast Asia backpacker circuit, which means that there are always other solo travellers. Getting around is relatively straightforward, as bus links around the country are reliable and simple. If you’re still apprehensive about travelling completely on your own, Cox & Kings offers a range of tours specifically tailored to suit the needs of solo travellers. You can book to travel Cambodia with a group of like-minded people on our Vietnam and the Temples of Angkor tour.

 

7. Is Cambodia a good place for a family holiday?

 

There’s something for all ages in this family-friendly destination. Along with lots of temples to explore, there are also more active pursuits such as zip lining, kayaking and cooking lessons that you can enjoy. Cox & Kings offers a specifically tailored Vietnam & Cambodia Family Adventure to take the stress out of planning an extraordinary holiday with your family. 

Our Far East experts have travelled the country and many have kids of their own, so they really know the best places to stay and experiences to try that’ll please the whole family. The temple sites, whilst incredible architectural visions are also fun areas full of places to explore and get creative in. We’d also recommend visiting some of the country’s colourful markets to stimulate the senses of the younger ones, and delving into Cambodia’s rich history if your children are slightly older.

8. Do I need a visa to visit Cambodia from the UK?

Yes. A visa is required for entry into Cambodia, which can be purchased in US dollars on arrival. You will need to bring two passport photos with you. If you are not a British Citizen, you cannot obtain a visa on arrival. You can complete your visa application prior to your trip with a recommended visa processing company.

9. What currency do I need to take with me to Cambodia?

While in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh most transactions are carried out in US dollars, the local currency is the riel (KHR / CR). Many restaurants, hotels and taxi drivers will prefer US dollars to the local currency, however we recommend having small denominations of local riel where possible. 

US dollars can be changed at the official rate at leading banks, local markets and major hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. You can pick up your currency while in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and other large towns at cash machines. However, we would not recommend relying on ATMs as they are not commonplace elsewhere in the country.

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