Here are our tips for having a good first trip to Cambodia:
- Walk slowly when crossing the road! It seems counter-intuitive, given how absolutely crazy traffic is: you’ll likely want to sprint across to avoid being hit. However, it turns out to be a very useful approach. Your slower speed allows motorbikes to predict your location – and to therefore go around you rather than you having to dodge them. This is the only realistic scenario, leaving you to focus on avoiding trucks and bigger cars. Following this tip from our host changed our entire experience.
- Dress conservatively. This is a country that values modesty: it is not unusual to see both men and women wearing pants and long sleeves on a sunny, ninety degree day. Though it’s only required in temples (wats) and other religious places, it is better to keep shoulders and knees covered. At a minimum, avoid short shorts and anything that shows your bra; it may be hot out, but that’s just not appropriate here.
- Remove your shoes before entering any temple and many stores, to be respectful. If you’re not sure, look to see if there are already shoes at the entrance, ask someone, or see if anyone inside is barefoot.
- Eat the street food. It’s delicious and safe. (Warning: this does not constitute medical advice.)
- Use riel (the local money), if you can. Everyone accepts American dollars too, but (a) the exchange rate is better if you use riel, and (b) it’s easier to pay for cheaper things with riel. Handing someone a $20 for a $1 item is not a good idea. Some ATMs dispense riel, some dollars, and some both, so if you don’t get one with riel right away, try another.
- Say ‘no thank you’ politely (with a smile and eye contact, if you are comfortable doing so) when drivers inevitably ask you if you need a tuk tuk. They’re just trying to make a living, and 98% of them will leave you alone after 1-2 refusals.
- Consider bringing or buying sunglasses, a hat, and sunscreen. It’s dusty and hot out, with lots of direct sunlight.
- Keep purses and bags tucked in when riding in a tuk tuk or on a motorcycle. While we luckily didn’t experience this, some say that snatch and grab jobs happen.
- Eat out. It’s quite affordable.
- If you need to go to the doctor while you’re there, make 100% sure that they have a Western medical degree. Some say that local training is limited and can result in unsafe care.
- Tip. It is not the practice here. Two exceptions: (1) tour guides and (2) feel free to let a tuk tuk driver keep the change. (Though don’t say, ‘Give me 5,000 riel back,’ as that won’t make any sense to them.)
- Tune out. Traffic is crazy, so stay very aware!
- Expect to walk on regular sidewalks everywhere. Some are torn up, some don’t exist, and some are full of people or stores, necessitating that you often walk in the road.
- Wear all black/ dark colors, if you might be out at night. You want to advertise your presence to all passing motorists as much as possible.
- Drink the tap water or anything with ice in it – except in Phnom Penh, where it is safe to do so. (We completely violated this rule, and we hardly felt any effects, but this is likely because we have iron stomachs. This *especially* does not constitute medical advice.)
- Be worried if the water you get at a restaurant in Phnom Penh looks yellowish. They call it iced tea, but it seems to be just plain water, and it seems to be just fine for health.
- Get into a tuk tuk until you agree on price.
- Touch monks, especially if you’re female.
- Forget the mosquito repellent. There are mosquito-borne illnesses in this country. Look for a place to stay with nets and fans, which help with this.
- Deny or argue that the Khmer Rouge genocide happened. It’s illegal here, akin to being a Holocaust denier.