Cambodia Travel Tips
Getting there & away
>> Passport to Cambodia
Not only is a passport essential but you also need to make sure that it’s valid for at least six months beyond the end of your trip – Cambodian immigration will not issue a visa if you have less than six months’ validity left on your passport.
It’s also important to make sure that there is plenty of space left in your passport. Do not set off on a six-month trek across Asia with only two blank pages left – a Cambodian visa alone takes up one page. It is sometimes possible to have extra pages added to your passport, but most people will be required to get a new passport. This is possible for most foreign nationals in Cambodia, but it can be time consuming and costly, as many embassies process new passports in Bangkok.
Losing a passport is not the end of the world, but it is a serious inconvenience. To expedite the issuing of a new passport, keep a copy of your passport details somewhere separate from your passport.
>> Tickets to Cambodia
When buying airline tickets, it is always worth shopping around. Buying direct from the airline is usually more expensive, unless the airline has a special promotion. As a rule, it is better to book as early as possible, as prices only get higher as the seats fill up.
The time of year has a major impact on flight prices. Starting out from Europe, North America or Australia, figure on prices rising dramatically over Christmas and between July and August, and dropping significantly during lax periods of business like February, June and October.
Thailand is the most convenient gateway to Cambodia when travelling from outside the region. In Bangkok, the Banglamphu area, especially Khao San Rd, is a good place to buy tickets to Cambodia. Those who are travelling into Cambodia by air through Vietnam can easily pick up tickets in Ho Chi Minh City.
When buying tickets in Cambodia, the biggest agents are in Phnom Penh, although many now operate branch offices in Siem Reap. Agents can normally save you a few dollars on the airline price, much more for long-haul flights or business-class seats.
There is a river border crossing between Cambodia and Vietnam on the banks of the Mekong. There are regular fast passenger boats plying the route between Phnom Penh and Chau Doc in Vietnam, via the Kaam Samnor–Vinh Xuong border crossing. There are also a couple of luxurious river boats running all the way to the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. There is also a river crossing on the Mekong border with Laos, although most travellers use the road these days.
By Land to Cambodia
For years overland travellers were restricted to entering or exiting Cambodia at the Bavet–Moc Bai border crossing with Vietnam. However, lots of new land crossings between Cambodia and its neighbours have opened, offering overland connections with Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. However, many of the newly opened borders are in relatively off-the-beaten path destinations and are aimed at promoting trade more than serving tourists. For the latest on Cambodian border crossings, check out the Immigration Department website at cambodia-immigration.com.
It is possible to use buses to cross into Cambodia from Thailand or Vietnam. The most popular way to or from Vietnam is a cheap bus via Bavet on the Cambodian side and Moc Bai in Vietnam. From Thailand, many travellers take the nightmare ‘scam bus’ from Bangkok to Siem Reap via the Poipet–Aranya Prathet border crossing.
>> Car & motorcycle
Car drivers and motorcycle riders will need registration papers, insurance documents and an International Driving Licence to bring vehicles into Cambodia. It is complicated to bring in a car, but relatively straightforward to bring in a motorcycle, as long as you have a carnet de passage (vehicle passport). This acts as a temporary import-duty waiver and should save a lot of hassles when dealing with Cambodian customs. Increasing numbers of international bikers are crossing into Cambodia, while most of the foreign cars that tend to make it are Thai-registered.
>> Border crossings
Cambodia shares one border crossing with Laos, six crossings with Thailand and eight with Vietnam. Visas are now available at all the land crossings with Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
There are now international ATMs near the Cham Yeam and Poipet borders with Thailand. However, at the rest of the borders, there are very few money-changing facilities at any of these crossings, so be sure to have some small-denomination US dollars handy or baht if crossing from Thailand. The black market is also an option for local currencies – Vietnamese dong, Lao kip and Thai baht. Remember that black marketeers have a well-deserved reputation for short-changing and outright theft.
Cambodian immigration officers at the land border-crossings have a bad reputation for petty extortion. Travellers are occasionally asked for an ‘immigration fee’ of some kind, particularly when entering or exiting via the Lao border. Other scams include overcharging for the visa in Thai baht (anywhere between 1000B and 1200B instead of 700B) and forcing tourists to change US dollars into riel at a poor rate. Hold your breath, stand your ground, don’t start a fight and remember that not all Cambodians are as mercenary as the men in blue.
Senior government officials in Phnom Penh are trying to crack down on overcharging for visas and general petty extortion at the borders, as it gives Cambodia a bad image. In order to help bring an end to this, we suggest you ask for the name of any official demanding extra money at the border and mention you will pass it on to the Ministers of Interior and Tourism.
Entering the destination
>> Entering the country
Cambodia has two international gateways for arrival by air, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and a healthy selection of land borders with neighbouring Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. Formalities at Cambodia’s international airports are traditionally smoother than at land borders, as the volume of traffic is greater. Crossing at land borders is relatively easy, but immigration officers may try to wangle some extra cash, either for your visa or via some other scam. Stand your ground. Anyone without a photo for their visa form will be charged about US$1 at the airport, and as much as 100B at land borders with Thailand.
Arrival by air is popular for those on a short holiday in Cambodia, as travelling overland to or from Cambodia puts a significant dent in your time in the country. Travellers on longer trips usually enter and exit by land, as road and river transport is very reasonable in Cambodia.