Broken pavements, potholed roads and stairs as steep as ladders at Angkor ensure that for most people with mobility impairments, Cambodia is not going to be an easy country in which to travel. Few buildings have been designed with people with a disability in mind, although new projects, such as the international airports at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and top-end hotels, include ramps for wheelchair access. Transport in the provinces is usually very overcrowded, but taxi hire from point to point is an affordable option.
On the positive side, the Cambodian people are usually very helpful towards all foreigners, and local labour is cheap if you need someone to accompany you at all times. Most guesthouses and small hotels have ground-floor rooms that are reasonably easy to access.
The biggest headache also happens to be the main attraction: the temples of Angkor. Causeways are uneven, obstacles common and staircases daunting, even for able-bodied people. It is likely to be some years before things improve, although some ramping has been introduced at major temples.
Wheelchair travellers will need to undertake a lot of research before visiting Cambodia. There is a growing network of information sources that can put you in touch with others who have wheeled through Cambodia before. Try contacting the following organisations:
Disability Rights UK (http://disabilityrightsuk.org)
Mobility International USA (www.miusa.org)
Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (SATH; www.sath.org)
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guide from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
It's important to haggle in markets in Cambodia, otherwise the stallholder may ‘shave your head’ (local vernacular for ‘rip you off’). As well as in markets, bargaining is the rule when arranging share taxis and pick-ups, and in some guesthouses. The Khmers are not ruthless hagglers, so a persuasive smile and a little friendly quibbling is usually enough to get a price that's acceptable to both you and the seller.
Dangers & Annoyances
- Cambodia is a pretty safe country for travellers these days, with few incidences of petty crime.
- Remember the golden rule: stick to marked paths in remote areas (due to the possible presence of landmines).
- Phnom Penh Post (www.phnompenhpost.com) is a good source for breaking news, so check its website before you hit the road to check the political pulse and catch up with any recent events on the ground such as demonstrations.
- Take care with some of the electrical wiring in guesthouses around the country, as it can be pretty amateurish.
In the run-up to major festivals such as P’chum Ben or Chaul Chnam Khmer, there is a palpable increase in the number of robberies, particularly in Phnom Penh. Cambodians need money to buy gifts for relatives or to pay off debts, and for some individuals theft is the quickest way to get this money. Be more vigilant at night at these times. Guard your smartphone vigilantly and don’t take valuables out with you unnecessarily.
Crime & Violence
Given the number of guns in Cambodia, there is less armed theft than one might expect. Still, hold-ups and drive-by theft by motorcycle-riding tandems are a potential danger in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville. There is no need to be paranoid, just cautious. Walking or riding alone late at night is not ideal, certainly not in rural areas.
There have been incidents of bag snatching in Phnom Penh in the last few years and the motorbike thieves don’t let go, dragging passengers off motos (motorcycle taxis) and endangering lives. Smartphones are a particular target, so avoid using your smartphone in public, especially at night, as you'll be susceptible to drive-by thieves.
Should anyone be unlucky enough to be robbed, it is important to note that the Cambodian police are the best that money can buy! Any help, such as a police report, is going to cost you. The going rate depends on the size of the claim, but anywhere from US$5 to US$50 is possible.
Violence against foreigners is extremely rare, but it pays to take care in crowded bars or nightclubs in Phnom Penh. If you get into a stand-off with rich young Khmers in a bar or club, swallow your pride and back down. Many carry guns and have an entourage of bodyguards.
Mines, Mortars & Bombs
Never touch any rockets, artillery shells, mortars, mines, bombs or other war material you may come across. The most heavily mined part of the country is along the Thai border area, but mines are a problem in much of Cambodia. In short: do not stray from well-marked paths under any circumstances. If you are planning any walks, even in safer areas such as the remote northeast, it is imperative you take a guide as there may still be unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the American bombing campaign of the early 1970s.
Most scams are fairly harmless, involving a bit of commission here and there for taxi, remork-moto (tuk-tuk) or moto (unmarked motorcycle taxi) drivers, particularly in Siem Reap.
There have been one or two reports of police set-ups in Phnom Penh, involving planted drugs. This seems to be very rare, but if you fall victim to the ploy, it may be best to pay them off before more police get involved at the local station, as the price will only rise when there are more mouths to feed.
There is quite a lot of fake medication floating about the region. Safeguard yourself by only buying prescription drugs from reliable pharmacies or clinics.
Beware the Filipino blackjack scam: don't get involved in any gambling with seemingly friendly Filipinos unless you want to part with plenty of cash.
Beggars in places such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap may ask for milk powder for an infant in arms. Some foreigners succumb to the urge to help, but the beggars usually request the most expensive milk formula available and return it to the shop to split the proceeds after the handover.
Watch out for yaba, the ‘crazy’ drug from Thailand, known rather ominously in Cambodia as yama (the Hindu god of death). Known as ice or crystal meth elsewhere, it’s not just any old diet pill from the pharmacist but homemade meth-amphetamines produced in labs in Cambodia and the region beyond. The pills are often laced with toxic substances, such as mercury, lithium or whatever else the maker can find. Yama is a dirty drug and more addictive than users would like to admit, provoking powerful hallucinations, sleep deprivation and psychosis. Steer clear of the stuff unless you plan on an indefinite extension to your trip.
Government Travel Advice
Australian Department of Foreign Affairs (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
Canadian Government (www.voyage.gc.ca)
German Foreign Office (www.auswaertiges-amt.de)
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.anzen.mofa.go.jp)
Netherlands Government (www.minbuza.nl)
New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.safetravel.govt.nz/cambodia)
UK Foreign Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/cambodia)
US Department of State (travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/country/cambodia.html)
Senior travellers and students are not eligible for discounts in Cambodia.
Electricity in Cambodia is 220V, and most sockets accommodate plugs with two flat pins.
Embassies & Consulates
Many countries now have embassies in Phnom Penh, though some travellers will find that their nearest embassy is in Bangkok.
In genuine emergencies assistance may be available, but only if all other channels have been exhausted. If you have all your money and documents stolen, the embassy can assist with getting a new passport, but a loan for onward travel is out of the question.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Drop the 0 from a regional (city) code when calling Cambodia from another country.
International access code
Entry & Exit Formalities
Cambodia has three international gateways for arrival by air – Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville – 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 the visa or via some other scam. Anyone without a photo for their visa form will be charged about US$2 at the airport, and around 100B at land borders with Thailand.
Arrival by air is popular for those on a short holiday, as travelling overland to or from Cambodia puts a dent in the time in-country. Travellers on longer trips usually enter and exit by land, as road and river transport is very reasonably priced in Cambodia.
If Cambodia has customs allowances, it is tight-lipped about them. You are entitled to bring into the country a ‘reasonable amount’ of duty-free items. Travellers arriving by air might bear in mind that alcohol and cigarettes are on sale on the streets of Phnom Penh at prices well below duty-free rates – a branded box of 200 cigarettes costs just US$13 and international spirits start as low as US$7 a litre.
Like any other country, Cambodia does not allow travellers to import any weapons, explosives or narcotics – some might say that there are more than enough in the country already.
It is also illegal to take ancient stone sculptures from the Angkor period out of the country.
Not only is a passport essential, it needs to be valid for at least six months or Cambodian immigration will not issue a visa.
It’s also important to make sure that there is plenty of space left in the passport, as a Cambodian visa alone takes up one page.
A one-month tourist visa costs US$30 on arrival and requires one passport-sized photo. Easily extendable business visas are available for US$35.
Most visitors to Cambodia require a one-month tourist visa (US$30). Most nationalities receive this on arrival at Phnom Penh, Siem Reap or Sihanoukville airports, and at land borders, but citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Sudan need to make advance arrangements. One passport-sized photo is required and you’ll be ‘fined’ US$2 if you don’t have one. It is also possible to arrange a visa through Cambodian embassies overseas or an online e-visa (US$30, plus a US$7 processing fee) through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (www.mfaic.gov.kh). However, e-visas are only accepted at Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports (they are not accepted in Sihanoukville), and at the three main land borders: Poipet/Aranya Prathet and Cham Yeam/Hat Lek (both Thailand) and Bavet/Moc Bai (Vietnam).
Passport holders from Asean member countries do not require a visa to visit Cambodia.
Those seeking work in Cambodia should opt for the business visa (US$35) as it is easily extended for longer periods, including multiple entries and exits. A tourist visa can be extended only once and only for one month, and does not allow for re-entry.
Travellers are sometimes overcharged when crossing at land borders with Thailand, as immigration officials demand payment in baht and round up the figure considerably. Overcharging is also an issue at the Laos border, but not usually at Vietnam borders. Arranging a visa in advance can help avoid overcharging.
Overstaying a visa currently costs US$5 a day.
For visitors continuing to Vietnam, one-month single-entry visas cost US$55 and take two days in Phnom Penh, or just one day via the Vietnamese consulate in Sihanoukville. Most visitors to Laos can obtain a visa on arrival (US$30 to US$42) and most visitors heading to Thailand do not need a visa.
Visa extensions are issued by the large immigration office located directly across the road from Phnom Penh International Airport.
Extensions are easy to arrange, taking just a couple of days. It costs US$45 for one month (for both tourist and business visas), US$75 for three months, US$155 for six months and US$285 for one year (the latter three prices relate to business visas only). It's pretty straightforward to extend business visas ad infinitum. Travel agencies and some motorbike-rental shops in Phnom Penh can help with arrangements, sometimes at a discounted price.
The Cambodian people are very gracious hosts, but there are some important spiritual and social conventions to observe.
- Buddhism When visiting temples, cover up to the knees and elbows, and remove your shoes and any head covering when entering temple buildings. Sit with your feet tucked behind you to avoid pointing them at Buddha images. It's also good to leave a small donation. Women should never touch a monk or his belongings.
- Meet & Greet Called the sompiah, the local greeting in Cambodia involves putting your hands together in a prayer-like manner. Use this when introduced to new Khmer friends. When beckoning someone over, always wave towards yourself with the palm down.
- Modesty Avoid wearing swimsuits or scanty clothing around towns in Cambodia, even in beach destinations. Wear a sarong to cover up.
- Saving face Never get into an argument with a Khmer person. It's better to smile through any conflict.
Health insurance is essential. Make sure your policy covers emergency evacuation: limited medical facilities mean evacuation by air to Bangkok in the event of serious injury or illness.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Internet access is widespread, but there are not as many internet shops as there used to be now that wi-fi is more prevalent. Charges range from 1500r to US$2 per hour. Many hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and cafes now offer free wi-fi, even in the most out-of-the-way provincial capitals.
Marijuana is not legal in Cambodia and the police are beginning to take a harder line on it. There have been several busts (and a few set-ups) of foreigner-owned bars and restaurants where ganja was smoked, so the days of free bowls in guesthouses are definitely history. Marijuana is traditionally used in some Khmer dishes, so it will continue to be around for a long time, but if you are a smoker, be discreet.
This advice applies equally to other narcotic substances, which are also illegal. And think twice about buying any pills from a 'friendly' street dealer, as they may turn out to be tranquillisers and you'll wake up as a robbery victim.
Travellers should note that they can be prosecuted under the law of their home country regarding age of consent, even when abroad.
While Cambodian culture is tolerant of homosexuality, the LGBT+ scene here is certainly nothing like that in Thailand. Both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have a few gay-friendly bars, but it’s a low-key scene compared with some parts of Asia.
With the vast number of same-sex travel partners – gay or otherwise – checking into hotels across Cambodia, there is little consideration over how travelling foreigners are related. However, it is prudent not to announce your sexuality. As with heterosexual couples, passionate public displays of affection are considered a basic no-no.
Recommended websites when planning a trip:
Cambodia Gay (www.cambodia-gay.com) Promoting the LGBT+ community in Cambodia.
Sticky Rice (www.stickyrice.ws) Gay travel guide covering Cambodia and Asia.
Utopia (www.utopia-asia.com) Gay travel information and contacts, including some local gay terminology.
The best all-rounder for Cambodia is the Gecko Cambodia Road Map. At 1:750,000 scale, it has lots of detail and accurate place names. Other popular foldout maps include Nelles Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam Map at 1:1,500,000, although the detail is limited, and the Periplus Cambodia Travel Map at 1:1,000,000, with city maps of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Lots of free maps, subsidised by advertising, are available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap at leading hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and bars.
Newspapers The Phnom Penh Post (www.phnompenhpost.com) offers the best balance of Cambodian and international news, including business and sport.
Magazines AsiaLife (www.asialifemagazine.com/Cambodia) is a free monthly listings magazine (a sort of Time Out: Phnom Penh). A variety of international magazines and newspapers is also widely available in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
TV Cambodia has a dozen or so local Khmer-language channels, but most of them support the ruling CPP and churn out a mixture of karaoke videos, soap operas and ministers going about their business. Most midrange hotels have cable TV with access to between 20 and 120 channels, including some obscure regional channels, international movie channels and the big global news and sports channels such as BBC and ESPN.
Radio BBC World Service broadcasts on 100.00FM in Phnom Penh. Cambodian radio stations are mainly government-controlled and specialise in phone-ins and product placements.
Video Cambodia uses the PAL and NTSC video systems.
ATMs are widely available, including in all major tourist centres and provincial capitals. Credit cards are accepted by many hotels and restaurants in larger cities.
Cambodia’s currency is the riel, abbreviated in our listings to a lower-case ‘r’ written after the sum. Cambodia’s second currency (some would say its first) is the US dollar, which is accepted everywhere and by everyone, though small amounts of change may arrive in riel. Businesses may quote prices in US dollars or riel, but in towns bordering on Thailand in the north and west it is sometimes Thai baht (B).
If three currencies seems a little excessive, perhaps it’s because the Cambodians are making up for lost time: during the Pol Pot era, the country had no currency. The Khmer Rouge abolished money and blew up the National Bank building in Phnom Penh.
The Cambodian riel comes in notes of the following denominations: 100r, 200r, 500r, 1000r, 2000r, 5000r, 10,000r, 20,000r, 50,000r and 100,000r.
Dollar bills with a small tear are unlikely to be accepted by Cambodians, so it’s worth scrutinising the change you are given to make sure you don’t have bad bills.
There are credit-card-compatible ATMs (Visa, MasterCard, JCB, Cirrus) in most major cities. There are also ATMs at the Cham Yeam, Poipet and Bavet borders if arriving by land from Thailand or Vietnam. Machines usually give you the option of withdrawing in US dollars or riel. Single withdrawals of up to US$500 at a time are usually possible, providing your account can handle it. Stay alert when using ATMs late at night.
ANZ Royal Bank has the most extensive network, including ATMs at petrol stations, and popular hotels, restaurants and shops, closely followed by Canadia Bank. Acleda Bank has the widest network of branches in the country, including all provincial capitals, but their ATMs generally only take Visa-affiliated cards. Most ATM withdrawals incur a charge of US$4 to US$5.
The US dollar remains king in Cambodia. Armed with enough cash, you won’t need to visit a bank at all because it is possible to change small amounts of dollars for riel at hotels, restaurants and markets. It is always handy to have about US$10 worth of riel kicking around, as it is good for motos (unmarked motorcycle taxis), remork-motos (tuk tuks) and markets. Pay for something cheap in US dollars and the change comes in riel.
The only other currency that can be useful is Thai baht, mainly in the west of the country. Prices in towns such as Koh Kong, Poipet and Sisophon are often quoted in baht, and even in Battambang it is common.
In the interests of making life as simple as possible when travelling overland, organise a supply of US dollars before arriving in Cambodia. Cash in other major currencies can be changed at banks or markets in major cities. However, most banks tend to offer a poor rate for any non-dollar transaction so it can be better to use moneychangers, which are found in and around every major market.
Western Union and MoneyGram are both represented in Cambodia for fast, if more expensive, money transfers. Western Union is represented by Acleda Bank, and MoneyGram by Canadia Bank.
Top-end hotels, airline offices and upmarket boutiques and restaurants generally accept most major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, JCB and sometimes American Express), but many pass the charges straight on to the customer, meaning an extra 2% to 3% on the bill.
Cash advances on credit cards are available in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Sihanoukville, Kampot, Battambang, Kompong Cham and other major towns. Most banks advertise a minimum charge of US$5.
Several travel agents and hotels in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap can arrange cash advances for about 5% commission; this can be particularly useful if you get caught short at the weekend.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping is not traditionally expected, but in a country as poor as Cambodia, tips can go a long way.
- Hotels Not expected outside the fanciest hotels, but 2000r to US$1 per bag plus a small tip for the cleaner will be a nice surprise.
- Restaurants A few thousand riel at local restaurants will suffice; at fancier restaurants you might leave 10% on a small bill, 5% on a big bill.
- Remorks & Moto Drivers Not expected for short trips, but leave a dollar or two for half-day or full-day rentals if the service was noteworthy.
- Temples Most wats have contribution boxes – drop a few thousand riel in at the end of a visit, especially if a monk has shown you around.
- Service Charges Many of the upmarket hotels levy a 10% service charge, but this doesn’t always make it to the staff.
In many Cambodian restaurants, change will be returned in some sort of bill holder. If you leave the change there it will often be taken by the restaurant proprietor. If you want to make sure the tip goes to the staff who have served you, leave the tip on the table or give it to the individuals directly. In some places, there may be a communal tip box that is shared by staff.
Everything shuts down during the major holidays: Chaul Chnam Khmer (Khmer New Year), P’chum Ben (Festival of the Dead) and Chaul Chnam Chen (Chinese New Year).
Banks 8am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday, Saturday mornings
Bars 5pm to late
Government offices 7.30am to 11.30am and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday
Museums Hours vary, but usually open seven days a week
Restaurants (international) 7am to 10pm or meal times
Restaurants (local) 6.30am to 9pm
Shops 8am to 6pm daily
Local markets 6.30am to 5.30pm daily
Be polite about photographing people, don’t push cameras into their faces, and show respect for monks and people at prayer. In general, the Khmers are remarkably courteous people and if you ask nicely, they’ll agree to have their photograph taken. The same goes for filming, although in rural areas you will often find children desperate to get in front of the lens and astonished at seeing themselves played back on an LCD screen. Some people will expect money in return for their photo being snapped; be sure to establish this before clicking away.
While there are no official restrictions on taking photographs at border crossings or military bases, use discretion and your own best judgement. If the officials are unfriendly, then they probably won't appreciate you snapping away.
The postal service is hit and miss from Cambodia; send anything valuable by courier or from another country. Ensure postcards and letters are franked before they vanish from your sight.
Letters and parcels sent further afield than Asia can take up to two or three weeks to reach their destination. Use a courier to speed things up; EMS has branches at every major post office in the country. DHL and Fed Ex are present in major cities such as Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
Banks, ministries and embassies close down during public holidays and festivals, so plan ahead if visiting Cambodia during these times. Cambodians also roll over holidays if they fall on a weekend and take a day or two extra during major festivals. Add to this the fact that they take a holiday for international days here and there, and it soon becomes apparent that Cambodia has more public holidays than any other nation on Earth!
International New Year’s Day 1 January
Victory over the Genocide 7 January
International Women’s Day 8 March
International Workers’ Day 1 May
International Children’s Day 8 May
King’s Birthday 13–15 May
King Mother’s Birthday 18 June
Constitution Day 24 September
Commemoration Day 15 October
Independence Day 9 November
International Human Rights Day 10 December
Smoking All hotels and most guesthouses offer non-smoking rooms these days. Smoking was officially banned in some public places such as cafes, restaurants and bars in 2016, but in practice its enforcement seems down to the individual businesses.
Taxes & Refunds
Cambodia has a Sales Tax of 10% on most items which is included at the time of purchase. Tax and duty free items are available at international airports and duty free shops, but prices are ironically higher than in local shops. There are currently no tax refunds for visitors.
To place a long-distance domestic call from a landline, or to dial a mobile (cell) number, dial zero, the area code (or mobile prefix) and the number. Leave out the zero and the area code if you are making a local call. Drop the zero from the mobile prefix or regional (city) code when dialling into Cambodia from another country.
For telephone listings of businesses and government offices, check out www.yp.com.kh.
|International Access Code||001|
Roaming is possible but it is expensive. Local SIM cards and unlocked mobile phones are readily available.
Mobile phones, whose numbers start with 01, 06, 07, 08 or 09, are hugely popular with both individuals and commercial enterprises.
Cambodian roaming charges are extraordinarily high. Wi-fi is widely available and is useful for saving money on data as you travel around the country.
Those who plan on spending longer in Cambodia should arrange a SIM card for one of the local service providers. Foreigners need to present a valid passport to get a local SIM card, but they are available free on arrival at international airports.
Most mobile companies now offer cheap internet-based phone calls accessed through a gateway number. Look up the cheap prefix and calls will be around US5¢ per minute.
Cambodia is in the Indochina time zone, which means GMT/UTC plus seven hours. Thus, noon in Phnom Penh is midnight the previous day in New York, 5am in London, 1pm in Hong Kong and 3pm in Sydney. There is no daylight saving time.
Cambodian toilets are mostly of the sit-down 'throne' variety. The occasional squat toilet turns up here and there, particularly in the most budget of budget guesthouses in the provinces or out the back of provincial restaurants.
The issue of toilets and what to do with used toilet paper is a cause for concern. Generally, if there’s a wastepaper basket next to the toilet, that is where the toilet paper goes, as many sewerage systems cannot handle toilet paper. Toilet paper is seldom provided in the toilets at bus stations or in other public buildings, so keep a stash with you at all times.
Many Western toilets also have a hose spray in the bathroom, aptly named the ‘bum gun’ by some. Think of this as a flexible bidet, used for cleaning and ablutions as well as hosing down the loo.
Public toilets are rare, the only ones in the country being along Phnom Penh’s riverfront and some beautiful wooden structures dotted about the temples of Angkor. The charge is usually 500r for a public toilet, although they are free at Angkor on presentation of a temple pass. Most local restaurants have some sort of toilet.
Should you find nature calling in remote border areas, don’t let modesty drive you into the bushes: there may be landmines not far from the road or track. Stay on the roadside and do the deed, or grin and bear it until the next town.
Cambodia has only a handful of tourist offices, and those encountered by the independent traveller in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are generally of limited help. However, in the provinces the staff are sometimes happy to see visitors, if the office happens to be open. These offices generally have little in the way of brochures or handouts though. Generally speaking, fellow travellers, guesthouses, hotels and free local magazines are more useful than tourist offices. The official tourism website for Cambodia is www.tourismcambodia.org.
Travel with Children
Children can live it up in Cambodia, as they are always the centre of attention and almost everybody wants to play with them. This is great news when it comes to babes in arms and little toddlers, as everyone wants to entertain them for a time or babysit while you tuck into a plate of noodles. For the full picture on surviving and thriving on the road, check out Lonely Planet's Travel with Children, which contains useful advice on how to cope while travelling. There is also a rundown on health precautions for kids and advice on travel during pregnancy.
There are fewer opportunities for volunteering than one might imagine in a country as impoverished as Cambodia. This is partly due to the sheer number of professional development workers based here, and development is a pretty lucrative industry these days.
Cambodia hosts a huge number of NGOs, some of which do require volunteers from time to time. The best way to find out who is represented in the country is to drop in on the Cooperation Committee for Cambodia in Phnom Penh. This organisation has a handy list of all NGOs, both Cambodian and international, and is extremely helpful. Siem Reap–based organisation ConCERT (www.concertcambodia.org) has a ‘responsible volunteering’ section on its website that offers some sound advice on preparing for a stint as a volunteer.
The other avenue is professional volunteering through an organisation back home that offers one- or two-year placements in Cambodia. One of the largest organisations is Voluntary Service Overseas (www.vsointernational.org) in the UK, but other countries also have their own organisations, including Australian Volunteers International (www.avi.org.au) and New Zealand’s Volunteer Service Abroad (www.vsa.org.nz). The UN also operates its own volunteer program; details are available at www.unv.org. Other general volunteer sites with links all over the place include www.voluntourism.org and www.goabroad.com/volunteer-abroad.
The Perils of Orphan Tourism
In recent years, visiting orphanages in the developing world – Cambodia in particular – has become a popular activity, but is it always good for the children and the country in the longer run? Tough question. ‘Orphan tourism’ and all the connotations that come with it is a disturbing development that has brought unscrupulous elements into the world of caring for Cambodian children. There have already been reports of new orphanages opening up with a business model to bring in a certain number of visitors per month. In other cases, the children are not orphans at all, but are ‘borrowed’ from the local school for a fee.
Save the Children have said that most children living in orphanages throughout the developing world have at least one parent still alive. More than eight million children worldwide are living in institutions, with most sent there by their families because of poverty rather than the death of a parent. Many are in danger of abuse and neglect from carers, as well as exploitation and international trafficking, with children aged under three most at risk.
The Save the Children report stated: ‘One of the biggest myths is that children in orphanages are there because they have no parents. This is not the case. Most are there because their parents simply can’t afford to feed, clothe and educate them'. From 2005 to 2010, the number of orphanages in Cambodia almost doubled from 153 to 269. Of the 12,000 Cambodian children in institutions, only about 28% are genuine orphans without both parents.
Many orphanages in Cambodia are doing a good job in tough circumstances. Some are world class, enjoy funding and support from wealthy benefactors, and don’t need visitors; others are desperate places that need all the help they can get. However, if a place is promoting orphan tourism, then proceed with caution, as the adults may not always have the best interests of the children at heart.
Child-welfare experts also recommend that any volunteering concerning children should involve a minimum three-month commitment – having strangers drop in and out of their lives on short visits can be detrimental to a child's emotional well-being and development. Some organisations, such as Friends International and Unicef, recommend travellers never volunteer at orphanages. Friends International and Unicef joined forces in 2011 to launch the ‘Think Before Visiting’ campaign. Learn more at www.thinkchildsafe.org/thinkbeforevisiting before you inadvertently contribute to the problem.
Weights & Measures
Weights & Measures Cambodians use the metric system for everything except precious metals and gems, where they prefer Chinese units of measurement.
Women will generally find Cambodia a hassle-free place to travel, although some of the guys in the guesthouse industry will try their luck from time to time. Foreign women are unlikely to be targeted by local men, and will probably find Khmer men to be courteous and polite. At the same time it pays to be careful. As is the case in many places, walking or riding a bike alone late at night can be risky.
Khmer women dress fairly conservatively, in general preferring long-sleeved shirts and long trousers or skirts. It is worth having trousers for heading out at night on motos (motorcycle taxis), as short skirts aren’t very practical.
Tampons and sanitary napkins are widely available in the major cities and provincial capitals, but if you are heading into very remote areas for a few days, it is worth having your own supply.
Jobs are available throughout Cambodia, but apart from teaching English or helping out in guesthouses, bars or restaurants, most are for professionals and are arranged in advance. There is a lot of teaching work available for English-language speakers and salary is directly linked to experience. Anyone with an English-language teaching certificate can earn considerably more than those with no qualifications.
For information about work opportunities with NGOs, call into Phnom Penh's Cooperation Committee for Cambodia, which has a noticeboard for positions vacant. If you are thinking of applying for work with NGOs, you should bring copies of your education certificates and work references. However, most of the jobs available are likely to be on a voluntary basis, as most recruiting for specialised positions is done in home countries or through international organisations.
Other places to look for work include the classifieds section of the Phnom Penh Post and on noticeboards at guesthouses and restaurants in Phnom Penh.