Children's bracelets hanging up on the fences in the Choeung Ek killing fields in Phnom Penh.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields

Let’s get you on your road to Cambodia. Here, I provide my recommendations on what you need and what you must have to get you into the country. Cambodia has a lot to see, and whether you’re staying for a short visit or nomadding long-term, you’ll need to prepare the resources to get you into the country and to help make your trip as smooth as possible. Here, I’ll provide a Cambodia arrival guide to help you on your way to a worry-free (for what you can control!) trip!

Customs Documents

Visas

First and foremost, when applying for an online visa, always use the government website. It’s almost always the most safe and secure and you won’t be paying any external fees. If you are only applying for a tourist evisa, the cost is $36USD and you can stay for up to 30 days. You’ll have the opportunity to extend your visa or change its purpose once you’re in the country. This can be done only once at the Immigration Department of the Cambodian National Police in Phnom Penh. Ensure you enter the correct information, especially for your mode of travel into Cambodia and your port of entry. You may be denied entry if this information is not correct. Make sure you print two copies of your visa.

Check the map for your visa requirements.

Arrival/Departure Card, Customs Form

After arriving in Cambodia you’ll need to fill out an arrival card and a customs form. You’ll be given a departure card as well. Do NOT lose your departure card (speaking from experience). When leaving Cambodia I was charged a $5USD fine and given a new one, but I spent all my USD/Riel and had to frantically figure out how to find some cash. I ended up having to run back to an ATM, getting charged an extra fee, and almost missing my bus to go to Bangkok. So definitely play it safe, and keep all your documents undamaged and someplace where you won’t forget them.

Passport

I hope this doesn’t need much explanation. Just make sure your passport has enough pages and is still valid 6 months after departure.

Money

Cambodia, like many other Southeast Asian countries, runs very much as a cash-based society. The country uses a combination of two currencies: the US Dollar and the Cambodian Riel. The exchange rate runs on average of $1USD to 4,000 Riel. So if something costs 3,000 Riel, and if you pay with $1USD, you’ll probably be handed 1,000 Riel back. Given the value of the USD in Cambodia, any higher bills ($10 and up) will likely be checked for validity. Any rips or marks on any bills will not be accepted, so it’s best to get rid of those at places that do. Currency exchange offices in Thailand are much more lenient, for example.

ATMs are much more common today throughout the country, especially in the main tourist spots. You won’t have any struggle finding one in Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. But if you’re getting yourself off the beaten path, be prepared to load up on cash while you’re in certain parts of the country just in case. It’ll be pretty typical to be charged around $5USD every time you take out money from the ATM. This is relatively similar throughout Southeast Asia, unless you have a credit card that covers the fee for you.

On rare occasion, you’ll find a faulty ATM. Make sure you ask around for an ATM that’s worked for other travelers. If you can, bring multiple debit cards with you just in case you lose one or an ATM is broken and doesn’t spit it out. This happened to me on an island in Thailand and I wasn’t able to get it back before I left.

A combination of currencies used in Cambodia

Proper Clothing

If you’re coming from North America/Europe, Cambodia is likely to feel pretty hot. Pack accordingly. This means lots of lightweight clothing and shorts/t-shirts. Bring a hat and some sunglasses! C’mon, it’s not that bad to look like this right?

While you might be mostly concerned with bringing the least amount of things to save on your luggage expenses on your flight, make sure you get all the basics in! Don’t forget your bathing suit, towel (not every hostel provides them), and enough breathable clothes. Don’t be afraid to use laundry services! They’re inexpensive, helpful and very reliable. You might have to dry your own clothes, however, so keep this in mind, or discuss with them beforehand whether or not they’ll dry your clothes as well.

Temples

Cambodia, like the rest of mainland Southeast Asia, practices Buddhism, meaning that in order to visit temples throughout the country, you’ll be required to cover your shoulders and knees. No tank tops and you’ll need to wear pants, though some temples are more lenient with men wearing shorts. However, this doesn’t mean you have to wear jeans or anything heavy. Lightweight yoga-style pants are completely acceptable and quite common among tourists. Many temples will also not allow any open-toed shoes (sandals/flip-flops/crocs).

Motorbiking

If you’re visiting between June and October, you’ll likely find yourself getting pretty wet at some point. Rainy season can be no joke, especially in some parts of the country. Floods are common and if you’re not used to driving a motorbike, you might want to refrain from driving in the rain. But with the rain, comes a solid, high-quality rain jacket. This doesn’t mean you need to break the bank, but get one that isn’t gonna let any water seep through. I promise you, cheap ponchos won’t do the trick- I already tried that, and it didn’t go so well. I have an REI Co-op Trailmade Rain Jacket that is durable and not unaffordable.

Shoes

Bring extra sets of clothes and shoes. If you’re traveling during rainy season, your shoes will likely get quite wet and I promise, it will be quite gross and uncomfortable throwing them on the next day. You can always do your laundry somewhere in the city or at your hostel, but shoes aren’t always easy. There might be days where you’ll find yourself wearing poor-quality sandals or plastic bags in your shoes. Please guys, I hope this doesn’t deter you: it’s just water.

Getting caught in the rain. Useful information for your Cambodia arrival guide.
A typical motorbike struggle during rainy season

SIM Card

If you’re traveling solo, be careful and be smart. Don’t get yourself stuck with no one around to help. Please buy a SIM card if you’re not using one from home, and keep your phone safe and dry. I’ve met numerous people that have had some unfortunate situations. Smart, Cellcard and Metfone are the three most common companies. You’ll probably only be spending a max of $15USD for enough data to last you your whole time there. If you’re spending any more, you’ve probably been scammed. Like purchasing a SIM card anywhere else, you’ll need to show proof of ID (passport). If you haven’t bought a SIM card before, make sure your phone is UNLOCKED. This basically means that your phone allows you to use any other SIM card. If it’s locked, you’ll need to buy another phone, or pay a fee back home to unlock it.

Cell service is not bad throughout the country, but there will definitely be times where you might find yourself without it. Plan ahead. Make sure you know your route or have other people with you. Don’t be afraid to ask a local for directions or help, even though the language barrier can be scary. If you’re in a main city, download google maps for the city so you can find where you are if you don’t have a SIM card yet, or you’re in a spot where service is too slow.

Travel Adapter

With all the different electrical outlets in the world, it can become increasingly frustrating to have the means to keep all your devices charged. I’ve been using a universal travel adapter that I would highly recommend. Depending on which plug you have access to, Cambodia can accept type A, C, and G . In simple terms, this means the two-pin American plug, the UK/Ireland plug and the European plug. Check out this website for all the different plug and socket types.

Cambodian sockets. Useful to have in your Cambodia arrival guide.
A range of sockets you’ll find in Cambodia

Water Bottle

While I understand that much of the water in Southeast Asia is not safe to drink, it doesn’t mean that all of it isn’t. Much of Cambodia, along with many of its neighbors struggle with waste management. Do your best not to contribute to this. Check out refill stations in Phnom Penh. You can check many other cities on this website, however, it doesn’t have information for every city.

Many hostels have safe water to drink and will allow you to refill your water bottle, either for free or for a small charge of around 1,000 Riel (25 cents). If you’re willing to spend a bit of money – check out GRAYL’s filtered water bottle that sanitizes your water. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for details. I’ve always used a 32oz Hydrapeak. It’s always enough water to last me a while, insulates well, and isn’t too bulky to travel with. It also easy clips onto my backpack.

Travel Backpack

Please: leave the suitcase at home! I know it’ll be hard to convince everyone to switch to a travel backpack, but I’ve got a couple great points to hopefully convince you to get your hands on one. I personally use a Tortuga 40L backpack. It fits in the overhead compartment on a plane/train, isn’t too heavy and is just within the international carryon dimensions.

There’s many travel backpacks to choose from. But most importantly, I’d recommend switching away from a suitcase. It will often cost you more in baggage fees on flights, it’s not as easy to carry around, and honestly, in my experience, you can fit more in the backpack. Remember, the backpack was designed for this. It’s meant for flexibility, durability, and to fit the things backpackers need.

A travel backpack can easily make your trip 1000x easier! Definitely a must-need from this Cambodia travel guide.

Cambodia is a unique, exciting and affordable destination, but one that can also be easily ruined if not well-prepared for. Keep your wits about you, do your best to go with the flow, and have fun! Check out my travel guide for recommendations on where to go throughout the country.

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