As Cambodia is now truly a destination for every traveller, we have put together some specialist information and advice for your holiday regardless of who you are and where you come from.
Cambodia is very firmly on the backpacker’s Asia circuit. They were coming to Cambodia years ago when the war was still raging and better-heeled tourists stayed away. As a result, there is a plethora of guesthouses, restaurants, bars, and travel agents catering specifically to this market.
Now with so many open borders across what was the Bamboo Curtain, the enterprising budget traveller can wander at will all across Southeast Asia in pretty much any direction. Siem Reap and Phnom Penh both have a thriving backpacker scene, and Sihanoukville is fast catching up as it begins to rival the beaches of Thailand as a beach for chilling out.
Kampot is the kind of relaxed hammock-swinging venue beloved of the budget traveller and Battambang is in the throes of being discovered. While travelling on a budget in Cambodia, you will inevitably run into many like-minded souls.
Cambodia is a child-friendly country and it can be a real experience overload for young kids fresh to this part of the world. What may be fascinating can also be frightening, and families will need to make sure that children are eased into this new environment very gently. They will be confused by the poverty, especially the obvious poverty of kids their own age, many of whom live on the street and lead a very hard life.
Cambodia may induce your children to ask a lot of questions that may be hard to answer. You must think carefully about what you take them to see given the recent horror of Cambodia’s past—a thing Cambodians cannot explain to their own children because they have no answers.
There are also the normal health concerns, of course, and a constant eye needs to be kept in terms of hygiene rules. Make sure children wear sunblock and remain properly hydrated. Tricky as it might be for families, Angkor Wat alone is a good reason to take your children to Cambodia.
It looks and feels like the set of a movie and indeed it has been used as the set for quite a number of them. They are ancient standing history, far more thrilling than Disneyland ever could be. Impressive as the temples are, touring them can be hot and tiring, so any schedule should incorporate plenty of rest time.
Apart from Angkor, the place in Cambodia most suitable for family visits is Sihanoukville. All that white sand is likely to be very much appreciated by the youngest generation. Your children will attract a lot of positive attention, especially if they are blonde.
That is no bad thing, but sometimes they might be confused or overwhelmed by it. Phnom Penh particularly can be very busy and claustrophobic, and children will need to be shielded while they become accustomed to it. Breastfeeding in public is very common in Cambodia, so there is no need to worry about breaking a taboo.
The main worry throughout Cambodia is keeping an eye on what strange things young children are putting in their mouths. Their natural curiosity can be dangerous in a country where dysentery, typhoid, and hepatitis are commonplace.
There are no particular safety concerns for women that don’t affect men as well. What trouble there might be is nondiscriminatory. What you will find is that you are asked a lot of questions about your marital status and your children, even if you don’t have any.
Cambodians generally have a fairly conventional view of marriage and children, and if your story diverges from that, they may well be curious. The curiosity is genuine and good-natured, and all explanations will be avidly absorbed. They too will be more than willing to answer your questions about family and children.
It is, most certainly, a two-way street. Dress conservatively, since Cambodia is a conservative country. You should also take a supply of your own tampons. Sanitary pads are the norm for Cambodian women.
Respect for elders is an integral part of Khmer culture and family values. Yet in Cambodia, senior travellers will not find the sort of discounts and deals that are found in the West. When booking your flights and accommodations it’s worth mentioning if you are a senior since there may be discounts available. The most important issues for senior travellers are the potential rigour of the heat in Cambodia and the paucity of adequate healthcare. Both these factors should be taken into account by senior travellers.
It is also beginning to compete with Thailand as a retirement destination. For general information on senior travel, AARP, is an organization with over 40 million members that is dedicated to helping the over-50s improve their lives. Membership brings some discounts on international travel and they produce a magazine and a monthly newsletter.
Travellers with Disabilities
Cambodia presents considerable challenges to travellers with disabilities, but they are not insurmountable. Some smaller guesthouses and hotels will not cater to travellers with disabilities, but the bigger and more established ones will. In any case, it is a good idea to check in advance.
In Angkor Wat, some parts of the temples are inaccessible to wheelchair-bound visitors because of the irregular paving and simply the nature of the temples. Plenty of it is accessible, however. In the towns and cities, what sidewalks there are usually heavily potholed and irregular. Newer buildings such as the airport and top-end hotels will have ramps for wheelchair access, but that is about as far as it goes.
The fundamental key to a successful trip to Cambodia, if you are disabled, is a lot of planning in advance. Useful organizations include Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality.
Although Khmer society is very traditional and conservative and the subject of homosexuality has long been taboo, there is also a real measure of tolerance toward gay and lesbian people. Flaunting sexuality in general, gay or straight, will invite certain negative reactions, but rank homophobia is rare toward foreigners.
In February 2004, then-King Sihanouk wrote on his website that he believed that God views homosexuals, as well as transvestites, as equal because “[God loves] wide range of tastes.” The former king also supports gay marriage. That remains his personal view, but it is an indication of acceptable thinking.
Cambodia held its first gay pride event in 2003 and it now takes place annually. There is a low-key gay scene in Cambodia with some gay bars in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association is the travel trade association for gay- and lesbian-friendly tour operators. They have an online directory of relevant businesses.