Top Discoveries and Tips for Cambodia

tuk tuk siem reap cambodia
with our tuk tuk driver, Mr. Song

I've just returned from two weeks in Cambodia and I was pretty impressed. While it's still a developing country, it has a lot going for it. Cambodians are very friendly people and we had nothing but pleasant encounters with everyone.

They work in US Dollars $$$! Talk about making life so much easier! Most of the time you will find things priced in US Dollars, but if you ask, they'll quickly tell you the dollar equivalent price from their Riel. Because they only work with paper money, you may end up getting change back in a mixture of dollars and riels. For instance, if your bill comes to $8.50 and you give them a $10 bill, you'll get $1 and then 2000 riel in change. Basically, 1000 riel equals a quarter. When coming from the U.S., bring nice, crisp bills. They do not want old, raggedy dollars and I even saw a restaurant argue over accepting a $20 with a rip.

ATMs spit out US dollars! Because of the high use of dollars, the local ATM machines will give you a choice of riels or dollars.

No tipping or taxes. That means the price you see is the price you pay. While many establishments will have a tip box, like your local Starbucks here, it is not required. But if you have tipping so bred into you, feel free.

English is prevalent as well. I'm being told that among the Southeast Asian countries, Cambodia is one of the best for number of English speaking citizens. Certainly anyone dealing with tourists does their best to speak English. French is also prevalent due to the history of French occupation and influence.

Wi-fi is everywhere. I was very surprised at how well connected I was while in Cambodia. Hotels, of course, offer wi-fi for guests, but you will even find free wi-fi in the smallest street cafes.

You can't be afraid of traffic. I thought California drivers were to "me, me, me" about driving, but Cambodians are 100 times worse. They are out for themselves first, which means they drive crazy and will cut in front of you rather than go behind you. There are very few street signals, rarely a stop sign or traffic cop, and not many crosswalks. This means you need to be brave and just cross the street playing real life Frogger as you go. If you are too afraid, you won't get anywhere. Or, if you are bothered by the crazy traffic, take a tuk tuk and let them navigate the mess for you. But if you like walking and want to save money from too many tuk tuks, then you'll need some backbone.

Hotel power. Many hotels have a feature where your room key must be inserted into a device in order for the power to turn on in the room. While understandable from a conservation perspective, it's rather annoying to be unable to charge devices while you are out or that the AC is off and you return to a stuffy, sweltering room. My friend figured out a workaround. Detach the key from the keyring so you can leave the keyring in the power switch and just carry the key around. Of course, this is best if you have your own keyring to attach it to so you don't lose it.

It's an affordable retirement country. Talking to expats that live there, you can find a nice place to live for about $400 a month. Factor in food costs at about $6 a day. Buy a scooter for transportation and then you just have cheap gas expense once in a while. It's easy to travel to neighboring cities by bus or plane. There are many bus services that can be as low as $5 to go to another domestic city to $25 or so dollars to go to a neighboring country, say Vietnam, for instance. Flights can be as low as $40 to $100 to fly to a neighboring country. Whether I could live in Cambodia full time is a good question. It requires getting involved in the expat community and living a rather sedentary life, but an affordable one.

I'll be writing more blog posts about my Cambodian vacation over the next few days, including about hotels, food, and transportation.