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A guide to Cambodia

28 September 2015

Houses in Cambodia

With so much to see and do, Southeast Asia is becoming an increasingly popular region for UK holidaymakers who wish to embrace an entirely new culture.

Countries such as Vietnam, Burma and Thailand offer a variety of amazing experiences, from their unique local cuisine to their fascinating cultures and beautiful surruounds. Southeast Asia has everything you could wish for in your annual river cruise.

Cambodia is another beautiful corner of Southeast Asia which can be experienced on a river cruise. If your desired itinerary features Cambodia, here are a few things you'll need to know before you go.

The History

Cambodia sits on the banks of the Gulf of Thailand and shares a border with Vietnam to the east, Laos to the north and Thailand to the north-west. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia with a population of around 1.5 million.

Cambodia has experienced somewhat of a checkered past and has suffered significantly since the fall of Angkor in 1431. This was a vast empire unrivalled in the region and was the dominant force for over four centuries but since its abolition it has been plundered. Colonised by the French in the 19th century it came under the rule of the Khmer Rouge in 20th century.

Rising to prominence in 1968, this regime was known for its brutality and led by the notorious Cambodian revolutionary Pol Pot. Civil wars and conflicts with Vietnam took its toll on the country with the Khmer Rouge forcing the entire population of Phnom Penh to work as slaves in the countryside. Cambodia became effectively cut off from the outside world.

Not until United Nations-sponsored elections in 1993, did the country begin to recover. With the Cold War at an end, there was hope in Cambodia with Pol Pot being put on 'trial' as the reign of Khmer Rouge was almost over. By 2002, the country held its first-ever local elections and is now one of the most investor-friendly places in Asia.

Tourism has increased as people from all over the world travel to Cambodia to cruise the Mekong and see the beautiful Siem Reap.

Customs and Traditions

Despite its hardships, the Cambodians are very proud people and over the years have developed a unique set of traditions which are from both Buddhist and Hindu influences.

Cambodians tend to greet each other with a friendly 'Chumreap Suor'. This normally involves a Sampeah which is a pressing of the palms together before the chest and then a slight bow before politely saying 'Chumreap Suor'. While this is the traditional greeting, it is acceptable for foreigners to shake hands with the locals.

On your travels, you will no doubt be treated to a traditional dance. There are many forms of dance in Cambodia but the most well known is Robam Apsara, first introduced during the 1960s but allowed to blossom over the generations.


Cambodia deals in the Cambodian riel with the current exchange being 6,458 riel to the pound.

Food and Drink

Like with all of its Southeast Asian neighbours, Cambodia has delicious local food. A long-running feature of Cambodian food is prahok, a local fish paste, which is used in a lot of dishes. It has a fairly strong flavour so it is something that may take a bit of time getting acclimatised to. One of the most well-known dishes in Cambodia is amok, a coconut milk curried meal made with chicken, fish or shrimp and slightly less spicy than its Thai counterpart.

Another favourite among the locals is prahok kties, a fried dish with belly pork.

Looking for something a little healthier? Than opt for machu kroung, a flavourful sweet and sour soup with fried lemongrass, saffron and a variety of meat and vegetables making up a very tasty broth.

Try the noodle soup known as k'tieu which is traditionally enjoyed at breakfast. This pork, beef or seafood soup can set you up for the day. If you have room leftover then indulge in some Cambodian sweets known as pong aime.

Stay Safe

Cambodia has become a much safer place for tourists over the past couple of decades. Today, it remains a friendly country to visit. With this in mind it is still advised to remain vigilant when in large cities, particularly at night. Petty theft such as bag snatching is fairly common in the capital so it is wise to take extra care and be discreet with possessions.

While the likelihood of being a victim of crime is relatively low it is always worth taking some spare money for emergencies.

With careful planning and a few essential know before you go tips, a cruise of Cambodia can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience that you will never ever forget.

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