Small tips for travelers in Cambodia
Air-cons: be aware!
Not only in Cambodia, but also in all tropical countries air-cons might be a menace to your health. Your body adapts rapidly to a hot climate and, if you stay a long time inside an air-conditioned space, you risk having aches the next day. Don't set the climate control in your hotel room too low and don't leave the air-con working all night at the lowest possible temperature settings. You may catch a heat fever by the morning which would spoil your holiday. When traveling by local intercity bus, it may be a good idea to take some warm clothes with you because the drivers are likely to set the air-con for a low temperature, then you may arrive frozen at your final destination.
Banking and money: dollars are ok everywhere
If you have US dollars, you don't need to worry about money exchange. The US dollar is an alternative currency to the local Cambodia currency; US dollars are accepted everywhere. The rate is about 4000 - 4200 Riel for $1. There are several ATMs in main cities, Visa or MasterCard are served without problems. In emergency cases multiple Western Union offices will help you.
Motorbikes or tuk-tuks: negotiate the price first!
For a short distances the most convenient transport is a motorbike ("motodop" in Khmer) Don't worry too much about the safety as motorbike drivers are good professionals. The risk of having an accident on the streets is small and they do drive slowly most of the time. Khmer people will transport whole families on one motorbike, up to 5 persons on a single machine. They carry big, heavy objects on their bikes, like fridges, beds or five-meters steel pipes.
It is very important to negotiate the exact price and the final destination before you take a moto-driver or a tuk-tuk. Otherwise you may be asked to pay a higher than usual price. It has happened that for a 10 minutes walk, a tuk-tuk driver requested $50 instead of a standard $5. If you didn't agree the price at the beginning, it could be very difficult to argue later. It is a very popular fraud in Cambodia.
Motorbike robbery: popular business
Motorbike robbery is one of the most common street crimes in Cambodia. It may happen to you at any daytime. When you are going on a bike, robbers approach you from your left side, overtake your bike and rapidly tear away your bag or camera. They are very practiced in this dirty deed. Generally you don't have time to understand what happened or to react. In several cases, attacked tourists have fell from the bike and been injured. As a rule, police are unable help you and find criminals.
Take elementary but very important precautions: when you are on a road on a motorbike, keep your handbag, a laptop or a camera on your right shoulder and hold it tight! Turn you head back and intently look at all motorbikes approaching you from behind. Show that you are ready for any surprises. Generally these gangsters wont dare attack tourists if they see you are alert. Your safety is in your own hand.
Never bring with you significant amounts in cash, passports, credit cards, air tickets or any other valuable when exploring on a motorbike. Don't forget that a motorbike robbery is the main danger for foreign tourist in Cambodia, specifically in Sihanoukville.
Replica watches: don't dive!
There are many shops in the center of Phnom Penh selling attractive, good quality replica watches of all famous Swiss brands. The average price is $35-$40. It may be considered as a souvenir or a gift for your friend. But be aware – generally replica watches selling in Cambodia are not water resistant. You must take it off your wrist before swimming. Time keeping functions are usually ok considering it's a forty-dollars watch.
Local pharmacies: cheap pills depots
Most street pharmacies work as simple shops selling all kind of pills produced mostly in India or China. Unless it's for a simple headache don't have a consultation directly with the pharmacy. Also finding rare or non-common medicine is very difficult, Phnom Penh may be your best bet but If you need a regular medical treatment during your trip, don't forget to bring it with you from your country.
Local doctors also sell medicine and pills, without giving you a box or a detailed description or sometimes without telling you the exact name of the medicine. Ask for the original package and the instruction so you will at least know what you are taking.
Nightmare quality of manufactured goods
If you have decided to settle in Cambodia for a while, you have to accept the fact that all manufactured products of daily use are disgusting quality. This accounts time to get used to. Suddenly you will discover that, for example, sewing needles can bend and rust. Matches do not light. Door handles fall off. Plumbing howls and runs. That's okay; almost all finished products you deal with are made in China.
However, manufacturers are trying to offset such a poor quality of the simplest things by adding idiotic external decorations. One day I needed to buy a pack of beautiful, thick paper for invitation letters. In stationery store this paper sold sealed in cellophane. At home I opened the packet and the sweet smell of cheap perfume and cheap prostitutes poured my room - paper proved to be flavored. Perhaps the Chinese master supposed that I’d be delighted with this surprise.
It is useful to know:
Basic Khmer phrases