Introduction to Cambodia

Cambodia or Kampuchea, republic in South East Asia, bordered on the north-east by Laos, on the east and south-east by Vietnam, on the south-west by the Gulf of Thailand, and on the west and north-west by Thailand. Cambodia covers a total area of 181,035 sq km (69,898 sq mi). The capital and largest city of Cambodia is Phnom Penh.

The Kingdom of Cambodia is one of the world's newest and most exciting travel Southeast Asia destinations. After years of isolation, Cambodia opened to tourists in the mid-1990s and tourists numbers have increased every year since - last year the country seeing near two million tourists. Cambodia’s primary tourist destinations - Angkor Wat and the other temples of Angkor near Siem Reap, the cultural attractions in the capital Phnom Penh, and the beaches of Sihanoukville - offer plenty of accommodations, restaurants and other tourist services. Other destinations such as the hill tribe areas of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri, the remote temples of Preah Vihear and Banteay Chhmar, and quaint provincial capitals such as Battambang and Kampot, are just now being discovered by travelers, and all offer unique glimpses of ‘unspoiled’ Cambodia. There’s a magic about Cambodia that casts a spell on many who visit this charming yet confounding kingdom. Ascend to the realm of the gods at the mother of all temples, Angkor Wat, a spectacular fusion of symbolism, symmetry and spirituality. Descend into the hell of Tuol Sleng and come face to face with the Khmer Rouge and its killing machine. Welcome to the conundrum that is Cambodia: a country with a history both inspiring and depressing, an intoxicating place where the future is waiting to be shaped.

Cambodia is a land of superlatives. The ancient temples of Angkor Wat, Bayon and other ruins of the Khmer Empire rank amongst the world's grandest and most magnificent World Heritage Sites - easily in a class with Machu Picchu, the Pyramids of Egypt and Teotihuacan. But this magnificence stands in shocking contrast to the Killing Fields, Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and other remnants of Cambodia's more recent history - a time when Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime of the late 1970s committed some of the most horrifying atrocities of the 20th century. Yet, the Khmer people, who make up more than 95% of modern Cambodia's population, impress visitors as some of the friendliest, 'happiest' (sabai), and most gentle people they have ever met. The ubiquitous Khmer smile is legendary, as is traditional Khmer hospitality and openness. Cambodia is truly a land of light and dark, of wonder and of tragedy - awe-inspiring, heart wrenching and completely unique.

Cambodia is like the teen starlet who has just been discovered by an adoring public: everyone wants something from her but not everyone wants what is best for her. The government, long shunned by international big business, is keen to benefit from all these newfound opportunities. Contracts are being signed off like autographs and there are concerns for the long-term interests of the country.

Tourism has brought many benefits to Cambodia: it provides opportunity and employment for a new generation of Khmers, has helped to spark a rebirth of the traditional arts, and has given the country a renewed sense of pride and optimism as it recovers from the dark decades of war and genocide. However, not all tourism has been good for the country and there is the dark side of sex tourism, human exploitation and a casino culture. Cambodia is in a great position to benefit from the mistakes of other countries in the region and follow a sustainable road to tourism development. However, it may be that the government is more focused on the short-term gain that megabucks investments can provide. Can Cambodia be all things to all visitors? So far, so good, but a new era is about to begin and the beaches are the next battleground.

There are two faces to Cambodia: one shiny and happy, the other dark and complex. For every illegal eviction of city dwellers or land grab by a general, there will be a new NGO school offering better education, or a new clean-water initiative to improve the lives of the average villager. Such is the yin and yang of Cambodia, a country that inspires and confounds. Like an onion, the more layers you unravel, the more it makes you want to cry, but these are spontaneous tears, sometimes of sorrow, sometimes of joy.

Despite having the eighth wonder of the world in its backyard, Cambodia’s greatest treasure is its people. The Khmers have been to hell and back, struggling through years of bloodshed, poverty and political instability. Thanks to an unbreakable spirit and infectious optimism, they have prevailed with their smiles intact; no visitor comes away from Cambodia without a measure of admiration and affection for the inhabitants of this enigmatic kingdom.

Cambodia: beaches as beautiful as Thailand but without the tourist tide; wilds as remote as Laos but even less explored; cuisine as subtle as Vietnam but yet to be discovered; and temples that leave Burma and Indonesia in the shade. This is the heart of Southeast Asia, with everything the region has to offer packed into one bite-sized country. If you were only planning to spend a week in Cambodia, it’s time to think again.

Cambodia has a population of 14,241,640 (2008 estimate). The overall population density is some 81 people per sq km (209 per sq mi). Average life expectancy at birth in 2008 was 59.6 years for men and 63.8 years for women. At least 15 per cent of the population died between 1975 and 1979 as a result of Khmer Rouge policies.

Principle cities

The capital, Phnom Penh, with a population of 1,157,000 (2003 estimate), is situated at the junction of the Mekong and Sab rivers. Other major cities are Battambang, population 171,382 (2002), Kompong Cham (population, 1987, 33,000), and Kampot (population, 1987, 15,000). The major port is Kompong Som (population, 1990, 75,000), formerly Sihanoukville, on the Gulf of Thailand. During the late 1970s the larger cities were depopulated, with residents fleeing or being sent to rural areas.

Theravada (Hinayana) Buddhism is the dominant religion and is adhered to by about 90 per cent of the population. Hinduism has had an important cultural and historical influence. Other religions include Roman Catholicism, Islam, and Mahayana Buddhism; the mountain tribes are animists.

Cambodian Visas

Passport/visa requirements: In order to visit Cambodia, a visa is required for most nationalities. A passport with at least six month validity is required. Philippine and Malaysian nationals do not require tourist visas for a stay up to 21 and 30 days respectively. Singaporean nationality is also exempt from the usual visa requirement. Visa on arrival is not permitted for holders of the following passports: Afghanistan; Algeria; Bangladesh; Iran; Iraq; Pakistan; Saudi Arabia; Sri Lanka; and Sudan. Holders of these passports must obtain a Cambodian visa before arriving in the country. Holders of these passports are also required to hold a sponsor letter or invitation from a company / organization / travel agent, and you are also advised to hold a valid return ticket.
Availability: It is very easy to travel to Cambodia. Cambodian visas are available to most nationalities on arrival at all international airports in Cambodia (Phnom Penh and Siem Reap), at overseas Cambodian embassies , at most international border crossing checkpoints in Cambodia, and through the online E-Visa procedure.
Issuance requirements and price: Issuance of a visa on arrival at the airports and international border crossings is relatively quick and easy, taking about 20-30 minutes. One 4x6 photo is required.
30-day tourist visa (Type ‘T’): US$20
Tourist visas can be extended for one month, but only one time.
30-day business visa (Type ‘E’): US$25
Business visas can be renewed indefinitely, one month, three months, six months or one year at a time.
Diplomatic, Official, Courtesy, and Special (Cambodian) visas are issued free of charge.
At overland international border checkpoints with Thailand, visa prices are often set in Thai baht making them significantly more expensive than the official visa price in US dollars. See below.

E-Visa: The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs now offers 'e-visa' - visas available online through the Ministry's website. Scan of passport and passport size photo required. Payment by credit card. US$25 for a 30 day visa (three month validity.) Processing time: 3 days. Issued by email and print from from your computer. The Ministry recently announced that e-visa entry points now include Siem Reap International Airport, Phnom Penh International Airport, the Bavet/Moc Bai border crossing, the Poipet/Aranyaprathet border crossing and the Koh Kong/Had Lek border crossing. To order an E-visa see the following website:

E-Visa NEWS/WARNING - In March13, 2009 the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a warning about certain websites selling fraudulent e-Visas. Do not purchase e-Visas through any website other that the official Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Website.

E-Visa NEWS - Getting an e-visa is easy, requiring only 5 minutes or so, when the website is working. Unfortunately the website seems to go down with some regularity, often for days at a time. If you really need an e-visa and the site is down, just keep trying. It does seem to come back on line after a while.

Visa Renewal: Renew visas through a travel agent or the ‘Immigration Department’ on Confederation de Russie (‘Airport Road’), located opposite Phnom Penh International Airport. Tel: 012-581558. Fax: 023-890380. E-mail: Renew Diplomatic, Courtesy and Official visas at the Consular section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Visas at Overland Border Crossings
Border crossing with Laos: Border policies are not stable. Travelers report that Cambodian visas are available at the border but Laotian visas are not available at the border.

Border crossings with Vietnam: Cambodian visas are available at the Moc Bai/Bavet and 'Chau Doc' border crossings. There is conflicting information about the availability of Cambodian visas at Prek Chak. Vietnamese visas are not available at any overland border crossing.

Border crossings with Thailand: Cambodian visas and 30-day Thai transit visas are available at all Thai/Cambodian border crossings. Thai transit visas are free of charge. Other types of Thai visas are not available.


International flight: Each foreigner has to pay 25 USD, and each Khmer person has to pay 18 USD at Phnom Penh International Airport of Siem Reap International Airport.
Additionally, children below the age of 12 have to pay 13 USD, children under the age of 2 do not need to pay tax at any airport.
Domestic flight: Each foreigner has to pay 6 USD, and each Khmer have to pay 5 USD at Phnom Penh International Airport of Siem Reap International Airport.

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