Your most frequently asked questions regarding traveling with Rustic Pathways in Cambodia, currency, food, accommodations, and more answered by Pannha, Cambodia Country Manager
Where does the country name, Cambodia, come from?
The name of Cambodia in the Khmer language is “Kampuchea” which derives from Sanskrit language Kambujadeśa (“land of Kambuja”)
What languages are spoken in Cambodia?
Cambodia’s official language is Khmer. English is mostly spoken in the capital city and tourist cities.
What are people in Cambodia like?
Cambodian people are socially and friendly. You will hear Hello Hello when you travel through the village.
Why should I travel to Cambodia?
There are many reasons why Cambodia attracts so many travelers; among them is incredible sights, rich culture, fascinating history, and the wonderful and warmest people who are so welcoming.
Especially notable is Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument on the earth. Millions of travelers visit this temple every year.
What are the most amazing travel experiences in Cambodia?
Travel by boat across the Tonle sap river, which is the largest freshwater lake in SouthEast Asia. Stay with the host family who lives in the floating house.
What are one or two off-the-beaten-path experiences that travelers might not know to look for?
Visit the south of Cambodia to enjoy the nice beach or visit the north of Cambodia to visit the eco-tourism site volunteer with the Elephant Valley Project.
What is the food like?
Most of the Khmer dishes are served with rice. The most popular dish is Amok fish, It is similar to curry but tastier, especially with the Mekong River fish. And the most popular snack in Cambodia is the deep-fried tarantula. Most of the travelers in Cambodia try this.
What is the weather like?
Students should be prepared for hot, humid weather in the high 80s and 90s (Fahrenheit) during the day with daily rain showers. Daily downpours are short and are very much looked forward to as they offer a brief break from the heat of the day.
What does that mean for you? Clothes that have synthetic fibers are great because they dry fast (much faster than cotton)! Ponchos can easily be purchased in-country.
What is money like in Cambodia?
Cambodia currency is Reil. One US dollar equals 4,000 Reil. US dollars are accepted everywhere but your banknote has to be new and clean with no rips. ATMs are available around the country. You can withdraw US dollars from your bank card.
How much money should I bring?
I would like to recommend bringing between 100-150$ cash. ATMs are available around the country with the US dollars cashed out.
Is it safe to travel in Cambodia?
Cambodia is generally a safe place to travel through, as with all tourist destinations.
What are one or two of the most popular activities or past times in Cambodia?
Trip should start in Phnom Penh, the group is able to learn about Cambodia’s recent genocide history. Visit Angkor Wat temple in Siem Reap after finishing the community service project.
What is one favorite memory of a Rustic Pathways program experience?
The last day of community service, especially when the group has to rush to finish the housing project and hand it over to the family with a Buddhist ceremony.
What advice do you have for first-time visitors to Cambodia?
I would recommend participants to read some book or watch movie about genocide so you will be prepared to learn more in-person.
What are some tips for cultural etiquette?
The Cambodian greeting is called som pas: put your hands together and slightly bow your head. It is impolite not to respond to a greeting.
Entering a Home
- As in other Asian countries, it is appropriate to take off your shoes before entering a house.
- Hats and sunglasses should be removed as well.
- This is a way of showing respect to your host.
- Dressing appropriately is important, especially when visiting a temple.
- When a Buddhist goes to a temple, he/she tries to cover as much skin as possible.
- You should cover your upper arms and upper legs.
- Buddhism is practiced by almost 90% of the population.
- It is important to know the general Buddhist etiquette to avoid disrespecting the local religion and its sacred places.
- It is forbidden for monks to touch or be touched by a woman.
- Monks cannot eat in the afternoon, so don’t offer them food or eat around them in the afternoon.
- When addressing a monk, you should use the word “Venerable” followed by his first name.
- When offering food to a monk, do not taste it beforehand.
- Remove your shoes before entering a temple.
- A Buddha image is considered sacred, so do not touch it or stand on its altar.
- If you are sitting inside a Wat, tuck your feet beneath yourself.
- Cover your shoulders and knees.
What are the main points of interest and landmarks?
In Siem Reap Province, the Temple of Angkor Wat
is a UNESCO world heritage site and the largest temple in the world.
In Phnom Penh, The capital city, the landmarks are the Royal Palace, the National Museum of Cambodia, and the Olympic Stadium.
What are the major holidays in Cambodia?
There are three major holidays in Cambodia, Khmer New year occurs in April, the Pchum Ben festival in September, and the Water Festival in November.
What kind of music is widely popular?
Cambodian rock and pop from 1960-70s. But sadly most the popular singers in that era were executed during the genocide. We have popular singers after Khmer Rouge, Mr Prep Sovath, Mr Khemarak Serymon, Ms Ouk Sokunkanha, Ms Meas Soksophea and more.
What documents are needed to enter Cambodia?
You need a passport valid for at least six (6) months from the expiration date. Most travels can apply for a visa on arrival at the Cambodia border checkpoint or International airport. But for Rustic Pathways participants, I would recommend applying the E-visa before arriving in the country. This way the group can avoid the long queue at the airport. Our country team can send the website link before the travel date. The participants can print the visa page out and show the immigration officers.
How do people dress in Cambodia?
In general, Cambodians dress modestly and as polite visitors, we will dress accordingly. We must show respect at all times, particularly when touring and when in rural communities. If you arrive and your clothing is deemed unacceptable by your program leaders, you’ll have to purchase appropriate clothing.
Appropriate attire for service projects:
- Shorts: Basketball-style only; no running or soccer-style shorts. The rule of thumb is that the bottom of the shorts should be approaching the kneecap.
- Loose-fitting pants and capris: Acceptable and preferred
- Tops: Shoulders must be covered – No tank tops or low cut shirts.
Appropriate attire for touring:
- Leggings or yoga pants: Only if paired with a long T-shirt.
- Loose-fitting pants, capris, and long skirts: Acceptable and preferred
- Tops: Shoulders must be covered – No tank tops or low cut shirts.
What are bathrooms like in Cambodia?
While in the cities, participants will be staying in hotels with modern flush toilets. In the village, the student will use the squat toilet. Our Program leader will demonstrate how to use it before we check in to the homestay or base house.
Can I drink the water?
You can not drink the tap water even in the big city. We have bottled water available all the times during the trip.
What are the local traditions or customs?
When greeting people or to show respect in Cambodia people do the “sampeah” gesture, identical to the Indian namaste and Thai wai.
In Khmer culture a person’s head is believed to contain the person’s soul–therefore making it taboo to touch or point your feet at it. It is also considered to be extremely disrespectful to point or sleep with your feet pointing at a person, as the feet are the lowest part of the body and are considered to be impure.
Traditional and Religion
Cambodia is predominantly Buddhist with 90% of the population being Theravada Buddhist, 1% Christian and the majority of the remaining population follow Islam, atheism, or animism.
The traditional wedding is a long and colorful affair. Formerly it lasted three days, but in the 1980s it more commonly lasted a day and a half. Buddhist priests offer a short sermon and recite prayers of blessing. Parts of the ceremony involve ritual hair cutting, tying cotton threads soaked in holy water around the bride’s and groom’s wrists, and passing a candle around a circle of happily married and respected couples to bless the union. After the wedding, a banquet is held. Newlyweds traditionally move in with the wife’s parents and may live with them up to a year, until they can build a new house nearby.
Birth and Death Rituals
The birth of a child is a happy event for the family. According to traditional beliefs, however, confinement and childbirth expose the family, and especially the mother and the child to harm from the spirit world.
Death is not viewed with the great outpouring of grief common to Western society; it is viewed as the end of one life and as the beginning of another life that one hopes will be better. Buddhist Khmer usually are cremated, and their ashes are deposited in a stupa in the temple compound.
Do I need a vaccine?
The Cambodia government does not need the traveler to show their Vaccination certificate, but I would recommend you check the CDC website for their recommended vaccine you need before arriving in Cambodia.
What are the accommodations like?
While in the cities, participants will be staying in hotels with modern amenities such as air conditioning and hot water.
While in our community service partner, participants will be staying at our base house or homestay, which is a traditional Khmer house nestled in a small local village. Here students will have a mattress on the floor with a mosquito net. Sleeping arrangements will be separated by gender. There will be a squat toilet, cold showers, and electricity.
Are there bugs?
Yes there are some bed bugs in Cambodia. In the past, with the accommodation that we use for the group, we never have any issue with that. And our program runs outside the area where the ticks present.
What time can I expect to be working on the service project?
For the time of the service project, the group will start around 8:30 am and finish at 11:30 for a lunch break and start again from 2 pm until 5 pm. There will be water breaks.
For village/homestays, where do students and teachers sleep?
Typically, Cambodia houses are built on stilts and have a big room, and a small room for the parent. So we arrange the big open room for students with the same gender and arrange the mattress for the teacher in the room.
For village/homestays, are the families we stay with background checked?
Yes, all the families for the village we do homestay are background checked. In some villages our host family were chosen by the Local Nonprofit Organization that ran the income generation project.
Will there be mosquito nets available? How do you manage mosquitos?
There will be mosquito nets available at our homestay or base house. In our med kit, we usually stock bug spray for the group to use. We recommend you bring your bug spray. Our program leader will remind all the participants to spray before doing activities or community service.
Can you accommodate dietary restrictions?
This program can accommodate vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, and other common dietary needs. Please make sure to include this in your medical forms so that our staff can prepare and we always recommend bringing along some of your favorite snacks!
Will we have any free time? What are good free-time activities?
The group will have free time during the trip. The group will have a chance to go swimming in the town if they do a homestay or base house program. Play a group game with the children in the village, go to do the aerobic dance with the local people, and the night market in Siem Reap if the group does the temple visit for the end of the program.
How do you all get around?
We will use the 10-seat van to get around. Normally we have our team member or chaperone sit with the student.
Can you manage large groups? How does that work for sustainable service?
Yes, we can manage the large group. In the past 5 years, we ran the program for Kellet International School in Hong Kong, There are 100 students plus 10 chaperones. We ran this group as two big groups and reversed their itinerary for arrival and departure. We have enough service projects for each student to work on with 5 different community service sites.
Pannha is a graduate of the National University of Management in Phnom Penh where he received his Master’s in Business Administration. Known for his gentle-hearted nature and quick smile, Pannha hails from humble roots in Kandal province. His inspiring work ethic has shined brightly over the past seven years. When he is not hard at work behind the scenes organizing our Cambodia program operations, he enjoys playing volleyball. Fluent in both English and Khmer, Pannha is a tremendous asset to Rustic Pathways and proud manager of our local staff team in Cambodia.