Cambodia might be one of Southeast Asia’s smaller countries, but it’s packed with the heritage and architecture of several cultures. From steamy jungles and temple ruins to the bustling city of Phnom Penh, there’s a lot to absorb.

You’ll find fewer more welcoming people than the Cambodians. With their war torn past firmly behind them, Cambodia has become one of Southeast Asia’s must see destinations. No longer just the preserve of adventurous backpackers, the country has much to offer everyone. From the two main railways running through the country that are of great interest to rail enthusiasts, to the famed temple complexes of Angkor Wat left by the Khmer Empire, Cambodia will surprise you at every turn. You’ll find tropical beaches, dense jungles teaming with wildlife and Tonle Sap, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. Then there’s the mighty Mekong river, the lifeblood of Cambodia, a water highway teeming with activity that divides the country in two.

Venture into its capital Phnom Penh and you’ll find yourself in a frenzied world of strange and exotic tastes and smells, streets bustling with rickshaws, bicycles and motor scooters.

For history enthusiasts, Cambodia’s past, not just its Khmer heritage, but more recently the dark periods associated with the despotic regime of Pol Pot, will leave you wondering how the Cambodian people made it through those dark times and emerged as one of the most warm and welcoming people in all of Southeast Asia.

Cambodia shutterstock 1163637748

Cambodia at a glance

cambodia Tonle sap

Capital: Phnom Penh
Language: Khmer
Money: Riel, USD
Travel advice:

Tipping: Tips are not expected, but given the low wages, they are always appreciated.

  • New Year’s Day – January 1
  • Victory Day – January 7
  • International Women’s Day – March 8
  • Khmer New Year – April 14 to April 16
  • Labour Day – May 1 to May 2
  • King Norodom Sihamoni’s Birthday – May 14
  • Visak Bochea Day – May 15
  • Royal Ploughing Ceremony – May 19
  • Queen Mother’s Birthday – June 18
  • Constitution Day – September 24
  • Pchum Ben – September 24 to September 27
  • Commemoration of late King Father – October 15
  • King Norodom Sihamoni’s Coronation Day – October 29
  • Bon Om Touk- November 7 to November 9
  • Independence Day – November 9

Chom reap sour ( formal Hello), Susadei (informal Hello), Soksaby (How are you and I am fine), Chom reap lear (formal goodbye), Lear hi (informal Goodbye), Bah & Jah (Yes, male, female forms), Ot teh (no), Arkun (Thank you).

Exploring Cambodia

cambodia shutterstock 766320859

Many tourists visit Cambodia to explore the expansive ruins of the famed temple complex of Angkor Wat. If you saw the movie Tomb Raider (Lara Croft), then you may recognise some of the ruins featured as that movie was filmed in Angkor Wat. Built during the Khmer Empire, Angkor was the empire’s power centre and at one time thought to have had a population over up to a million inhabitants. Angkor is large and at one time appears to have covered around 1100 square miles. Angkor Wat is what remains of the best preserved religious temple of Angkor.

Cambodia has seen significant periods of sustained wars and troubled times, where the country has been virtually pulled apart by Vietnam and Siam (what is now Thailand). The French eventually stamped their mark on Cambodia after the then King Norodom sought protection from Siam, when in 1867 a treaty was signed with France in exchange for Siam’s control of Battambang and Siem Reap. This was eventually ceded back to Cambodia in 1907. Cambodia remained a French protectorate until 1953, when it gained independence.

While the country faced many dramatic events through the sixties and seventies, due the activities of communists and the US Vietnam war, it’s perhaps the reign of terror by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1978 that most people will recall. It was the targeting of ethnic minorities, intellectuals, religious institutions and anything western that led to the killing of around two million people and from which the term ‘killing fields’ arose.

Multi-ethnicity is a feature of Cambodia and heavily influences its cuisine. As such you’ll not only find the influence of Vietnam, Thailand but also the influence of Indian, Chinese and French cuisine. However, Khmer cuisine relates exclusively to the cuisine of the Khmer people and centres on traditional foods such as rice, local fish and vegetables.

Cambodia’s national dish is Amok trey, a coconut fish curry. As you might expect, it is highly fragrant and spicy, but a must try. People ask if Cambodian cuisine is similar to Thai food. While spices and ingredients are shared and create a similarity, Cambodian dishes tend to use less coconut, sugar and chilli.

Other Cambodia dishes to try include: Kuyteav khor ko – a noodle soup with stewed beef and flat noodles; Num banhchok, a breakfast soup, koh kong coconut/pineapple curry, bai sach chrouk (pork and rice), kari sach moan (chicken red curry), kha sach ko (beef stewed in palm sugar).

Dehydration in Cambodia is a serious issue, and so water is your best friend. However, Cambodia produces its own beer under three brands – Anchor, Angkor and Cambodia. You’ll find a range of popular foriegn brands too. Another popular refreshing drink to try is sugar cane juice and can be found at numerous street sellers. Also try a fresh coconut, often sold from the back of a pulled cart – the seller will simply slice the top off with a machete and hand it to you – very refreshing and great to protect against dehydration. If you love coffee, try Cambodia’s sweet iced coffee, made with condensed milk. Cambodian coffee is very strong in caffeine, so be warned.

It’s a tropical country so you can expect three types of weather: hot, wet, hot and wet. However, visiting between November and April  is best as this is when there’s lower rainfall and slightly cooler temperatures. That said, with global warming surprising us at every turn, expect the unexpected, as temperatures are generally warming up in this region.

Synthetic materials make it easy to quickly wash and dry clothes. Wear light, loose, breathable clothing. Wear a hat to ward off the sun. Keep a very lightweight raincoat with you or rely on a good umbrella. You’ll probably do a lot of walking, so while flip-flops may be tempting, you’re probably better off with  lightweight walking shoes that will dry easily.

Recent renovation efforts by the Cambodian government and aided by regional development banks, has seen the return to use of Cambodia’s two main railway lines. This metre gauge rail network stretches around 380 miles across two lines. One line travels from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville which returned to service in 2016, and the other from Phnom Penh to Poipet on the border with Thailand on which passenger services resumed in 2019.

Royal Cambodian Railways which connects with railways in Thailand and Vietnam, runs over 242 miles and has around 19 locomotives, combined diesel and diesel electric, although Royal Cambodian was supposed to purchase a Diesel-hydraulic locomotive in 2019.

Don’t be surprised if you come across the famous ‘Bamboo Railway’ or norry / lorries’ as the locals refer to it. These are popular in the Northwest of Cambodia around Battambang. Essentially, it’s a set of two detached wheeled axles covered by a deck of bamboo. It’s powered by whatever the locals can get working, often air-cooled petrol engines (electric generator engines). It becomes fun when one ‘norry’ meets another, as etiquette requires the cart with fewer passengers to lift the ‘norry’ off the tracks to let the other pass.

  • A Cambodian Prison Portrait: Vann Nath
  • The Sea Wall: Marguerite Duras
  • The Lost Executioner: Nic Dunlop
  • Angkor and the Khmer Civilization (Ancient Peoples and Places): Michael D. Coe
  • When The War Was Over: Elizabeth Becker

Why choose PTG Tour’s escorted rail tours through Cambodia

  • Established in 1998, PTG has evolved into a leading tour agency offering rail-based holidays with a focus on culture and heritage.
  • You can choose from a diverse product range, based on your preference and budget.
  • Your escorted rail tour comes with a professional tour leader who will take great care of you, plus local guides when applicable.
  • All hotels and restaurants included in your package are vetted and approved by the local teams.
  • You can travel in confidence as all of our tours are ATOL and ABTA protected.