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Thursday, September 5, 2013

They do things differently - tips I wish I'd had prior to my Cambodia trip

I thought rather than bore you with some of the anecdotes that led to these tips, I would just put them down in an easy format for you. Cambodia is a wonderful country but if you're from the Western world you have to accept that things are very different from home.

1. Bring an adaptor. Sure, it seems obvious but you wouldn't believe how many people assume "the hostel" will have one. Some do, but the more off the beaten track you are, they probably won't. We were in a small bar on an island and approx 30 people were trying to charge their ipads, iphones etc with one adapter.
Voltage: 230 V; Plugs A & C* (Some outlets are a combination of type A and C and can accept either type plug. Plug G may be found in some hotels.)

2. Do take your malaria tabs before you go. I've actually heard people bragging about not taking them. Not big and not clever. Be wary that those tabs may affect your mood, so I wouldn't recommend taking them the day before going to S21 or the Killing Fields. You might cry endlessly or decide that you're going to go and destroy Pol Pot's grave. I didn't do either thankfully (my fellow travellers might argue that point!). S21 was pretty emotional anyway.

3. Realise that time is a very loose idea in Cambodia. If someone suggests that a bus trip will take 4 hours, bank on about 7. If they say you're going somewhere in a tuk-tuk about 40 minutes away, it will be at least double. Accept it. This is how it is. Thousands of travellers don't complain and neither should you.

4. If you do have extra cash it is sometimes worth it to take a taxi. Do haggle though and do have an idea of what you think is a fair price prior to doing the haggling. We got completely done travelling from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. We paid USD130 and later found out USD75 could have covered it.   Also, pay half first and half when you get there, otherwise  - again like us, you could end up having travel arrangements you didn't bargain on (Changing to another taxi with no question - could have been fatal! No A/C etc)

5. Always buy bottled water, use it for brushing your teeth, washing vegetables etc. Dengue is on the rise, and there is no cure. Although it doesn't affect foreigners as much, it is a waterborne disease, one silly mistake and you could find yourself with a very upset tummy indeed (not nice on a 7 hour bus journey!). Maybe I was a little paranoid by keeping my mouth closed in the shower but you never know!

6. About scams and paying too much. Most of the people are very nice and not out to scam you. If you think that something is overpriced or a scam then be polite and walk away. Remember that these people have to make a livelihood too. We were quite upset that we got totally ripped off pre-dawn at Ankor Wat. We paid for tea and bread rolls and thought it was a bit pricey only to find that half an hour later other stalls had opened selling things at half the price. There are alternatives - if your hostel has food available organise that in advance - ours did - it was an amazing hostel with great food and Phil is a super host/owner. You can also get breakfast if you stay on the temple tour after Ankor Wat, really reasonable and anything you want (Pancakes!).

7. Be wary of child prostitution. Everywhere you go you will see signage about hostels not allowing people to enter with minors. This is a real and serious problem in Cambodia, we saw it in Phnom Penh. Please report anything suspicious to the police. People should visit this country for it's beauty and nothing else. Also, in the markets in Phnom Penh I noticed there was normally an older girl who kept an eye on the younger children. If you can't find the police approach these girls, they are really grateful and ever vigilant.
The guys in the next hut definitely didn't obey no.3

8. Be respectful around religious monuments. This is a Buddhist country, take care not to stand with your back to Buddha's when taking photo's etc. Also, remember the whole area of Angkor Wat and the temples is sacred - dress appropriately (knees and shoulders covered).

9. Every guidebook will tell you not to give to beggars. To be honest, it's only encouraging them and keeping them out of employment. Alot of people will offer to be a guide and then expect some form of payment. There are places your money can do good. Check out Friend's Restaurant (and shop, and beauty training school!!) in Phnom Penh. The food is fabulous, unusual and portions are huge so don't order too much. Pop next door then for fabulous handmade gifts and you can get your nails done. We love, love, loved this place.

Overall, just be safe and enjoy. Take much with a grain of salt - this is not your country. Any questions - I'm happy to answer!