Cash is King – and the US dollar is everywhere. Apart from the airport or the Villa Paradiso, its hard to find anyone who will accept your card. Many hotels, restaurants, and shops will only accept payment in cash. While the official national currency is the riel, most prices are posted in US dollars and change will be given in both paper varieties. If you are running low, many ATMs will dispense US dollars. On islands like Koh Rong Sanloem, only cash is accepted and there are no banks or ATMs.
Remove Your Shoes – when you enter a private home, religious space, and some businesses. Even on the islands I needed to take my shoes off before entering any of the huts or public spaces. My sandals had an ankle strap, and if I had it to do over, I’d get something that was easier to slip on and off.
English is Everywhere – but don’t assume everyone speaks it. The majority of people you come across seem to speak a few words in english (numbers, basic pleasantries, etc), but you quickly learn that doesn’t mean you can communicate. The very few words I learned in Khmer were invaluable for getting around and bargaining. If you can only remember one, make it thank you. An “Awe Koon” goes a long way.
Bring your Northern European 2 prong plug adaptor – because the one marked for Asia region won’t work. As a former french colony, the European influence hasn’t completely disappeared. Besides architecture from years gone by, the electric system uses round 2 prong plugs and not the flat 3 prong plugs you’ll find in other neighboring countries.
Drink Water – even when you think you’re not thirsty. The heat and humidity in southeast Asia are no joke. Bottled water is easy to get and inexpensive. Alternately, go for what the locals drink: count water or sugar cane juice. You can find carts all over offering these specialties for $1 or less. I didn’t even realize until I got back that I spent the entire week at least partially dehydrated.
A Scarf or pashmina – is the national accessory. You’ll see plenty of locals with scarfs around their necks or heads as blocking the sun actually helps you feel cooler. Both the pashmina I brought and the scarf I purchased at the Russian Market saw continuous use. They’re also good for visiting religious sites where you need to cover your shoulders.
Avoid KTV – (Karaoke Television) even if you adore karaoke. The name is deceptive, as these are largely fronts for sex tourism. They’re only open at night and I passed many on way to the airport. Girls dressed to sell were sitting in red plastic chairs in the entrance waiting to be chosen by an incoming customer. If you absolutely need to sing along to your favorite Styx song, do it in your hotel.
Did I miss something? Share your tips in the comments below!