Cambodia officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia is a sovereign state located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is 181,035 square kilometres (69,898 square miles) in area, bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast, Vietnam to the east, and the Gulf of Thailand to the southwest.
Cambodia has a population of over 15 million. The official religion is Theravada Buddhism, practised by approximately 95 percent of the population. The country’s minority groups include Vietnamese, Chinese, Chams, and 30 hill tribes. The capital and largest city is Phnom Penh, the political, economic, and cultural centre of Cambodia. The kingdom is an elective constitutional monarchy with Norodom Sihamoni, a monarch chosen by the Royal Throne Council, as head of state. The head of government is Hun Sen, who is currently Prime minister and the longest serving non-royal leader in Southeast Asia and has ruled Cambodia for over 30 years since 1985.
Cities of Cambodia:
- Phnom Penh — the capital, just south of the geographical center of the country
- Banlung — far northeastern provincial capital located near some great waterfalls and national parks
- Battambang — the second biggest town of Cambodia
- Kampot — town between the capital and Sihanoukville and gateway to the Bokor National Park
- Koh Kong — small border crossing town near the Thai border
- Kompong Thom — access to less well known (and less crowded) ancient temples and other sites
- Kratie — relaxed river town in the north-east on the Mekong, and an excellent place to get a close look at endangered river dolphins
- Siem Reap — the access point for Angkor Wat
- Sihanoukville — seaside town in the south, also known as Kompong Som
- Angkor Archaeological Park — home of the imposing ruins of ancient Khmer civilization
- Bokor National Park — ghostly former French hill resort
- Kampong Cham — nice countryside village on the Mekong river and good place to meet real Cambodia
- Kep — a seaside area which pre-dates Sihanoukville as the main beach resort in Cambodia; slowly being re-discovered by travellers
- Krek — a small village on the backpacker trail between Kratie and Kampong Cham
- Koh Ker — more ancient ruins, north of Angkor
- Otres Village — a small village close to Sihanokville noted for its beach sunsets and mangrove river system.
- Poipet — gritty border town that most overland visitors to Angkor pass through
- Preah Vihear — cliff-top temple pre-dating Angkor
- Tonle Sap Lake — huge lake with floating villages and Southeast Asia’s premier bird sanctuary
All visitors, except citizens of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam need a visa to enter Cambodia. The official price for a tourist visa is USD35 or USD40 for an “ordinary visa” also known more commonly as “business visa”. Staff may try to charge more at some land border crossings: hold out for the official price, particularly at major crossings, but don’t be upset if you have to pay USD1-2 extra. The major difference between a tourist and an ordinary/business visa is that a tourist visa can only be extended once, for maximum 2 months of stay in Cambodia, whereas an ordinary/business visa can be extended for periods up to a year or more.
Visas can be obtained at Cambodian embassies or consulates. Visas are also available “on arrival” at both international airports, all six international border crossings with Thailand, some international border crossings with Vietnam, and at the main border crossing with Laos.
- Tourist visas: all are valid for one stay of up to 30 days. Those issued in advance expire 90 days after issue. In Phnom Penh (or elsewhere via agencies), tourist visas can be extended only once, allowing an additional 30 days at a cost of around USD30.
- Visa-E, Ordinary or Business visa – this is the best choice for those wishing to stay for over two months with multiple entries, as a business visa can be extended indefinitely (approximately USD155 per 6 month extension and USD290 per 12 month extension) and have multiple entry status when (and only when) extended. Most Phnom Penh travel agencies process the extensions. Foreign nationals of some countries from South Asia (including India) and Africa are recommended to apply for a Business visa at the Cambodian missions in their own countries as the conversion process from a Tourist visa to a Business visa within Cambodia can be expensive and annoyingly burdensome (c. USD200 for conversion from Tourist visa to Business visa and another USD285 for a one year extension). There is always some more commission involved if you are travelling from a developing country to the range of USD30-40. However, once you are in possession of a long-term Business Visa, travel into and out of the country is very convenient and painless.
To apply for a visa, you will need one or two (depending on where you apply) passport-size photo(s), a passport which is valid for at least 6 months and has at least one completely blank visa page remaining, passport photocopies when applying at some embassies/consulates (not needed if applying on arrival), and clean US$ notes with which to pay the fee (expect to pay a substantially higher price if paying in a local currency). If you don’t have a passport photo at visa on arrival in Phnom Penh airport (and possibly other entry points), they will scan in the one on your passport for $3 in cash (no receipt given). It’s best to carry some USD with you. There is no exchange office, but there are a couple of ATMs next to the Visa-on-arrival desks at Phnom Penh airport – all charge $5 extra on top of what you withdraw.
Overstaying in Cambodia is dodgy. If you make it to Immigration and are fewer than 10 days over, you’ll probably be allowed out with a fine of KHR50,000 (USD12.50) per day. However, if, for any reason, you’re caught overstaying by the police, you’ll be carted off to the notoriously unpleasant illegal immigrant holding pens and may be blacklisted from Cambodia entirely. For most people it’s not worth the risk: get a legal extension or do a visa run to the nearest border instead.
Extending a Visa
While it is technically possible to extend your visa by going to the immigration authority next to Pochentong airport, it is highly recommended that you use the services of one of the numerous agents that offer this. The commission they charge is likely to be lower than the cost of taking a tuk-tuk to immigration and back, and, in addition, you are likely to save many hours, since these agents have the process streamlined. Nearly all guest houses will handle a visa extension for you, and you will receive your passport back in a couple of days.
If you don’t like dealing with shady looking small time agents you can use the long stretch between Wat Phnom and Independence Monument to look for a decent looking company. Again the prices are streamlined so everyone’s offer should be almost the same.