To all those questions you have when you first arrive here.
Can you drink the water from the tap?
Yes, the water is treated here, courtesy of the Japanese, so you may not get sick, at least here in Phnom Penh, but you may not like the taste. Outside the city, all bets are off!
What currency is used here in Cambodia?
Generally US dollars, except where you would normally use coins when the local riel is used (4000 = $1). There are exceptions, such as when you pay your electricity bill directly to the municipal utility, which must be paid in riel exclusively. Try and have plenty of small denominated bills as $5 is a lot of money here, so changing a large note can be a chore.
What is the rule of thumb when hiring a tuk-tuk/moto?
Roughly $1 a kilometre, 2000 riel for anything under. Motos are usually half the price of tuk-tuks. The further you go, however, the cheaper the kilometre rate. $10 for a full day is a generous rate (remember the monthly minimum wage is only $54!). $10 from the city to the airport is standard – because they will need to make the return journey after dropping you off. A little generosity will go a long way but don’t be a mug or they will quickly conclude all foreigners are.
What is the rule of thumb when bargaining at the market?
Generally offer them half what they ask but be prepared to settle at around two-thirds.
These are ubiquitous here in the Penh. In particular, ANZ’s Blue Spot ATMs are easy enough to find (look for the sign). Out in the provinces, Acleda Bank’s ATMs are in most villages. Remember, however, that foreigners are not infrequently mugged at night after visiting ATMs!
Electricity in Cambodia is 230 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travelled here (i.e. from the US) with a device that does not accept 230 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter or you will fry your appliance. Outlets in Cambodia generally accept 3 types of 2-pin plug (which excludes an earth!), so bring an adaptor if your computer has a 3-pin plug. Electricity Rates in Phnom Penh: klw/riel range is between 700 and 1,000 riel, with 800 seemingly the median price.
Fairly widely spoken by many locals here in Phnom Penh but less so in the provinces. French is, ‘quelle horreur’, less common – much to the chagrin of the local Francophone community.
Cambodia has a comparatively free and vibrant press but the government can be highly sensitive to what it regards as a slight, which may seem like the obvious truth to you. Discretion is the better part of valour.
Many locals may struggle with the idea and happily accept standards far below yours. Regard it as an opportunity to give your immune system a serious workout. Chances are that you may suffer a bit when you first arrive but, once you have adjusted to the local bugs, things eventually come right.
You may not have to worry too much about malaria here in the city but out in the country, it’s a different story. However, the Aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the dengue virus is now common here in town, so be careful during daylight hours when it is about. Especially dangerous for kids. If you think you have it, don’t mess about, see a doctor.
An excellent idea. Make sure it includes provision to medivac you out of the country if necessary!
Japanese B Encephalitis
Is endemic here in Cambodia and a major cause of child mortality. The vector is usually pigs. Inoculation is done with a live version of the virus just underneath the skin, usually on the shoulder, and the site often becomes very sore and may fester, needing to be monitored very carefully. If you are confident that your children will never visit rural areas where pigs are raised (and these can be pretty close to the city), you may risk skipping inoculation, but otherwise it is strongly advised to get it done. For more information, check here.
Losing your temper is regarded as demonstrating a child-like lack of self-control and that you are not really someone to be taken seriously. Remaining cool, calm and collected wins brownie-points with the locals. Remember, this is their country. You are a visitor. Try and be polite. Causing them to lose face can have potentially catastrophic consequences – for you!
Two thousand riel to a dollar will usually do it in a bar or restaurant. It is not advised to give money to beggars. Buy them something to eat instead.
Be careful with your iPhone and other gadgets. Many “international” warranties are not honoured if something goes wrong with them here in Cambodia.
Yes, this is the tropics and is it hot almost all of the year. Light cotton clothes that breathe are recommended. Showering often is smart and deodorants are a must – unless you don’t mind stinking out your colleagues!
What to do if you get into trouble with the locals.
Stay calm and always appear reasonable. Don’t allow it to seem that you are not in control of the situation. When someone insists that a gratuity will make the problem go away, smile and insist equally firmly that someone from your embassy will sort out the difficulty. If involved in a car accident, immediately call your insurance agent and let him sort it out.
The Black Lexus
Is not the national bird of Cambodia, despite being ubiquitous here, it the Giant Ibis (“Pseudibis gigantean”), known in Khmer as “Tror Yorng or Kangor Yak or Aov Loeuk”. The Lexus, meanwhile, is a member of the Accipitridae family – commonly known as vultures.