Cambodia recently passed the 2 million tourist arrivals threshold and the boom is just beginning. Get here soon, or you will miss one of Asia's great bargains as it moves up the cost stairway and becomes another Thailand. If you're seeing the problems between Cambodia and Thailand, don't worry, that's up on the Northern borders and less a threat than California fires to new Englanders. Angkor Wat is the great magnet, some say the greatest archaeological showcase in Asia. But there is so much more to Cambodia, especially in its capital city. Phnom Penh, dubbed in the past as the Paris of the East, has recently revitalized its parks with fountains and lights and spruced up its French colonial heritage buildings. It is a growing city where about a tenth of Cambodia's population live and the pace of life is just about right.
Start searching. Remember, Vietnam, Lao and Thailand are all packed into this corner of the world, so include at least one of these in your planning to get the most value for your travel dollar. Airlines have some great packages, too, as they fight harder for fewer passengers. Make sure you check out websites of Malaysian, Thai, and Singapore airlines. Of course, there are numerous Internet sites that offer trip reviews and tour packages.
Prepare travel requirements. All you need is a valid passport. Always make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months. You will get the visa application form at check-in or in the plane prior to landing. Be ready with your passport style photographs and your hotel or address of your local accommodation. Visa for single entry (allows you a month in Cambodia) will cost you $20. Do NOT overstay your Visa...it costs! You can extend it though for another month. There are other entry points, of course, as you can come by boat or land from Vietnam or Thailand. In some of these, you can get visas as well but often, it is a hassle. You can try getting an e-visa in http://www.tourismcambodia.com/. Some nationals may not require visas so check this website if you qualify.
Book your hotel. There are many places to stay at all levels of budget. You can get good value for $20-40 a night or blow the budget in the 5 Stars like Inter-Continental and Raffles Hotel Le Royal, one of Phnom Penh's oldest. Golden Gate, a family operated hotel, is just one example of clean and efficient spots. It offers great value for money as very good restaurants and bars abound in Street 278 and the surrounding area. Those strange creatures, the international consultants cluster here in droves. There is Comme a la Maison close by for those who like French cuisine and pastry (baguettes to die for), Garden Café, which is popular among women and vegetarians, Amok which will make you love local Khmer food and Romdeng, which is a training restaurant for street kids. Or you can also choose to stay in the heart of the tourist strip....Sisowath and enjoy the view of the river. You can try Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) or Bougainvillier. Both have great restaurants and there are plenty in the area serving all kinds of cuisine. Pachara which is an old colonial house serves Spanish food and all you can eat magnificent paella on Sundays.
Prepare your schedule. One full day must be spent in and around the Royal Palace and Museum. These are on the river bank and are just stunning. Walk around in the streets close by as you will see some galleries and ateliers where the Khmer artists carve traditional stone crafts. You can buy some original art at incredible prices, too. Roll them up in a tube and they fit easily into your carry-on. There are dozens of stores that sell the traditionally woven silk and cotton scarves. There are dozens of restaurants spilling out into the street and the range of food is amazing! Have a drink at the (FCC) Foreign Correspondents Club right at Sisowath (Riverside) and enjoy the meeting of the rivers and the constant traffic both in the rivers and the streets. Take a boat ride/dinner cruise up the Mekong. Amazingly inexpensive! Shop in Central Market and Russian Market. Even if you don't buy anything, it is quite an experience to just walk around and watch the market life. Russian Market is packed with tourists and this is where you can find the over-runs from the garment factories so Gap t-shirts, J Crew, the Children's Place, and Eddie Bauer pants abound. There are endless stacks of silk scarves, cushions, bags and accessories. Experience the night life. There are so many al fresco restaurants and bars where one can enjoy a drink and a pleasant evening without being harassed by beer girls and peddlers. Of course, for history buffs, the Toul Sleng Museum and Killing Fields are worth a visit.
Plan around Khmer celebrations. The Khmer New Year which is around mid-April is a joyous celebration as Khmers clean their homes, wear new clothes, play traditional games and offer food to the monks. They also scrub down the statues of their favorite monks. Another event worth watching is the Plowing Ceremony. This is the Cambodian traditional way of predicting weather, farming conditions and possible calamities. After the Royal Plowing procession the oxen are led to seven golden trays containing rice, corn, sesame seeds, beans, grass, water and wine. The fortune of the year ahead depends on which tray the oxen choose. Cambodians await the predictions resulting from this annual ritual and still hold strong faith in these.
And that's just Phnom Penh. Some people never leave...the pace of life and the excitement of this rebuilding capital seems to gather them. Come now while it's still a bit unique and VERY affordable.