After months of fighting the pandemic with lockdowns and vaccine rollouts, many countries have stabilised their epidemiological situation and are slowly reopening their borders once again.
The first few countries in Southeast Asia that announced plans to reopen were Singapore, Thailand, and certain provinces in Vietnam.
Now, Cambodia is joining its neighbours with a reopening plan of its own. The country is starting off with a small pilot project, which currently includes a handful of designated areas, that is designated to gauge the situation. If all goes well, the country will fully reopen in several stages.
This is great news for intrepid travellers who are planning to apply for a visa for Cambodia from the USA and want to trek through its national parks, see the majestic Angkor Wat, and enjoy the country’s rich culture.
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The current situation in Cambodia
Although Cambodia is still fairly off the beaten path compared to its neighbours, its tourism sector was greatly impacted by the pandemic.
Before the coronavirus took hold of the world, Cambodia received more than 6.5 million visitors that accounted for almost $5 billion in revenue. Out of those, 2.6 million visitors visited Cambodia’s most famous attraction, Angkor Wat! However, that number sharply dropped to only 1.3 million visitors in 2020, and revenues sunk to about $1 billion.
The country has managed to effectively fight the pandemic until March of this year, when cases began rising and hit an all-time peak of 1,130 new cases on June 30.
After a widespread vaccination rollout — 90 per cent of the population has one vaccine, and 85 per cent are fully-vaccinated — daily cases have dropped to the low 100s.
Cambodia’s reopening plan
Cambodia launched its reopening program on November 30 with two seaside provinces: Sihanoukville and Koh Kong (which includes the extremely popular Dara Sakor).
Although details are scarce and the program is still in development, there is some information that is already known about Cambodia’s reopening.
To enter Cambodia under its reopening scheme, visitors must be fully vaccinated; take out appropriate travel insurance that will cover the cost of treatment for COVID-19; test negative before departure and after arrival.
Travellers will need to start their Cambodian vacation with a 5-day stay at one of the designated locations before they are allowed to visit other parts of the country. Otherwise, they will be required to quarantine.
If the program is successful, Cambodia’s Tourism Ministry stated that other destinations will be added to the approved list, with the goal of opening the entire country once the pandemic is under control.
After Sihanoukville and Koh Kong, the province of Siem Reap (home to the famous Angkor Wat temples) is expected to open to tourists in January.
What to see and do in Cambodia
If you’d like to take advantage of the reopening and see Cambodia for yourself — or simply want to do a bit of armchair travel for the time being — there are plenty of amazing sights in the country.
Perhaps the most popular attraction in the entire country is Angkor Wat. In fact, it’s so famous that its silhouette is on the national flag! As one of the biggest religious structures in the world (by land area), Angkor Wat was originally built in the 12th century and features more than a thousand buildings spread over 400 acres.
For something a little more off the beaten path, head over to northeast Cambodia and take part in the Elephant Valley Project. This program was developed by an NGO that helps rehabilitate elephants, conserve their natural habitat and support locals who are part of the program. One of the best things about the program is that travellers can walk around the complex with a local guide, who introduces each elephant and gives a little background on their story.
In the heart of the country is Phnom Penh, the capital and largest city in Cambodia. Thanks to its location, Phnom Penh’s involvement in Cambodia’s history has led to many beautiful buildings, including the Royal Palace of Phnom Penh. This magnificent complex once served as the residence of the head of state, although today some parts have been opened to the public.
After a long day of sightseeing and learning more about Cambodia, it’s time to refuel with some local cuisine.
The dishes of Cambodia can be considered a tourist attraction in their own right, especially since everything is made from local ingredients, diverse, and most importantly, delicious.
The most famous dish across all of Cambodia is amok, a type of steamed fish curry. It can be found in virtually every restaurant and cafe, and it is believed that amok was even a favourite dish of the royal Khmer family!
Most Cambodian dishes will usually include a type of meat (the most popular being chicken or fish) along with a side of rice or noodles. However, vegans and vegetarians shouldn’t worry, as the two biggest cities, Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, are very vegetarian-friendly.
To finish off their meal, Cambodians will usually opt for the most famous dishes across Southeast Asia (mango sticky rice), or enjoy a local favourite: rolled banana cake, which is also eaten during festivals.
Where to go next?
While most Asian countries are still on the backfoot after the new omicron variant and are taking baby steps to reopen, a few are planning to do it systematically and slowly. Thailand has announced Exemption from Quarantine (TEST & GO) entry rules from 16 December 2021 which include indian tourists. Also, The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) has launched the the 7 Greens Concept to promote environment friendly safe and sustainable travel for all – residents, travellers and business partners.
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