Health Advice for Cambodia

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Health Advice for Cambodia

Cambodia, one of the world's poorest countries, lacks reliable medical facilities, doctors, clinics, hospitals and medication, especially in rural areas. Even the popular Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh kills its fair share of patients. Any serious problem should be dealt with in Bangkok or Singapore, which boast first rate services (at least to those who can afford them). Repatriation is also more easily arranged from either of those cities. Make sure your insurance covers medical evacuation. The private and pricey Thai-owned Royal Rattanak Hospital in Phnom Penh can be trusted for emergency medical care and can treat most diseases and injuries common to the region. Naga Clinic has branches in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. It is also clean, safe and useful for minor conditions. Phnom Penh's long-serving British doctor Gavin Scott, who is also a tropical medicine expert, has an excellent reputation among expats.

Local hospitals and clinics vary from mediocre to frightening. Expect dirt, poor equipment, expired medicines and placebos of flour and sugar.

In local clinics don't let them put anything in your blood: treat dehydration orally and not with a drip, as there is a risk of septicemia (bacterial blood poisoning). The same goes for blood transfusions.

No health certificates or vaccinations are officially required for entry to Cambodia, unless arriving directly from Africa. However, consult a doctor a few weeks before leaving home for up-to-date advice on inoculations. Generally advised are shots against tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis B and meningitis, a polio booster and especially gamma globulin shots (against hepatitis A). Consider malaria tablets for trips to Cambodia of less than 30 days, though the most commonly visited places have minimal risk (see below). A mosquito net may also help. Mosquitoes swarm Siem Reap at dusk, imported (i.e. trusted) DEET based insect repellent is available in Cambodia.

The contents of a basic medical kit-such as panadol, antihistamines, antibiotics, kaolin, oral rehydration solution, calamine lotion, bandages and band-aids, scissors and DEET insect repellent-can be acquired in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. The particularly fastidious should put their kits together in Bangkok or Saigon before coming to Cambodia. There's no need to bother doing this before coming to Asia.

Phnom Penh is malaria free, and most major tourist attractions (including Siem Reap) are virtually malaria free. The biggest disease worry is mosquito-borne dengue fever which, although quite unpleasant, to say the least (it's called "break-bone fever" because of how it feels) generally isn't life-threatening for first-time victims.

The most common ailment for travelers is diarrhoea, which can deteriorate into dysentery, resulting in dehydration. Stay hydrated by trying to consume 2-3 litres of water per day and don't forget that dehydration can also be brought on by a lack of salt, soy sauce is your friend in this climate.

Avoid untreated water, ice made from untreated water and any raw fruit or vegetables that may have been washed in untreated water. Tap water is generally not drinkable, so avoid. The Phnom Penh supply is potable (strangely, it is one of the world's safest) but nonetheless few people trust it. Cheap bottled water is available in any town or village. Take water purification tablets or iodine to sterilize water if planning to visit more rural areas. Boiling water will also sterilize it without generating piles of waste plastic bottle waste or tainting the taste, however it will not remove arsenic or thermo tolerent coliforms such as E. coli which may be present in water acquired from ground wells or streams. The water in the jugs at cafes or restaurants will have been boiled, as obviously will have been the tea.

If you do get severe diarrhoea and become badly dehydrated, take an oral rehydration solution and drink plenty of treated water. However, a lot of blood or mucus in the stool can indicate dysentery, which requires a trip to a doctor for antibiotics.

April is the cruellest month: the weather is hottest (> 35 °C) in March and April, use sunscreen and wear a hat to avoid sunstroke.

Prostitutes of both sexes can carry many STDs. The official HIV rate among prostitutes is 34%.

There are millions of landmines leftover from the war years, remaining throughout Cambodia. These however present little threat to tourists as they have been removed from tourist areas. The major threat is to locals in very remote areas who are concerned with agriculture. It is important however if travelling to very remote areas to exercise caution.

Emergency Numbers are for Phnom Penh only: 722-353 Police, 723-555 Ambulance.

Stay Safe

Cambodia is a safe and friendly country, with the usual exception for large cities late at night, particularly Phnom Penh, and unobserved luggage or wallets. Bag snatching, even from those on bicycles and motorcycles, is a problem in Phnom Penh. Be discreet with your possessions, especially cash and cameras, and as always, take extra care in all poorly lit or more remote areas.

If you are renting a motorcycle it has been advised to purchase and use your own lock for securing it as some of the less scrupulous staff at rental companies have been known to use their copy of the key to steal bikes and leave the traveler paying the exceptionally high value estimation. Police assistance in many cases requires some "facilitation" money in a sort of bidding war between the victim and the criminal with "connections" complicating things further making recovery of the motorcycle difficult.

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