Category: CamboTicket Team Blog

Hoi An Vietnam

Hoi An, a charming old town in Vietnam

Posted on: August 12th, 2017

Hoi An is a Unesco World Heritage city, with lot of cute Chinese-style shop houses telling the story of this once prosperous port town of the Champa empire. The old town makes a charming break from the typically Vietnamese roads, always crowded with traffic and noise. Here there are pleasant streets to walk around while enjoying the old architecture.

Typical front of an Assembly Hall.

Hoi An is an old city in Quang Nam province, with more than 2000 years of history. It was once crucial for trade during the Champa empire, the ancestor state of the ethnic group Cham. Nowadays their descendants are living between Cambodia and Vietnam.

It’s near the sea and well connected through the Thu Bon river, with a more cozy feeling than the nearby city of Danang. This is mainly due to its small pedestrian streets, very pleasant for a walk, especially in the evening, where the temperature is cooler and people lighten up many colorful Chinese lanterns – probably the main reason that contributes to the general charm from which this town is known.

During the day, renting a bicycle is a good option to explore the city and its surroundings!

To enjoy the old town you will have to pay an entrance ticket of 80.000 VND or 120.000 VND (respectively Vietnamese and foreigner prices).

It will give you access to five of the various attractions scattered on the streets of the old town. Some are old Chinese houses such as Quan Thang, Diep Dong Nguyen, Tan Ky, Phung Hung and Tran family chapel, others are beautiful (and sometimes very kitschy) assembly halls such as Quang Dong, Phuoc Kien, Trieu Chau and Hai Nam. There are also some museums, namely the museum of history and culture, the museum of folk culture, the museum of trade ceramics, and the museum of Sa Huynh culture. Check the map to see the addresses and choose the five attractions where you want to use your ticket.

Hoi An Vientam

Colors in the walls in the old town.

Probably the most famous feature of Hoi An is the Chinese-style shop houses’s aarchitecture, not really part of the local community anymore (which sold most of them to tourism businesses) but at least still a pretty picture of the old Chinese influence in this town. Being near the sea and having such a huge trade importance for the Champa empire, the city was exposed to many external influences. The major ones were from China, as you can notice from the typical Chinese architecture of the shops in the main roads, and people from Arabic countries, who slowly converted the Cham people from Hinduism to Islam. Nevertheless, the Muslim culture is hard to see here. Some places like Kampong Chhnang or Kampong Cham in Cambodia better to dig into their culture and lifestyle.

Nevertheless, the city has many influences. For instance in terms of spirituality which is an eclectic mix of Buddhism, worshiping of Chinese deities and animist practices. Japanese influences are also visible: don’t miss the photogenic Chua Cau, better known as Japanese Bridge.

Hoi An Vietnam

The river that passes in Hoi An.

You can also cross the Thu Bon river and visit the islands of An Hoi and Cam Nam. Perfect for your evening strolls lighten up by the colorful lanterns spread along the river and nearby streets.

If you are interested in shopping, go beyond the somehow bland businesses of clothes or shoes and beware of people trying to advise you on where to go. They are certainly doing it for the commission they’ll receive afterwards!

Also the city is quite famous for its ability to produce clones of your clothes. Practice your bargaining skills and go to one of the countless tailors in town!

If you want to escape shopping, rent a bicycle and explore the surrounding villages. Many of them with interesting handicraft traditions and definitely more genuine products, like wood-carving, ceramic, skillful carpentry and bronze making. Check your map to find, for instance, Tra Que Vegetable village, Thanh Ha pottery village and Kim Bong carpentry village. Other places to visit are Bay Mau coconut forest, Cham island and the tombs of old Japanese traders.

Hoi An Vietnam

Fields on the surrounding of the city (the wheat for the white roses must come from somewhere!)

And, of course, don’t forget to try some of the local delicacies! For example the Hoi An-style chicken rice (locally known as Com Ga), the quang noodles, white rose (special shrimp dumplings to dip in an unique sauce, called banh bao vac by the locals) and the Cao Lau. This is the signature dish of the city, with pork and yellow noodles, crispy croutons and vegetables. The main secret? The water used in the dish must come from one of ancient wells in town.

One last note, before going to Hoi An check the lunar calendar. Every 14th and 15th motorbikes can not enter in the old town, and they organize a full moon festival on 14th night, including many cultural activities and folk games where local people celebrate the old prosperity of the city. Try to plan your trip for that time of the month!

Hoi An Vietnam

A random tree with small Chinese lanterns.

There are many reasons to go visit the charming old town of Hoi An. An evening strolls near the canals and the colorful Chinese lanterns are images that will always stay in your memory.

Have a look on Camboticket website for tickets to Ho Chi Minh, a great place to start your Vietnamese trip. From there you can then make your way up along the coast to Hoi An!

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Visa in Cambodia

Travelling or Living in the Kingdom – Visa in Cambodia, all you need to know!

Posted on: August 9th, 2017

Bureaucracy sometimes can be one of the biggest barriers to get out of your comfort zone and explore the world. The uncertainty of not having a job or another way of receiving a stable income can be frightening for some. The cultural shock or the difficulty in understanding the language and local procedures can be a challenge. Adding to these the hardships of bureaucracy is a bit too much.

Hopefully this article will help you! It is the first one of a series trying to clarify some of the most common questions if you want to travel or live in Cambodia. This first one is about the visa policies, so without further ado let’s jump right in…

 

 

 

 

If you come as a traveler from Europe, tourist visa can be purchased on arrival at the airport or land border crossing for 30 USD. You just need to have a passport valid at least for six months and one free page. Also don’t forget to bring one passport-sized photo to the immigration counter. In alternative, you can also arrange it before-hand in any Cambodian embassy for the same price, or online for 40 dollars on this government website. This type of visa is valid for one month, single entry, and can be extended only once for another month. It costs 45 dollars in most of the agents dealing with visa extensions.

Are you from a country in Southeast Asia? Then you can actually get this one month tourist visa for free. Except for Thais who get only two weeks, Filipinos who get three weeks, and Burmese who get to go through the normal process as every other country.

If you are originally from Nigeria, Sudan, Sri Lanka or most of the countries in Middle East we have bad news. Since no agreement for visa on arrival was made you will have to get a visa in advance in a Cambodian embassy.

In case you are planning to stay longer to be able to travel to more places, relaxing in one of the many chilling spots in the country (for instance Kampot or the islands will be difficult to abandoned after just a few days), the best option is to go for the e-class visa.

It’s actually only five dollars more than the tourist visa, and with the possibility of longer extensions. So for 35 USD you will be able to extend indefinitely for one, three, six or twelve months. The six and twelve months extensions have also the advantage of being multiple entries. You will have the chance to travel to nearby countries such as Thailand and Vietnam.

In order to renew your e-class visa, the best way is to go to one of the many agents in any town. They will take care of the process for you in exchange of a fee. Expect to pay around 50 dollars for one month visa extension, 80 for three months, from 150 to 200 dollars for a six months, and 260 to 300 dollars for a one year visa extension.

While before there was just one kind of e-class, this year were introduced four different sub-types of this visa:

  • EB – for the ones wanting to work in Cambodia, start a business, freelancing, etc.
  • EG – theoretically for people looking for a job (the only sub-type not allowing 12 months visa)
  • ER – a retirement visa for the ones with paperwork from their home country stating their retired status
  • ES – a student visa, you will have to show some proof that you will be attending school or university in Cambodia

If you come to work for a NGO, you can get a b-class visa which is free. However, since it is only available for some NGOs, better to ask your new employer for details.

Hope this article helped you understand a little bit better how visas in this country work.

Stay tuned for more tips on how to travel or live in Cambodia! And, of course, don’t be afraid to check on internet for further questions. There are a lot of forums and groups on Facebook for expats living in the Kingdom where you’ll get answers to your questions. Happy travels!

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vietnam culture

Vietnam culture and religion are rich and complex – discover them while travelling!

Posted on: August 2nd, 2017

With ancient culture and many centuries of history, costumes, rituals, traditions and spiritual practices in Vietnam are extremely rich and complex. The main religion is a branch of Buddhism called Mahayana, with many influences from Chinese culture, including Taoism and Confucianism. Besides that, there is still a strong presence of ancient folk traditions. So with a melting pot as complex and rich as this, there is definitely a lot to explore in terms of culture and religion in Vietnam!

vietnam culture

As much arms as Vietnam has influences in its religion and culture.

While Buddhism came from India (it started around 2500 years ago with Prince Siddhartha, but only came to Vietnam in the second century BC), Confucianism and Taoism arrived in the country with Chinese immigrants, when Vietnam was a colony of China (111 BC to 938 AD).

They were all mixed in Buddhism that became the official religion during the Ly dynasty of 1010 to 1214. Confucianism brought the social order and hierarchies, the notion of loyalty and morality. In fact it is focusing a lot on obligations to others such as family, society and authorities.

In the opposite spectrum, Taoism is all about freedom from conventions and following the effortless flux of nature. It’s about the harmony between everything, simplicity and the ability to be patient and let things following their natural course. Morals are replaced by the belief that everything has a positive and a negative side, light and darkness, male and female energies. Remember that yin and yang symbol that is nowadays so cliché in stickers, t-shirts or tattoos? 🙂

Vietnam culture

Incense burning in a temple in Hanoi.

The co-existence of these three religions is called ‘tam giáo’, or the three teachings. Buddhism is the organized religion that most people in Vietnam identify with (the majority identify themselves with the folk religions but we will cover this later!). One of the particularities of Vietnamese Buddhists compared to other Asian countries Buddhism is the love for Quan Am, a female bodhisattva (a kind of saint in Buddhism, someone who dedicates his or her life to uplift the life of others). She was famous for her compassion and you will notice many statues in her honor, some of them quite huge! Another venerable figure is Thich Nhat Hanh. This Vietnamese monk brought Buddhist culture in western countries and wrote many books, making his philosophy very popular and spreading Buddha’s message of peace and love.

Monks are people too!

Other small religions that co-exist in the country are:

  • Islam: especially practiced by people from the Cham ethnic group, existing also in Cambodia;
  • Christianism: introduced in the 16th century by Portuguese, Spanish and French missionaries, namely the Jesuits. Ho Chi Minh has spectacular examples of Christian architecture. For instance the Cathedral of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception inspired by the Notre Dame in Paris;
  • Caodaism, a recent religion, around 100 years old, based in South Vietnam. It tries to be a synthesis of many religions such as Christianism, Buddhism and Confucianism. A lot of personalities that we normally don’t link to Religion are considered saints: Victor Hugo, Joan d’Arc, Shakespeare, Pasteur and Lenin.

Last but not least, Vietnam still has very present its old folk traditions. This is the spiritual practice majority of population identify with, often mixing it with the organized religion. Besides a Buddhist temple, every village has a community house, ‘dinh’, where elders meet and spirits rest. Mediums or astrologers fill the markets, and people often consult them before taking decisions in their lives. This is still not recognized as a state religion and faced great repression under the communist governments. However, this type of animism still thrives in the imagination of Vietnamese people. They believe more in spirits (for instance the thần) than in the gods of the organized religions.

Vietnam culture

Small shrine with offerings to the spirits.

In a reportage for National Geographic, a Vietnamese man summarized quite well the spiritual practice of the country: “Most Vietnamese, the best educated and the illiterate alike, believe exactly what the emperors believed. They believe in the morality propounded by Confucius. They are in awe of vague Buddhism. Above all, they bow to the spirits. To the spirits of their ancestors and to many others, to the spirit of great men, to the spirits of the sky and the fields, of the trees and of the animals, to the spirits good and evil and changeable in between.”

Hope this article helped you clarify a bit the complex and rich culture and religion in Vietnam. Go explore the many temples, shrines, pagodas to learn more about what Vietnamese people believe!

If you need a bus from Cambodia to Ho Chi Minh, where you can start exploring visiting the “Vietnamese Notre Dame” or the main Caodaism temple nearby in Tây Ninh, check Camboticket website for the best tickets options!

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Cambodian book shops: where to find your perfect travel companion!

Posted on: August 2nd, 2017

With so many relaxing places where hanging hammocks by the river wait for you, or empty kilometers of white sand ask you to sit down, no wonder Cambodia is a great country to catch up with your readings.

In case you haven’t bring enough books from home, don’t worry, this article is for you. Here we list some of our favorite bookshops along the kingdom!

Reading room at Petra café in Battambang.

In Phnom Penh you can head to Monument Books, which has one of the widest selection of titles available in the country. From fiction to non-fiction, books in different languages as well as about Southeast Asian region. In town they have shops on Norodom Boulevard and Phnom Penh International Airport, besides others in Cambodia, as well as Laos and Myanmar. Also to purchase new books, Royal Bookstoreon street 454, is a great option, as well as to check out their collection of CDs, DVDs and magazines.

To buy second hand books, a valuable option is Boston Bookson street 240, with a lot of old books and the bonus of having a nice café to start your new book right away. Have a look as well at Bookshouse Cambodia on the corner of 390 and 113. Also for used books, on street 240, D’s Books is an endless hole for bookworms, with so many titles for you to search and get lost. If you still have not found the book you want, try Bohr’s Books on Sothearos Boulevard, with a wide range of new and used books at reasonable prices.

If you are in Siem Reap, there are two shops of the chain Monument Books, one in the ground floor of the Taprohm Hotel and other on the departures lounge of the Siem Real Angkor International Airport. Closer to the city centre there is another shop of the chain D’s Books (near the Pub street), the La Siev Phov bookshop on Wat Bo road. The New Leaf Eatery has not only a lot of used books, but also a comfortable restaurant/café and they donate part of their profit to charity. Not far away you can also have a look at the Peace Café, on the river road 172. They have a book exchange policy, delicious food and interesting workshops and classes (yoga, meditation, etc).

Being probably the most chilled town in the country, Kampot has lot of great places to read. Believe us when we say that even the least interested person will become a reader! Hammocks in comfy guesthouses near a river, fresh breeze and beautiful sunsets..Unbeatable!

So, in case you don’t have a book yet, check the Bookish Bazaar near the old market area, with lots of crowded book shelves (supposedly with more than 7000 titles!) and choose your companion for the next days. They accept exchanges as well (you deliver two books to receive one for free) and have an art gallery, top-quality pastries and Italian delicacies. Other option is the Kepler’s Bookshop, on the other side of the old market, with a lot to choices as well.

If you are more a beach person, and we highly advise you to be while traveling the Khmer coast, you can also find the Q&A Book Café on Mithona Street in Sihanoukville. It has thousands of different books in a great variety of languages and you can buy, sell or exchange them. They also have a restaurant with Khmer, Vietnamese and Western food! Don’t forget to pass by Casablanca books, the first bookshop that opened in town, with a huge variety of genres and languages. Find them in the Mick & Craig guesthouse, on the road to Serendipity beach nearby the golden lions. Try also the Idle Hour Bookshop and Library on the Greenhouse Effect, Otres 1, with a great beach to lie down and enjoy your book.

Another town in Cambodia where you will be able to visit some bookshops with English titles is Battambang. Our favorite is probably Petra café, near the Borey Thmei mall, the first library café in town and with a very local-feeling, not touristic at all. On street 3, near the Chhaya hotel, check the books at the Smiling Sky bookshop, to buy or exchange. There you also find from souvenirs to DVDs, from postcards to a great cup of coffee.

Hope we convince you to dig in some readings while traveling in Cambodia. It’s definitely a country with many places worth stopping for a while to chill, browse a bookshop for a new book or finish that one you started already  but couldn’t finish yet. Happy readings!

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Six reasons to pack your bag and go explore Vietnam

Posted on: July 31st, 2017

There are many conflicting opinions about Vietnam. Some talk about its magnitude and variety of adventures, others say it has already been spoiled by mass tourism. Of course everything is personal, depending on your journey, the type of traveler you are, the places you go and the people you meet. Nevertheless, there any many reasons to pack your bag and go explore Vietnam!

explore vietnam

Rice fields in Sapa

1. Breathtaking Landscapes

Being natural or manmade, such as rice fields, Vietnam is filled with beautiful landscapes where you can immerse yourself in contemplation. Also during rainy season, when everything becomes brighter, you will be able to observe tones of green that you never saw before. You can find everything from mountains and valleys in Sapa or Dalat, to deserts in Binh Thuan, from paradise islands with pristine beaches such as Phu Quoc and Con Dao, to the awe-inspiring atmosphere of the mighty Mekong river. Take some time to get out of the main cities and go explore the wonders of this country.

explore vietnam

Some random street market with strange food.

2. Colorful markets and delicious food

If there’s a country where your palate will be challenged and enriched, that country is Vietnam. With such an impressive food tradition, you will have so many things to try you’ll wish to just quit your life back home and stay here! The best strategy is to run away from tourist-focused restaurants and the repetition of just eating pho or spring rolls. Meet some local person, and go explore with your new friend the street food since s/he will certainly know the best and more genuine places. And don’t forget to eat some banh cuon, bun cha or some banh xeo for us 🙂

explore vietnam

A street shop selling incense sticks.

3. A trip to your senses

Vietnam is magical when it comes to what it can offer to your senses! From the colors around you to the intricate smells that fuse freshly made food and incense.. Focus on the present moment and learn to pay attention to your feelings. For sure you will have a hell of a ride exploring Vietnam!

explore vietnam

Which one will you choose, traditional sugar cane juice or some canned soft drink?

4. Mix of old and new

This country is an interesting mixture of old and new, traditions and culture living side by side, with an unstoppable urge of progress and survival. Communism and capitalism holding hands, for bad and for good. This is a country filled with contradictions and opposite polarities merged together. Some interesting cities where you can see this marriage are Hue and Hoi An. They are quite close to each others and filled with ancient history and architecture.

explore vietnam

Never too much.

5. Street life and local routines

As any other Southeast Asian country, Vietnam has a dynamic lifestyle emerging from its streets, with a busyness and a desire to strive that is difficult to find elsewhere. From the tireless workers carrying everything in their motorbikes with a balance that provoke envy to many circus artists, to the welcome of the new day with the morning exercises around lakes or public parks. Without forgetting the countless tiny plastic benches placed on the sidewalks in the evening, where people drink draft beer with friends, an iconic image of this country. In Vietnam life happens on the street and not inside the houses. And, of course, the best options to see this energy are the two biggest cities: Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh.

explore vietnam

An apprentice for monk.

6. Welcoming people

Last but not least, we cannot forget the people. Get out the tourist spots, where people who earn their living with tourists (many of them already fed up with disrespectful young backpackers with too much alcohol in their bodies!) can be less empathetic and smiley. You will find the core of Asian culture: smiles and open arms, willingness to welcome you, show you the culture and make you try the food. Embrace and connect, people are always the most memorable part of your travels.

Hope we gave you some reasons to visit and explore Vietnam! 🙂

Take your ticket to Ho Chi Min, a great place to start your Vietnamese journey, on Camboticket website. Here you ca find the best options!

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Ratanakiri

Going north, on the road to Ratanakiri

Posted on: July 31st, 2017

07.00. Time to start leaving Siem Reap after a great night which included a culinary midnight snack: Tarantula with Garlic. It has been a great pleasure. We booked a ticket to BanLung with Camboticket. With our (way too heavy) backpacks we left our hostel to the bus station.  One of their drivers was waiting at the corner to guide us into the small street where the pick-up was located, very handy!

Before we entered the bus, the driver shared his ‘special not bumpy route’ with us and got us a bottle of cold water. What a service. Despite a Chinese woman constantly hugging us, the trip was quite good and to, our surprise, not bumpy at all. We had a great view from the bus, driving past the river and some rice fields was a nice switch from the usual bus ride.

After a cuddly and cosy 8-hour bus drive we arrived in Ban Lung, the capital of Ratanakiri. Our bus dropped everyone at the hostel they were staying, except for us. Trying to get him to bring us to D.T. Guesthouse by pointing out its place on the map, the driver just smiled awkwardly and shoke his head. “No, no”. Aah, No, no? Amazing. Right when the rain caught us. Literally one second of rain was enough to get soaked. First thing we saw was some kind of stairs going down into the bush. Seemed like a great idea to just ran down. And hella sure it was!

The hostel we found at the bottom of the stairs had some super helpful employees who immeadiatley offered to bring us to our hostel with their car (for 1$ of course). However, cheaper than every tuktuk and better than walking for 30 minutes. Actually, there is like one tuktuk in this whole town! Tourist paradise as the only people screaming at you are young children that only want you to wave back. No people trying to get you into their tuktuk or jewelry shop. First impression of BanLung: great people and fairly calm!

Ratanakiri

Ratanakiri

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Cambodian rock

Tune into Cambodian Rock and Roll!

Posted on: July 20th, 2017

First of all, please click here and listen to a song while reading the article 🙂

So, now that we caught your attention (and that you have your ears filled with good music) let’s start!

You may or may not know that this kingdom in the 60s was famous for its music. Local musicians were listening to what was happening in the west and combining it with traditional Khmer sounds.

A unique music style was born. It combined the best of both worlds, a kind of Asian psychedelic garage rock, taking inspiration from the surf rock of bands such as The Beach Boys or the psychedelic tunes of Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane. Basically an oriental version of the hippie movement!

Cambodian rock

A compilation of Khmer rock and roll.

In case you are into this style of music, or just want to dive in Cambodian culture, you can listen to this beautiful compilation of some of the best sounds of the Khmer 60s.

This brings up an interesting story, since an American tourist travelling in Cambodia managed to buy some old cassette tapes and made this album!

We can’t forget that most of these musicians were killed in the late 70s and this music destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. This period has been almost forgotten until recently.

One of the reasons of this revival is the movie ‘Don’t think I’ve forgotten’, by John Pirozzi, about the Cambodia’s lost rock and roll. You can have a look at the trailer here or you can watch it online or download it in the movie’s website here.

Cambodian rock

Marketing materials for the documentary movie that brought attention to this genre.

If we have to highlight one singer, there is a name from that period who is above all the others. Sometimes called ‘the King of Khmer music’ or ‘The Golden Voice’, Sinn Sisamouth (borned in 1932, executed by the Khmer Rouge in 1976) is unavoidable. He’s a kind of mixture between Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra with, of course, an Asian twist. He was actually a nurse but soon became the most famous Cambodian singer. Both common people and the Royal family loved him and became a protégé, often performing for the Queen Kossomak Nirirath.

His prolific nature as a singer-songwriter can’t be denied, as we can see in this list of 1200 songs in his Wikipedia discography page. He often got inspiration by western songs and created beautiful renditions of classics we may recognize from western musicians but probably looking even better in Khmer!

One of our favourites is definetely ‘Quando quando quando‘ from an old italian singer.

Cambodian rock

An example of cover for one of the many Sinn Sisamouth’s albums.

The second most famous artist of that period is the singer of the song at the beginning of this article. A performer called Ros Sereysothea was first a poor lady from a rural background and discovered while singing in weddings. She was then able to achieve the status of Queen of Khmer Rock and Roll. Some examples of songs are ‘Jam 10 Kai Theit‘ or ‘Penh Jet Thai Bong Mouy (Ago Go)‘.

Another musician from this period is Yol Aularong (check an example of song here or, our favourite, ‘riding a cyclo‘). The New York Times describes him as “a charismatic proto-punk who mocked conformist society”. What’s better for an iconoclast Cambodian musician from the 60s?

Another good one is Pan Ron with songs such as ‘Rom Ago Ago‘ or ‘Kanha 80 kilo‘ that were typically a mix of rock, twist, mambo, jazz or folk.

Also worth listening is Mao Sareth, a singer from Battambang province (example of song here).

However, as we mentioned above, all of these musicians were killed during the Khmer Rouge. All but one, Sieng Vanthy, who said to the Khmer Rouge she was a banana seller and managed to survive.

A big cultural difference compared to the one of the reign of King Norodom Sihanouk. He was a music lover, played saxophone, was a jazz fan and promoted this new mix of east and west culture, old and new.

Cambodian rock

Some other album covers from the sixties.

But of course, this is not only an article to look at the past, butalso to remember the present. Noawadays many bands are bringing back this style of music, adapting it to contemporary sounds while mainting the energy this 60’s rock and roll was famous for.

One of the current bands, Cambodian Space Project, have some songs you can listen to online. Check them out here or here.

While in Cambodia, you can also attend one of the very energetic performances of Kampot Playboys or of Bokor Mountain Magic Band. Listen here and here, the latter one performing a very famous song from the sixties.

Based in California, Dengue Fever, a Khmer-American band, is probably the most famous of this rising genre. They are bringing back the Cambodian rock and roll from the 60s and coating it with sonorities of the present.

Have a look on this appearance of them in a famous radio show.

Cambodian rock

Baksey Cham Krong, a band from that period, sometimes described as the first one to appear.

Cambodia was not the only country where this style of music was rising. Neighbors Thailand and Vietnam also developed their own style of music, mixing it with influences from the west.

Hope this article will make you listen more local music! While travelling, learn something from street musicians and do not be afraid to teach to local kids how to play. So many possibilities of collaboration!

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Along the Mekong River

Along the Mekong River: travelling through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

Posted on: July 18th, 2017

We have to confess, after living some time in Southeast Asia, it is difficult not to developed a soft spot for the Mekong river. Its opaque brown waters, flowing through the mist, its riverbanks filled with dense jungle… You may remember iconic movies such as Apocalypse Now, and the journey into the heart of Indochine looking for Captain Kurtz!

Moreover, being such a long river crossing so many countries, there are countless places to visit, cultures to discover, experiences to have.

This is kind of a homage to the Mekong, its power and influence on the lives of millions of people in Asia.

Along the Mekong River

Mekong while passing on Isaan province, on northeast of Thailand. 

Along the Mekong River

A Thai fisherman that lived and worked all his life on the Mekong.

Along the Mekong River

The art of fishing! 

It flows through six different countries, for more than 4350 kms. Starting in China, it goes through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and ends up in a delta in Vietnam. It has the world’s largest freshwater fisheries and, with 800 different native species, the richest biodiversity in the world following the Amazon river.

A country such as Laos, with its untouched nature in so many places, is a great introduction to the river, with many little villages in smaller rivers connecting to the Mekong. There you can observe the traditional lifestyle of people living there for generations and generations, mainly fishing or rice farming with the irrigation water also coming from the river. And in the South of Laos, in a place that is famously called Si Phan Don or 4000 Thousand Islands, you will be able to find really relaxing places to spend some days on a cheap bungalow, reading a book, visiting incredible waterfalls such as Khone Phapheng waterfall, engaging yourself in water sports or simply swimming and watching beautiful sunrises.

Along the Mekong River

Public park on the side of Mekong, in Vientiane, the Laotian capital. 

Along the Mekong River

Sunset on South Laos. 

Along the Mekong River

A market on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Laos. 

In Thailand you can find the river in the north, near Laos border. The main province the river crosses is Isaan, a very beautiful and not very touristy area. It is a rural area, focused on agriculture, with genuine and honest people, little villages, happy lifestyle and a lot of smiles in the faces you will see on the streets. One of the main attractions is Chiang Khan, probably the cutest village in the world! Mainly a couple of streets where cars aren’t allowed, filled on both sides with pretty wooden houses and little coffeeshops. Also do not forget a very relaxing promenade along the Mekong with ridiculously beautiful sunsets on the Laotian side.

Along the Mekong River

Other man fishing on the Mekong during sunset. 

Along the Mekong River

Rice fields with irrigation from the Mekong river. 

After these two countries the river continues to Cambodia, where interacts closely with the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia, one of the most varied ecosystems in the world. Tonlé Sap lake is a biosphere reserve with an ecological status from UNESCO! Three million people live around its banks and depend on it for livelihood: the lake provides more than half of the fish consumed in the entire country. It is also a crucial breeding site for a lot of the species that cross the Mekong river.

Besides the houses on stilts around the lake, a vibrant community lives literally on it, on floating villages. Fishermen catch fishes with cone-shaped nets from their floating houses. This represents such a strong part on the national culture that even the currency is called riel, after a common small carp they usually catch and eat.

Along the Mekong River

The difference in the water level between rainy and dry season on Tonlé Sap lake in Cambodia.

And not only its people but also a diverse ecosystem lives on the lake’s basin. Over 300 species of fresh water fishes, reptiles, 100 varieties of water birds and around 200 plants, all depending on the natural cycles of rising and falling waters. A good news is that it is very close to Siem Reap! If you are visiting Angkor Wat, it’s really worth it to spend a couple of days here. You can choose for instance Kampong Khleang, one of the most interesting floating villages in the lake.

Along the Mekong River

A Cambodian local who works in boat tours with tourists. 

Besides the functional part of it, this lake and the Mekong are interdependent. In fact, during rainy season, it’s the river’s water that fills the lake to a volume up to 80 km3. On the other side, during dry season, the water flows from the lake on the Mekong, bringing Tonlé Sap close to one km3. There is a difference of 10 meters in the water level between the two seasons!

It’s so important for the culture that there is an old Khmer saying, associating the changes in the water level to the impermanent and interdependent character of everything. “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant; when the water recedes the ant eats the fish.”

Along the Mekong River

The Mekong delta on south Vietnam.

Continuing to the south of Cambodia, passing by Phnom Penh, the river finally arrives to its last country, with its delta in the south of Vietnam. In the delta, a vast triangular plain of 55.000 km2, live 18 million people, supported by the river for fish and rice cultivation. The delta is the most productive region in the entire country: 2.6 million for agriculture and rice yield representing around 55% of the national production, besides around 58% of the fishery output. Along with the fishing boats, the scenery is composed by floating houses focused on aquaculture (representing 2/3 of Vietnamese fisheries), crucial for the local population.

And, of course, its natural beauty makes this area one of the most visited of the country by tourists. The town of Bên Tre, with canals and boat tours along the delta’s farms, is one of the most beautiful places in Vietnam.

Along the Mekong River

The beautiful canals on the riverbank of the Mekong, in Bên Tre, Vietnam.

It’s definetely worth it to take some months and follow the Mekong river along the Southeast Asian countries it crosses. You will be definetely inspired by natural beauty, culture and intense relationship between the locals and its rhythm.

Check Camboticket website for cheap tickets to many of this places! Like Paksé and 4000 Islands in Laos, Siem Reap, Phnom Penh or Kratie in Cambodia and Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.

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Mum in Cambodia

Tips from a Travelling Mum

Posted on: July 18th, 2017

When traveling there are so many things that come to my mind. Will I enjoy it there? What currency will they accept? How will it be the food? What if I use up all my cash on hand? How will I be able to replenish it? How will I communicate to the locals? Will they understand me?

It’s my first time to travel abroad and already I get the jitters.

Let me bring you to Cambodia, a place where travelers enjoy their vacation with the convenience of home!

Entering Cambodia I was welcomed with this beautiful site. Beautiful!

Traveller Mum

In the midst of a busy street I already see beauty, I think I am going to like it here!

It was only 7:00 am, while walking from immigration to get to the bus that will take us to Siem Reap, we heard a song, to our surprise, everyone stopped. They were like statue, they all stood still. Even the vehicles on the street halted. Amazing! I have never seen such sight before! I just spent almost an hour in Cambodia and I was already smiling!

We were welcomed by a friendly conductor who made sure that we were comfortable and told us that there will be “Tuktuks” to bring us to our hotel at our drop off.

Tuktuk or “Remork” as what it should be called in Cambodia, is one of the popular means of transportation there. A carriage pulled by a motorcycle and used like a taxi. My daughter rented a Tuktuk service through as online application before we even reached Cambodia.

Travelling Mum

This was our ride around Cambodia and our Tuktuk driver Kim Phearum. A very respectful and funny young man who provides free water when we get back from our Temple Tour.

We arrived at Lotus Blanc Hotel, which my daughter found and booked online. A cold lemongrass tea and a warm face towel was a welcome treat to refresh us from our trip. My daughter said it wasn’t expensive, but it sure was worth it a million dollar in service and accommodation.

At dinner we met my daughters’ childhood best friend from the Philippines in Pub Street (a nightspot in Siem Reap). You can use your USD to pay and that was very convenient as we weren’t able to have our money changed yet. We bought a sim card for only $5 and it already had free data. Uploading pictures via Facebook was a breeze 🙂

Travelling Mum

We had our dinner at Sky Lounge. They had great service and great food and even served crocodile. The ambiance was great! Who else can find peace in the midst of a nightlife spot?

The next day we were off to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat. We were supposed to have a free buffet breakfast at the hotel, but since we would have not been able to enjoy that, the Hotel arranged a meal-to-go with coffee, bread, noodles, a yogurt, fruits and juice.

It was tiring, fun and amazing. Amazing not just from the temple view but also the people. The vendors who came to sell souvenirs, from ref magnets to nail cutters to sarong skirts. They recognized our race right away and sold their merchandise in Filipino (our language). They said they learned up to 16 languages mostly taught by the tourists and the guides.

Travelling Mum

Tired from walking up and down the stairs of the temples, I stayed at the Tuktuk where I enjoyed different refreshments. Fresh sugarcane and coconut juice, pizza like bread and frog barbeque.

Never felt as comfortable before and in one of the most beautiful places in the world!

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Cambodian books

Dive in some readings and get inspired by books in Cambodia

Posted on: July 17th, 2017

Cambodia is a profound and mysterious country, attracting a variety of artists and creative people. Many writers chose the kingdom to live and write, influenced by the troplical weather, the different culture and the colorful inspirations of this Southeast Asian country.

This is an article with some suggestions of books about Cambodia in order for you too dive into some readings on the kingdom, learn more of its culture and history, or simply enjoy interesting fiction or poetry.
An interesting non-fiction book is ‘Off the rails in Phnom Penh’, by Amit Gilboa. This journalist lived in the Cambodian capital at the end of nineties, describing both the bohemian life of the expats and the political turmoil of the era. For instance a revolution organized by the present prime-minister to depose the second prime-minister (in a time that the goverment had two, the other one being one of the sons of the previous king).

Another book describing the political situation of that time is ”Hun Sen’s Cambodia by Sebastian Strangio, focusing on the autocratic role of the prime-minister.

The pulitzer prize winner Joel Brinkley wrote ‘Cambodia’s Curse‘ on the hangover of the Khmer Rouge regime and the transition to a goverment managed by the United Nations, with all the troubles and challenges, corruption and waste of resources that the situation brought.
For the ones interested in history, a very complete book is ‘History of Cambodia‘ by David Chandler, from the Angkor period to recent time.

Another important book is ‘When the war was over’ by Elizabeth Warren: a crucial testimony since the author was one of the few western journalists visiting Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Cambodian books
A beautiful memoir and one of the most famous publications on the period, ‘First they kill my father‘ by Loung Ung was recently adapted to a movie by Angelina Jolie. It’s a first person report of the time during the Khmer Rouge, with a young girl living in the labour camps and telling all about what she had to went throught and everything her family had to overcome.

Of a similar thematic is ‘When broken glass floats grows‘ by Chanrithy Him: a story of a survivor child from the Khmer Rouge and essential to understand the recent past of Cambodia.

For the ones into poetry, some of the poets living in the kingdom and regularly publishing books are Scott Bywater and Nathan Thompson. Bywater, for instance, writes a lot about expat life in Phnom Penh, such as in his book ‘Voluntary exile‘. You can also have a look here on the promo video of his last book, ‘Pepper and silk, honey and lime‘.

Cambodian books
On a different note, ‘River of time‘ by John Swain, is a homage to the Mekong and a passionate portrait of Cambodia and Vietnam, focusing on the time when the author lived here during the seventies. This journalist got famous thanks to the hollywood movie ‘The Killing Fields’, about his struggle in Phnom Penh during that time.

Another writer living in Phnom Penh, but in a contemporary setting, is Steven Palmer, who writes crime and suspense novels taking place in the kingdom, such as ‘Angkot Tears‘ or ‘Angkor Away‘.

Also about crime novel, ‘Temple of the leper king‘ is a story of a retired police man living in Cambodia, taking inspiration from the life of its author, Bob Couttie, living in Kampot.

Some other options of fiction are ‘A clash of innocents‘ by Sue Guiney, about an expat woman runnning an orphanage, and ‘The disappeared‘ by Kim Echlin, a love story between a Canadian woman and a Cambodian man.

Cambodian books
Hope we gave you some ideas for your reading list inspired by Cambodia – lot of fiction, non-fiction and poetry based here! Enjoy your reading time, and take advantage of peaceful places like the islands or Kampot to sit down on a hammock and dive into a book!

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