Tag - Cambodia

Cambodian food

Introduction to Cambodian food

Posted on: June 28th, 2017

Having the world-famous cuisines of Thailand and Vietnam close by, Cambodian food end ups not having the attention it deserves. Hope this article gives you an idea of some of the best dishes in the eclectic gastronomy of this kingdom!

One of the main features is its variety of flavors, often mixed in the same dish. Cambodians love to mix bitter and sweet tastes, sour, spicy, salty or peppery. Your tongue will have a feast in this country!

Besides its old traditions (coming at least from Angkor period), Khmer food gets influences from Thai (e.g. the green papaya salad) and Vietnamese recipes (e.g. the pho soup or the banh mi sandwiches), plus details from French cuisine as well due to the colonial period. The ubiquitous baguettes, the local version of pate, the national addiction to coffee or the frequent use of pepper – all inspirations from the French.

It is also worth to notice that Kampot pepper is one of the best in the world, so it makes sense that local people prefer using it instead of just chili. This probably creates the most noticeable difference in Khmer cuisine when compared to its Asian counterparts: subtlety instead of strong favors, great variety of herbs and spices instead of just chili or heavily seasoned sauces and curries.

Fermentation is also a common food process in the country. In fact Cambodian cuisine is famous for its (strong for the nose) sauces made of fermented fish paste, called prahok, or shrimp, known as kapi. A unique common snack in the streets is sour unripe fruits with sugar and chili – pregnant woman love this, as they believe it is beneficial for the baby!

So let’s jump directly to some the most famous dishes…

Cambodian food

Amok: it is often made with fish or chicken (the version in the picture). It is a coconut curry made with kroeung, a lemongrass paste mixed with turmeric, garlic, chili and other spices. Add a plate of steam rice and you have the most popular dish in Cambodia.

Kuy teav noodles: a clear noodle soup made out of pork broth, some meat, vegetables, meatballs, scallions and fried garlic.

Cambodian food

Char kdao: tasty meat fried with lemongrass, garlic, chili, hot basil and served often with rice.

Lor cha noodles: stir-fried noodles (a special version only found in Cambodia looking like short fat worms instead of long spaghetti) with a choice of meat, bean sprouts and other vegetables, soy and fish sauce, normally topped with a fried egg. It’s one of the cheapest dishes, you can find it on the street for about 3000 riel (75cents).

Cambodian food

Green mango salad: similar to the Thai green papaya salad (the delicious som tam). In Cambodia it has less chili and a larger variety of flavors such as lime juice, mint and basil leaves, fish sauce, shallots and sugar. Served with carrots, peppers, tomatoes, long beans and other vegetables, topped with roasted peanuts, small shrimps and fermented crabs.

Bai sach chrouk: one of the most typical breakfast, consisting on steamed rice with barbecued pork, pickled salad, often served with a small omelet on top and a bowl of soup. Also found on the street for about 3000 riel (75cents).

Cambodian food

Samlor korko soup: a soup made with kroeung (the traditional Cambodian curry paste made out of lemongrass and other herbs and spices), fish paste, vegetables and fish or meat.

Bobor: a Chinese-inspired rice porridge with different vegetables and meat (sometimes with cubes of coagulated blood as well).

Cambodian food

Beef Loc Lac: savory fried beef with onions and a thick brown sauce, served with rice and lettuce.

Nom banh chok: a traditional breakfast dish as well. It consists on rice noodles cooked with green curry made out of fish, mixed with lemongrass, turmeric and kaffir lime.

Cambodian food

Khmer curry: delicious thick curry with a combination of ingredients such as coconut milk, sweet potatoes, onions, long beans, turmeric, garlic, shallot and others.

For  adventurers, Cambodia is the perfect place to experiment weird stuff. Fried tarantulas and insects, pickles made out of giant red ants, dog stews, grilled frogs and snakes on a stick and much more. You can have fun exploring some of the things locals enjoy eating! Remember that Cambodia has a past of extreme poverty and slavery in the farms turned into concentration camps by Khmer Rouge. Therefore, anything that moved was an opportunity for a starving person to fill his empty stomach.

Hope we gave you some ideas of the food to discover in Cambodia. Don’t stick to fried rice or fried noodles and try some of the local specialties!

 

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CAmbodian cinema

Cambodian Cinema and its golden age

Posted on: June 27th, 2017

Many travelers probably don’t know but, before the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia had a thriving culture and movie industry. Hundreds of movies were fueling Phnom Penh’s vast amount of movie theaters, creating in the population a deep love for this art. It is still possible, in some cities of the Kingdom, to see what remains of the old movie theaters and their beautiful architecture.

Stay tuned for a quick introduction to Cambodian cinema and its golden age!

If you want to know more about the movie theaters, check the Roung Kon project, formed by a group of local architecture students and graduates passionate about the architecture of the sixties. With many movies produced and people from every class interested in going to the cinema, many venues popped-up in Phnom Penh, especially in the riverside area along street 13. King Sihanouk appointed the famous architect Vann Molyvann in order to develop the capital of the newly-independent kingdom. This lead to the development of the new Khmer architecture, a mix of modern and traditional Cambodian aesthetic.

Cambodian cinema

A guide from the Roung Kon project showing a old photo of the currently destroyed Phnom Penh Cinema.

Focusing on the movies, the first Cambodian directors started working in the fifties, including Sun Bun Ly, Roeum Sophon and Leu Pannakar. But was just in the next decade that the industry boomed, with around 300 to 400 movies produced. It all happened from 1960 to 1975, when civil war stopped any cultural endeavors in the country. These years are the Golden Age of Cambodian cinema and arts. Even King Sihanouk was making movies, like the Rose of Bokor with Queen Mother Norodom Monineath (you can see some excerpts here). You can consult his entire filmography here. Some of his movies are even available entirely on Youtube, such as Little Prince from 1967 and Twilight from 1969.

CAmbodian cinema

A photo inside the currently abandoned Cinestar Cinema – the first one in Phnom Penh and where the Royal Family used to go in the 60s.

The best way to learn more about the Golden Age is to watch the celebrated documentary of Khmer-French director Davy Chou called Golden Slumbers (you can see a trailer here). He is the grandson of Van Chann, one of the main film producers in the sixties’ Cambodian movie industry and started a journey to discover and interview the remaining stars of that period who managed to survive the Khmer Rouge. During that time in fact the Khmer Rouge soldiers killed most of the artists and intellectuals, totally dismantling the Cambodian culture.

The old movie posters, often painted by hand and with beautiful vintage quality, are a unique example of the culture of that era. A quick search on google retrieves some examples of this.

Coming back to the present, unfortunately most of these movie houses have already been destroyed or abandoned (being the Lux Cinema on Norodom Boulevard the last one, closing its doors just a few months ago). So besides the commercial movie theaters in Phnom Penh such as Aeon mall, other alternative venues that regularly showcase Cambodian and international movies are Meta House, Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, French Institute and the Flicks Community Cinema (check the links or facebook pages for their current schedule). In Bophana you can research in their extensive film archive and watch old movies for free. You will get to know more about Cambodian history and culture.

If you want to know more about Cambodian movies of the last decades, here are some alternatives, with links to their trailers:

  • Lost Loves, based on a true story of a mother during the Khmer Rouge regime
  • Missing Picture, from one the most important current directors and producers, Rithy Panh, and nominated for an Oscar some years ago for its unique approach of using clay figures to reveal images that are long gone due to Khmer Rouge
  • A River Changes Course, a beautiful documentary about the people living on the Mekong, from Kalyanee Mam who won an award on Sundance festival with this film
  • Diamond Island, a wonderful movie from Davy Chou shot with amateur actors and following a countryside boy that arrived to Phnom Penh in search of work and dreaming of modern life (it also won an award on the International Critics’ Week from Cannes Film Festival)
  • Turn Right Turn Left, a story about a Cambodian girl passionate about dancing and spending her time daydreaming about the Cambodian sixties rock’n’roll
  • Nine Circles of Hell, a Czech movie with the unique feature of being shot in Phnom Penh right after the defeat of Khmer Rouge, being an interesting document of the state of the city in that moment (including some scenes inside the Tuol Sleng prison right after being liberated)
  • Killing Fields, probably the most famous movie about the Khmer Rouge period, with stars such as John Malkovich and following a truth story of a Khmer and an American journalists during the occupation of Phnom Penh by the Pol Pot’s soldiers
  • Lord Jim, another Hollywood movie, this time shot in Cambodia even before the Khmer Rouge, featuring the talented actor Peter O’Toole and having some scenes on Angkor Wat
  • The Gate, a memoir of the only westerner who survived the Khmer Rouge

Cambodian cinema

Hemakcheat, one of the few movie theaters that still stands untouched.

We hope we had sparkle in you curiosity for the Kingdom’s cinema, its unique Golden Age and the recent revival with young directors trying to tell stories about Cambodia in an unique way.

While in Phnom Penh, definitely try to catch a screening of Golden Slumbers or Diamond Island. They are both movies from Davy Chou, one of the most interesting directors of the new generation!

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cambodian eco projects

Being inspired by Cambodian eco projects!

Posted on: June 22nd, 2017

If you are a traveler in Southeast Asia, you probably have already noticed the amount of trash everywhere. Plastic is the leader of all concerns, “decorating” beautiful jungles or otherwise pristine beaches. It’s hard to accept and a sad reality to embrace.

It can be very frustrating to go to Cambodian markets (or other markets in any Southeast Asia country), especially if you are an eco-lover person. The amount of plastic bags or containers used and soon thrown away is impressive! In Phnom Penh especially, plastic bags are one of the major causes of monsoon floods, clogging the street drains. For this reason, it is always refreshing to see local people concerned about this, dedicating their lives to them.

Here we share some of the inspiring projects happening in Cambodia regarding ecological or environmental matters!

cambodian eco projects

Typical sight on a Phnom Penh street, the trash keeps pilling it up…

So if plastic bags are one of the main problems, let’s start by them! If you are passing by Phnom Penh, check Funky Junk Recycled, a social enterprise using plastic bags to create different products. Perfectly knitted, they become beautiful accessories and furniture for your home – with a social cause in mind. Focusing on the same kind of gorgeous products made of plastic bags but based in Siem Reap, the Rehash Trash project is also a must visit. You can buy their products next to the Green Gecko Project. This organization owns the project and supports street kids that used to live and beg on the street.

In order to raise awareness, there are some initiatives such as Clean Green Cambodia or the Green Night at Meta House. Held every month in this art space on Sothearos Boulevard in Phnom Penh, it’s an interesting event with talks, eco-movies and a fair trade market with products of different organizations with an ecological mindset. Plastic Free Cambodia provides trainings and workshops related to reducing plastic waste in organizations, schools and companies. They often organize challenges, like going one month without plastic, in order to sparkle the public’s creativity on finding solutions to live with less non-organic waste. Examples of this can be for instance:

  • choosing re-usable food containers instead of styrofoam boxes
  • using cloth bags to go to the market instead of asking new plastic bags
  • drinking your coffee or cocktail without a plastic straw (or buying a bamboo straw, more on that later!)
  • drinking from and re-filling a reusable water bottle or thermo instead of buying bottled water
  • using re-usable cups instead of plastic ones for your morning coffee

There are some interesting companies in Cambodia that help you in this, such as the Chhlat startup that makes and sells reusable bottles. The biodegradable bags from Cleanbodia are another option. They are made with cassava so even in the nature they will totally dissolve after a few years. With the same concept in mind, EcoSense Cambodia produces different food containers, fully biodegradable. They are able to replace any styrofoam package normally available in the market! Also, if you really like drinking from a straw, why not buying a reusable one made with bamboo from Mekong Quilts (with shops in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap). They even make bicycles with bamboo, how cool is that?!

And one of our favorites, with the motto “products that change lives”, Friends’n’stuff also has shops in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, selling from clothes to stationary, from souvenirs to accessories, from bags and wallets to home products. Everything is made with recyclable materials, such as old newspapers and magazines, car tires, cloth threads or old cutlery. If you buy their products, you support their programs with street children and marginalized families and communities. Moreover, they are one of the most well known and trusted NGOs in Cambodia.

With a totally different approach, doing very interesting projects on construction with a social and environmental mindset, Husk Cambodia in Siem Reap builds houses and schools using plastic bottles filled with trash inside, one of the most simple and effective ways to deal with trash! Exo Foundation is doing the same in Battambang area. Both can be interesting projects to visit in case you are passing in any of these cities.

We hope to give you some inspiration with the eco projects happening in Cambodia. They definitely bring us hope about the change in use and perception of consequences that plastic have over the environment. We all dream of a Southeast Asia without trash in its beautiful nature, don’t we? 🙂

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oudong

Oudong, an ancient capital filled with beautiful pagodas

Posted on: June 13th, 2017

Slightly north of Phnom Penh a small mountain rises from the flat countryside with an outstanding collection of temples and pagodas, offering a beautiful view of the surroundings while breathing some truly fresh air. As a bonus, Oudong is less than one hour drive from the capital.

oudong

The view from the top of the mountain.

Sometimes written in English as Udong or Odong, this peaceful village is between 35 and 40 kms from Phnom Penh. Once it was the capital of the kingdom, from the beginning of the 17th century to 1866, and now is part of Kampong Speu province. To come here you can take any bus that follows the road to Battambang (for instance the one to Kampong Chhnang) and ask the driver to be dropped off in Oudong. On the main road you will see a large gate where you will have to turn left. No worries, many moto-taxis will certainly be there waiting for you!

oudong

The gate to turn left on the main road.

Following this road, you will reach the foothill of the Phnom Udong mountain, where the complex of temples is. To see what are the main things to visit, check the tourist information map at the entrance of the new main stupa, near all the restaurants and parking spaces.

The main stupa is built according to traditional Cambodian decorative motives (called kbach in Khmer) and houses many statues of Buddha inside. You can start here by climbing the 500 steps to the top to admire the stupa itself and the view of the surroundings the fresh breeze.

oudong

The new main stupa with its very kbach style of decorations.

When you come down again, take some time to stroll in the food stalls nearby. Here you can try different Khmer snacks such as grilled frogs, dry baby frogs or a sort of pickles made out of gigantic ants. Weird but delicious!

 

oudong

Baby frogs!

Around these hills you can also find the huge and gorgeous Wat Prasat Nokor Vimean Sour (which also houses a vipassana meditation center), the former Royal palace Veing Chase, a mausoleum with a tiny bone of Buddha, various stupas with remaining of previous kings such as Chedi Damrei Sam Poan, a handicraft village and the Arthaross temple (or what remains after the Khmer Rouge). Keep exploring to visit many more pagodas! Don’t miss the Chedi Trai Trang, with traditional four Cambodian faces on top. It really resembles the famous Bayon temple in Siem Reap.

oudong

The beautiful Wat Prasat Nokor Vimean Sour.

It’s a very pleasant one day trip from Phnom Penh, and an easy one to do. Just catch a bus or hire a taxi (both options available on Camboticket website) to explore the former royal capital of Cambodia. The many beautiful pagodas and incredible views of the countryside from the top of the Phnom Udong mountain are not to be missed. Definitely a weekend afternoon well spend!

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Kampong Cham

Kampong Cham, saying goodbye to the longest bamboo bridge in the world

Posted on: June 12th, 2017

Even being the third largest city in the country doesn’t take the sleepiness out of Kampong Cham: a town (slowly) living on the riverbank of the Mekong, home to a variety of ancient temples and the famous bamboo bridge. Kampong Cham is an interesting sight not so far away from Phnom Penh.

Kampong Cham

Peaceful life on the side of the river.

The best way to travel around here is renting a bicycle or a motorbike, being free to explore the surroundings. There you will find various temples from the old Khmer empire, of the same time or even before the Angkor Wat period. Check at least the Nokor Wat, from the 11th century, resembling the typical Angkorian architecture. Don’t miss also Phnom Hanchey, a nice hilltop temple with a beautiful view of the surroundings. One of our favourites is Wat Maha Leap, around 20km from Kampong Cham, one of the last wooden pagodas in the country. For the ones looking for more temples, there are Phrom Pros and Phnom Sray (literally men’s hill and women’s hill).

Kampong Cham

A quite serious but shiny Buddha from one of the city’s temples.

This was also domain of the Cham ethnic for some time, hence the city’s name. For this reason, you can still find a large Cham population here, the mosques and houses with their distinctly Arabic decoration. Besides that, the city is a pleasant combination of old colonial architecture from the French, modern Cambodian architecture and Chinese shop-houses. You will notice that it is quite clean and easy to walk compared to Phnom Penh.

Take some time to stroll along the pleasant riverside. Don’t miss the remainings of the famous Kampong Cham bamboo bridge, the longest of its kind in the world. It’s built from scratch every dry season for the locals to cross to Koh Paen, a small island in the Mekong. Then each year, during the rainy season the rising of the water level destroys it. It’s a monument to the ingenuity of Cambodian traditional engineering, but it is also able to hold incredible amounts of height, enabling even trucks to pass through. However, the government has just built a cement bridge, so this may be the last year the bamboo bridge is built. You can know more about this story in this article from Phnom Penh Post.

Kampong Cham

A man looking at the remaining of the bamboo bridge in both sides of the river.

Have a look at Koh Paen itself, a pretty and clean village where you can spot genuine Cambodian rural lifestyle. There’s also a beach for the ones looking for some sun and relaxing days on the sand. Check also the Khmer handicrafts in Cheung Kok ecotourism village close to the main town.

If you want to stay for a while, OBT Homestay and Bungalow, in Kampong Cham itself, is a great option. It’s an organization delivering training to local children. They use the money from their tourism program (from 5 to 20 dollars depending if you are staying with a local family or in your own private bungalow) to support their work.

Kampong Cham

Weird sculptures that you will find everywhere in Kampong Cham.

Indeed quite a pleasant city to visit for a couple of days! Kampong Cham is just 120 kms from Phnom Penh but has a very relaxed pace of life. Have a look on Camboticket website for options on how to get there from Phnom Penh or other Cambodian cities!

 

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Phnom Penh rivers

Phnom Penh, the city of the three rivers

Posted on: June 7th, 2017

Phnom Penh is a fast-growing capital city in the middle of Southeast Asian crazy development trend and one may miss some of its unique characteristics, overlooking its beauties. Did you know that Phnom Penh is located in the confluence of three rivers: Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac? Stay tuned to know a little bit more about how they control the whole Cambodian way of living!

Phnom Penh rivers

People living near the riverbank in Phnom Penh on floating houses. They have a slow-paced life as they are not even living in such a fast-paced capital!

All the three rivers have long history and importance in terms of commerce, development, transportation routes and survival itself. Some interesting facts:

  • The Tonle Sap river comes from the lake with the same name (its means exactly the Great Lake). Its fishes are the main source of protein for Cambodia.
  • The Mekong is the source of food and livelihood for nearly 60 million people along its whole course. It has the world’s largest freshwater fisheries. With 800 different native species, it is only second to the Amazon river in terms of biodiversity richness.
  • The Mekong is the 10th longest river in the world: it starts in the Tibetian plateau, crossing China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, ending up into the so-called Mekong Delta in southern Vietnam.

Phnom Penh rivers

Local crossing the river on a tiny boat!

The Tonle Sap lake, is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia with a complex life cycle along the year. From November to end of May, the water flow goes from the lake down to the river until Phnom Penh, where it joins the Mekong. This lowers the water level of the lake and marks the Cambodian dry season. Now, at the beginning of June, it reaches a perfect equilibrium and the river literally stops flowing. From mid June to October, the water starts flowing reverse, coming from the Mekong up to the Tonle Sap river towards the lake, filling it again. You can have a look on a diagram of this changes in flow here.

This change in the flow shapes Cambodian seasons and its cycle throughout the year (agricultural crops, spiritual festivals, etc). A famous Khmer proverb says “When the water rises, the fish eat the ant – when the water recedes, the ant eat fish”. Apparently a local version of what goes around comes around! It inspired also a famous work of Mak Remissa, one of the best Cambodian photographers of his generation. Take a look at it here.

Another important fact is that, from here onwards the Mekong Delta starts, with the river dividing in more and more branches.

The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda mark the importance of the area and the riverside itself is one of the highlight of the city. It is a very popular place to hang out with family and friends. Don’t miss the gardens in front of Royal Palace in the evening, perfect to spot the local lifestyle or do some street photography. Here it takes place the important Water Festival, a 3-days festival with a traditional river race! Every November, tousands of people gather on the riverbank to watch the beautiful and long boats passing by.

Phnom Penh rivers

An old cruise boat now forsaken on the river bank of Tonle Sap.

Finally, we still have to mention the third one in the confluence in Phnom Penh: the Bassac river. It starts here and crosses Vietnam’s border, where it is called Hậu River. Bassac river is in fact the main way connecting Cambodia and Vietnam. Along its route there are many different islands that you can explore. Probably none of them is as interesting as Koh Dach, or Silk Island though!

Koh Dach stands exactly in the converging point between Mekong and Tonle Sap. Have a look at this other article from our blog for some info on it.

If you are curious on how people live near the Tone Sap lake, read this other one. We wrote it during our trip through Kampong Khlaeng, not far away from Siem Reap. Don’t miss it if you are passing nearby!

Unfortunately it is not all a bed of roses: the “development at all costs” happening in Asia changes the rivers quickly. The high consumption of electricity in the major cities is forcing a dams building marathon that, consequently, manipulates the river flow, cuts in the fishes migration and evicts the population living in the riverbanks. If you would like to get more information about this issue, check here.

Phnom Penh rivers

Local fisherman on its boat. With some bargaining and basic Khmer skills, you can hire it and visit the floating houses between Mekong and Tonle Sap.

Hope this article gave you some more information on these three beautiful rivers that make Phnom Penh such a special capital. You should not go out of the city without taking a cruise or hire a boat from the fishermen! Look for them on the other side of the river after crossing the Japanese Friendship Bridge! This is one of the few places in the world where a river changes its flow over the year. A unique must see:)

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Yoga in Phnom Penh

Connect with your body and mind in one of the Yoga centers in Phnom Penh

Posted on: June 6th, 2017

Living in a city, it can be challenging to keep yourself healthy and to find a perfect balance between your body and mind. This is especially true in a place like Phnom Penh. Here traffic, pollution and our work-life balance could be a bit overwhelming! The best way to deal with this is of course travelling. There is no need of much more with so many incredible places available in Cambodia for a quick weekend escape! However, in those weekends where you really have to stay in town, or even during the week, Yoga can be a great way to relax and find some peace of mind in this fast pace environment. Have a look at these centers to do Yoga in Phnom Penh, come to try it and connect with your body and mind!

Yoga in Phnom Penh

One great option is Yoga Phnom Penh by Azahar Foundation. They have drop in classes for 9$ and classes with new Khmer teachers for a minimum donation of 5$. It is open every day, except Fridays and Sunday’s afternoons. They deliver Yoga Basics, Vinyasa Flow, Knoff Yoga, Fly Fit and Fly Yoga. On top of that they train teachers, in case you want to pass to the next level! More info here.

Definitely one of our favorites is Krama Yoga, a social enterprise providing both Yoga classes and outreach programs to some of the most poor or exploited communities in the country.

In their Nataraj studio you will find everyday classes of different practices: Yoga Basics, Ashtanga Yoga, Iyengar Yoga, Yoga Flow, Restorative Yoga, Pre-Natal Yoga, Kundalini Yoga, Community Yoga. They also do Yoga for stiff shoulders, if you have a job that force you to spend too much time seated working on a computer! Drop in classes for 9$ to foreigners and 6$ to Khmers. They also offer many different passes for regular users. Don’t forget also that with these money you are supporting a social enterprise and its important work!

Yoga in Phnom Penh

They offer also also Yoga retreats, workshops and other events, such as museum tours with Yoga! Regarding their social program, every month they give 75 outreach Yoga classes to more than 300 kids. Most of them come from underprivileged backgrounds and survived traumatic experiences, such as human trafficking, violence and sex exploitation. They use Yoga as an unique tool to heal and give back their deserved peace of mind! You can read more about their interesting and pioneer social works here. Find more info about their classes and events here.

Yoga in Phnom Penh

In Samata Health Wellness Studio you can find classes of Kundalini Yoga, Post-Natal exercises, Back Foundation Yoga, Pilates. Check here for info on their classes.

In The Place Fitness Center you will find: Hatha Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, Yoga Balance, Vinyasa Yoga, Yoga Flow, Yoga Therapy, Hatha Vinyasa, Hot Yoga, Streching Yoga, Gentle Yoga, Power Yoga (more info here). If you are interested in Kundalini Yoga or Breathing Meditation, have a look at Kundalini Yoga Cambodia House.

Even at Showbox there are Flow Yoga classes every Tuesday and Thursday at 6.30pm and Yoga Basics every Sunday at 5pm. Check also Essence of Health for other possible treatments and healing practices.

Hope this list gave you some ideas on where to find Yoga classes in Phnom Penh. Relax and rewind with these opportunities to connect with your body and mind without getting out of town!

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Koh Kong

Koh Kong: a natural hidden gem by the Thai border

Posted on: May 31st, 2017

Koh Kong is the nearest province to Thai border, surrounded by the sea on one side and by the magnificent Cardamoms mountains on the other side. It is an amazing place with intact natural beauty and far away from the main touristic routes.

The main city of the province is Koh Kong city, where you can start most of the excursions. Koh Kong is 5 to 7 hours away from Phnom Penh and the only way to get there is taking the road from Sihanoukville or Phnom Penh. Two bus companies are operating: Virak Buntham (which has an office in Koh Kong city) and Olong Pich, which pass by Sihanoukville first. If you want to fully discover this part of Cambodia you need 3 to 4 days, depending on where you come from and head after.

We arrived there on a Friday night, taking a taxi from Phnom Penh, and we went directly to Rithy guesthouse, where I had booked a room. I choose to book at Rithy’s because he is also organizing a lot of tours in the province.

Koh Kong Island & Mangrove Forest

On the first day, we did the Koh Kong island tour: it is a one-day excursion to discover Koh Kong Island. This island is still preserved from tourism and genuinely natural. At first I wanted to spend a night there but none of the hotels answered me on time. There are two hotels on the island: Koh Kong Island Resort and White Sand Villa. If you still want to spend a night on the island, Rithy tour is organizing a 2 days tour on the island where you either sleep in a hammock on the beach or in the only village of the island with the local community.

Coming back to my trip, we spend 2 or 3 hours on the island chilling and eating an excellent grilled BBQ fish, well prepared by our guides! Our group was really nice, which made the day even better! It was even more appreciated when we had to support each other trying to get back on the boat because of the very wavy sea. I almost lost my shoes!!

On the way back, we stopped at the mangrove forest which was really nice especially with the sunset.

Talking about that, be very careful with the sun: it is really hard in this region, especially if you are on the sea and my friend got some blisters because of it. In order to visit the mangrove, you stop at some point with the boat and you walk for around 10 minutes, then the boat is taking you back on another side. At the end of the day, coming back to the pier, we watched the sunset there with a beer. What else do you need?

Koh Kong

Koh Konh Island

Trekking, a night in the jungle & Tatai Waterfall

On the second day we went for a 2 days jungle trek. Don’t worry it is not difficult, everyone that is not 80 years old or hasn’t done sport for ages can do it!

You start at 8am and they bring you by car to the starting point (there is another option for these 2 days: you can a boat in the mangrove and do the hike up to a really good viewpoint). From the starting point we walked 4 to 5 hours with frequent stops all near a river where you can refresh yourself. We ate on the way and we arrived to the camp around 3pm leaving us plenty of time to enjoy this amazing experience. Then it was a great pleasure and a unique experience to swim in the natural swimming pool in front of the camp after this tough day! The camp is just near the river and in the middle on the nature, cutting you out from the rest of the world (also because you don’t have any network!).

Koh Kong

Our Jungle Camp

In the evening we did a fire camp with our guides and spent a really good time trying to understand their card game, which was at the end a Cambodian version of my French game card « the President ». At the end of the evening, we were watching the stars exactly as we were in an astronomy observatory.

Koh Kong

Delicious food and our natural swimming pool

The day after we woke up after the night in the hammock, which were quite comfortable for me and I was not even cold (on the contrary, my friends were freezing, probably also because I brought my sleeping bag). Then, we took our breakfast, did a quick dive in the swimming pool and started walking back. There, a car brought us to the Tatai waterfall, which were pretty nice. You can access by paying 4000 riels the entrance.

Koh Kong

Tatai Waterfall

For our last night, I had booked at Neptune bungalow, along the Tatai River. It was the cheapest one because the other hotels are resorts so a little too expensive. Even Neptune was not so cheap because the bungalow for 2 was 40$ for the night (but you can be 4 if you want). The owner is a very sweet German guy, he cooks for you really good meals and organize excursions like Tatai waterfall or tours on the river. To get there you have to go to the Tatai Bridge, call him and an old Khmer man is taking you there. In the morning we did a little kayaking (you can go up to a small waterfall just within 30m which is really nice!) and swam in the river. This day was really unique and nice because we were totally alone!

Koh Kong

Small waterfall near the river

In the end it was time to go back to Phnom Penh, to real life and to work after this great experience.

Going to Koh Kong is really doing something different than the traditional places everyone is visiting in Cambodia. It is a great preserved natural place, that everyone should experience having some time in Cambodia.

 

This travel memoir has been written by Marie, French expat living in Phnom Penh. Thank you for your precious tips on Koh Kong! 

< Original version in French below! >

 

Koh Kong est la province située en bordure de la Thaïlande. Elle est bordée par  la mer tout en étant entourée par la gigantesque et impressionnante chaine de montagnes des Cardamones. C’est un endroit fantastique qui a gardé tout son charme naturel et reste encore préservé du tourisme

La ville principale de la province est Koh Kong city à partir de laquelle vous pouvez commencer la plupart des excursions à travers la province. Elle se situe à 5 à 7 heures de bus depuis Phnom Penh. En effet, les seules routes pour y accéder viennent de Sihanoukville et Phnom Penh. Deux compagnies de bus desservent cette destination : Virak Buntham (qui possède un bureau à Koh Kong ce qui est plutôt pratique) et Olong Pich, qui passe par Sihanoukville avant. Si vous voulez profiter pleinement de cette partie du Cambodge vous aurez besoin de 3 à 4 jours en fonction de l’endroit d’où vous venez et de l’endroit où vous allez.

Nous sommes arrivés là bas vendredi soir après avoir pris un taxi privé depuis Phnom Penh. Arrivant tard, nous sommes directement allé à Rithy Guesthouse où j’avais réservé une chambre. J’avais choisi cette guesthouse parce que Rithy organise aussi diffèrent type d’excursion à travers la province de Koh Kong.

Le premier jour, nous avons l’excursion en 1 jour sur l’ile de Koh Kong. C’est une ile encore très naturelle qui reste préservée du tourisme. Au début je voulais y dormir mais quand j’ai essayé, aucun des hôtels de l’ile ne m’a répondu. Il y a deux hôtels sur l’ile : Koh Kong Island Resort et White Sand Villa. Si vous voulez tout de même dormir sur l’ile, Ritchie tour propose des excursions de 2 jours sur l’ile où vous dormez soit dans des hamacs sur la plage soit chez l’habitant dans le seul village de l’ile.

Revenons à nos moutons et à notre journée d’excursion! Nous avons passé 2 à 3 heures sur l’ile à discuter, se baigner et manger un excellent poisson au barbecue préparé par nos deux guides. Notre groupe était très sympa ce qui a rendu la journée encore meilleure! Cela a été d’autant plus vrai quand nous avons dû nous soutenir pour réussir à remonter sur le bateau alors que la mer était déchainée! J’ai même faille perdre mes chaussures!

Sur le chemin du retour, nous nous sommes arrêtée pour visiter la mangrove. C’était vraiment exceptionnel cette entrée dans la mangrove avec la lumière de la fin d’après-midi ! Faites d’ailleurs très attention au soleil dans cette région et spécialement sur l’eau, mon amie a eu des cloques à cause du soleil! Pour visiter la mangrove le bateau nous a laissé à un certain point, nous avons marché environ 10 minutes dans la mangrove et le bateau nous a récupéré à un autre point.

A la fin de la journée en revenant au ponton, nous nous sommes offerts une bière en regardant le couchée de soleil. Que demandez d’autre?!

Le deuxième jour nous sommes partis pour un trek de 2 jours dans la jungle. Ne vous inquiétez pas ce n’est pas impossible à faire, à part si vous avez 80 ans ou que vous n’avez pas fait de sport depuis des siècles. Vous partez à 8h du matin et ils vous emmènent en jeep jusqu’au point de départ (il y a une autre option pour cette excursion où vous prenez un bateau à travers la mangrove et vous marchez jusqu’à un très beau point de vue). Depuis le point de départ nous avons marché pendant 4 à 5 heures avec des arrêts fréquents, tous près d’une rivière afin de se rafraichir. Nous avons mangé pendant un de ces stops et nous sommes arrivés au camp vers 3h de l’après-midi nous laissant plein de temps pour profiter de cette expérience.

Là cela a été une superbe et unique expérience de se baigner dans la piscine naturelle en face du camp après cette dure journée! Le camp est juste à côté de la rivière et au milieu de la nature nous coupant du reste du monde (en grande partie aussi a cause du manqué de réseau!)

Le soir nous avons fait un feu de camp avec nos guides et nous avons passé un super moment en essayant de comprendre leur jeu de cartes qui au final n’était qu’une version différente du jeu de cartes français “Le Président”. Nous avons terminée la soirée en regardant les étoiles comme si nous étions dans un observatoire astronomique.

Après avoir passé la nuit dans nos hamacs, ce qui était plutôt confortable au final (peut être aussi parce que j’avais mon sac de couchage ce qui m’a évitée d’avoir froid contrairement à mes amis), nous avons pris notre petit déjeuner, fait un dernier petit plongeon dans la piscine naturelle et recommencez à marcher jusque notre point de départ. De là-bas une voiture nous a emmené jusqu’au chutes d’eau de la Tâtai qui sont très sympa! Vous pouvez y accéder par vos propres moyens moyennant 4000 riels pour l’entrée.

Pour notre dernière nuit, j’avais réservé une nuit le long de la rivière Tatai au Neptune Bungalow. C’est le moins cher des hôtels situés le long de la rivière car tous les autres sont des ressorts donc hors de prix. Et même le Neptune n’était pas si peu cher car nous avons payé le bungalow 40 dollars la nuit pour 2 (mais vous pouvez y dormir à 4). Le propriétaire est un Allemand très sympathique qui cuisine pour vous des plats réellement bons. Il peut aussi organiser des excursions  comme les chutes d’eau de la Tatai ou des tours sur la rivière. Pour se rendre là-bas nous sommes allés jusqu’au pont Tatai, nous l’avons appelé et un vieux monsieur khmer est venu nous chercher pour nous emmener au Neptune bungalow.

Le matin, nous avons fait un peu de kayak (vous pouvez aller jusqu’à une petite chute d’eau qui est à 30 minutes en kayak) et nous nous sommes baignées dans la rivière. Ces deux jours étaient vraiment super car nous étions juste toutes les deux sans personne d’autre dans la guesthouse ni même le long de la rivière.

Et le temps est venu de rentrer à Phnom Penh pour retrouver la vie réelle et le travail après cette expérience super! Aller à Koh Kong est vraiment faire quelque chose de diffèrent au Cambodge en dehors des circuits traditionnels. C’est un superbe endroit préservé où chacun devrait se rendre si il a du temps à consacrer au Cambodge.

 

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Phnom Penh architecture

Understanding Phnom Penh’s history of architecture and urban development

Posted on: May 31st, 2017

Like many other Asian cities, Phnom Penh is growing fast. A rising economy and foreign investment are changing forever the face of its streets – with its good and bad sides.

If it’s your first time in Cambodia you will not have terms of comparison, but everything in this country is changing incredibly quickly. Come back after a couple of years (and we’re sure it will happen: it is difficult to come here only once!) and you will be able to see an incredible number of new skyscrapers, massive shopping malls and luxury office or residential buildings.

June will be an interesting month to learn more about these changes: the art collective Sa Sa Art Projects is organizing various related activities.

Don’t miss the opportunity to get to know more about Phnom Penh’s architecture and urban development!

Phnom Penh architecture

Koh Pich, also known as Diamond Island, is the perfect place to see the clash of architecture styles and influences in the recent development of Phnom Penh.

Since the 40’s the city has been growing a lot. The only exception has been the Khmer Rouge period, where the whole population had to leave, turning Phnom Penh into a ghost town.

During the colonial period, the French developed a lot of infrastructure and a comprehensive water system in order to prevent flooding, deal with the sewage and conquer land from the river.

In the 60’s and after the independence, the new king Norodom Sihanouk appointed the famous architect Vann Molyvann as the head figure of the country’s urban development and his unique style of modern architecture with a Khmer taste spread along the city. Today you can see some of his works in places such as Olympic Stadium, Chaktomuk Conference Hall and Institute of Foreign Languages (in the Royal University of Phnom Penh).

Phnom Penh architecture

The Olympic Stadium is one of the most iconic infrastructures in the city (but no, they never organized any Olympic games here!)

After Khmer Rouge, the city kept expanding. An example is the construction of the artificial island Koh Pich (also known as Diamond Island) in front of Phnom Penh’s downtown.

As a consequence, the river had to take land from other places to keep flowing and many families had to leave their houses. Other massive updates are the recent filling of lakes, such as Boeung Kak , with sand, for further construction. The French built these lakes as a way to deal with the excess of water during rainy season.  Moreover, the French put in place a complex system of canals and dikes to manage the fact that the whole city is built above wet lands. As a result, nowadays there are more flooding and the relationship between Phnom Penh and its three rivers, Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap, is more and more difficult.

To have a deeper understanding of the situation, take a look at the different events planned for the next month by Sa Sa Art Projects and Vann Molyvann Project, in the multi-exhibitions “Sensing the Capital” project. It highlights not only the changes in the city’s urbanism but also their consequences in terms of social and environmental impact.

Phnom Penh Architecture

The new space of Sa Sa Art Projects, with its exhibition “Kraanh Norneal”.

Check the “Kraanh Norneal” exhibition in the new space of Sa Sa Art Projects, open until June 18th (on street 350, near the corner with street 95): it exposes contemporary artworks (from video to sculpture, from photography to digital illustration) by young Cambodian artists such as Eng Rithchandaneth, Mok Sombo, Sao Sreymao, Sok Chanrado and Tan Vatey.

In their old gallery, inside the White Building (on Sothearos Boulevard), you can follow the process of the city conquering land from the river through its constructions, with the “Genealogy of Bassac” exhibition by Pen Sereypagna (until 31 of May). This is also one of the last chances to see the iconic White Building from the inside. Like for many other Khmer building of the 60’s, the demolition of the White Building  is already planned and it will be another victim of extreme construction. 

From June 21th to 27th in the Olympic Stadium, the exhibition “The National Sports Complex: Legacy and Vision” will show the history and future of this famous building from Vann Molyvann. On June 24th, Roungkong Project will organize a walking guided tour to old cinemas in the city, a unique opportunity to see other pearls from the exquisite Khmer architecture. 

In conclusion, on June 25th, artist Pen Sereypagna will manage a workshop in the new art space Kon Len Khnhom on street 360, tracing the evolution of Phnom Penh through its maps from 1940 until now.

Phnom Penh architecture

Sculpture by young Cambodian artist Eng Rithchandaneth, part of the “Sensing the Capital” multi-exhibition project.

Is is definitely a month full of interesting activities to understand the history of the city, its architecture and urban development. So, if you pass by Phnom Penh, make sure not to miss these events. Check Sa Sa Art Projects facebook page for more info!

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Explore Kampot’s surroundings

Posted on: May 29th, 2017

We know that the charm of Kampot has the power of relaxing even the most hectic traveler and the reasons to stay in town to enjoy its river and calmness are more than many. But we also know that, as soon as you get out of the city, Kampot’s surroundings offer a lot to explore and marvel at. Stay tuned from some suggestions on where to go!

kampot surroundings

Getting out of the city is a great way to meet some locals and experience a genuine Cambodian lifestyle.

Kep: a quiet coastal town with memories of a glorious past

Of course the first place to mention is Kep, the small and quiet coastal town popular since the sixties, when it was a resort area for rich Khmer families. Famous for its beach and its seafood market (crabs are so well known that they even deserve a statue in their honor on the sea in front of the town). Kep is also as a getaway to take the boat to Rabbit island, or Koh Tonsai, as known by Cambodians.

Koh Tonsai or Rabbit Island: palm trees, hammocks and glowing pankton

And here we go, Koh Tonsai is our next spot on this list! An island just a half hour boat ride from the coast, filled with nature and perfect to relax on a hammock, sunbath or swim in this gorgeous ocean. The beach is especially gorgeous on some nights, when the plankton appears in the sea and glows in the dark. Besides that, you can engage in snorkeling, fishing or trekking.

Natural Parks and Mountains: amazing views and local fauna

Back to the mainland, near Kep you have a national park with an entrance ticket of just one dollar, perfect for spotting the local fauna and trekking in a pure rainforest jungle. You can breathe some fresh air and maybe take the opportunity for that exercise you were looking for after eating such delicious seafood in Kep! Moreover, there’s a wonderful place to watch the sunset called, appropriately, Sunset Rock.

If you are passionate about birds, you should not miss the Anlong Pring bird sanctuary, not far away as well.

Not only for nature lovers but also for riders, a beautiful day trip idea to go to Bokor Mountain with a motorbike. There you can enjoy the view and have fun driving its winding road. You will be able to find a bit of everything, from wildlife (Bokor is also part of a national park) to an old vacant and forgotten casino on the top of the mountain. Worth some mysterious pictures for your travel album, namely if you are going in a foggy day. And, well, if you are really trying to do some kind of tour along the mountains and parks around town, you still have the Phnom Sor, or White Mountain, in the north of Kampot.

Traeuy Koh: local villages and salt fields

Tired of trekking and mountains? Much closer to the city you have Traeuy Koh, a small island just across one of Kampot’s bridges. Another option is to visit the salt fields in the surroundings which, depending on the time of the year, can provide you with one of the most incredible setting for photography in the whole country. Just imagine very shallow salt lakes where the water perfectly reflects the sky and you can picture it!

Kampot Pepper: a legend for a reason

There are also the well known farms of delicious Kampot pepper, famous all over the world for its distinguished taste. If you want to buy some, only trust the farms themselves. The pepper sold in Kampot’s markets is more often than not a fake one, cheaper and produced in Vietnam.

The famous Kampot pepper.

Secluded places: a secret lake, misterious caves, hidden temples

Not far away you can also find a beautiful lake, which somehow got named as the Secret Lake. If you are really into this kind of secluded places and want a beach only for yourself go to Angkoul beack! Ask your guesthouse or checkout the maps (typically available on bars and cafés in Kampot).  If, in the other hand, suntanning is not your thing and you are missing is some cool shade to break the Southeast Asian weather, check out the caves around Kampong Trach. Another interesting place is Phnom Sorsia, a Buddhist hill temples complex, a cave filled with bats and another one where you can see limestone stalagmites that resemble elephants (hence its name of Elephant Cave).

Crossing the border: your bridge to Vietnam

Last but not least, a good option can be crossing the border to Vietnam, which is just 40km from Kampot. The border is Prek Chak on the Cambodian side, and Xa Xia in Vietnam side. Ha Tien is a nice town nearby, around 20 minutes from the border and a lovely place to start exploring the country. It is also a good spot if you are on your way to Phu Quoc island, highly recommended and not so far away. Just bear in mind that you can not make your visa on arrival on the border to Vietnam, you should have it already with you (the nearest place to Kampot to deal with the visa process is Sihanoukville).

Kampot's surroundings

As soon as you pass the border you can check some Vietnamese “street market art”.

Hope you got some ideas on where to go if you are in Kampot and looking for something different. Its surroundings are definitely worth to see! Check out Camboticket website if you need to book tickets for your trip. You can even book tickets from Kampot to Ha Tien and other places in Vietnam.

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