If you are living or traveling through Cambodia you probably already noticed that this week things are a little bit different. Many shops and businesses are closed, the majority of local people traveling to their provinces and a general festival mood with everyone preparing to party. Yes, that’s true, the Khmer New Year is coming so, as in Khmer they say, sousday chnam thmei!
Depending on the Buddhist calendar, which follows the moon instead of the sun like the Western calendar, the new year’s eve falls normally on 13 or 14 of april, being the end of the harvesting season and with the farmers having a bit more money to spend on celebrations. Now we are entering the year 2561 (remember that this calendar is related to Buddha’s birth instead of Christ’s birth) which is also considered the year of the rooster. It consists on three days of celebration where Cambodian people don’t refrain to party hard, eat and drink a lot, and put on their unique smiles even more than they usually do!
And let the feast begin.
On the first day people usually clean their homes and light candles and incense, believing they need to welcome some sort of angels into their homes, in the second day the focus is on giving charity to the poor and exchanging gifts between family members, with the last day being about cleaning Buddha statues with water and using flowers to decorate them, with the children typically washing their parents feet as a sign of respect. The belief is that the water used to clean the statues becomes holy and, similarly to Thai’s Songkran and Burmese’s Thingyan, is used to sprinkle on other people for blessing. More exactly to other people’s faces in the morning, chests at noon and feet in the evening. Nevertheless even if it’s the traditional thing to do is still not the huge event like the Thai or Burmese festivals, where the streets become full of people throwing water in massive “water fights” (although in Pub street in Siem Reap it’s becoming usual to have something similar, but mainly done by tourists and expats). Besides all this, during these days Cambodian people dress nicely and visit pagodas or shrines to pay homage to their ancestors. Other tradition is kralan, a cake made of rice, beans and coconut, roasted inside bamboo sticks and enjoyed as a snack.
So, after giving you some context about this holiday, we wish you a happy new year and hope you enjoy traveling or even the quietness of Phnom Penh during these days (most of the Khmer people go back to their hometowns to celebrate with their families so expect no traffic in town!) If you are staying in town you can walk around the area near Wat Phnom for attending some traditional games, and if you decided to travel have a look on Camboticket website for some last minute deals, so many provinces in this country to explore in these holidays!
Sousday chnam thmei 🙂Read more
Stretching from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap, the Tonlé Sap lake is a vast flooded area connected to the Mekong by the Tonlé Sap river, which during rainy season has its water increasing so much that becomes the largest lake in all Southeast Asia. Definitely worth a visit to observe the traditional lifestyle of its inhabitants, especially one of our favourite spots there, the Kampong Khleang floating village!
Relaxed life on the lake…
During the dry season Tonlé Sap’s water level can be 10 meters lower than during the peak monsoons, making an interesting sight exploring its many floating villages and communities with their houses built on stilts. One of them, Kampong Phluk, is already very much exploited by tourism and is being quite talked about in terms of scams (such as asking 40 dollars in a so-called entrance both in the village) and Chnong Khneas, the community in the part of the lake nearest to Siem Reap, is more like a tourist trap and profitable business for the boat and tour companies there than an interesting site to visit and a way to help the local community (typically the money don’t go much to the locals…)
Smiley kids on the entrance stairs of a local house.
But for the real thing, you can head to Kampong Khleang, a more authentic and less touristic village situated around 50 km from Siem Reap, around one hour by road or, if you are traveling along the Siem Reap-Phnom Penh highway, you can ask to be dropped off the bus on Dandek town, already quite near to the border of the lake and an easy place to find a tuk-tuk from there. This community is the largest one in the lake (around 10 times bigger than Kampong Phluk, for instance) and it’s the perfect place for observing the traditional life in Tonlé Sap. This lake is responsible for some of the main livelihoods in Cambodia, fishing and fish farming, and the fish caught here are the biggest source of protein in Cambodian diet and food culture. So don’t forget to eat some while you are there!
General view of Kampong Khleang during the dry season and from one of its streets.
You can explore the village by boat or foot depending on the season you go, and especially if you are going in the dry season you will be able to catch quite an impressive sight with all the houses built on 10 meter height stilts. From there you can take a boat tour with a local driver to go to a more central location of the lake where you will find other communities living in floating houses, lots of fishermen in their boats and even floating schools for their kids!
View while taking a boat trip along the main canal that leads Kampong Khleang to the larger lake.
It’s an ideal day trip from Siem Reap or, even better, to stay for a night or two in order to fully experience the village and its surroundings. There is at least one Homestay and restaurant in the community, a lovely wooden house refurbished in a stylist way, making it a great way to immerse yourself in the community while helping a local family. From there you can walk around and meet friendly locals, visit the market or the pagoda, enjoy a beautiful sunset by the lake and relax in a rural and authentic setting.
Sleeping a couple of nights in this cute house seems quite a welcoming experience.
If you are looking to mingle with the locals and experience the typical lifestyle of Cambodian people, the Kampong Khleang floating village will be a great addition to your trip, and an interesting way to explore the Tonlé Sap, the largest lake in all Southeast Asia. Have a look in the Camboticket website to know how to go there from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, and don’t forget to ask the driver to be dropped off in Damdek, from there is just a short ride to the village. And share your pictures by the lake with us!Read more
Being such a long journey, and with so many rumours of being a bumpy and troubled one (especially while crossing the border), going from Cambodia to Thailand by bus can be an itchy experience. How surprised were we to actually go through it without any hassles and in a quite comfortable way! This is our experience of travelling with Nattakan bus from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, a company that provides a direct journey without having to change transport on the border.
A modern and comfy bus for a more than twelve hours trip can be a way better option than traveling by minivan.
The journey starts at 6 AM so better to arrive at least half hour before to the departure point. In this case we went to Rithy Mony Bus Station on street 102, quite near to Wat Phnom, the Night Market and the beautiful old colonial building that now functions as the main post office of Phnom Penh. There weren’t so many travellers so the bus left on time and the smooth ride and the conditions of the bus itself were more than an invitation to spend most of the journey sleeping. The seats are wide and soft, with a lot of space for legs and with the possibility of changing the inclination to almost becoming beds. The staff, even if not speaking much English, were helpful and provided a small box with a wet towel, a bottle of water, a packet of juice and a small cake (in the street of the bus station you also can find a couple of noodle soup restaurants, in case you want to eat your breakfast before getting into the bus). Anyway, next stop is already on the border so better to eat and sleep, Thailand is awaiting us!
What a sleeping beauty nest!
In case you need to use the toilet there’s actually one on the bus, so no time to waste, very soon we will arrive to the border. The journey was really smooth, despite the typical bumpiness of Cambodian roads, so a long nap was actually not a difficult thing to achieve. As soon as we arrive to the border the staff asked us to leave to take care of the visa, not before giving some name cards to hang on the neck in order to identify us on the border and let people now we belong to the same bus after taking care of the paperwork. The first step is the Cambodian immigration office on the right of the road, where they will give you the stamp out of the country. From there you just have to walk straight through a kind of white tunnel, as shown below…
… then cross a sort of gate imitating Angkor Wat style…
… and arrive to the Thai side where you will find a building on the left of the road to take care of the visa on arrival. Depending on your country of origin you can get from fifteen days to several months free of charge, and depending on your luck and the amount of people in line, the process can be quite straightforward. We end up not spending more than fifteen minutes waiting in line, then a quick two or three minutes process with the immigration officer before getting out of the building and seeing one member of the Nattakan staff waiting to lead us back to the bus.
After waiting for everyone else to arrive to the bus as well, we drove for a couple of kilometres where we stopped again and the staff gave us a box of fried rice and more bottles of water. Then straight again to Bangkok with no more stops, reaching there a few minutes later than 6 PM. The place of arrival was Mo Chit Bus Terminal, quite a central hub in terms of transportation to the rest of the city: there’s a BTS station nearby (the Bangkokian fancy skytrain!), plenty of buses and also lot of cabs available (make sure you take one that follows the taxi meter otherwise you will probably be ripped off!). If you are going to Khao San Road you actually have free bus from the station, ask in the information office for the bus numbers.
The return journey was pretty much the same, starting on Mo Chit at 5 AM and arriving Phnom Penh between 5 and 6 PM. Again quite smooth and with no troubles at the border.
On the Thai side…
… and on the Cambodian side.
The only care you need to have is, while there, not paying attention to random guys trying to convince you there is some kind of problem regarding the visa and that they have the solution for you (of course, they always have). If they start the conversation asking you some kind of payment don’t believe them, even if they are from the police (actually, especially if they are from the police). With us, we had the funny situation of a Cambodian police officer randomly asking on the street for 300 bahts to get us the visa (it’s mandatory, he said!) and with us insisting we don’t want and that we prefer to go to the immigration office itself, he ended up saying it was just to facilitate the process and get us the visa faster, for us not having to wait in line… no thank you! (There was almost no one in line at the moment, by the way). So be always aware, only believe in people inside the immigration offices themselves, both on the Thai and on the Cambodian side, no matter what uniform some random dude appears to you on the street.
And after that, just enjoy the ride through the sleepy Cambodian landscapes…
In case you are planning to go from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, or the other way around, Nattakan is an interesting choice to explore, with a high level of comfort and with the advantage of not having to change bus on the border – it’s direct from one capital to another in just around twelve hours. Have a look on Camboticket website for this or other options of traveling between the two cities and enjoy your trip!Read more
A little town on the Mekong river, Kratie is a wonder of simplicity and charm, a beautiful place to relax or explore the Cambodian countryside.Read more
Ready for the ferry to departure!
Just in front of Kratie, accessible through a short boat ride, is one of the most relaxed and genuine tourist destinations in the whole country. A sort of ecotourism paradise, an island called Koh Trong filled with cozy home stays, rice fields, opportunities to meet friendly locals and get to know their lifestyle, or simply chill at the beach and swim on the beautiful Mekong river.Read more
If you are a coffee lover like us, you probably already indulge yourself with the local coffees in the places you travel, and being Cambodia a coffee-producing country, it even makes more sense to do it here. In case you are passing by the capital, we present you some options for finding coffee places in Phnom Penh!Read more
Okay so you came to Cambodia with plenty of time to travel around, you went to Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat, to Phnom Penh and its historical sites, you visited the beaches of Sihanoukville or Otres and relaxed by the river in Kampot. You even went to explore some pristine islands like Koh Rong Samloem or Koh Takiev, and had a ride in the bamboo train of Battambang. So the question you are currently asking is, now what? Read on for some examples of alternative places to visit in Cambodia!Read more
Not only is one of the most relaxed towns you can find while traveling in Southeast Asia, Kampot is actually an interesting historical site with its colonial buildings and a thriving artistic hotspot full of Cambodian and expat rock bands and trendy cafés! It is the most attractive destination in South Cambodia.Read more
So you finished to visit the Angkor Wat temples and don’t know what to do in Siem Reap after? Stick around for a couple of suggestions and alternative activities to do!Read more
While traveling in Cambodia is easy to see how much of its population still live in poverty and facing very harsh life conditions. But don’t feel bad about traveling here while you see poor people around, tourism industry is for sure a great help to develop the country and provide jobs! But more than that, there is a movement of social enterprises focus on providing great services to travellers while actively working in the support of the local community. From training hotels to social conscious restaurants in Siem Reap or handicraft fair-trade shops, you will have at your disposable various ways to help the local community while enjoying your trip!Read more