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!
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:
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.
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.
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:)Read more
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!Read more
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!
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).
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.
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.
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!Read more
Some of the most memorable experiences on your trip will be when you get out of the “tourist bubble” and engage with the locals. If you do, there will be endless moments of unpretentious fun, innocent interactions and cultural learning. One interesting aspect in Asian countries is that its streets are, more often than not, used not only to commute but also as recreational spaces. Places where families and friends gather to have food or drinks, play or simply hangout. Moreover, considering the interest shown by the locals in games, a great opportunity for connection is to join every time you see them engaging in some sort of outdoor sport of hobby. Asian streets are for playing!
From some kind of version of checkers in Vietnam…
… to chess in Cambodia …
… to normal checkers in Laos but played with bottle caps!
Also in Laos, you can try petanque, a game left by the French during colonial times (and that you can also find in Vietnam and Cambodia, that were part of the old French Indochine as well)
Going to Thailand for a bit, why not joining local kids and playing with them?
In Vietnam, kids also seem interest to engage in some kind of king fu role play…
… while in Laos they still use many times traditional and beautiful toys:
In Vietnam, badminton is so popular that people don’t mind to set up the nets blocking the whole sidewalk…
… while in Cambodia they love to play with something very similar to the object used in badminton but with their feet (you can see it in the air in the middle of the photo, they kick it from one person to another without letting touch the floor)
If what you want is some exercise, why not joining some aerobic/dance classes that you can find in the streets of any Cambodian big city? (If you are in Phnom Penh check the riverside, the Vietnamese Friendship park and the Olympic Stadium)
The most important thing is to not only meet other travelers but also local people, learn their culture, have fun with them. This helps breaking the barrier that often is set by default between locals and tourists, the poor and the rich, the westerns and the “easterns”. Empathy and connection can start with such a simple thing as a game and, you know, Asian streets are for playing!Read more
One of the most interesting things of traveling is to photograph and collect memories from your trip. But if one only take selfies or pictures of monuments there’s so much life and interesting stuff getting missed in your travel photo albums.Read more
As the majority of backpackers end up staying in the area around riverside due to the amount of cheap guesthouses there, it’s quite common that most of the places they hangout in are around that area. But Riverside is definitely one of the least interesting in the city considering the type of dodgy bars you’ll find there… Phnom Penh has a lot to explore, and the nightlife scene is vibrant and filled with places for every taste!Read more
A bit tired of the chaos and city pace of Phnom Penh? A short ride from it there’s a peaceful and relaxing island on the Mekong where you can experience a countryside lifestyle and genuine people. Rent a bicycle and come explore Koh Dach, also known as Silk Island due to its silk farms and weaving tradition.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
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