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Khmer New Year in Cambodia

Khmer New Year, or ‘Bon Chol Chhnam Thmei’ in the Khmer language, is the greatest traditional festival and national holiday in Cambodia, and the celebration last for three days. Khmer New year starts on April the 13th, 14th or 15th depending on the ancient horoscope “Maha Sangkran”, 2014 it starts on 14th of April. The majority of the Cambodians are still farmers and Khmer New Year marks the end of the harvest season when farmers enjoy the fruits of their labor and relax before the start of the rainy season.

Most of the Phnom Penh residents will pack their bags and get ready to head out to the countryside to celebrate Khmer New Year. Phnom Penh will be left seemingly pretty quite during these days so if you want to experience the celebration you should also pack your bag and head out to any of the villages on the country side.

In the villages the people engage in traditional Khmer games, they paly games such as the Bas Angkunh ‘seed throwing’, Chaol Chhoung ‘twisted-scarf throwing’, Leak Kanséng ‘twisted-scarf hide’ and dance to traditional Khmer songs.

The first day of Khmer new year is called “Maha Sangkran”, Sangkran means movement and refers to that the sun is moving into a new Zodiac sign and Maha means great. Some say that Maha Sangkran means welcome to the new spirits. In the morning the Cambodians will go to the temple and offer food to the monks and receive blessings. During this time the Cambodians clean and decorate their homes and prepare fruits and drinks on a table or in their spirit house to welcome the new spirits. Elderly people like to meditate or pray the Dharma because they believe that any spirit that comes to their home will stay with them throughout the whole year and take care of their family.

The second day is called “Wanabot” and it is the day that they offer gifts to parents, grandparents and elders. In the evening of this day many Cambodians will go to the temple and build a mountain of sand to remember their ancestors who have passed away and have the monks give them blessings of happiness and peace.

The third day is called “Leung Sakk” and this is the first day of the new year. In the morning the Cambodians go to the temple and perform a ceremony where the mountain of sand gets blessed. The last ceremony is called “Pithi Srang Preah” and the purpose of this ceremony is to honor and to give a special cleansing to Buddha Statues, the monks, elders, grandparents and parents. During this ceremony the participators apologize for any mistakes they have made during the last year.

The Khmer New Year is not only a great festival it is also an opportunity to pass on the Cambodian traditions to the next generation.

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ត្រូវនាំអ្នកត្រូវពស់ចិកទៅកាន់មន្ទីពេទ្យដើម្បីបញ្ជូលសេរ៉ូមបន្សាបជាតិពិស ។ ហើយចំនុចដែលត្រូវ​ សង្រ្គោះបន្ទាន់ គឺត្រូវដាក់ជនរង់គ្រោះនៅស្ងៀមដោយលៃយ៉ាងណាអោយមុខរបួសស្ថិតនៅក្រោមបេះដូង។
ពេលធើ្វឲ្យចលនាជាតិពិសអាចចល័តទៅផ្នែកផ្សេងទៀតជាពិសេសវាអាចចលនាទៅដល់បេះដូងយ៉ាងឆាប់រហ័ស។ ហើយ ក្នុង ករណីនេះដែរយើងអាចប្រើកំណាត់ឈើមកចងផ្អោបនឹងមុខរបួសដើម្បីកុំឲ្យកនែ្លងរបួសមានចលនា។
យើងភាគច្រើនតែងតែយល់ច្រឡំធើ្វការព្យាបាលអ្នកដែលត្រូវពស់ចិកដោយចងសម្លាប់មូខរបួសដើម្បី​ កុំឲ្យជាតិពិសធើ្វចលនាជ្រាបចូលទៅក្នុងរាង្គ​កាយ​ ដោយវះកាត់មុខរបួស​រឺច្របាច់មុខរបួសដើម្បីយកជាតិពិសចេញ

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Cambodian Holidays 2013

Cambodia has 27 days of public holidays per year and during these days most schools, local companies and administrative authorities are closed. Most schools and local companies work Monday to Saturday but Saturday is only a half day. The administrative authorities on the other hand are only open Monday to Friday and if any of the Public Holidays occur during the weekend they will have holiday on the Monday after instead.

Holiday in CambodiaThe two most important holidays during the year are Khmer New Year in April and Pchum Ben in end of September or beginning of October. These holidays are normally celebrated with family at home and at the local pagoda. The biggest festival is the Water Festival that take place in November, this festival is celebrated on the streets near the river in Phnom Penh.To have 27 days of public holidays can seem a lot if you compare it to the average of 10 days that the Western countries have, but in Cambodia most local companies do not offer their employees any vacation in excess of the public holidays.  Many of the western founded companies and organizations operating in Cambodia will not follow all the public holidays instead they make a mix of the most important Cambodian and Western Holidays and then offer vacation on top of that. For example some western founded companies in Phnom Penh that we have talked to have chosen  to have holidays during International New Year (1 January), Khmer New Year (14-16 April), Pchum Ben (03-05 October), Water Festival (16-18 November) and Christmas Day (25 December).


In excess to the Cambodian Holidays some Cambodians with Chinese origin also celebrate Chinese New Year (10-12 February), Qingming Festival (4-6 April)  and Mid-autumn Festival (19 September), and might want to have vacation during these holidays.

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Microbrewery in Phnom Penh

Craft beer in Phnom Penh, Obama and Stuffed Frogs – interview with Neo Say Wee, Brewmaster at Himawaris Microbrewery

Ten years ago, when Singaporean Neo Say Wee studied Computer Science he developed a great interest that was shared by many of his peers, namely Beer. Neo interest went further than most, he had a hunger to discover the skills and craft man ship behind a great tasting beer.

…Not only to enjoy it as the final product but how all the ingredients builds up to the final taste, the importance of clean environment and tools, knowing how the micro-organisms works and are affected and of course the challenge in making good beer

Today Neo works at the award winning Brewerkz Restaurant & Microbrewery in Singapore as a professional brewer. In 2011 he got an invitation from a friend, Andrew Tay at Himawari Hotel, who asked him if he would like to setup a microbrewery here in Phnom Penh.

Microbrewery can be defined as a brewery that usually produces beer, also called Craft Beer, and is small, independent and traditional with limited production size.

Cambodia has many good local Lager beers but only a few microbreweries. When Neo accepted Andrews invitation he decided that he wanted to create a high quality ale microbrewery. He saw it as a big but exciting challenge.

Himawari Hotel
Himawari Hotel


Machines from China, Malt from Germany, Hops from New Zealand, Yeast from US and Belgium and uv-filtered Cambodian water with extra minerals


In November last year, Himawari Microbrewery opened it’s doors as Cambodia’s first and only microbrewery in a 5 star hotel.

Himawaris Microbrewery
Himawaris Microbrewery

The brewery is currently producing three craft beers; Honey Sap, Nelson Blonde, Gem & Jade.


Nelson Blonde, Honey Sap and Gem & Jade

Nelson Blonde

A light tasting and low bitterness Blonde Ale with 4.5% alcohol. The Hops is important from New Zealand with the distinctive flavor and aromas of Nelson Sauvin hops… spicy food would work well with this beer.


Gem & Jade
A more robust and more bitter Ale with 5% alcohol. Pacific Gem & Pacific Jade “Alpha” hops are used and together with the malt to create stronger more complex mouthful beer, slightly toasty taste… that goes well with Burgers and BBQs


Honey SAP
Himawaris Honey Ale – the Honey SAP is a light tasting and low bitterness Ale with up to 6% alcohol. Honey from the Tonle Sap and Mondulkiri is added and gives the beer a sweet taste…


…Honey Ales are globally having an upswing maybe somewhat thanks to The White House, as The White House is producing its own Honey Ale by the request of the President Obama

Obama Honey Ales
The White House is producing its own Honey Ale by the request of the President Obama who purchased a home brewing kit using his personal funds.

Neo reveals:

My own favorite is the Gem & Jade, as I like more bitter Ales”

but he also enjoys commercial beers when he can:

I often drink commercial beer for taste calibration, as it must be a reason why commercial beers do well.. Understanding the local beer culture and preference is important factor in creating a good local crafts beer

Special brew for Chinese New Year

Special brew for Chinese New Year, a Cider made of Apples Juice, Fresh Dragon Fruit, fermented with Champagne yeast

The microbrewery will be ready to start serving the Red Dragon Cider from 10th of February.

Red Dragon Cider
Red Dragon Cider

Neo also told us about a Cambodian specialty that he found very tasteful

Korng Kaib Bouk is something special, I have not seen it anywhere else, very delicious and I enjoy eating once and a while when I’m in Phnom Penh. It is charcoal cooked frog stuffed with minced pork, spices, garlic, chili, fish sauce and lemongrass. Very tasty.

The Chef Gordon Ramsey featured this specialty on one of his visits to Cambodia.

It might not be found on the menu but they do have a full bar menu suited for the craft beers and for those who prefer a good cigar to a good beer there are Davidoff cigars too.

Himawari Micro Brewery is open daily, 12pm – 10.30pm.

Now in February there is a 30% happy hour discount between 5pm-7pm.

See address and more information here.

Neo Say Wee - Himawaris Brewmaster
Neo Say Wee – Himawaris Brewmaster

Hope to see you and let me know what you think about the beer! Cheers!

Your Phnom Penh interview with Neo Say Wee,
Phnom Penh
January 2013.

Have you tried any of the beers? Whats your opinion?



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Pchum Ben a festival for the ancestors’

Pchum Ben, the ancestors’ festival, is a Cambodian religious festival celebrated by Buddhists. It is one of the longest festivals in Cambodia, lasting for 15 days. A Ben is an offering. The first 14 days are called Kan Ben, where villages take turns making offerings, and the last day is Ben Thom, great offering, where all families make offerings. Pchum Ben is celebrated every year in the beginning of the 10th month, Phutrobot, of the Khmer calendar. (Around October in the western calendar.)

During the fourteen days of Kan Ben villages take turns bringing food to the temples and the pagodas.

The last four days of Pchum Ben are public holidays in Cambodia and most Khmer people will visit the province where they were born for family reunions.

The fifteen day, Ben Thom, is the special day when all families bring overflowing baskets of flowers, and children offer food, sticky rice cake and presents to the monks.

It is a colorful festival and everyone is dressed in their best clothes, women wear bright colored silk scarves, blouses and dresses. During the festival special rice offerings are made that are called ‘Bay Bens’. Bay Bens are balls of sticky rice cooked in coconut milk with various ingredients depending on local customs.

Cambodians celebrate Pchum Ben because they believe that after death they become ghosts whose earthly actions shape their appearance and that they walk the earth at this time. Everyone prays to help their ancestors pass on to a better life. According to Khmer belief, people who do not follow the practices of Pchum Ben will be cursed by angry ancestors. The living relatives ease their sufferings by offering them food. People also make offerings of money, dresses and other items to the monks in the temples. The offerings made are shared by the poor and the disabled during Pchum Ben and the donors acquire merit to cancel out past sins.

In this year Pchum Ben is on Friday to Sunday, 26 to 28 September 2014

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Craft Peace Café – so much more than just a café

Craft Peace Café is a charming little cafe with asymmetrical furnitures and good food. In addition to the cafe there is also a small shop with fine handcrafts and clothing for sale. Craft Peace Café do also rent out their premises for activities such as seminaries, exhibitions and meetings.

We at visited Craft Peace Café for a photography exhibition – delightful smiles. We were interested in the idea behind the Craft Peace Café and therefore wanted to take this opportunity to interview some of the persons involved in the organization. The one we interviewed were Geoffroy Auzou.

Geoffroy is a 24 years old guy from France who has studied entrepreneurship in Paris. After graduating, he wanted to do something different with his life. Thanks to a French charity organization, he received an assignment that will last for two years. His mission is to promote Banteay Prieb Organization. Geoffroy is not part of the Craft peace cafés employees, but one of his main tasks is to promote Banteay Priebs products with help of the café. Banteay Prieb is a training center for the disabled, with specializations such as: sewing, mechanics, carpentry and more. The goal of Banteay Prieb is to help the students to build up their self confidence and to become more independent. Craft Peace Café is a way to create jobs for the graduates from Banteay Prieb. In addition to that peace cafe serves as promotion for Bunteay Prieb, they also want to be enviroment friendly and exercise this by, for example, using towels instead of paper towels and strive to only buy locally produced products.

If you would like to have a coffee at Craft peace café it might be interesting for you to know that the coffee beans comes from local regions, to avoid the non-enviroment friendly energy it would take to import them from elsewhere. The beans are also roasted in Phnom Penh, before they are sent to Craft Peace Café to be served as a delicious cup of coffee.

You can find Craft Peace Café in Boeung Keng Kang, on the street 392, at number 14. It is very close to Monivong and the Boeung Keng Kang High School. If you are lucky you might meet Geoffroy there, who has a lot of interesting and wonderful things to tell you about the Craft Peace Café and Banteay Prieb.

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Your Phnom Penh is happy to present Online Food Ordering

Now you can order food online and get it delivered directly to your house. No more hassle with misunderstandings on the phone, you can order directly from your computer, tablet (ipad) or Smartphone. Choose among several restaurants with different cuisines and items.

When you have ordered once your address will be saved, so the next time you order you just need to choose restaurant and food. You can save several addresses on your account, if you for example want to be able to order food to both your office and your house, or maybe to a friend’s place.

Here is a quick guide of how to use the online ordering:

1. Log in or Register
2. Choose Restaurant to order from



3. Choose what you want to eat and click on the item. When you have clicked on the item you can add extra instructions about your food (for example “No onion”) and then add it to the cart.
If the item has two pluses (++) after it, it means that this item has more choices to choose between. Make your choices and add the item to the cart, then you can either continuing order or checkout.

4. When you have chosen all items you want, click on the checkout button and you will come to the check out page.

5. Check out: Make sure your order is correct, fill in what dollar bill you are going to pay with, your address information and your phone number. (The address nickname is the name that the address information will be saved under. It is only you who will bw able to see the address nickname.)

6. Pin your place on the map if you know clearly were your house is located, this will make it easier for the delivery guy to find your house. You do this by clicking on the pin and drag it to your address on the map.

7. Then click send and your food will arrive within an hour.

The first time you order we will call you up to confirm your order and confirm you as a customer.

We are looking forward to receive your order from our Online Food Ordering!


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Markets in Phnom Penh – Where to go for what!

Phnom Penh is a city filled with markets and sometimes it can be hard to know what market you should visit and where to find what. The eight most popular and central markets are Russian Market, Central Market, Olympic Market, Orussey Market, Boueng Keng Kang Market, Kandal Market, Old Market and Night Market.

Most markets have a wide selection ranging from fresh food to clothes to households supplies to motor parts, but the markets still differ a lot and they are specialize in different areas.

The most popular market among expats and tourist is definitely Russian Market, where you can find; souvenirs, handicraft, western sized clothes, handmade silk, fake bags and English DVDs. This is also the market where you will need to bargain the most.

Central Market, which is housed in a beautiful Art-Deco building, is the most spacious and cleanest market in Phnom Penh. Central market has the biggest supply of jewelry and gemstones of all markets and probably the freshest food section.  You can also find a lot of shops selling electronics and household electronics around the market.

The biggest and most crowded market is Orussey Market, which is the commercial center for Cambodians in Phnom Penh, here you can find almost everything except souvenirs. There is also a lot of stalls and shops on the streets around the market.

Olympic market and Boueng Keng Kang Market are the two most popular markets among young Cambodians when they go shopping for fashion, such as clothes, accessories and shoes. Olympic Market offers imported products from other Asian countries and has a good selection of fabrics. Boueng Keng Kang Market on the other hand does also offer imported products but mostly second hand products, a good place if you are looking for vintage stuff.

Kandal Market and Old Market are two genuine local markets and are the best places to go to if you want to get a glimpse of the local culture or if you want to get some local food.

Phnom Penh’s Night Market is relatively small and is only open Friday to Sunday from 6pm until midnight, but it is a nice and airy market located on riverside close to the restaurants and the nightlife. The night market is aimed towards tourist and offers mostly touristic stuff.

When you are shopping at the markets there is a few things you should keep in mind; none of the markets is indoor with air-conditioning so drink a lot of water and bring a small wet towel that you can keep around your neck to cool off and dry off your sweat with.

If you want to buy fresh food you should try to go to the market as early as possible, preferably before 9 am, before the food has been out in the heat for too long.

When negotiating the price remember that Cambodia has almost no domestic production and most of the commercial products are imported, that is why it is sometimes more expensive in Cambodia than in neighboring countries.

Read more about the markets here!


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Four health aspects to keep in mind when living in Phnom Penh

Being an expat in Phnom Penh is both a pleasure and a challenge. Expats need to adjust to cultural and climatic change when arriving in Cambodia. From a health and nutritional viewpoint there are some clear areas that can affect an expats waistline and health when migrating to the lifestyle in Phnom Penh. Here is the four main aspects you should keep in mind when living in Phnom Penh.

The first, stay hydrated. Our bodies are 75% water so staying hydrated is essential for all bodily processes and functions. The human brain is made up of 95% water, blood is 82% and lungs 90%. A mere 2% drop in our body’s water supply can trigger signs of dehydration: fuzzy short-term memory, trouble with basic math, and difficulty focusing on smaller print.

In addition, dehydration is often mistaken as a feeling of hunger, prompting individuals to eat more when really all they need is to hydrate, resulting in overeating. In hot climates it is essential that expats increase their water consumption. There is no one answer to the question of how much water is sufficient. We each need a different amount depending on age, sex, size, composition, etc. The best rule to follow is that of clarity: your urine should be ‘clearish’ or have a slightly yellowy tinge in colour.

The second, try to avoid Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). MSG is widely used in cooking in Cambodia as a flavour enhancer. The risks associated with ingesting MSG are simple and straightforward: brain damage, endocrine disorders (obesity and reproductive disorders), behaviour disorders, adverse reactions, and neurodegenerative disease. Try to avoid MSG wherever possible. MSG in Khmer is “bijeang” (also known as “ma sao soup”). So simply ask for NO BIJEANG  (in khmer you say “ot york bee-jeng”) when ordering any food and at best it will not be used and at worst the quantity used will be reduced.

The third, limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol is the second highest energy-providing nutrient (7kcal per gram) behind fat (9kcal per gram). Phnom Penh has a very active nightlife and social environment with eating and drinking out being so affordable. People generally increase their alcohol consumption with moving to Phnom Penh due to the lower cost of living, great evening weather and social opportunity. Alcohol has an adverse effect on weight gain in a number of ways; 1) increased energy consumption, 2) causes dehydration, 3) affects liver function (one of the main roles of the liver is to metabolize/’burn’ fat within the body), 4) weakens & poisons the immune system, to name just a few. Try to moderate your alcohol consumption in line with recommended limits.

The last thing you should try to avoid over consuming is sugar and refined grains. White rice is the foundation of the local cuisine. Our bodies’ process refined grains and sugar into energy very quickly and if there is no energy requirement this energy is then quickly converted into fat and stored. Through evolution Europeans are not ‘made’ to metabolize large quantities of grain, being more likely to be protein or mixed metabolic types. Furthermore, if you eat out (especially at Khmer restaurants) you can guarantee sugar has been added to your curry, sauce, peanuts, juice, smoothie, etc. The sugar and refined carbohydrate situation is the reason diabetes is a wide spread problem in Cambodia. To keep a check on your blood sugar levels I recommend when ordering drinks ask for no sugar, ask to substitute rice for a side salad or vegetables and limit consuming curries or heavily sauces meals.

If you can control and moderate these four aspects of Phnom Penh lifestyle you will acclimatise easier, help maintain your weight and decrease your risk of falling prey to sickness or poor performance.

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The Royal Ploughing Day in Cambodia – 9th of May 2012

The Royal Ploughing Day is an ancient royal rite to welcome the beginning of the growing season and determining the destiny of the harvest this year.

The ceremony takes place in the park in front of National Museum in the morning time and is led by the King or another high official and two sacred oxes. First the oxes plough a furrow of the park then they are led to seven trays containing rice, corn, beans, sesame, grass, water and alcohol. Depending on what the oxes choose to eat the chief astrologer will determine the fate of the harvest this year.

The Cambodians has a deep connection with the earth and farming, and a strong astrological belief and thousands of people will gather around the park to watch the sacred oxes and the royal astrologers.

This royal ceremony is celebrated to give blessings to the farming and to pray for a sufficient rainfall, which is essential to spurring the agricultural sector. The Royal Ploughing Day takes place every year in the beginning of May when the farmers start preparing their agricultural activities such as ploughing fields and sowing seeds.

Read more about the Cambodian Holidays here.

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A Visit to Cambodia’s Old Capital – Oudong

Oudong is the former capital of Cambodia, it is built on a hill of the same name. Oudong (also spelt Udong) was the capital from 1618 until 1866, when the French convinced King Norodom to move the royal court to Phnom Penh.

Oudong is situated about  40km northwest of Phnom Penh. You can travel there by tuk tuk, local bus, motorbike or taxi, a taxi costs around $20 there and back.


It’s always nice to travel to a tourist site and have the place to yourself. I visited Oudong on a Wednesday and I only came across one other tourist. Apparently it’s popular with locals at the weekends.

Oudong is a series of temples and stupas on a picturesque hillside setting. The hillside location means that there are spectacular views. Don’t forget your camera – Oudong is very picturesque. Get there early as the midday sun made walking up the hills a little tough going.

Oudong is a charming mix of the old and new. There are stupas and shrines to by-gone kings. Many of which were built after Oudong ceased to be Cambodia’s capital. Some of the shrines are deceptively new. Sanchak Mony Chedai, which is surrounded by serpent deities, elephants and lions, was only finished in 2002. What makes this structure particularly revered is that it holds three small pieces of Buddha’s bones. There are also plenty of my personal favourite – gaudy animal statues.

The signs at Oudong aren’t in English. If possible it’s advisable to take information about the site with you. The Cambodia Rough Guide had a decent section on Oudong, outlining the history and routes around the complex. Local children will ask to be your guide. I can’t vouch for how informative they are, but if you don’t want a guide, it’s best to tell them (a polite) no from the outset.

Oudong is not spectacular in the same way as Angkor Wat, but it’s interesting and an easy day or half a day out from Phnom Penh.

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Sandra Hoffman – Co-founder of Villa Paradiso

Sandra Hoffman has lived in Phnom Penh with her husband, Philipp, and their two children for three years now. The family previously lived in Dubai for eleven years.

Sandra is very well travelled and has visited more than 80 countries during her life so far. So what made Sandra and her family choose Phnom Penh as their home town? The answer was definitely surprising to hear, it was all because of an excel spreadsheet.

Sandra explains that after 11 years in Dubai the family was ready to move on to a new country, but they didn’t know where they wanted to go. They listed all the 80 countries they had visited in an excel spreadsheet. She says ‘we made it mathematical, we used the UN safety index, the  cost of living and French school for the kids, the top three countries according to our list were Nicaragua, Argentina and Cambodia. Sandra and her husband then lived in each of these three countries for a month to see which one would fit their family the best. In the end the couple decided to settle down in Phnom Penh, as they thought it would be a good place to open a business.

At the time, Sandra and Philip, felt it was hard to find a quiet and cosy place to stay in Phnom Penh so they decided to open a boutique hotel. Today their boutique hotel, Villa Paradiso, is one of the most popular boutique hotels in Phnom Penh, located on a quiet street in the centre of Phnom Penh.

Sandra really enjoys her life in Phnom Penh but it was not love at first sight. In the beginning the children found it tough to see the Cambodian kids in the street, much more than Sandra thought they would. But as they started to get more connected with the Cambodians and get Cambodian friends they started to like it more. Now they love to play football with our Cambodian night guard. ’Cambodia is a place that grows on you, and it grew on us’. For Sandra it’s the Cambodian people that make the place special.

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Stéph Delaprée – The Happy Painter in Phnom Penh

If you have spent any time in Cambodia, you will probably be familiar with Happy Paintings. Happy Paintings vividly depict scenes of everyday life in Asia. Even the king of Cambodia owns a Happy Painting. The Happy Painting gallery and shop is located on Phnom Penh’s riverside, next to FCC.

Stéph Delaprée is the artists behind Happy Paintings. I caught up with the long-term Phnom Penh resident over a pastis on the riverside, to find out how Happy Paintings came about and what Stéph thinks about life in Phnom Penh.

Stéph tells me he doesn’t like elitism in art, he describes his paintings as being art democratisation,  ‘it’s art for everyone, an art which everyone can understand, Happy Painting is the painting of happiness, an art of feelings and pleasure’.

The name Happy Paintings came around at the time of his first exhibition in Cambodia. ‘I tried to find an easy to remember name, I came up with Happy Painting. After so many years I don’t like so much the name, but it’s a good representation of what I do’.

Stéph hails from Paris originally, but he grew up in Quebec and has travelled extensively. He has lived in Phnom Penh since 1993. He originally moved to Cambodia for a two month job with a human rights NGO, drawing illustrations to make people aware of their rights. He is surprised to find himself living in Cambodia almost 20 years on ‘every day I wake up surprised that I’m still here!’

Stéph has created many paintings about the positive side of Cambodian life. His paintings typically show smiling women washing clothes by a river, people working in rice fields and families on bicycles. Stéph says ‘Phnom Penh is a good city, it’s living, it’s like a heart beating, boom boom boom, now it’s more like vroom vroom vroom with all the car engines’.

I asked Stéph about his plans for the future, he said ‘at the beginning I travelled a lot in Cambodia. I’m ready to travel and meet people again, I’m ready to be re-born in work and life’.  Stéph has exciting commissions coming up for a Tokyo Gallery and a church in France. It looks like there’s no shortage of demand for Stéph and his Happy Paintings.


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Phil Kelly – A Personal Trainer in Phnom Penh

Many find it hard to stay healthy in Phnom Penh with the hot weather and the easy access of restaurants and bars. Then a personal trainer can be a great tool to regain focus and motivation.

Phil Kelly is a Personal Trainer from New Zeeland that lives and works here in Phnom Penh. He has been working with fitness and health since 1996 and is the founder of Kiwifitness. To find out more about what a personal trainer does we met with Phil.

What does a personal trainer do?
A personal trainer should prescribe exercise, monitor the application/technique of said exercises and ensure the client achieves their fitness or wellbeing goals. Personal Training has many different levels of application. Some trainers solely provide exercise routines where at KiwiFitness we provide holistic services. We include coaching on lifestyle, nutrition, posture and biomechanics/movement enhancement.

Who typically uses a Personal Trainer?
People use personal trainers/coaches for a wide range of reasons. Generally it’s people who want to achieve a set goal through the safest, most effective and quickest method. Goals can range from fat loss, improved health, improved feeling of wellbeing, better performance in both sport and everyday life, motivation to exercise, a special event or even social reasons.

What kind of services do you offer clients?
KiwiFitness offers individual One-2-one training, group-coaching programs and educational courses. I developed KiwiFitness: Body Expert Systems to create simple, effective and holistic methods to enable clients to achieve optimum fitness & health. Our systems are individualised and very successful, resulting in a high percentage of our business coming from repeat customers and referrals. We generally offer customised programs but also provide packages.

How long do you usually work with someone?
The length of time we work with someone is really up to the clients’ goals, budget, timeframe and requirements. The longest I have worked with a client is 9 years but we also conduct single session consultations. To fully understand the advice provided and to allow for individual adjustments the minimum recommended amount of sessions is 5.

How does a typical training session with you look like?
Typically the session will begin with mobility/stability exercises, then strength while incorporating core exercises throughout the session. We accommodate all levels of ability from complete beginner to advanced exercisers by applying the same principles but using specific exercises and energy systems for the client.

What do you like the most about Phnom Penh?
The weather!! After living in London for 9 years the clear sky and sunshine is heaven.

Which is your favorite sport in Phnom Penh?
My favourite sport is Touch Rugby (played on Saturday 3pm, at ISPP field). The club is extremely social and welcomes all levels of ability to enjoy the friendly environment. The club also enters competitions. We recently competed in a tournament in Bangkok and finished in 3rd place.

Read more about Phil Kelly and KiwiFitness on his website:

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A Traditional Cambodian Makeover and Photo-shoot

Having a traditional Cambodian makeover and photo shoot had been on my Phnom Penh ‘to do’ list for some time.There are makeover shops throughout the city. I went to a shop on Monivong Boulevard.

Cambodian couples often have their photo taken at these shops before their wedding day. They pose together in traditional costumes and the photo is displayed at their wedding ceremony. Cambodian people also have these makeovers for fun. Khmerphoto-shoots are becoming increasingly popular with expats. I’d definitely recommend it as a fun afternoon out.

Two women worked on my makeover. The proceeding started with selecting my outfit. I opted for a red sequined number. Then we moved on to my make-up. The women painted layer upon layer of thick foundation on to my skin. My eye make-up, lipstick and blusher were similarly heavy. I wasn’t surprised to end up looking like a drag queen, but I liked my new look. I was particularly taken with my thick painted eyebrows.

The women crimped my bangs into a quiff and the rest of my hair was styled into a side ponytail. I hadn’t expected to get an eighties hair-do, so that was a bonus. I was then weighted down with armbands, bracelets, necklaces and tiaras. My transformation was complete!

I was taken to a separate room with a photographer. He gave me advice on how to pose and was very patient about my blinking eyes.

I kept my thick make-up on for the rest of the day. I gave my face a bit of a wash before going out in the evening, but I still had considerably more make-up on than I have ever worn before in my life.

I have just received my makeover photos back. They have been heavily PhotoShopped. My freckles and moles are a thing of the past. I’ve also been super imposed on to a room full of teak. I like the photos so much, that I’m choosing one to be my ‘Your Phnom Penh’ profile picture.

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Your Phnom Penh – Version 2

Thanks for all your improvement suggestions! We have listened to your feedback and worked hard to make our page easier, faster and hopefully more interesting to use.

Please continue giving us your opinions and supporting us to be the 1st go to place for Expats, Travellers and Locals in Phnom Penh!

Your Phnom Penh Dev team

What is updated in v2?

1. New logo and site design to emphasize the joyfulness that this city has and bring forth the content .
2. What’s On – Billboard of highlighted Events for today.
3. Your Vote – Polls in various subjects related to Phnom Penh and the site.
4. Follow us – Now we have Twitter & Google+ too, help us – spread the word!
5. Smarter filter to show relevant venues for dining, nightlife and well being etc.
6. Responsive design – looks good on iPAD, iPhone, tablets and smart phones in general.
7. Free membership in Your Phnom Pehn through Facebook or Google+
8. Save your favorites – with your own profile you can click on the star next to the venue and save it to your favorites for easy access.

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Cambodian Mask Making

Cambodia has a long history of dance and theatre. Performances of ‘the Reamker’ date back to the 13th century. The Reamker is a Khmer version of the classic Indian Ramayan. It is an epic poem, exploring themes of good and evil, through encounters with monkeys, giants, princes and mermaids.

Mask making and the theatre are intrinsically linked in Cambodia. The masks transform the performers into their characters. In the past it was common for artists to make their masks and perform. The finished theatre masks are sacred and are treated with respect.

Mask making requires technical skill and patience. Most contemporary mask makers have studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. Finished theatre masks are considered as works of art.

En Sokha is a Phnom Penh based mask maker. He’s part of Sovanna Phum art association, a network of 120 artists. En Sokha works predominantly with the theatre, making traditional masks such as monkeys and giants. He tells me that he doesn’t come from a family of mask makers. En Sokha was a creative child and went on to study fine art at university, he finds his work very satisfying. En Sokha uses clay moulds to make his papier mache masks.  It takes between 5-7 days to complete a mask.

The best place to see these impressive masks, is at the theatre. Sovanna Phum host performances every Friday and Saturday. There’s a performance fusing modern and traditional drumming on 9th and 10th of March.  Entrance is $5 for foreigners, and $3 for Cambodians.


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Cambodian Film Making

Last week, I had the privilege of photographing an Oscars party in Phnom Penh. Actors and directors from the Sixties, the ‘golden age’ of Cambodian cinema, attended the event. In the Sixties, even King Sihanouk was a renowned film maker. The Cambodian film industry, like the arts in general, was severely set back by the Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian film industry still hasn’t recovered its former glory.

At the Oscars party, there was a flurry of excitement when Dy Saveth arrived.  Dy Saveth starred in several films throughout the Sixties and was the first Miss Cambodia. She moved to France when the Khmer Rouge came to power. Dy Saveth returned to Cambodia in 1993. She still stars in Cambodian films. 

Photographing the event got me thinking about the Cambodian film industry. I spoke to Reaksmey, who works for the Cambodian Oscar Selection Committee. Reaksmey would like to see Cambodia putting forward films for the foreign language category at the Oscars. The problem is at the moment, the majority of films are low budget ghost/love stories, which are popular with teenagers. Reaksmey would like to see Cambodian actors receive better training, in order to improve the quality of films. He mentions Lost Loves (about the Khmer Rouge) and 25 Year-Old Girl (about a woman with amnesia) as standout Cambodian films.

Cambodian-made documentaries have received more investment and attention than feature films. Meta House regularly shows Cambodian-made documentaries. Several documentaries are being shown throughout March. Bophana also hosts weekly documentary screenings, many of which are Cambodian-made. Visitors can also search through Bophana’s extensive film archives. There’s fascinating footage from the twenties to the present day. You can even watch films directed by King Sihanouk himself. An understanding of Khmer or French is helpful when viewing the archives. The videos are fascinating, whether or not you can follow what people are saying.

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Meet the Bears outside of Phnom Penh

Free the Bears is a bear sanctuary, situated 40km outside of Phnom Penh, off National Road 2. The sanctuary is part of the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, the entrance is $5 for foreigners and $3 for Cambodians. There isn’t much in the way of public transport to the centre, so it’s best to make your own way there via motorbike, tuk-tuk or rent a taxi.

Free the Bears was founded in 1993 by an Australian called Mary Hutton. There is clearly still a need for the sanctuary as they currently house 118 sun bears and Asiatic black bears. I was shown around by Chuon Vuthy , the Cambodian Programme Manager. He told me that some people buy bears as cubs, and abandon them as they grow into full size bears. The sanctuary also houses bears who have been injured by animal traps.

I also chatted to Emma Gatehouse, who is the Volunteer Coordinator and Technical Expert. Emma tells me Fortnam’s story (pictured in the Hammock). Fortnam is a sun bear cub, he arrived at Free the Bears six months ago. He had been kept as a pet and was in a bad way when he arrived. His fur was balding and brown – a sign of malnutrition in sun bears. Since arriving at the sanctuary, Fortnam’s coat has got darker, but he still needs to put on weight.  Emma tells me that the hammock is Fortnam’s favourite spot, he can often be found there fast asleep.

I had an agenda behind organising my visit to Free the Bears – my agenda being wanting to photograph sun bear cubs. Fortnam and his friends don’t disappoint. The cubs are either, wrestling, eating ants or napping in hammocks.  I had naively imagined being able to get closer to the cubs, but the staff explained that they bears would try and wrestle with me, so I reluctantly Iet the idea go.

Lonely Planet’s website erroneously states that visitors can wash bear cubs as part of the ‘bear keeper for a day’ programme. I must confess to liking the idea of washing bear cubs, but Emma and Chuon Vuthy explained that it would be bad for the bear cubs to have a series of tourist washing them. It’s generally important to manage how much human contact the bear cubs have. Where possible the sanctuary will introduce a rescued cub to a group of similar aged bears. If this is not possible, trained members of staff help the cubs learn bear behaviour, such as how to climb trees and catch ants.

I generally have reservations about zoos, but these bears aren’t kept for our entertainment. They are rescued bears. It wouldn’t be possible to release these bears into the wild. The bears seem content wrestling and eating in their large enclosures.

The sanctuary does offer a ‘bear keeper for the day’ programme (without bear cub washing). They also welcome volunteers from between 1 week – 8 weeks.  The Free the Bears team are really friendly and passionate about the bears’ welfare. If you like bears, I think it would be a great experience.

Read more about volunteering at Free the Bears on their website:

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Nerd Night in Phnom penh

Nerd Night (sometimes known as Nerd Nite) is an international movement, where people get together for presentations and drinks. Phnom Penh’s Nerd Night is based on the principles of Pecha Kucha presentations. Pecha Kucha presentations are short. Presenters are allowed 20 slides, with 20 seconds for each slide. Phnom Penh’s Nerd Night takes place twice a month and the venue changes each time. Check out the events to see where and when the next Nerd Night will take place.

Nerd Night was founded in Phnom Penh, by Yi Wei, just over one year ago.  I asked Yi about her all-time favourite Nerd Night presentations. She tells me about the time when local artists Chhan Dina, painted ten portraits, during her Nerd Night slot. Another guy wrote a song. He got the lyrics, music and melody from the audience and created a Nerd Night ditty. It seems like there are endless presentation possibilities.

Last Monday (Feb the 20th) Nerd Night took place in Score Sports Bar. This was my first Nerd Night and I was surprised at how packed Score Bar was. It was at it’s capacity with around 200-300 people in the bar. It’s amazing that such a large crowd wants to watch five Phnom Penh residents talk about random topics.

The topics included cadavers, BuckHunger (a children’s soup kitchen), wine, acupuncture, and things expats need to get used to about Cambodia. Yi introduced Mara Harris, who kicks off the proceedings with her presentation on cadavers.  Mara HarrisMara says she isn’t an expert on dead bodies, but she read an interesting book on cadavers and wanted to do a presentation.

Next we move on to Johnny Phillips from BuckHunger, a children’s soup kitchen, who have featured in previous Your Phnom Penh articles. John Schute, then takes to the stage with his presentation – ‘if anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving’.  John organises wine tasting events in Phnom Penh. Then we learn about acupuncture with Kimberly GruberKimberly Gruber,. The audience are given tips, such as relieving pain by rubbing the web of skin between the thumb and finger.

The night finishes with a presentation called ‘things expats need to get used to about Cambodia, because they are not going to change’. This presentation could be an article in itself. Sopheak Hoeun talks about how expats need to accept squat toilets, getting charged more than locals, and weddings taking place on the street. We also need to get used to women wearing pyjamas, as they are light colourful and cheap. The audience laugh a lot, because it’s funny and because we know she’s right.

I caught up with Hoeun after her presentation. She claims to have been nervous, which is hard to believe, as she seemed so confident! Hoeun says ‘The reason I decided to make today’s presentation is because I’ve been hearing these kind of complaints, and words from foreigners, and maybe it’s time to put it in public, so they can use my presentation as a mirror’. Hoeun says we should try to live within the Cambodian framework and culture. But Hoeun didn’t want to tell people off, she wanted to get her message across with humour. It was a funny presentation with a serious point, many expats need to ease up on their complaining about life in Cambodia.

At the end of the night, I ask Yi, (one of the Nerd Night team) why she thinks Nerd Night is so popular. She says that ‘one of the reasons people like it is because it’s your friends and peers in the Phnom Penh community, it’s a small town, and the night brings out a side of people you might not usually see in regular conversation’. We end our chat with Yi saying ‘I can’t emphasise enough how much it’s a community event, people need to sign up and show their nerdiness, without the speakers there isn’t an event’. I’m definitely converted. I’m not sure I’ll have the nerve to speak, but it’s a great way to socialise and learn about strange and unexpected topics.

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BuckHunger – Giving hope by giving lunch

It’s 10.45 on a Thursday morning and the queue is forming outside BuckHunger – a soup kitchen near Phnom Penh’s Russian Market. Every day, at 11am, BuckHunger provides free lunches to some of the poorest children of Phnom Penh. For many, this will be their only meal of the day. In the queue I meet a homeless family, carrying their worldly belongings around with them in a cart, which they have decorated for Chinese New Year. The mother tells a member of BuckHunger’s staff, that they are grateful for the daily free meals.

The doors to BuckHunger opened on the 4th of December 2011. The project is the brainchild of Johnny, who is a restauranteur by trade. Johnny established BuckHunger after witnessing young children picking through rubbish dumps, not only in search of cans which they can sell but also looking for food which he says ‘it’s desperation at its worst’.

This is my second visit to BuckHunger and there are even more children here than on my first visit. Kids from a neighbouring orphanage turn up in a giant blue tuk-tuk. The orphanage tuk-tuk even managed to pick up a couple of children on the ride over. The orphanage has limited supplies of food, and meals consist mostly of rice. At BuckHunger, children are served a nutritionally balanced meal of vegetables, rice and meat. Today, for the first time ever, BuckHunger feeds over 300 children.

The majority of BuckHunger customers are children, although there are usually a handful of elderly people. What strikes me most about the place, is the dignity with which everybody is treated. There is a group of four girls sat a table. They could be girls having a lunch and catch-up anywhere in the world. Children are served a hot meal by courteous staff.

BuckHungeralso assists young adults through its restaurant training programme. The soup kitchen is staffed by 15 young people. They all receive on-the-job-training to prepare them for working in the service industry.

After the children have finished their lunches I catch up with Johnny, to find out why the project is so important. Johnny says:

‘The proof in the sight here, come down here at 11 o’clock and see how this thing works, to watch these kids file in here, watch the expressions on their face and the happiness and the joy they feel, it’s phenomenal, to see something being done for these kids other than them sitting on the corner with their hand out, that’s’ how we are used to seeing kids in Phnom Penh, and this situation at BuckHunger is just absolute magic’

BuckHunger desperately needs funding to continue feeding children. Although the soup kitchen is for children, Johnny will arrange adult meals in return for a donation. I’ve eaten a tasty meal here on two occasions. For people wanting to give something back to the children of Cambodia, visiting the soup kitchen could be a good alternative to an orphanage visit.  Johnny also welcomes good old fashioned donations. Donation can be done via the BuckHunger website. It would be ashame to see BuckHunger close its doors to hungry children.

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Happy Valentine’s Day Phnom Penh

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love but it is not just a day for lovers. Valentine’s Day is a day where friends and family can show how much they care for each other. With love being such a good reason to celebrate, why not surprise friends, family, or partner with something special.

For all chocolate lovers a box of chocolate is a must on Valentine’s Day and one of the best places to find quality chocolate in Phnom Penh is at Chocolate Shop on Street 240. They have a great variety of valentine’s boxes starting from 2 USD.

Or why not say “I love you” with a cupcake Bloom Café? Their cupcakes both look gorgeous and taste delicious and will definitely set the mood of love! You will find Bloom Café on Street 222 and their cupcakes cost 1, 5 USD per piece.


Roses are one of the most popular Valentine’s Day flowers, and are easy to find at any of the bigger markets around Phnom Penh, like Central Market, Oressey Market or Olympic Market.  Remember that different color on the rose symbolize different feelings; yellow is said to symbolize friendship, red to symbolize passion, and white – true love.

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Makha Bucha Day in Cambodia

Makha Bucha Day is a Buddhists holiday, celebrated on the full moon of the third lunar month in the Buddhist calendar. Makha is the name of the third lunar month and Bacha is the act of worshiping the Buddha. In Cambodia faithful Buddhists celebrate Makha Bucha day by gather in local temples to honor the Buddha and his teachings and to participate in traditional religious ceremonies.

The origin of Makha Bucha comes from an event that occurred nine month after the Enlightenment of Buddha when 1 250 of Buddha’s followers gathered without prior notice and listened to the Buddha. At this event Buddha elaborated on some of his most important teachings and laid down the three main principles of his religion, which are: 1. Give up evil and refrain from sinning, 2.Cultivate good, and 3. Cleanse one’s mind. This event is believed to have taken place on the full moon of the third lunar month.

The date of Makha Bucha Day changes from year to year since it follows the Buddhist calendar that is astrological in nature.

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Time for Wedding!

The most popular time of the year for weddings is from November to March, when the weather is dry and sunny. So do not get surprised if you get invited to a wedding during this time. A traditional Cambodian wedding lasts for three days but today most Cambodians only celebrate for one and a half day. You will probably be invited to the last part of the wedding which is the reception but let’s start from the beginning.

The wedding usually starts in the afternoon of the first day with Pithi Sout Mon, Monk Blessing. The monks are invited to pray and give blessing to the bridal couple. It is believed that the prayers will send a message to the soul of dead relatives that the couple is now celebrating their wedding and becoming husband and wife.

Next day starts early in the morning around 6-7am with the Hae Chamnoun ceremony, this is when the groom and his family go to the bride’s home with gifts. They wait outside the house until the bride comes out. When the bride comes out the groom offers the wedding flowers to her and they enter the house together. The groom’s parents offer fruit to the bride’s parents and a traditional Khmer singer will perform the “Fruit song”.

The whole day is filled with different ceremonies and for every new ceremony the bridal couple will change clothes. The first ceremony is the Ring exchange ceremony followed by Hair cutting ceremony, when the guests symbolically pretend to cut the couple’s hair and wishes them happiness and prosperity.  After that comes the Feet cleaning ceremony when the wife cleans her husband’s feet. The Cambodians with Chinese descent will then have a Tea ceremony when the couple drinks tea with their parents.

The day continues with the Bangvel Po (Seven Rotation), the couples are asked to sit around the bride and groom. Three candles are lit and handed over seven times around the bridal couple. Each participant passes his or her right hand over it in a sweeping motion towards the couple, a silent blessing to them. Only married couples are asked to join, as it is believed that they will pass along the special essence which will preserve the union.

The Pairing ceremony is normally one of the last ceremonies during the day before the evening party. In this ceremony family members and friends will tie the bride’s and groom’s left and right wrists with blessing strings and whishes the couple a lot of happiness, good health, success, prosperity, and a long-lasting love.

Last but not least is the reception and this is normally the part you get invited to. When you get your invitation make sure not to lose it because the tradition is to give back the envelope with money in it. The envelope will have your name on it, and at the reception there will be some relatives sitting by a special table collecting the gifts from the guest and writing down how much every guest gave. The more money you give the bigger blessing, as an expat going to a wedding in Phnom Penh you should probably give around 15-25 USD per person.

On the invitation it will probably say that the reception starts around 4pm but most guests do not arrive until after 6 pm. When you arrive to the party the parents of the bride and the groom will be standing outside and greet you.

Inside, it is usually free seating but custom is to fill up the tables where people are already sitting. When one table is filled with guest the food will be served. After most guests have finished their food the bridal couple will arrive. The guests will stand up and throw small flowers at the bridal couple as they walk in and up to podium where their parents will be waiting for them. They stop beneath their parents who also throw small flowers at them and give them a blessing in front of all the guests.

After the couple has got their parents blessing they will dance around a fruit table that is placed in front of the stage. When they have finished their dance all guests are invited to join the dance and it is party time!

How long time the party is going on is up to the couple who is getting married but many of the receptions in Phnom Penh finish already around 10 pm.

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Chinese New Year in Cambodia

Chinese New Year, or Chinese Spring Festival as some call it, is not one of the official holidays in Cambodia but it is still one of the most celebrated festivals during the year. The Festival is mostly celebrated by Cambodians with Chinese descent and ethnic Vietnamese but many Cambodians and other foreigners living in Cambodia will also join some parts of the celebration even though they do not have any relation to it.

In 2014 the New Chinese Year will start on the 31st of January and will be celebrated for 12 days ending with Lantern Festival. This year the year of the Snake will come to an end and the Year of the Horse begins.

Many of the Cambodians with Chinese descent work with commerce, having their own shop or stand at the market, so during Chinese New Year you will notices that a lot of shops and businesses in Phnom Penh are closed during this period.

The days before the New Year people are busy with cleaning and decorating their house with “Good Wish” banners in red, hanging couplets on their walls and preparing festive displays for offerings. They are also preparing food and buying presents and new clothes.

The Chinese New Year is a holiday that is celebrated with family so some people will return to their birth place in the country side of Cambodia to celebrate with their families, grandparents or friends. But you will still be able to spot quite a few  traditional “Lion and Dragon dancers” performing on the streets in front of someone’s house or businesses across Phnom Penh  for several days around New Years Day. And hear people say “Gong Xi Fa Cai!”  to each other, which means “Happy New Year” in Chinese.

On the night of New Year’s Eve people gather at the pagodas to make offerings. Wat Phnom is one of the busiest and most popular pagoda in Phnom Penh, especially on New Years Eve at midnight.

People flock to buy yellow-flowering bushes called Angkea Sel. They believe that if the trees blossom during the first three days of the New Year, the year will bring good fortune.

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Cambodian Holidays 2012

Cambodia has 26 days of public holidays per year and during these days most schools, local companies and administrative authorities are closed. Most schools and local companies work Monday to Saturday but Saturday is only a half day. The administrative authorities on the other hand are only open Monday to Friday and if any of the Public Holidays occur during the weekend they will have holiday on the Monday after instead. The two most important holidays during the year are Khmer New Year in April and Pchum Ben in end of September or beginning of October. These holidays are normally celebrated with family at home and at the local pagoda. The biggest festival is theWater Festival that take place in November, this festival is celebrated on the streets near the river in Phnom Penh.

To have 26 days of public holidays can seem a lot if you compare it to the average of 10 days that the Western countries have, but in Cambodia most local companies do not offer their employees any vacation in excess of the public holidays.  Many of the western founded companies and organizations operating in Cambodia will not follow all the public holidays instead they make a mix of the most important Cambodian and Western Holidays and then offer vacation on top of that. For example some western founded companies in Phnom Penh that we have talked to have chosen  to have holidays during International New Year (1 January), Khmer New Year (13-15 April), Pchum Ben (14-16 October), Water Festival (27-29 November) and Christmas Day (25 December).

In excess to the Cambodian Holidays some Cambodians with Chinese origin also celebrate Chinese New Year (23-25 January), Qingming Festival (2-4 April)  and Mid-autumn Festival (30 September), and might want to have vacation during these holidays.

Cambodia also have a Muslim minority that celebrate the Islamic holidays, the two biggest holidays for Cambodian Muslims are Eid-Ul-Fitr (End of Ramadan, 19 August) and Eid-Ul-Adha (Festival of sacrifice, 26 October).


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Celebrate 7 Makara – National Holiday – Jan 7th

Victory over Genocide Day (National Holiday Day) is celebrated on January 7th of every year in Cambodia. The Victory over Genocide Day commemorates the Vietnamese assault on Cambodia which brought an end to the Khmer Rouge’s bloody regime. From 1975 to 1979 Cambodia suffered from one of the most brutal murderous ultra-communist regimes under the government of the Democratic Kampuchea. Under the Khmer Rouge or red Khmers, almost two million Cambodians or a fourth of the country’s population died by arbitrary execution, starvation, exhaustion from overwork in labor camp, and untreated illnesses. The plan was to turn Cambodia back to Year Zero where the country will turn into large agricultural communes. Laborers were forced to work in labor camps from five in the morning well into the night, for 12 to 14 hours a day. On January 7, 1979, commemorates the end of the Khmer Rouge regime and get the freedom.

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One Day in Phnom Penh

If you are limited to one day in Phnom Penh, you have plenty of things to see within a short period of time. Phnom Penh was once known as “The Pearl of Asia” with its beautiful French architecture and was one of the most modern cities in Southeast Asia from the 1920s to the 1950s. Unfortunately the recent history has taken its toll on the city but you can still see the beauty beneath the surface.

To get the most out of one day in Phnom Penh you will have to start early and rent a Tuk-tuk for the whole day to get around (Approximately $15- $20). Phnom Penh is not a big city but it is too hot to walk and the city is not always walking friendly since most of the sidewalks are either used as parking space or outdoor seating area for restaurants.

If you do not have breakfast at your hotel a recommendation is to have breakfast at The Shop on Street 240 just behind Royal Palace. It is a small western café with a lot of breakfast options and they also have a selection of bread and sandwiches if you want to buy some snacks to have during the day.

When you are finished with your breakfast you should take the opportunity to visit the Royal Palace and look at the King’s residence, the beautiful garden and the Silver Pagoda. The Royal Palace is only open until 11AM and then the closes for lunch and opens again at 2 PM. It takes about an hour to see Royal Palace and remember that if you what to go into the pagoda you should wear shorts that cover your knees and a shirt that covers your shoulders. Next to the Royal Palace is the National Museum and if you are interested in sculptures and art from the Angkor era this can be worth a quick visit.

After the Royal Palace take your tuk-tuk to Wat Phnom, the oldest pagoda in Phnom Penh, built in 1373. Wat Phnom means ‘Mountain Temple’ and is a Buddhist temple where the Cambodians go to pray for good luck. Wat Phnom is located in the north part of Phnom Penh close to the old French part of the city. On your way to lunch you can ask your tuk-tuk driver to make a quick stop at the post office just to see some of the old French architecture.

Time for lunch!  A perfect place to eat delicious authentic Khmer cuisine and enjoy the view of the river is at Bopha Restaurant by the riverside, just 2 minutes ride from Wat Phnom. This restaurant often has live khmer music and dance performances during lunchtime.

After lunch, it is time to go to the south part of the city and visit the tragic past of the Khmer Rouge era, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Tuol Sleng is a former high-school that was transformed into one of the most notorious prisons, Security Prison 21 (S-21), during the Khmer Rouge era. This museum is heartbreaking but definitely worth a visit, it will give you a glimpse of the suffering the Cambodian people have gone though during the Khmer Rouge.

Not far from Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum you will find the Russian Market, which is the most popular market among tourists and expats. This is the best place in town to pick up souvenirs; you will find everything from beautifully hand carved statues, colorful lanterns and handmade silk scarves to fake bags, printed T-shirts and DVDs.

After a busy day like this it can be nice to take a break for some relaxation so why not take a massage before you have dinner? One of the popular Spas in Phnom Penh is U and Me Spa at Boeung Keng Kang 1.

For dinner we highly recommend supporting the local community and dining at the NGO restaurant Lotus Blanc, which provides a great selection of western and Khmer cuisine.

Finish off the evening with a drink at Le Moon, a rooftop bar with a beautiful view near the riverside.

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Visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21)

Tuol Sleng is a former high school that was transformed into one of the most infamous prisons, Security Prison 21 (S-21), in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge era. The name Tuol Sleng translates to ‘hill of poison tree’ but to many Cambodians the prison was known as “Choul min dael chenh” – the place where people go in but never come out.

In August 1975, four months after the Khmer Rouge took control over Cambodia, this High School was turned into a prison and interrogation center by Khmer Rouge. They renamed the High School to Security Prison 21 (S-21) and reconstructed the building into a prison. The classrooms were converted into tiny cells and torture chambers, all windows were covered with iron bars and the buildings were enclosed in electrified barbed wire.

During the four years S-21 was in use over 17 000 people were imprisoned and killed at this prison. Only six people are known to have survived the prison.

In 1979 the Vietnamese Army invaded Cambodia and the prison was uncovered. When the Vietnamese Army found S-21 the prison staff had already fled leaving thousands of written documents and photographs of all the people that had been imprisoned at S-21. Altogether more than 6 000 photographs were found and these photographs are still remaining at the museum today.

In 1980, the prison was reopened by the government of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea as a historical museum memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime.


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Cambodian New Year

Khmer New Year is the greatest traditional festival and national holiday in Cambodia, and the celebration last for three days.

Khmer New year starts on April the 13th, 14th or 15th depending on the ancient horoscope “Maha Sangkran”. The majority of the Cambodians are still farmers and they work with sowing, maintaining and harvesting their rice and fruit fields all year long except in April when it is too hot and dry. Therefore, the farmers rest during April and celebrate the New Year.

The first day is called “Maha Sangkran”, Sangkran means movement and refers to that the sun is moving into a new Zodiac sign and Maha means great. Some say that Maha Sangkran means welcome to the new spirits.  In the morning the Cambodians will go to the temple and offer food to the monks and receive blessings. During this time the Cambodians clean and decorate their homes and prepare fruits and drinks on a table or in their spirit house to welcome the new spirits. Elderly people like to meditate or pray the Dharma because they believe that any spirit that comes to their home will stay with them throughout the whole year and take care of their family.

The second day is called “Wanabot” and it is the day that they offer gifts to parents, grandparents and elders.  In the evening of this day many Cambodians will go to the temple and build a mountain of sand to remember their ancestors who have passed away and have the monks give them blessings of happiness and peace.

The third day is called “Leung Sakk” and this is the first day of the new year. In the morning the Cambodians go to the temple and perform a ceremony where the mountain of sand gets blessed. The last ceremony is called “Pithi Srang Preah” and the purpose of this ceremony is to honor and to give a special cleansing to Buddha Statues, the monks, elders, grandparents and parents. During this ceremony the participators apologize for any mistakes they have made during the last year.

The Khmer New Year is not only a great festival it is also an opportunity to pass on the Cambodian traditions to the next generation.

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Shopping at Russian Market (Toul Tom Poung Market)

Russian Market is the most popular market among tourists and expats and probably the best place to pick up souvenirs.  It does not look like much from the outside but when you get in you will find everything from beautifully hand carved statues, colorful lanterns and handmade silk scarves to fake bags, printed T-shirts and DVDs.

Russian market is located in the south part of Phnom Penh and is known to the locals as Phsar Toul Tom Poung. The reason why it is called Russian market is because it was a popular market among the Russian expats during the 1980s when most of the western expats in Phnom Penh were Russian.

It is a narrow and sometimes steamy market since most of the stalls do not have Air-conditions or even a fan, but it is still worth the visit and if you get tired you can always take a relaxing coffee at one of the cafés around the market.

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Water Festival

The Water Festival is the most festive festival in Cambodia, people from all over the country gather in Phnom Penh to see the boat race, the illuminated boats and the fireworks. The city is filled with people, food stands and live concerts.

The celebrations of the water festival dates back to the 12th century and was from the beginning a celebration to honor King Jayavarman VII and his marine army who defeated the Cham people. The Cham people are a Muslim ethnic group in Southeast Asia and they had occupied Angkor in 1177.

Today the Water Festival also marks the remarkable natural phenomenon of the reversal of the current of the Tonle Sap River and the start of the dry season. During the rainy season the Tonle Sap River floats north to the Tonle Sap Lake and during the dry season Tonle Sap River floats south and joins with the Mekong River in Phnom Penh.

The Water Festival is a 3-day long festival that occurs in November. All three days there will be boat races on the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh with colorfully decorated boats that hold 40 rowers. The final of the boat race will be held in the afternoon of the last day.

During the Water Festival the Cambodians also celebrate the 12th lunar month full moon by lighting lanterns containing offerings with flowers incense sticks and candles and let them float on the river. They will make their wishes before releasing the lantern and it is believed that sincere praying could become true. The biggest lantern is the Royal Lantern which will be released at the riverside in front of the Royal Palace exactly at 12 midnight of the full moon night.

At night time there will be a lot of fireworks that the Cambodian Government has sponsored and you can see beautifully decorated and illuminated boats called Loy Pratip on the river.  And people will be eating special rice with banana or coconut juice called Ork Ambok.

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Ken – a beggar in Phnom Penh

Today as the rain suddenly began to pour we ran for what shelter we could find in the Phsar Chas Market on Street 13. We navigated the market passageways beneath the makeshift plastic roof, the small alleys quickly filling with water. We jumped from one patch of higher ground to another, shrieking each time a hole in the plastic let the rain run down on us. As we made our way towards the center of the market, we came across an old woman sitting on a couple of boards begging; the rivers of water washing across her feet.  We all huddled together to wait out the storm and she began to tell us her story.

Her name is Ken, she is 74 years old and has been begging in Phnom Penh for four days. She was once married, but her husband and her four siblings were all killed under the Pol Pot regime, leaving her alone to support her young daughter. When Ken’s daughter was old enough she married, which helped their financial situation until three years ago when her husband “was not cured in time” and died. Ken and her daughter share a small parcel of land, enough to supply one bag of rice per season, however Ken and her daughter, now 40, are both in poor health and are not able to work the land.

Ken’s daughter now works as a garbage collector in Stueng Mean Chey Commune, and when Ken is well enough and can afford to make the trip she comes to Phnom Penh to beg. On a typical day in Phnom Penh Ken receives between 5,000 – 7,000 Riel. (About $1.50)  It costs her 2,500 Riel to sleep at the train station, leaving about 2,000 Riel ($0.50) for dinner.  She has no breakfast, and eats lunch only when she can afford it.

Sometimes the rain became so loud, pounding against simple roof that we could not hear each other over the storm. In these moments she would look at us with a smile, the lines beside her eyes spreading into her grey hairline, and her hands folded at her chin in a way that seemed to imply both please and thank you. As the storm began to subside and we stood to get back on our way, we had a quick conversation amongst our group. It was decided. We handed her a $5.00 bill. She stood to accept it, and bowed graciously, but then shyly told us she didn’t know how to convert it into Riel and asked if we had Riel instead. We told her she could buy food and they would change it for her. And then, though she had thanked us most sincerely, we realized she couldn’t know how much this was worth. “This is 20,000 Riel, thank you for talking with us.” We all stood in a circle and she looked at us, taking our hands in hers, thanking us each one by one.

Five dollars is more than most would typically give to someone begging, in fact, I typically do not give at all.  Children I want to encourage to go to school, not to beg, so I support them via The Ponheary Ly Foundation, but hearing Ken’s story as we all stood there in the rain, and feeling the warm sincerity of this woman made us all think twice before saying no to the older people begging.

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Shopping at Central Market (Phsar Thmey)

Central Market is located in the heart of the Phnom Penh. The Khmer name of the market is Phsar Thmey translates as “new market”.

The Central Market was built in 1937 during the French colonial period, in Art Deco style, and is painted bright ochre. It consists of four wings dominated by a central dome, the design allows maximum ventilation. It is probably the cleanest  and most airy market you will find in Phnom Penh. The Market was recently renovated to restore its old glory. The renovation was financed by the French government and finished in March of 2011.

The Market is filled with stalls selling gold and silver jewelery, electronic equipment, clothing, fake watches and bags, suitcases, dried and fresh foodstuff and lots of souvenirs.

Central Market is definitely the best and freshest market for browsing, but it has a reputation for overpricing on most products.

Read more about the diffrent markets in Phnom Penh here.

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Improve Your Health Through Outdoor Exercise

Public gym and public exercise are becoming more and more popular in Phnom Penh among those who are interested in improving their health through outdoor exercise. The Riverside Public Gym is one of the newest communal fitness center located on Preah Sisowath Quay near Amanjaya Hotel. The gym consists of 13 different types of exercise equipment  and is free for everyone. Next to the public gym you can find aerobics and dance classes during evenig time (5.30-6 pm to 8.30pm) but these will cost you about 1000 Riel (o,25 USD) to join.

The most popular area in Phnom Penh to do outdoor exercise is in the Wat Bottom Park by the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument. Every night, hundreds of Cambodians gather to do aerobics, play football or badminton, exercise or just walk around. it is located on Street Sothearos Blvd, in front of Hong Kong Center, close to Independence Monument.

If you want to do aerobics or dance just pay 1000 riel in person no matter residence or expats. Normally they start from 6 pm to 8:30 pm.