Understanding Phnom Penh property types

Cambodia’s capital city has more and more housing built every day, but most Phnom Penh real estate fall into one of six categories: Traditional Khmer houses, Khmer-style shophouses, renovated shophouses, Western apartments, full-service apartments, and freestanding villas.

Cambodian wooden house

Expats romanticize Cambodian wooden houses, but they aren’t easy to find!

Traditional Khmer houses

As Phnom Penh grows, traditional wooden Khmer houses are harder and harder to find in the city. Cambodian wooden houses are made of wood and on stilts (this isn’t the first year Phnom Penh has flooded, after all); traditionally the breezy area under the house was used for hanging hammocks, lounging, and keeping livestock safe. Today, almost all available wooden houses in Phnom Penh have been renovated, and the downstairs will have been turned into a ground floor made from concrete, and many have been turned into restaurants. While the idea of a wooden house is charming, they can be hot and prone to mosquitoes — many expats find themselves spending most of their time in the concrete part of the house because it’s easier to keep cool with air-conditioning. Continue reading

Is Sihanoukville gay friendly?

If you count the number of gay bars and gay hotels in Sihanoukville it would be easy to come to the conclusion that this is not a gay-friendly town.

Located in a vibrant and beautiful seaside town with a population of nearly 200,000 people, Sihanoukville’s only gay bar seems a bit lonely when compared to similar-sized cities in Thailand. However, with the help of a gay friend who lives in and loves Sihanoukville, I decided to dig a little deeper than just a simple bar count.

The first step of my investigation was a series of conversations which confirmed that what is true for gay culture in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is also true in Sihanoukville: the ultra-accepting and friendly Khmer culture extends equally to homosexuals and heterosexuals.

After plenty of insightful conversations with both straight and gay Cambodians and expats, I was convinced that Cambodia is like any other progressive country. They still have some traditional families and rural communities where it is difficult to be LGBT, but for the most part sexual orientation does not play a role in how you will be judged.

Gay Sihanoukville

OGA Bar, the heart of Sihanoukville’s gay community.

The second step of my mission to find out if Sihanoukville is gay friendly took me to OGA Bar, the lone gay bar in town and the heart of the gay community, and I emphasize heart! Continue reading

Surviving dengue fever in Cambodia

A few weeks ago I suffered through dengue fever…again. This is either the second or third time I’ve had the virus in Cambodia, and I’m sharing my experiences here both to garner sympathy and as a cautionary tale.

dengue fever Cambodia

Getting dengue fever in Cambodia — not a good buzz.

Every time I have had dengue, despite showing similar symptoms, it has hit me differently. Last month I was feeling fine when all of a sudden I got a terrible lower backache that I attributed to sitting in front of a computer for too long. But a few hours later I started vomiting, and shortly after that was running a fever, getting the chills, and feeling like electric shocks were running up and down my body. I went from feeling dandy to being in the the grips of a serious bout of dengue in just a few hours. For two days I thought I was going to die, but it disappeared just as quickly as it came on — my fever subsided on the third night and I went back to feeling normal, although very tired and run down. Continue reading

Review: Suns of Beaches hostel, Koh Rong

The amusingly named Suns of Beaches is a brand-new Koh Rong hostel on a beautiful private beach. It’s so new, in fact, that they have just started accepting their first guests. We took a tour of the place and saw what was on offer and are confident that Suns of Beaches is going to be popular.

Suns of Beaches Koh Rong

The private beach in front of Suns of Beaches on Koh Rong.

Right now there’s an eight-bed mixed dorm bungalow, with more on the way. One night in the dorm costs just $3.50, which is a steal. This is a soft opening price and will almost certainly go up in the future. There are also camping options, in the form of tents on the beach, each with a double futon mattress and pillows. Continue reading

The best gyms in Siem Reap

Siem Reap isn’t known for its fitness scene, but more and more gyms are popping up all of the time, and there’s a range of options to appeal to just about anyone. In this post we’ll cover the best gyms in Siem Reap, including Western-style, local gyms, a fight club, and lots of classes.

Sokha gym Siem Reap

One of the most popular gyms in town with expats, Sokha isn’t perfect but it is air-conditioned.

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Review: Giant Ibis bus, Phnom Penh to HCMC

Let’s face it, long bus journeys in Southeast Asia are unlikely to be the most fun part of traveling in the region. When a land border crossing is added into the mix, it becomes even more unpleasant, but is something of a right of passage. Luckily, Giant Ibis takes the pain out of crossing the Cambodia-Vietnam border, with a six hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to HCMC.

giant ibis hcmc

The Giant Ibis bus from PhnomPenh to HCMC (Saigon).

Several bus companies cover the popular Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon) route. Of all the Cambodia bus companies, Giant Ibis is the best, unless of course you are looking for the kind of experience that includes blaring Khmer karaoke, lack of air-con and cramped seating. Giant Ibis buses all come with powerpoints, free WiFi and fairly spacious seating even for a larger person. They also offer a snack when you board the bus and the capable staff make you feel as though if something were to go wrong, they might be able to do something about it.

If you are headed from Phnom Penh to Vietnam, remember that you need to get your visa before getting on the bus. The exceptions is that citizens of Denmark, France, Finland, Germany, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, and the UK may enter visa-free for 15 days. Several other Asian countries are also eligible for the visa exemption. If you’re not on the list, here’s how to get a Vietnam visa in Phnom Penh. On the other hand, if you are headed from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh, you can get a visa at the border.

Giant Ibis HCMC PP

This is about as luxurious as it gets on this route!

From Phnom Penh it’s 170 km to the border and takes about four hours. It is important to be aware that when you board the bus in Phnom Penh the Giant Ibis rep will take your passport to check whether or not you have the correct visa, and ask you to fill out your Cambodia exit card. The rep will keep the passport and get everyone stamped out of Cambodia at the same time.

There’s a brief stop between the borders at a strange restaurant and giant duty-free complex (with ridiculously cheap booze) where you can have lunch and browse the shops while they process the visas. While you are shopping, the Giant Ibis rep will be busy getting everyone’s visas stamped. You can change money but the rate is extortionate, so get Vietnamese Dong in Phnom Penh before you leave.

Then it’s back on the bus to the Vietnamese border. Once at the border you will get your passport back and cruise through immigration (because you’ve already been stamped in). Then you’ll get your luggage x-rayed and back onto the bus. It’s important to note that they are currently in the process of building new (huge) border crossing offices, so this process may change somewhat in the future.

Giant Ibis PhnomPenh HCMC

Giant Ibis seats have powerpoints to keep your phones charged.

Once you are through here, the Giant Ibis bus will be waiting for you. Once everyone is back on, it’s another two and a half hours to Ho Chi Minh City. When you arrive in Ho Chi Minh City the bus drops you one street over from Pham Ngu Lao, which is the main drag for backpacker restaurants and bars. The traffic is notoriously faster and even more chaotic in Ho Chi Minh than Phnom Penh so be careful crossing the road, and the office can be hard to spot.

On the return journey, you can get a Cambodia visa at the border as long as you’re from one of the approved countries. Tourist visas cost $30. Overall, it’s a surprisingly easy bus journey and border crossing without any of the scams that are usually seen at overland borders. The Giant Ibis staff will give you the option of paying $5 for them to process your visa, or you can do it yourself. Many tourists choose to let the staff do the work for them so as to not have to deal with immigration officials. It’s not a scam, it’s just a way to speed the process along and it is optional.

Tickets on Giant Ibis between Phnom Penh and HCMC/Saigon cost $18. Unlike every other company that operates on this route, Giant Ibis charges the same price to Cambodians and foreigners. You can book at any travel agent or guesthouse in Phnom Penh or Ho Chi Minh City, or you can also book on the Giant Ibis website for an extra $1 and select your own seat.

Giant Ibis schedule:
Phnom Penh – Ho Chi Minh City: 8:00 a.m.
Ho Chi Minh City – Phnom Penh: 8:30 a.m.

Giant Ibis

3Eo Street 106, next to the night market, Phnom Penh
T: 023 987 808
37, Street 7 Makara, Behind Sokimex Gas Station, Kampot
T: 023 999 333

Check other buses that go from Phnom Penh to HCMC (and vice-versa)

What’s new in Battambang’s restaurant scene

As the city grows and grows it seems that every day there are new restaurants in Battambang opening up. Meanwhile some of the older establishments have changed hands and gotten a makeover. Here’s a review of some of the newer offerings around town:

Vintage Wine Bar Battambang

Vintage Wine Bar in Battambang

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What’s going on with work permits in Cambodia?

Update 8/31/2016:

A few new developments with work permits in Cambodia. The government has announced that tomorrow, September 1st, they will be launching online work permit applications for foreigners. If the site actually works, this seems like great news because the rules will have to become clear (mostly), and people will stop being taken advantage of by dishonest agents, which seems to be happening quite a bit in Phnom Penh and Kampot.

The costs will be streamlined, although there is an extra $30 fee paid to the company contracted to process the applications, and a health check-up will be required. Additionally, applicants are required to submit their work contract and certificate of employment. I’m going to take a wild guess that this means employees are going to be required to pay taxes in the future. Overall, although the process is onerous, being able to keep track of foreign workers is probably in Cambodia’s best interests. I guess.

The site is up and running but has several glitches that render it unusable. The registration form is worth having a look at, though.

For more discussion on what’s happening with work permits, have a look at the Cambodia Visa and Work Permit group on Facebook. 

work permit cambodia

A real life Cambodia work permit.

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Things to do in Kampot when it’s raining

Anyone living in Kampot right now will know that rainy season has well and truly arrived! Unfortunately when you think of a visit to Kampot it’s generally all about the great outdoors — a stroll along the riverside, a trip up Bokor Mountain or a relaxing sunset cruise — so, when it’s raining, what else is there to do to occupy your time? Here are a few things to do in Kampot when it’s wet, wet wet:

Kampot rainy season

Don’t worry about the rain, there’s still enough to keep you busy in Kampot.

Go to the Magic Sponge

As a one-stop rainy-day shop, there’s always something different happening at the Magic Sponge with daily happy hour specials thrown in — $0.50 draft beer every day from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. and double shots with a mixer for the price of a single (from almost anything behind the bar) every day from 5 p.m to 8 p.m.

Books and games: There is a selection of books in the bar to either buy or swap if you fancy a quiet afternoon of rainy day reading. If you’re up for more of a challenge, there’s also a good selection of board games such as trivial pursuit and scrabble to choose from. Continue reading

Taking the train in Cambodia: Phnom Penh-Kampot-Sihanoukville

This dispatch is from our Cambodia railway correspondent, Abigail Gilbert.

After a wait of 14 years, passenger trains are once again running in Cambodia. Train buffs will need no other excuse to get on board, but there are good reasons why any traveler might like to let the train take the strain.

Cambodia trains

Taking the train in Cambodia. Yes, they’re back!

Although plans are in the works for a country-wide network, the train service is currently limited to four destinations, running from Phnom Penh via Takeo and Kampot, terminating in Sihanoukville. This first foray into passenger trains runs only on weekends and public holidays, matching domestic demand for the two popular Khmer holiday destinations. Continue reading