The “new and improved” Bokor Mountain

Bokor Mountain remains one of the main tourist sights around Kampot. Formerly a French colonial hill station resort and site of a royal summer vacation home, modern Bokor has made itself much easier to access and has more “attractions.” While many claim that Bokor has lost all appeal to tourists, just scratching the surface one can see a picture of past and present Cambodia.

Bokor Hill Station

Even on sunny days the Bokor Hill Station ghost town is covered in a gloomy mist.

As with many historic areas around Cambodia, Bokor Mountain and many of the old buildings on it have been restored rather than preserved, and rights to develop the land nearby have been sold to foreign business owners. However, the new road means that visiting Bokor is possible not only during the Water Festival, but year round.

Bokor Mountain is about 37km from Kampot. A taxi will set you back around $40 and minivan tours can be had for $10 per person, but the easiest way to get there is by moto. To get there from Kampot town center, go across the New Bridge and go straight through the roundabout (second right-hand turn for those unfamiliar with roundabout orientation). It is a straight shot on National Road 3 until you reach the checkpoint and park entrance. On a moto, you’ll pay 2,000 riel per vehicle to enter. Make sure to keep the stub for the checkpoint at the top of the hill!

Bokor Hill Station

The new road means that Bokor Hill Station is accessible year-round.

If you are on a moto and didn’t fill up in Kampot, we recommend getting a liter or two at the fuel station just outside of the gate — we saw prices jump 50% on the mountain and places to fuel up can be a bit far between. It is about 29km from the base of the mountain to the old Casino (the 60km round trip is about a liter and a half on your typical 2011 100cc Honda Wave), plus another 12km or so each way if you are visiting the waterfall as well.

Beware of reckless drivers, slick wet sections of road, and pockets of fog and rain that can cluster on the side of the mountain on your ride up. Even if the day is clear down in Kampot, weather going up and on top of Bokor Mountain is unpredictable. After taking on the seven or so hairpin turns on Road 32 up the mountain, you will know you’ve hit smoother riding when you see a giant statue on a small hill close to the road on your right. Lok Yeay Mao is a deity to protect travelers, and this is the biggest and highest shrine to her. On the opposite side of the road, there is a small pull-off area and an old brick and concrete structure. This is the remains of King Norodom Sihanouk’s modest “Black Palace.”

Bokor Mountain casino

The new Bokor Mountain casino is an architectural curiosity in its own right.

When you get to the checkpoint at the top, there is a traffic circle — take a right to the Popokvil Waterfall, the Japanese Farm, and the field of One Hundred Rice Fields; and left to the new casino, the ghostly Bokor Palace Hotel, the Catholic Church and Wat Sampov Pram. Google Maps is not particularly helpful on Bokor Mountain, but there are signs pointing to many of the main points of interest, and Thansur Bokor Resort has a helpful map.

Popokvil Waterfall is literally the end of the road (OK, you can go about 50m further to an empty guard shack where you realize you need to turn around). Oddly, the parking area is dominated by a billboard for Thansur Bokor Highland Resort, but if you walk in, past the large mint green food area on the left, you will see the river hitting wide, flat blocks of rock that make up the two-tiered falls. There are no official paths here, hike around at your own risk. The falls are most impressive during rainy season.

Bokor Mountain waterfall

The waterfalls at Bokor Mountain are most impressive during rainy season.

Coming back towards the roundabout from the waterfall, if you take a right at the big turnoff for Japanese Farm (private, no visitors) and carry on for about 5km you will see the 100 Rice Fields on your left. We didn’t see any official sign marking the site, although we were staring through rain and thick fog (apologies for lack of photo). The 100 Rice Fields are not really rice fields of course. You can see those anywhere in Cambodia. They are a rock formation with grass growing in between the straight-line crevices, allegedly making it look like an aerial view of a bunch of rice fields. If you have time to kill on the mountain or want to take this road as a back way to Wat Sampov Pram and/or the 500 Rice Fields Meditation Area.

Wat Sampov Pram is named for five rounded rocks that are said to resemble boats (sampov) that stand near the path between the buddha statue and the main wat. During our visit, the lower parts of the compound were being renovated, but we had great views around the small pagoda covered in colorful lichens (remember to take your shoes off if you want to go inside) and down the escarpment to the ocean. If you took a left at the roundabout, you can also get to Wat Sampov Pram by turning right just before the Chinese pagoda after the New Casino and following the road past several rows of new shophouse/apartment construction.

Bokor Hill Station church

The old Catholic Church is a reminder of Bokor Hill Station’s French colonial past.

Further down this left arm of the road, you will find the Old Catholic Church on the righthand side. The building is striking and although now mostly empty save some modern offerings, has a stillness that can be serene or creepy depending on the weather. Off to the left and behind the church is a path up a small hill; there are some large rocks to climb back here so be careful if knees, ankles or general mobility is an issue. At the top is the remains of the floor of a structure and fragments of old tiles, but on a clear day the view down to the coast is beautiful.

Bokor Palace Hotel

The old Bokor Palace Hotel figured prominently in the Matt Dillon movie City of Ghosts.

A few more kilometers brings you to the Bokor Palace Hotel, also known as the old casino (right side, parking on the left). You can wander through the old corridors, grand halls and winding stairs and imagine what it must have looked like with chandeliers, huge windows and ornate furnishings. Some of the walls (interior and exterior) have been patched up, but it retains that sense that “things happened here.” Off of the courtyard behind the old casino is a low wall and, yes, more great views down the steep side of the mountain to the plains and rice flats below and out to sea.

The top of Bokor Mountain is often misty and much cooler than the area below, so we recommend taking a raincoat or at least long sleeves, even if it is not rainy season.

Wine and cheese in Phnom Penh (…and then there was one)

Expat life is associated with a peculiar kind of nostalgia; every change comes with twice as many complaints about the way things “used to be.” For pampered expats in Cambodia’s capital, this nostalgia is particularly strong around wine and cheese nights.

wine and cheese phnom penh

Gone are the halycon days of affordable wine and cheese nights at the InterCon.

For several years, the flagship “wine and cheese night” was immodestly hosted by the Intercontinental Hotel on the last Wednesday of every month. A selection of imported wines and cheeses that could not be found at local grocery stores were set out, as well as fancy nibbles like smoked salmon and raclette with ham, potatoes, and gherkins. For a long time, this two-and-a-half hour event was a relatively affordable $25, making it the place to be seen and catch up with expats across the spectrum from Embassy workers to teachers. In 2013, the price started creeping up to $35, and the crowd thinned considerably. Finally, the Intercon’s monthly wine and cheese night came to an end in December 2014, in favor of less regular “Wine, cheese and All That Jazz.” But at $45++ for only three hours to get your fill, the sparkle was off. The most recent “All that Jazz” was in March 2015 and no others have been announced since (we’ve been checking).

Short lived and too good to be true: $20 unlimited wine and cheese at Khema.

Short lived and too good to be true: $20 unlimited wine and cheese at Khema.

Khema in Aeon Mall was the new hope of wine and cheese lovers in Phnom Penh (and one of the only reasons besides the movie theater and Japanese dollar stores we brave the parking lots at Aeon). Khema offered a $20 wine, cheese, and charcuterie night every Thursday, and rightfully suggested phoning ahead to make reservations after word got out in its first few weeks. Although the only wine on offer was their Hobnob “house” red or white, the staff were generally friendly and attentive about refills of wine, bread and meat, and cheese. Unfortunately, this also seems to have been unsustainable, as Khema Aeon has closed. Khema is to have a second incarnation on Streets 51 and 242 in the ground floor of the Aruneas Hotel (across the street from International SOS Clinic) with a deli and wine and cheese offerings, but it remains to be seen whether the $20 wine and cheese nights will return in the new location.

phnom penh wine and cheese nights

The latest wine and cheese night may not be free-flow, but it’s ON A BOAT.

New on the scene is a cheese and charcuterie boat cruise aboard the Kanika on Wednesday evenings for $20. You can request either a mixed meat and cheese board, or just one or the other each time. Drinks are not included, but the house red was decent and $4 per glass, and draft beers and cocktails are also available from the bar onboard. We found the staff a little slow the whole hour and forty-five minute boat ride allowed only two rounds of cheese, meat, or cheese-and-charcuterie but the selection was generous and very tasty and our feedback about the service seemed constructively received so look forward to great bang for your buck here. The meats are from French-Khmer butcher and charcutier La Tradicion and the cheeses are imported from France. The Kanika leaves from the tour-boat section of Riverside (across from Wat Phnom) at 7 p.m., and reservations are recommended.

Have we somehow missed an underground Phnom Penh all-you-can-eat-and-drink wine and cheese event? Please let us know! Until then, we will keep buying our wine and cheese retail (stay tuned for a post on where to buy the best cheese and charcuterie in Phnom Penh).

Kanika Boat

Sisowath Quay, north of Street 94 intersection, Phnom Penh
T: 017 915 812; 089 848 959
facebook.com/kanikaboat

Dual pricing in Cambodia: the excuses debunked

Dual pricing based on race is very common in Cambodia, from the bus companies who charge white faces more to the hospitals that have one rate for Khmers and another for foreigners. Even the government-owned airline has one fare for Cambodians and another, much higher fare for everyone else. This is frustrating on many levels, not least when it’s foreign-owned businesses that are perpetuating what is, fundamentally, a form of racism. When asked how they can justify dual pricing based on race, race-based pricing advocates scramble all over themselves to defend the practice. Here are some of the most frequently cited arguments in favor of dual pricing — debunked.

dual pricing cambodia

At fancy hospitals there is one price for foreigners and one price for Cambodians. Even with the reduced rate, care is out of reach for poor Cambodians.

But Cambodians are poor

It’s true that Cambodians, by and large, are poor. And it’s also true that most expats are better off than most rural Cambodians. But it’s important to remember how outdated is the oversimplification that Cambodians are poor and Westerners are rich. These days the streets of Phnom Penh are clogged with gas-guzzling Lexus SUVs, and they are driven by rich Khmers, not Westerners. Perhaps just as surprising, there are Western expats sleeping on those very same streets.

Pricing based on race is a blunt instrument, and one that has failed. This failure grows more apparent as the Khmer riche get richer and the average expat is no longer on a generous relocation package — these days, expats are just as likely to work a “regular” job as anyone else. The wealthiest 1 percent in Cambodia is made up not of Westerners, but rather of the Khmer elite and (some) Asian expats. While most expats are solidly middle class, they are still leagues behind the Khmer upper class and elite, financially speaking. And much of Cambodia’s dual pricing benefits the Khmer upper and middle class and has no impact on the lives of the poor; you won’t find subsistence farmers getting a price break on yoga classes or on flights to Bangkok. These benefits go to those who are already privileged and do nothing for those who are truly in need.

Dual pricing is based on nationality, not on race

First off, Cambodian nationality is, for the most part, based on race (non-Vietnamese minority tribes are the exception). Any child of a Cambodian mother is granted Cambodian citizenship, regardless of where he or she is born. The child of non-Cambodians, though born and raised in Cambodia, is not granted Cambodian citizenship. Ethnically Vietnamese families who have lived in Cambodia for generations are, for all intents and purposes, stateless as far as the Cambodian government is concerned. So the argument that the dual-pricing system is not racist because it is based on nationality is flawed, because there is no attainable path to Cambodian citizenship for non-Cambodians (and I don’t call paying a $50,000 “facilitation fee” attainable).

Moreover, non-Cambodian Asians often benefit from the dual pricing plan, paying the local rate even when they don’t speak much Khmer and are citizens of Western countries. In practice, actual nationality seems unimportant; looking Khmer matters more. Khmer-Americans are also given the “local” price by many businesses, whether or not they have Cambodian passports.

dual pricing cambodia

Airlines one price for Cambodians and another price for non-Cambodians.

But tourists should subsidize things like national parks for the locals

I don’t disagree, but there are other, more sensible ways to accomplish this. In the Philippines, I went to national attractions that had one price for locals and one price for tourists — and anyone with a long-stay visa was counted as a local. In Cambodia, on the other hand, anyone who looks like a Cambodian gets the local price, even if they’re tourists, while long-time residents who don’t look Cambodian are charged as foreigners. Thus Americans with one Cambodian parent are given free passes to the Angkor Archaeological Park, even if they’ve never set foot in the country before. For everything from bus tickets to meal prices, plane tickets, entrance fees and more, it would be easy enough to separate locals from tourists by asking to see a long-stay visa or a lease.

The prices are meant to reward regulars versus tourists

If that’s the case, reward the regulars, or define locals based on residency. As things now stand, a Cambodian-American visiting the country for the first time will get a lower price on a bus ticket or flight than an expat who makes the same trip five times a month.

Maybe it’s unfair, but right now dual pricing is necessary to help Cambodia develop

Some businesses may be eager to help poor Cambodians, which is admirable, but these pricing policies only perpetuate a tradition of long-standing, entrenched racism in Cambodia, which ultimately helps no one. Instead it serves to deepen the divide between expats and locals. That divide is perpetuated by Cambodians when they treat foreigners like cash registers and by expats when they pay Cambodian staff far less than they pay their foreign employees. On both sides, the disparity is based on the idea that Cambodians need special treatment, whether that be lower prices or additional training.

On a more immediate level, if a business can charge a foreigner twice as much as it charges a Cambodian, at a certain point Cambodians will be shut out of the market. Why bother selling your widget to a local when, if you just wait around, you’ll make twice as much by selling to a foreigner?

But it’s only 2,000 riel!

Since this was first published, many people have pointed out that the price difference between what locals and foreigners are charged for in tuk tuk rides or vegetables in the market is very small. That’s true, and that sort of dual pricing is not what bothers me, particularly since it’s just as often based on perceived wealth as it is on race. What does bother me is institutionalized dual pricing, for flights, hospitals, yoga classes, etc., where there’s one price for Cambodians and a different price for non-Cambodians that is non-negotiable. When pricing like this is institutionalized, learning Khmer and whining “tlay na!” won’t change anything. If you are not Cambodian you will never get the Cambodian price for flights, no matter how long you live in this country.

(As an aside, I have heard that the few Westerners who do possess a Cambodian passport have difficulty entering the Angkor temples for free, but overseas Cambodians without a Cambodian passport are allowed in without question. Tell me again that it’s based on nationality and not race.)

This sort of dual pricing benefits only rich  Cambodians who clearly need no help in maintaining their wealth, and has no effect on those wealthy expats for whom an extra $50 for a plane ticket is chump change. Poor Cambodians rarely benefit from these policies, apart from perhaps getting free tickets to the Angkor Archaeological Park. And that benefit would not disappear if all residents, foreigners included, were given the local rate. Poor Cambodians don’t fly on Cambodia Angkor Air, and they get no benefit from a wealthy Khmer getting a reduced rate.

It’s time we recognize dual pricing for what it is: racism. The Cambodian economy would not crumble if instead of having prices based on Cambodian versus non-Cambodia, prices were based on resident versus non-resident. When you see dual pricing based on race, complain. When at all possible, avoid companies that use it.

tl;dr Institutionalized dual pricing on things like airline tickets, hospitals, yoga classes, and bus tickets that are based solely on race and nationality are wrong. Tiered pricing based on residency versus non-residency would allow long-term residents — who are a tiny fraction of the foreigners who visit Cambodia — to pay the local price, without raising prices for Cambodians.

How to get from Siem Reap to Battambang (and vice-versa)

Battambang and Siem Reap are two of the nicest spots that Northwestern Cambodia has to offer, and each is worth visiting. Battambang and Siem Reap are only 48 miles (77 km) apart, but the trip can take as long as four hours due to the fact that there’s no direct road–all of the buses route through Sisophon–and up to ten hours by boat. Here we cover how to get from Siem Reap to Battambang (and vice-versa), including boat, taxi and bus.

Heading to Battambang? Check out our expat guide to Battambang with hotels, activities, transport and more. 

Street in Battambang

Seen Siem Reap? Now it’s time for Battambang.

Boat

Boats between Siem Reap to Battambang leave at 7:00 a.m. each day in either direction. The trip takes between eight and ten hours, depending on the season andhow high the water level is, and which direction you are going; the trip from Battambang to Siem Reap is shorter than the other way around. The views are gorgeous, passing by many small fishing villages, allowing visitors to get a sense of life on Cambodia’s riverside. If you’re considering taking the boat, know that the wet season is the best time to take it due to higher water levels, but be sure to bring both sunblock and some sort of rain protection (you can get cheap ponchos for 2,000 riel at any small shop). Also be aware that the boats do not have any sort of safety standards and wouldn’t pass any safety tests back home. Tickets cost $20 per person and it’s possible to book the entire boat for private trips for around $180. These are the phone numbers listed at the dock (your mileage may vary): T: 012 689 068; 012 601 287; 010 689 068; 097 774 1333

Mekong Express Siem Reap to Battambang

Mekong Express are now running these cute little numbers between Battambang and Siem Reap.

Mini-bus

After a hiatus, there are again mini-bus shuttles traveling between Siem Reap and Battambang. Mekong Express are now running two buses every day in either direction. The 8 a.m. bus from Siem Reap and the 2 p.m. bus from Battambang is larger and seats 25 passengers, the other bus seats 18 passengers. Mekong Express is a long-time tourist favorite because they have a good safety record and are relatively reliable. They’ve also come to their senses and are not doing dual-priced tickets, so all nationalities pay $6 each way for the journey. Tickets can be booked at the Mekong Express ticket offices, through travel agents, or online at CamboTicket for no extra charge. The trip takes about three hours.

Mekong Express schedule:

Siem Reap to Battambang: 8 a.m., 2 p.m.
Battambang to Siem Reap: 8 a.m., 2 p.m.

Mekong Express

catmekongexpress.com

Ticket Offices:

14 Sivatha Blvd, Khum Svay Dangkum, Siem Reap
T: 063 963 662; 012 315 858

323 Street 3, 3 Mohatep Village, Svay Por Commune, Battambang
T: 088 576 7668; 069 88 59 59

Siem Reap Battambang Capitol bus

Capitol Tours runs buses between Siem Reap to Battambang. Be warned, ticket prices are often inflated!

Bus

There are several full-size bus companies doing this route, all of them of the crappy local variety. Bus tickets cost between $4.50 and $5, but there can be as much as 100% markup at local travel agents and guesthouses, particularly on the Siem Reap side. It’s quite easy to go directly to the bus company ticket office and purchase your ticket yourself to save a couple of bucks.

Capitol Tours is the best of the bunch, with tickets quite reasonably priced at 18,000 riel ($4.50) for both locals and foreigners. Their fleet of 42-seat buses bedecked with colorful curtains are aging but still in decent condition. You’ll be treated to Khmer karaoke videos for the duration of the journey, an excellent insight into local culture. They tend to leave 15 minutes late and the trip takes between three and three-and-a-half hours.

Capitol Tours bus Siem Reap Battambang

The interior of a Capitol Tours bus between Siem Reap and Battambang. Karaoke not pictured.

The price of your ticket includes free mini-bus pickup. The bus depots in both Siem Reap and Battambang are not particularly central, so you can go to the Capitol offices in either town (we have links to maps below) and they’ll transport you to the station.

For buses that arrive in Battambang, there will be another bus waiting that says ‘Pick up Bus’ on the side that will take you into town, or you can take a tuk tuk from the station. You can also get a tuk tuk from the Battambang bus station; the drivers offer a discounted rate of $1 for tourists, but if they know that you’re not planning on doing any day tours, they will push for the “real” rate of $2 or $3. For buses that arrive in Siem Reap, you can easily get a tuk tuk or moto to town for a couple of bucks.

Capitol Tours Schedule:

Siem Reap to Battambang: 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m.
Battambang to Siem Reap: 7:45 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m.

Capitol Tours

capitolkh.com

Ticket Offices: La Hte Street (at Street 103), Battambang [map]
T:011 600 953
663 Street 10 (at corner of Street 9), Siem Reap [map]
T: 063 963 883; 092 277 311; 011 600 963

Taxi

Private taxis cost $35 or $40 to go from Siem Reap to Battambang or vice-versa. As with most taxis in Cambodia, the preferred vehicle is the Toyota Camry which can fit four passengers, but it can be a tight squeeze and the trunk is rarely empty, so if you have more than three people, travel light. You can hire a taxi through any local guesthouse or travel agent for $40, but if you go direct (ask a tuk tuk driver for his taxi driving pal’s number) the trip will cost $35. The trip takes two or two-and-a-half hours.

What’s going on with work permits in Cambodia?

Update 8/13/2015:

Several readers have sent me this article from the Khmer Times on July 30th stating that those without work permits will be fined at the airport if they attempt to leave the country. No one has reported having their work permits checked at the airport, including people I know who have departed Cambodia this week. I do not consider the Khmer Times to be a credible source of information, and until I see it reported elsewhere, I will assume that this report is not based on anything real.

Update 6/16/2015:

Although there is not a lot of news to report on the work permit front, I thought I would update this post with the current situation, ie. the current rumors. After applying for a work permit at the start of the year, I finally got my work book five months later.

work permit cambodia

A real life Cambodia work permit.

I used SmartUp Cambodia, based in Siem Reap for my permit. The fee for this service was $60 in addition to the $100 per year for the permit. Remember, the year means calendar year, so even if you arrived in December of 2014, you’ll need to pay for 2014. I have heard reports of agents in Phnom Penh asking hundreds of dollars for processing work permits. Do not pay an exorbitant rate! Using an agent was helpful, but if your application is straightforward, it’s not necessary. The real benefit to using an agent is that they can help negotiate you negotiate a lower price if you’ve been here a long time — think 10+ years. If you’ve only been here a few years, you’re going to pay $100 per year; I haven’t heard of anyone paying less. You can apply yourself by going to the Ministry of Labor.

They do not seem to be enforcing with the fervor that they were earlier this year and only seem to be focusing on low-hanging fruit, large companies with several foreign staff. The reason for the lack of recent action might be because they are backlogged with applications, so it’s likely the crackdown will start up again, eventually. However, the alleged list of foreigners that were going to be hunted down and fined seems to have been shelved.

If you have a public facing job, it makes sense to get your work permit sooner rather than later. If they (and by they, I mean the Ministry of Immigration who are doing the enforcement for the Ministry of Labor) show up at your place of business and demand to see your work permit, you will be forced to get one, plus pay a $125 fine.

There is still a lot of confusion about what the laws mean and how they should be enforced. There have been reports of people being stopped on the street and having money demanded if they could not produce a work permit, but I suspect that these are just rogue officers asking for bribes. If you are confronted in this way, just refuse to pay and head to the Ministry of Labor to apply for your work permit. You’ll be given a receipt that you can keep while you wait for your actual workbook and card. The cost will be $100 per year, plus an extra couple of bucks to have someone help you translate the forms. Everyone who reports doing it themselves says it is simple and painless.

The situation for the retired and volunteers is still up in the air. Personally, if I was a member of one of these groups I might take my chances, because I still think it’s possible that once the laws are clarified (and they are still very, very unclear) that there may be a retirement visa or an agreement that those not drawing a salary in Cambodia will not need a work permit.

Overall, the situation does not seem as dire as it did in the previous update below.

Update 1/8/2015:

It seems that the long-promised enforcement work permit is finally happening.  In yesterday’s Cambodia Daily, an article declares: Government to strictly enforce work permit law from next week. For those naysayers who say they’ve heard this before, this time we think they’re for real. The rules are still very unclear and are being enforced different in different cities, but this is what is generally true:

All foreigners on long-stay “ordinary” or “business” visas need a work permit, regardless of their actual work status. Those on NGO visas are exempt.

In the future, retirees may have a special visa, but for now, they need a work permit.

Employers are responsible for obtaining a work permit for their employees, but in practice this is not always happening. If you have a formal employer, you should speak to them about your situation.

Business owners, the self-employed and freelancers need a work permit, but they can sponsor their own. Technically you need to register your business (and get your taxes set up) to do so, but you can start the work permit process before actually completing your business registration.

If you’re self-employed without a visible business, it’s likely that you will be able to avoid the requirements some time while they look for more visible foreigners. However, it’s my personal opinion that the requirements are going to get more stringent and it will be harder to get a work permit in the future without a “real job.” Therefore it may make sense to bite the bullet and do it sooner rather than later.

In many cities, businesses that employ foreigners are being told they must get work permits. If you wait until you are asked for one, you will be fined $125, plus the regular costs. Therefore, it makes sense to get your paperwork in order before you end up on their hit list.

Those who apply for work permits are required to pay $100 for each calendar year from their first long-stay visa. This means if you arrive in September, 2013 and apply for a work permit today, you will need to pay $300, for years 2013, 2014, and 2015. Most long-term expats are able to negotiate a lower rate — it’s been the case that they will generally settle for 5 years ($500) regardless of the length of your actual stay. Previous (French) reports of them waiving the back years entirely have been unsubstantiated.

Although a residence card is also required, they have not started issuing them yet.

Another requirement is that foreigners submit to a blood test each year, to test for unspecified communicable diseases. A fee can be paid to avoid the test, and if you, like I, are terrified due to the recent HIV outbreak in Battambang that was quite possibly deliberately spread by a local doctor, I would just pay the fee.

It’s important to note that at the current time, work permits are not tied to visas. So even if you are on a “business” visa, you do not have a work permit. Moreover, it’s an entirely different department that is is issuing work permits than the one that issues visas. This means that even if you do not have a work permit, you will be able to renew your visa at a travel agent (but not at the immigration office), and you won’t be stopped coming in to or leaving Cambodia if you don’t have a work permit. For now.

There are a number of businesses and consultants offering to do the work permit paperwork for fees ranging from $20 to $60. I’ll get a list together if anyone is interested. I’m testing out SmartUp Cambodia in Siem Reap, and will let you know in 4-6 weeks how it goes.

Don’t shoot me, I’m just the messenger. It’s possible this will all blow over as in years past, but personally, I don’t think it will.

Update 8/28/2014:

In today’s Cambodia Daily, there’s an article entitled Work Permits Now Required for Foreigners. “The Labor Ministry has begun to enforce a long-neglected law that requires foreigners employed in Cambodia to have work permits, according to ministry officials.
Teams of inspectors have begun scouring the country to ensure that foreign employees and businesspeople have the proper documentation, with employers and workers facing hefty fines in the event that they are not certified.” The article also mentions large retroactive fines and payments for prior years.

Elsewhere, the French Embassy has been advising its citizens that they should get work permits, but pay for 2014 only, ie. no retroactive fines for previous years.

In Francophone Cambodge Mag, Anthony Galliano of Cambodia Investment Management reports back from his recent meeting with the Ministry of Labor. He reports that they have clearly stated that volunteers, retirees, and the unemployed will not need work permits. Anyone drawing an income in Cambodia will need a work permit from a registered business. If you are a shareholder in a licensed, registered business, you do not need a work permit. If you are self-employed or are a shareholder in a non-registered business, it would behoove you to register your business, although it seems unlikely that the self-employed will be one of the first groups targeted. Galliano suggests using this reprieve as a chance to quietly get all necessary paperwork in order.

Update: 8/22/2014 

The Cambodia Daily has published an article saying the Ministries of Labor and Interior “met on Thursday to outline the government’s plan to more strictly enforce measures for employers of foreign nationals to ensure that their staff has proper documentation.” It looks like they will be asking all employers to get work permits for their employees. There is no mention of any other class of visa holder such as volunteers, self-employed, retirees, etc.

8/8/2014

You may have heard that the situation with Cambodia work permits has changed recently. That’s half true. In order to work in Cambodia, one has always needed a work permit. However, it was very rarely enforced and the great majority of people didn’t bother. In the last few weeks, however, there have been several announcements that the work permit requirement is now going to be enforced.

Here’s what you need to know.

First, this announcement has happened every few years for a long, long time. Most of the time, they crack down on a few expats and then the issue is dropped. This time the threats seem more serious, but it is still very much up in the air. There have been a few crackdowns this year, most notably in Kampot, but nothing has changed yet for the great majority of expats in Cambodia.

It appears that if you work for a company in Cambodia you will, at some point in the near future, need to get a work permit. They are going after the largest and most visible companies first.

Expats who have been in Cambodia the longest have the most to worry about. Work permits cost $100 per year, and they are checking passports and counting how many years you have in Cambodia and charging for the previous years. They also add fines into the mix–which are, of course, not listed in the prakas and are subject to the whims and financial solvency of those collecting. This means that those with newer passports will pay less.

Thus far, it seems that Kampot has been the only city to be seriously affected. Even in Kampot, while many people were told to get work permits, many more were ignored. In other cities, there have been reports of police going door to door asking foreigners for a copy of their passport and visa. It’s possible that this is a prelude to a work permit crackdown later in the year, or it’s possible that the sangkats are just getting their records up-to-date, as they are supposed to keep track of where all foreigners live, anyway.

At the present time it is the employer’s responsibility to secure the work permit for their employees, although this may be changing. Any foreign employee of a registered business will need to get a work permit, although there is probably no need to do it until the Ministry of Labor demands it. However, many large employers are finally getting the message and registering their foreign employees, so you may be one of the lucky ones that gets your work permit quickly and without any hassle.

It’s important to note that at the current time, work permits are not tied to visas. So even if you are on a “business” visa, you do not have a work permit. Moreover, it’s an entirely different department that is is issuing work permits than the one that issues visas. This means that even if you do not have a work permit, you will be able to renew your visa, and you won’t be stopped coming in to or leaving Cambodia if you don’t have a work permit.

And then there’s the residency card. According to the prakas, foreigners need a visa, work permit and residency card. Thus far there has been no proof that any residency card has ever been issued to a foreigner, so for the moment, this point can be ignored.

But I’m a volunteer, retiree or unemployed?!

The status of volunteers, retirees, the unemployed is still very much up in the air. Work permits may be required for all holders of long-term visas. However, a recent visitor to the Ministry of Labor says that those not drawing a salary in Cambodia will not be affected.

So what should I do?

Probably nothing. This may, as it has many times before, blow over. If you work for a large organization, your employer will secure a work permit for you. If you work for a small organization, it’s likely that you will not be asked for a work permit for at least a while. It is my personal opinion that marching into ministries and waving cash around trying to solve problems that have yet to be clarified or put on paper is a bad idea. So I wouldn’t advise doing anything until the rules become more clear, unless your employer has already brought it up.

But, but, but…

These rules have been on the books since 1995, and there’s nothing wrong with Cambodia finally deciding to enforce them. Of course it’s not ideal that are choosing to retroactively punish expats for not having work permits when it was often not possible to get work permits in years past. But it’s important to remember that Cambodia, even with an extra $100 a year tacked on for a work permit, still offers one of the easiest and cheapest visa/work permits in the world.

This is all of the information that is available to date. Clear as mud, right? Remain calm and let’s see what happens. We’ll update this blog if anything changes.

Looking for more information? Check out our page about Cambodia visas and our page about Cambodia work permits.

Expat Q&A: Artist influenced by her life in Cambodia

In this series we talk to Cambodia expats about what they know now about Cambodia that they didn’t know before they moved, and about their life in the Kingdom of Wonder.

Three years ago American expat artist Karen Hartmann and her husband moved to Cambodia, after doing missionary work in the Cambodian community in Connecticut. Karen lives in Battambang where local life inspires her artwork, which is currently on display at The Kitchen and Lotus Gallery in Battambang.

Karen Hartmann Cambodia

After moving to Cambodia, Karen Hartmann’s work was increasingly influenced by Khmer culture and people.

MTC: What do you wish you had known before you moved to Cambodia?

KH: “We made five previous visits before moving to Battambang. Our preparation even included making the effort of learning the language to allow us to function well. So there really weren’t any unexpected or even unpleasant encounters, but we continue to enjoy discovering new facets of Cambodia, its people, and its lifestyle on a daily basis.

We were delighted to find how friendly Cambodians are; they are very warm and hospitable. One thing we weren’t sure about was how the local Cambodians view us as foreigners living here. We did have a little bit of uncertainty as to how welcome we would be settling in Battambang. After all, we clearly stand out as foreigners. But right from the beginning we were greeted and treated warmly, with respect, often gratitude and have had the impression ever since that our presence in Battambang is truly appreciated. Any concerns we might have had about perhaps being aliens, were completely unfounded and that has contributed to our feeling very comfortable in our new surroundings.

We came prepared to deal with lots and lots of challenges regarding maintaining a somewhat reasonable lifestyle, but some of my anxieties of having to drastically downscale were unfounded. With a bit of ingenuity, patience, and asking around, with the help of other expats I was able to source many more things than I first thought possible. For example, I was prepared to give up certain comforts of living, certain foods, etc. I realized I didn’t have to give up nearly as much as I anticipated. If I can’t source things locally here in Battambang, usually on a trip to Phnom Penh or Bangkok we find what we need. In short, even though life in Cambodia is much simpler than the United States, I never felt unduly limited. In fact, we value certain aspects of a much simpler life as compared to a Western lifestyle.”

Karen Hartmann artist

Karen’s work on display at Lotus Bar and Gallery.

What’s the art scene like in Battambang?

“Given the size of Battambang and the economic realities, I find the art scene to be surprisingly vibrant. I am happy to see not only the expats but the Cambodian artists supporting the activities. Having said that, I also think that the art scene would benefit tremendously from expanding into a wider range of subject matter, topics, and subjects.”

How has living in Cambodia influenced your artwork?

“The country, its culture and people have greatly influenced all of my paintings since coming to Cambodia in one way or another. Besides painting I am also an enthusiastic photographer. I have taken thousands of photographs over the year and often a photograph will inspire me to turn it into a painting. For a while I was enamoured by the krama which resulted in a series of studies in oil. Another series of paintings was inspired by studying Cambodian faces. Even my abstract expressionist paintings take their inspiration from daily Cambodian life.

My art has also expanded into making a very unique handmade soap and bath salts in several floral fragrances. It is called “Fleur du Cambodge” Even the packaging is hand painted with abstract expressionist motives. They are on sale at Eden Cafe and Lotus. I have no doubt this country will continue to provide inspiration for much more of my artwork.”

Considering moving to Battambang? Check out our expat guide to Battambang.

Review: Olive Cuisine de Saison, Siem Reap

Olive Cuisine de Saison in Siem Reap has been open for nearly a year, but it’s taken me this long to review it. Can I pretend that’s because I wanted to see if the good quality of their French and Mediterranean fare held up for this long? Well, it has.

Olive Cuisine de Saison, Siem Reap

Olive Cuisine de Saison: fine dining Siem Reap-style.

Olive Cuisine de Saison, or Olive, as the regulars call it, is a fine dining restaurant tucked away around the corner of the Angkor Trade Center. It’s just a short walk from Pub Street, but feels a world away with its serene atmosphere, white tablecloths bedecked with fresh flowers, and decidedly adult clientele. It’s quickly become an expat favorite in town, even if few tourists have discovered it yet.

Olive bills itself as French fine dining, but the menu is just as much Mediterranean as it is French. I usually avoid French restaurants because the menu is so often filled with hunks of meat and very little in the way of vegetables (sorry, French friends, it’s just not my thing). Olive has these sort of dishes, of course, but an entire pasta section as well as a smattering of upscale Khmer dishes. The menu is seasonal, with lots of seafood and fish, and every dish is plated beautifully.

Olive Siem Reap

Is it French? Is it Mediterranean? Who cares? It’s good.

I’m a fan of the seafood pasta with a creamy crab bisque and tomato sauce, topped with a surprisingly large portion of fish and seafood for the price ($13). The grilled vegetable pasta with a rich, creamed pesto was also quite good, and at $6.50, made for an expensive, delicious lunch.

I’ll admit that I’ve stuck to the pasta and starters at Olive but my dining companions have been more adventurous and tried the Cornish game hen (excellent) and Khmer seafood with Kampot pepper (less impressive). One regular recommends the baked grouper “it’s insane,” the lamb shank and the tenderloin rossini. The desserts are also very good, as is the wine list.

Olive restaurant Siem Reap

This is not Pub Street.

The restaurant is housed in a fully restored colonial building, with exposed brick walls, hung with large, colorful paintings of the ingredients that make up its menu: a beef shank, garlic, olives, peppers. Despite Olive’s fine dining atmosphere, the menu is reasonably priced and gives local standards like Abacus a run for their money. If you haven’t tried it yet, head to Olive for a lovely lunch or dinner in Siem Reap.

Olive Cuisine de Saison

Open daily, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
T: 063 769 899
Across from the side of Angkor Trade Center, Siem Reap [map]
facebook.com/Olivecuisinedesaison