Two books to better understand Phnom Penh’s history and architecture

While Phnom Penh is a pretty small city — its 2 million residents would be quickly swallowed in neighboring Saigon or Bangkok — it manages to contain significant architectural variety, and its manageable size allows for an easy exploration of the city’s history. Two books, King Norodom’s Head and Architectural Guide Phnom Penh, give readers the opportunity to understand more about the city and its unique architecture.

Ever wondered who these two dashing techos are, and why the prime minister so loves their story?

King Norodom’s Head by Steven Boswell is part travel guide, part history book, part ode to a city lost. It includes maps of key locations to assist intrepid explorers looking to follow the stories, or just better mentally placing things seen before.

Architectural Guide Phnom Penh, by Moritz Henning and Walter Koditek, is far more focused on the city’s various architectural stand outs, but has included interviews with experts and residents to try to offer more background where possible.

Together, they provide explanations and background on wide swathes of the capital. Continue reading

Review: Cambodia Post VIP Van, Phnom Penh-Siem Reap

Cambodia Post VIP Van is one of my favorite ways to travel around Cambodia. They’ve just resumed operations again, so I’ve updated this post, which is about the Phnom Penh to Siem Reap route with Cambodia Post VIP Van’s 2022 schedule and what you should know regarding Covid-19. (This is also the van you take from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap to Kampong Thom.) Here’s the full report.

tl;dr: Cambodia Post VIP Van is great. Buy a ticket.

Cambodia Post VIP Van Phnom Penh

Pick up your mail before you depart in style from the historic Phnom Penh post office.

The Cambodia Post VIP Van, a transport service owned by the Cambodian government and post office, runs minibuses between several cities. The novelty of the Cambodia Post transport service is that they are actually using the mini-buses to bring mail and packages from one city to another. But they aren’t old, run-down mail trucks as you might expect. Cambodia Post has purchased a fleet of brand-new Toyota HiAces, my preferred model of mini-bus because of their wide, comfortable seats. Buses and passengers are insured by Caminco Insurance, which was reassuring. Continue reading

How to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and vice versa) in 2022

Now that Cambodia is opening up to tourism again, you may be wondering how to to get from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap in 2022 (and Siem Reap to Phnom Penh). Many of the bus companies reduced their schedules or shuttered all together during Covid-19, but now they are coming back! The options listed below are all operational as of January, 2022.

Giant Ibis bus Phnom Penh to Siem Reap

Check out the view on a Giant Ibis bus between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.

There are options to fit every budget, but some are nicer and more comfortable than others. I’ve tried all of these ways to travel between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, some of them many times (unlike most of the other sites who just copy my content, yawn). The journey by road usually takes between 5 and 7 hours, depending on your mode of transport, traffic, and the ever-changing condition of the road. For Covid-19 safety, all passengers are required to wear a mask while traveling.

Table of contents

Summary

  • Taxi: Costs $65-100. Most comfortable option. Best balance of price and convenience. About 5 hours. Book now.
  • Bus: Costs $6-15. Smoothest ride and best views. About 6 hours.
  • Mini-bus/van: Costs $9-12. Faster than the bus, but more cramped. About 5.5 hours. Book now.
  • Plane: Costs $30-120. Fastest method, but domestic flights are unreliable. About 1 hour. Not currently running.
  • Ferry: Costs $35. Best scenery, if you sit outside. About 8 hours, sometimes more. Not currently running.

Continue reading

Escape Phnom Penh at Smiling Gecko Farmhouse Resort

To describe the location of Smiling Gecko Farmhouse as being “in the middle of nowhere” would be unfair to the people and animals who call Samaki Meanchey District in Kampong Chhnang home. And to call it a farmhouse understates just how lovely these boutique bungalows, surrounded by tropical gardens, are. So let’s call it an “approachably posh” resort in a “remote bucolic locale.”

Some might call this the middle of nowhere, but really it’s just a question of semantics.

Which is to say that the 35-odd traditionally-styled wooden houses, the expansive — and mostly organic farm — possibly the nicest hotel pool in Cambodia, and the friendly staff combine to create a charming and quiet nature-filled escape from Phnom Penh, with plenty for adults and kids to enjoy (and maybe even learn from, fancy that!). Continue reading

Updated Cambodia quarantine and tourist visa information

Updated again! (Jump to the new part) After a last-minute announcement, as of today Cambodia is allowing quarantine-free entry for fully vaccinated travelers, and electronic visas are easily available. Partially vaccinated or unvaccinated travels will still need to follow the quarantine rules enacted last month, detailed below. Be aware that land borders are still closed and visa-on-arrival are not being offered (for now).

And…they’re back!

Requirements for fully vaccinated travelers

Passengers are required to take a Covid-19 PCR test in the 72 hours prior, have a vaccination card or certificate, and will be required to take a rapid test on arrival (it’s free!). After they receive their negative results, passengers are free to travel throughout Cambodia.

Note that one official directive says 72 hours before arrival and another says 72 hours before departure, so to be on the safe side, it would be better to get a test no later than 72 hours prior to arrival in Cambodia. Continue reading

Cardamom Tented Camp: Real ecotourism in western Cambodia

In this era of mask wearing and Covid precautions, the fresh air blowing in my face as I sit on a small boat speeding along the Prek Tachan river is refreshing beyond words. After a six-hour journey to Koh Kong province, within minutes of stepping out of the taxi I was on a boat, the dark grey water hemmed on both sides by verdant green. I was headed to Cardamom Tented Camp and couldn’t have felt further from Cambodia’s denatured capital.

Heading to Cardamom Tented Camp

Cardamom Tented Camp (CTC), a joint-venture involving Wildlife Alliance, covers some 18,000 hectares of what was once Botum Sakor National Park in Koh Kong Province. These days, much of the park has been sold for farming or other questionable activities — international airport and casino, golf course, and a planned coal-power station to name a few — and Cardamom Tented Camp’s protected area is quickly looking like an oasis in the desert.

The nine guest tents sit near the banks of the Prek Tachan, named after a local French colonial-era resistance fighter who was believed to be bulletproof (no one could tell me if he had died of old age though), and offer a real taste of luxury: real beds with cotton sheets, hot water showers, fans and 24-hour electricity courtesy of the large solar and battery system. Camping in the mud this ain’t. Continue reading

Phnom Sampeou and Phnom Banan — Battambang’s Tale of Two Hills

Battambang’s main tourist attraction doesn’t feel like it is resting during the pandemic. At least, the poor souls toiling away in front of Phnom Sampeou’s famous bat cave certainly ain’t resting. They’re busy chiseling a giant Buddha into the exposed limestone. And while the ongoing work is an impressive feat, it adds yet another layer of human adulteration to this beautiful rocky protuberance in the middle of otherwise (mostly) flat Battambang province; for Phnom Sampeou offers an architectural, archeological and zoological slice of humanity in Cambodia.

Monkey atop Phnom Sampeou

A monkey on top of Battambang’s Phnom Sampeou.

The top is covered in an eclectic variety of Buddhist temples, shrines, stupa, and sculptures in Chinese and Theravada Buddhist styles…dotted among the trees with no apparent plan other than to provide a blast of color at every turn. There are military remnants — in the form of two rusting field guns — of Cambodia’s protracted efforts to defeat the Khmer Rouge, now simply another plaything for a bold macaque colony that calls the hilltop home. Continue reading

Phnom Penh activities for kids: Swimming, playgrounds, and play spaces

In the last two posts about fun things to do for kids in Phnom Penh we covered arts and sports activities. This time, we’ve got a round-up of swimming pools, playgrounds, and play spaces for kids and teens in Phnom Penh. We’ve tried to include the most up-to-date information, but because of the pandemic it’s always best to confirm the details.

House Boutique Pool Phnom Penh

Cool off at House Boutique Eco Hotel in BKK1.

Swimming pools

A great way to cool your children off in the warmer months is by taking advantage of one of the beautiful local resort pools, or letting them take a dip in one of the customized child-friendly pools in Phnom Penh. Continue reading