2020 Christmas dinners in Phnom Penh

Christmas 2020, like the rest of the year, is set to be a strange one. Fortunately, despite the situation elsewhere in the world, Phnom Penh’s bars and restaurants are open for business, so there’s ample opportunity to celebrate the season. Here’s the Move to Cambodia round-up of the best 2020 Christmas dinners in Phnom Penh, from extravagant to budget. If you know of others, please leave details in the comment section.

Christmas in Phnom Penh

What’s not to love about a Phnom Penh Christmas?

Rosewood Hotel

Let’s start with some high-end indulgence — because this is definitely a year we deserve to treat ourselves! In Phnom Penh, things don’t get much more elevated in either quality or sheer distance from the ground, than the Rosewood Hotel’s elegant Brasserie Louis. The four-course Christmas Eve menu ($89 per head; $120 with free-flow wine, and $150 to include champagne in the free-flow) offers delicacies like chestnut soup, paupiette of sole, and roast beef; while the five-course Christmas Day feast ($98, $130, $160 for the same options as Christmas Day) boasts a choice of pistachio-crusted lamb rack or walnut-stuffed butterball turkey, plus starters like lobster brandade and duck consommé. The current tourist shortage means you can even bag a seat with a view for an aperitif at the hotel’s swish Sora sky bar. Continue reading

Phnom Penh architecture tour spotlights the masters of modernism

Looking out your window it’s easy to overlook the fact that a trove of heritage buildings lurk beneath the mushrooming high rises. Phnom Penh’s streetscapes can be a voyage of architectural discovery, and Khmer Architecture Tours, a local non-profit organization, offers the chance to know more about Phnom Penh and its history is by exploring its distinctive and diverse architecture.

Phnom Penh's Independence Monument

Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument, designed by Cambodia’s most revered architect, Vann Molyvann.

The city’s surviving colonial villas are a notable part of its urban landscape, but equally if not more deserving of attention are the modernist buildings in the style known as New Khmer Architecture. It’s this home-grown school of architecture that Khmer Architecture Tours is particularly keen to spotlight. Continue reading

Updated December, 2020 Cambodia visa and quarantine rules

I just wanted to put a quick post on the blog to let readers know that the Cambodia visa page has been updated with late-breaking changes to the visa and quarantine procedures.

Here’s a summary of the changes:

All passengers entering Cambodia must quarantine at a government-designated hotel for 14 days. Passengers are no longer able to choose or pre-book specific hotels; now it’s just luck of the draw.

Ding, dong VAPG is dead

The VAPG/VAPGI sponsored individual program has been temporarily suspended due to the recent outbreak of coronavirus in Cambodia. People who would have previously qualified for this program will still need to pay a deposit and quarantine for 14-days on arrival. Continue reading

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

I sometimes get incredulous looks when I tell people that one of my favorite ways to travel between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is with the Cambodia Post VIP Van to Phnom Penh. Most people probably assumed I’d be sitting on packages squeezed between sacks of mail, but the reality couldn’t be more different. The Cambodia Post VIP Van, a transport service owned by the Cambodian government and post office, runs minibuses between several cities. I tried out the Siem Reap to Phnom Penh route and thought it was an excellent ride; 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 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

Doing nothing in Banlung, Cambodia’s most remote capital

Banlung, the post-1970’s capital of Ratanakiri province (after its predecessor Lamphut was flattened by US air forces under cover of its war next door), is the northeastern gateway to Virachey National Park, Cambodia’s last vast forest, and Vietnam beyond. In between are waterfalls, hikes, and hill tribe villages, all of which normally attract the intrepid and the adventurous.

green road in Banlung, Ratanakiri

No matter where you go in Banlung, the capital of Ratanakiri, you’re never far from green.

In 1978 it took the Vietnamese army five days to cross east to west from the border to Kratie town, battling not just Khmer Rouge soldiers but also thick forest and a lack of infrastructure. These days, it’s about 5 hours on smooth roads from Kratie up into the hills near the Vietnamese border. The roads have improved, the soldiers gone; and so have the trees, with mile after mile now growing monoculture rubber and cashew.
Continue reading

Nibi Spa offers a slice of Nordic calm in Kampot

A sauna with a view of the Kampot river, a glass-fronted steam room overlooking a tree-filled garden, and private massage bungalows — it doesn’t take long to realize what has made Nibi Spa the “must visit” recommendation in Kampot by all my bougie Phnom Penh friends.

view from sauna at Nibi Spa in Kampot

Sauna with a view at Nibi Spa, Kampot.

Set on a bend of the river some 10km north of the increasingly popular coastal town, the act of getting there is an adventure in itself, and makes the reward that awaits even more appreciated. The most direct (and picturesque) route is along the east side of the Kampot river, as it winds away from town through Cham villages, durian plantations, and shuttered backpacker bungalows. The road surface declines into the stuff of Cambodia of old: slippery red clay with more potholes and ruts than actual flat surface. The alternative is along the west bank, on smooth paved road, and a quick ferry trip (one car accepted each journey) over to Nibi.

The journey out of the way, it is time to be pampered, steamed, chilled — and to chill out. Continue reading

Eating, drinking, and making merit in Phnom Penh

In these socially-distanced days you might expect that an update on any bar and restaurant scene would involve a depressing catalog of closures. Happily for business owners, staff, and patrons alike that’s not the case in Phnom Penh. There’s no denying many establishments have taken a hit, either directly or indirectly, from the loss of tourist income. A surprising number, however, from local street cafes to venues catering more towards foreigners, are hanging in there, some even flourishing.

Itacate Mexican Phnom penh

Itacate is Mexicana’s sister restaurant and just as good.

Opening as it did in early 2020, Itacate barely had a chance to establish itself before the pandemic, but is making up for it now. What this colourful, mural-decorated Mexican eatery has over its hugely popular BKK1 sister restaurant, Mexicano, is its size. Where the latter is more snug cantina than full-size restaurant, Itacate boasts ample indoor seating that incorporates comfy, couched booths (ideal for social distancing) and long tables that lend themselves well to group get-togethers, plus a sizable, leafy forecourt. Continue reading

Odom Garden: Phnom Penh’s newest park is amazing, and doomed

The newly unveiled green space Odom Garden in BKK1 offers almost everything that the capital’s expats have long complained that Phnom Penh was lacking: towering trees, shady walking paths fringed with greenery, play areas for children, craft beer, and what may be Cambodia’s only dog run.

Odom Park

Odom Gardens: A way for big corporations to remind you what you can’t have.

And it’s all doomed, because Odom Garden isn’t a park. Rather, it’s an elaborate marketing ploy to get long-term residents to buy apartments in the Singaporean-designed towers due to start construction in mid-2021 “when the site begins its transformation into Odom — and expansive development of two buildings offering the city’s best address for both residences and commercial office space…[that] will bring the community feeling of traditional Khmer villages into the future,” according to marketing bumf, whatever all those words mean. Continue reading