Month: May 2015

8 Notes on Phnom Penh

View of Phnom Penh from my apartment

View of Phnom Penh from my apartment

This is a brief list of observations from my first five full days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I plan on spending two weeks here before heading to Saigon and then suburban Kuala Lumpur for another housesit.

  1. Lots of good coffee shops
    The biggest and most pleasant surprise upon arriving in Phnom Penh was the ubiquity of high quality coffee shops. There are dozens of places near my Airbnb apartment that serve good coffee and have attractive interior spaces. Brown Coffee, which has 10 locations in Phnom Penh, is my favorite spot so far.
  2. Inside a local cafe Wings Coffee

    Inside a local cafe Wings Coffee

  3. Danger of theft
    Bag thieves are apparently quite common here. It is good to keep an eye on your belongings while in tuk-tuks as thieves often operate on motorbikes.
  4. Congested traffic
    There seems to be a lack of traffic lights at some busy intersections, which leads to clogged roads. I try to avoid driving during rush hour.
  5. Polluted air
    Like Bangkok and Hanoi, the air is quite polluted. This makes riding around the city on my motorbike less enjoyable.
  6. The city that always sweats
    It is supposed to be the tail end of the extremely hot part of the year, but the picture below gives you an idea about the sizzling heat.
  7. Dog days of summer

    Dog days of summer

  8. Many people come from villages
    The city has expanded rapidly in recent years with a large influx of Khmer people from surrounding rural areas.
  9. Lots of corruption
    I haven’t seen any corruption first hand, but I have heard that Cambodia is highly corrupt with regards to the government and doing business in the country.
  10. Hummer next to trash

    Hummer next to trash

  11. Expensive cars
    One outward sign of the corruption here (I assume?) is the abundance of luxury cars on the streets. Although the vast majority of Cambodians are poor, high-end vehicles such as Lexuses, Range Rovers, and Porches are surprisingly common.

14 Observations from 72 Hours in Bangkok

I recently arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city. On the way from my previous home of Siem Reap, I took a three day excursion to Bangkok. Here are some things I found noteworthy and/or interesting about my brief stay in Bangkok.

Yummy street food

Yummy street food

  1. They drive on the “other” side of the road
    As in England and a minority of other countries, traffic flows in the “opposite” direction.
  2. Very multicultural
    Walking around the city you see people from all over the world and hear a wide variety of languages.
  3. Lots of transgender people
    I had heard the term “lady boy” used in reference to Thailand, but in reality there are a lot of men in the city that dress up and live as women. There also appeared to be some women that dressed as men. I don’t understand the cultural context behind this phenomenon, but it is quite unique.
  4. Loud and polluted
    Like many other major Asian cities, the air is dirty and the streets are noisy.
  5. Heavy traffic
    The traffic seemed to crawl no matter the time of day.
  6. Stuck in traffic

    Stuck in traffic

  7. Great massages
    I now understand why Thailand is known for massage. Of the three massages I’ve had in Asia – one in Vietnam, one in Cambodia, and one in Bangkok – the Thai massage was easily the best.
  8. Tasty, spicy food
    I really enjoyed the food. Pretty much everything I ate was delicious and also very spicy.
  9. Bangkok food stall

    Bangkok food stall

  10. You eat with a spoon and fork
    No knife, no chopsticks. Just a spoon and a fork. And your hands if needed.
  11. Sweet tastes
    Thais, like Cambodians, are very liberal with their sugar intake as it is included in lots of dishes and relied on heavily as a condiment.
  12. Great fruit
    There is interesting tropical fruit all over the place. Everything from coconuts to papaya, mango, pineapple, dragon fruit, and jack fruit. As a site note, the coconut I had was noticeably sweeter than the ones in Siem Reap.
  13. Mango desert at Mango Tango

    Mango desert at Mango Tango

  14. Cat city
    Much like Amsterdam, Bangkok is a very cat-friendly city. Cats are all over the place, including the lobby of the hostel I stayed at.
  15. Feels safe
    Crime does not seem to be a big problem in Bangkok.
  16. Thais are friendly
    Compared to Vietnamese and Cambodians, Thais are probably the most openly friendly. They are easy going and quick to smile.
  17. Shopping galore
    There are lots of big malls and shopping seems to be très en vogue.

Biking in Siem Reap

My Cambodian cruiser

My Cambodian cruiser

Join me on a tour of everyday life in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Below are two short videos of me biking around “Temple Town”.

The first video is from my apartment to Angkor Muscle Gym. The second one is on the way back home. Both were shot on a Monday around 5 PM.

8 More Random Impressions of Siem Reap

View from the back of a tuk tuk

View from the back of a tuk tuk

Here are eight more observations from living in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

  1. English is OK
    Most people can understand and speak at least some basic English.
  2. Friendly people
    Most people are friendly in a calm sort of way.
  3. Traffic is easy to navigate
    The aren’t many traffic or stop signs here except on main roads, but people drive slow and yield excessively at intersections.
  4. Tuk tuks are everywhere
    Tuk tuks are basically Cambodian taxis. They are riding carriages attached to a motorbike and are all over the place.
  5. Prayer gesture is common
    The Buddhist prayer hand gesture is a typical greeting, often used at fancier hotels and establishments.
  6. Power outages
    Power outages are common and usually last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. My apartment has a backup generator so I am usually never without power for than a few seconds. There was a city-wide power outage after the first rain of the season that lasted for over 72 hours, but life went on pretty much as usual. Some places without generators shut down and there was less light at night, but otherwise it was surprisingly not a big deal.
  7. Lots of tourists
    Because of the nearby Angkor Wat temples, the city is full of people from all over the world. This is especially noticeable in the Night Market and Pub Street areas.
  8. Funny t-shirts
    There is a particularly high number of ironic and witty shirts, worn by both Cambodians and foreigners.

8 Random Impressions of Siem Reap

Lucky Supermarket in Siem Reap

Lucky Supermarket in Siem Reap

When I arranged to housesit in Siem Reap, I had little idea of what to expect. Over the past month, however, I’ve familiarized myself a bit with this western Cambodian town. Here are some notes and observations.

  1. Mix of dollars and riel
    Although the Cambodian riel is the official currency, the U.S. dollar is widely used and accepted. Only U.S. bills are used, not coins. Anything below $1 is calculated in riel, with an exchange rate of around 1 U.S. dollar to 4,000 Cambodian riel.
  2. Lack of street signs
    Streets and addresses are often not marked. Google Maps works fine here but the lack of signs can make it difficult to locate some streets and buildings.
  3. Concentration of useful stores
    Siem Reap is a pretty compact city, at least the central part of town that I’m familiar with. Because of the amount of tourists that come through the city, there are stores that supply just about anything a Westerner would want or need.
  4. It’s cheap
    Like other countries in Southeast Asia, the cost of living here is generally low. You can rent a serviced studio apartment for as little $250 per month and you can buy a coconut for fifty cents.
  5. It’s hot
    April is the hottest month of the year with high temperatures usually in the 90’s Farhenheit, sometimes reaching triple digits. When I first got to Siem Reap, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the heat. But after about a week I adjusted to the climate and now it feels “normal”.
  6. It’s dusty
    There is often dirt in the air, which makes many people cover their mouths or wear masks.
  7. Plenty of geckos
    You can spot these little brown creatures on walls around the city.
  8. Techno music
    European-style dance music seems to be the popular choice of music here and can be heard in stores and on the streets.