Category Archives: Cambodia Blogs

Songkran In Cambodia

Angkor Wat

With the wife and me escaping the responsibilities of worldly duties for a few days with the arrival of a wet Thai New Year, we thought it best to pack our rucksacks and head to The Land of Landmines and Lok-Lak.

Our journey started off with a small disaster as I found to my dismay, on the bus to the border, that my wallet with more than six thousand baht in it had decided to flee the pocket of its rightful owner. Suffice to say, this is Amazing Thailand and a Thai guy who we had befriended at The Northern Bus terminal just a few hours previous, offered to loan us some desperately needed cash. Hasten to add, I already paid him back! I thank him a lot.

As this was the first day of the Songkran holiday, immigration was absolutely packed-out with Thais bustling across the border to try their luck at Poipet’s infamous casinos. I noticed too a few foreigners who were in a serious predicament, whom after arriving on the Thai side without a visa, had unfortunately failed to realize that the authorities had just very recently clamped down on folk arriving in the country by land without an airplane ticket out. So, you have been warned.

Taxis are never usually far from sight in Thailand, but since this was also the Khmer New Year we had along with our generous newly-made friends, great bother in securing a reasonably priced fare to Siem Reap. In the end, the best price we could get for the three and a half hour trip was a whopping $70US. Siem Reap being a haven for excellent accommodation, we managed to find ourselves, quite simply, a very decent room with all the mods and cons for just $15.

Angkor Thom

I hadn’t been to Siem Reap for something like seven years and I could see that the place had really changed, with the emergence of an international airport, from a bastion for banana-shake backpackers into a new destination for poshy package tourists. I remember the adequately named Pub Street to be home to a few bars, with scantily-clad girls hanging around the pool tables. The place now however, is far higher in class with classy restaurants offering a range of international cuisines, but at very reasonable prices. Preferring to a get a feel for the local munchies however, we spent the first couple of days sampling the side-of-the-street goodies.

Just as yesteryear, Cambodia is a bit more expensive than Thailand, but nothing like say Singapore where I had been earlier in the month. Contrary to popular Thai belief about Siem Reap, we found the area pretty clean, developed and the locals to be a really friendly bunch who appreciated the opportunity to practice their English or to have a laugh at ones poorly pronounced Khmer.

On the second day of our trip, we arranged a Khmer-style Tuk-Tuk to take us to and around Angkor Wat for half a day. The driver, who had been parked outside our gaff all the time, was so nice that I didn’t even bother bargaining the fare of $12. Angkor Wat isn’t really that far from Siem Riep but there’s no other way of getting there and around unless you perhaps rent a motorbike, or if you are feeling fit – a bicycle. I had been to Angkor Wat before, but since I had previously arrived in the evening I didn’t have to pay the extortionate $20 entrance fee (which Thais also have to pay). This time around however, we had no other choice to cough up the cash.

Ta Phrom

Angkor Wat, like the border, was packed with tourists and there were plenty of Thais too being whisked around by some guide of theirs. The wife being a typical Thai, doesn’t see much point in taking a normal photo of an attraction without her or myself in it giving a ‘V’ sign. In fact, I was pretty embarrassed the last time round; when on showing our vacation pics to friends they’d laugh that nearly every single one had a pic of the wife posing away. Of course, Angkor Wat is stunning and once you’ve been there, Thailand’s ancient ruins such as Sukothai, Phanom Rung and Prasat Phimai seem like Lego in comparison. Unlike before, I ventured too to Angkor Thom and Bayon which are second only to the awesomeness of Angkor Wat. As the place is pretty small however in comparison, the crowds were squashed in like at Bangkok’s Weekend Market.

For our last full day in Siem Reap, we spent our time wandering around taking pics and eating everywhere. Not once did we see anyone chucking water like in Thailand. For Khmer-style Songkran, all the locals make-up a table laden with food, drinks and joss-sticks – to who this is dedicated I’m not too sure, perhaps to ancestors as in Chinese tradition. Perhaps one of the readers here would like to enlighten us. Then, they stick up an inflatable star in front of their abodes with some Khmer written on it. I used to live in Phnom Penh for half a year once so I already knew what I was in for when the staff at the guesthouse informed me that there was to be a party in the evening. Unlike Thais who really do have a party, getting seriously plastered, playing deafening sounds and eating dishes and dishes of delicious munchies – the Khmer idea of a party is two cans of plonk and a dish of fried rice with some Thai TV soap opera showing at the back.

Child Begger

On the last day with our two friends we had met on the first day, we left for Thailand at 11am ($55 this time for the taxi). This time, unlike in Siem Riep, the road was full of people playing Songkran Khmer-style. There though, the locals throw small plastic bags of water; which were even selling at a baht a bag! Pretty dangerous, getting hit smack in the face by a bag of water while driving a motorbike!

By the time we finally arrived in Bangkok it was 9pm, an exhausting journey. Anyway, as I have been advising folk for years – if you are gonna be in Thailand for some amount of time, you really ought to take the chance to check out one of the wonders of the world – Angkor Wat; you won’t be disappointed.

Down and out…….in Cambodia

For all you dishevelled disgruntled Farang readers who have felt that life has been just a little unfair at times, take this opportunity to read into the awfully unfortunate saga of a certain Mr Tammas.

Looking through me archives, it won’t take the reader too long to realise that your regular blogwit blogger here, once upon a time, spent many-a-day living it up across the border over in the former Kampuchea, the Land of Landmines and Legless Lepers.

Any traveller-cum-tourist-cum-expatriate on entering Cambodia will soon be inundated with a myriad of sad, sorrowful tales, and the tale in question is no exception.

So, for all you foreigners residing over here in the Land of Monks and Mangosteen who have the not so enviable task of having to pop across the Poipet border every month to renew your visa, here is the hellish low-down on a Hungarian ex-pat whose across the border ‘visa run’ turned into a ghastly nightmare

Having exited Thailand, Mr Tammas decides to take it upon himself to have a quick look round Poipet market on the Cambodian side before realising to his absolute shock and horror that some fervent fiend has, with a razor-sharp knife, sliced open his backpack and taken off with all of Mr Tammas’ cash, credit cards and even passport! Not having the faintest idea what to do, he is soon given the ‘You can not go Thailand, you no passport’ from the not so user-friendly Khmer immigration officials. Of course, with no cash and no passport he is soon pleading away asking ‘just let me get back into Thailand’ before, to his seeming good fortune, chatting away to one Khmer official who says “I’ll get you back across the border but its gonna cost ya”. Mr Tammas, on realising he still has a thousand baht note in his pocket, slyly slides it into the officer’s backpocket before . . . the officer just… disappears off the scene never to be seen again.

Evening arrives, and after getting a ‘nauseated nasty look’ from a bunch of ‘visa-runners’ wanting nothing whatsoever to do with the now rather smelly Mr Tammas, he comes to the realisation that he is ‘stranded’ in Cambodia with not even a single baht, not to mention no passport to his name! Having nowhere to sleep ‘til morning, a sheepish shopowner allows Mr Tammas to sleep on his floor before the hunfortunate Hungararian has to go off to file a police report. So, the next morning on arriving at Poipet’s so-called Cop Shop, he is duly informed that he is ‘unable’ to file a police report as he doesn’t have the 50 baht required to do so!

Aghast at the state of law and order in Cambodia, Mr Tammas can do nothing but head for Phnom Penh and seek some international help. Well, that morning with a slice of luck he soon meets up with a friendly NGO from the States, working in a town halfway to Phnom Penh called Battambang, who offers Mr Tammas a lift, just that far, for free. Half a day later and feeling flippin fortunate to be out of Poipet, Mr Tammas, halfway to Phnom Penh is soon searching around for the address of a free place to stay given to him courtesy of the friendly chauffeur. Looking rather pitiful, and stinking to the heavens, our Hungarian friend is soon befriended by a Cambodian Policeman who asks him ‘Where are you going?

Unable to give him a decent answer the police official radios up his buddy, only to ask Mr Tammas the likes of ‘Where’s yer passport?’ Of course the, by now hungry, Hungarian on being escorted to the local station is soon givin them the lowdown of his hellish bad luck.

Not exactly believing Mr Tammas’ story, the Pol Cpt asks to see his police report to verify the theft in Poipet. “They needed 50 baht to process the darned thing and I didn’t have the cash” Mr Tammas hastily retorts before the superintendent unfortunately informs him that having no cash and no passport he is therefore considered a grave threat to national security and must be ‘held’ at the police jail until he is able to pay the frivolous fine!

From only wishing to ‘pop across the border’ our friend here is soon squatted in a mosquito-ridden cell with a thousand Cambodian cellmates living in the most squalid of dirty places not having the faintest clue to his future. Having no diplomatic relations in town whatsoever, Mr Tammas can do absolutely nothing but play tiddly-winks with the cells’ cockroaches for the next week.

Luck soon arrives a week later and Mr Tammas is called to the superintendent’s office and told ‘you go to court today” before being shuttled away handcuffed to hear his verdict. Fortunately for Mr Tammas the judge declares that a meager 300 baht fine will suffice and, in lieu of cash, his watch would be ‘just sufficient’.

Outside of court, still cashless and not having the foggiest on
how to get to Phnom Penh, he is soon told by a kind police guy “You bad luck, you no money go Phnom Penh but I buy your shoes for 5 dollars, enough go!”

Anyway, on taking Mr Tammas’ shoes the kind official hands him in return a slimy slippery well-worn pair of flip-flops for his grubby feet for free

Even though 5 bucks wasn’t enough for the fare to Phnom Penh, the considerate corporal orders the pick up taxi driver to “Just take the tattered down and out farang, have sympathy for the guy!”

A day later, our friend Mr Tammas on arriving in Phnom Penh, having absolutely nowhere to sleep and no food for his belly, is soon pleading with all the guesthouses down by the lake ‘Hey, I clean all up for you and cook you good goulash, just point me to the paprika and give me a freebie bed!” Anyway, Mr Tammas does strike it lucky when he’s soon hired to cook, clean and ‘hussle’ all the Farang coming off the Angkor Wat bus to stay at ‘his’ guesthouse.

This nauseous nightmare is prolonged once again when he finds out that his darned country had nowt in the way of diplomatic relations with Cambodia

The last time I met our hapless Hungarian friend he was still sweeping the filthy floors of the guesthouse down by the lake and he clumsily complained “Darned British Embassy tells me to go to the Cuban Embassy, the Cuban Embassy says – get out of it, go to the French Embassy and the French Embassy goes “We sees you has a little problem, come back see us when you have-a yer new passport!”

Sadly, Mr Tammas was unable to phone his relations for assistance in this matter as both of his parents had, only a few months prior, died in a horrible auto wreck.

Living in Cambodia

Ever since reading Tin-Tin in Tibet whilst still in the final years of Primary School I have always had an interest in everything foreign and especially of Asia. Before I even stuttered out of my homeland, I had already been wisened up to the recent history of the continent and in particular, Indochina. I can recall even today as a child pitying the war-ravaged country of Kampuchea and donating some of my pocket-money to Blue Peter and Oxfam on the country’s behalf.

Til this day it is a country still suffering a hangover from the countless years of carnage. I found the Khmers generally to be rather xenophobic and racially discriminative people, especially towards those of Chinese and Vietnamese blood. It is kind of ironic however that is was in fact the Vietnamese themselves who way back in 1979 finally put an end to the horrific reign of the Khmer Rouge, I can only guess they overstayed their welcome.

As for Thailand in their eyes, the Khmers are certainly not as anti-Thai as what the Thai media has made them out to be, but instead I had many Khmer friends who longed and could only dream about visiting the big mango of Bangkok or the sea-side resort of Pattaya. Most of the Khmer I soon realised, didn’t embrace the ‘Barang’ (Farang) with the open-armed enthusiasm as their Thai neighbour. Only on understanding though, their recent history of occupation, intrusion and interference by foreign powers can we be brought to comprehend more clearly, the Khmer mind.

The modern Khmers do have a keen fondness for everything American, which fortunately the Thais gave up on long ago. I found this to be rather surprising though, in the sense, as it can argued, that the worst of all the intruders were, as a matter of fact, the Americans. I also noticed the Khmers to be of a quite suspicious nature in regards to out-siders, however this mentality can be understood when looking back to what the people had to live through during the turbulent years of the Khmer Rouge. There is no family I doubt in Cambodia that didn’t suffer one way or another.

There is a massive gap in Thailand between the rich and poor but still that gap is nothing to what is seen in Cambodia and surely that’s where many of the seeds of the discrimination lay. The Chinese-Khmer of Phnom Penh are stinkingly rich in contrast to their Khmer counterparts. Even the scraggiest caucasian English teacher, for example a French guy with the roughest accent, holding no teaching credentials or experience can still find the odd teaching job at $5 an hour compared to a well educuted Khmer, who fluent in English and perhaps holding a Masters Degree in the language will get just $3 an hour.

While many of us wait for the end of the month to afford a new mobile or pair of shoes, and even the poorest of farmers here in Thailand can afford at times to purchase just the smallest of household necessities, the Khmers are happy to just have a bowl of rice in their hands at the end of the day.

I was impressed by the ingenuity of many Khmers in making just the smallest of livings. Just coming from Poipet on the Thai border you will be taken aback almost instantly by the atrocious state of Cambodia’s roads and to make matters worse some of the local kiddies have devised a way to make money. Owning a couple of big strong planks of wood they spend the night digging up a deep hole which by morning is unpassable for any vehicle. The motorist can do nothing but use the services of the kiddies at 5 baht to borrow their planks of which to get across.

I found learning Khmer pretty easy as the grammatical structure and usage of colloquialism was almost identical to Thai. For example when the Khmers greet each other they will say Have you eaten yet? Or on leaving ‘I will go first’ pretty much the same as Thai. As in Thailand, most of the ex-pats out there could hardly speak a word of the language even though they had been there for 5 years. And as a matter of fact I managed to anger a couple of them when on asking me how many years I lived in Cambodia, I would answer 4 or 5 months. They presumed I was making a joke at their expense as I could speak pretty good conversational Khmer within just a few months to the ex-pats disbelief. My problem though of speaking Khmer was that since I was thinking in Thai I spoke Khmer tonally and so all the Khmers laughed at the way I spoke Khmer with a Thai accent. I just couldn’t get rid of it.

I found the local food, to be ‘all right’ but the blander taste didn’t really suit my fiery mouth which had become accustomed to much more flavoursome Thai food. It didn’t take me long before I was seen carrying a small bottle of fish sauce to the local restaurants I ate at. Even their noodle soups are similar to the bland style of Chinese and Vietnamese. The standard of the Western/Indian food however was excellent and after a while most of the ex-pats would eat nothing other than Western for breakfast, lunch and dinner which would set you back about 400baht a day compared to in Thailand where you can get away spending no more than 60-100 baht a day eating out alone.

Phnom Penh it has to be said is a ‘dangerous’ city 24 hours a day. During the day the roads are cursed by barbaric drivers roaring up and down in every direction, driving like mad monkeys. Then, as night falls the streets are virtually unwalkable and the only 90% safe way to get around is by ‘motodop’ and even then you ought to know and be able to trust the guy. I remember a typical story of an English teacher who being on the alcoholic side had difficulty controlling himself after a couple too many. One night while crazily walking home alone at 2 in the morning he was robbed at gunpoint, then a few nights later while carrying his last 20 dollars til pay day was faced again with a couple of armed assailants who again asked for him to spare them his money. To this, the ‘nut’ replied ‘No’, luckily he wasn’t shot dead but did receive a very nasty blow to the head from the butt of the gun which needed quite a few stitches.

Then a couple of days after that, he came off a motodop downtown Phnom Penh and a 6 wheeled lorry shaved his head taking away half his ear, miraculously lucky not to have been killed. Even my boss was robbed coming from the bank one evening right outside his house where the robbers asked not only for his money but also his glasses and English books! He was fortunate not to have lost his motorbike too as he was wise to toss the keys into the front yard when he saw them approaching. Then finally, there was an English friend of mine who on running a small bar/restaurant had problems with his rowdy neighbours, employed a policeman as security guard for the nights.

One night shortly after, his security guard got into a disagreement outside of work and that night an enemy driving past in his bike, threw a grenade at him while he was guarding my friend’s restaurant. The grenade missed him but landed in the restaurant and killed the Englishman’s wife and very almost his son. The name of the restaurant was ironically ‘The Peace Café’

At the end of the day however, Cambodia is a fascinating place to visit and Angkor Wat is a definite ‘must go’ for anyone living in Thailand. The colonial style buildings of Phnom Penh are magnificient and the history of the Khmer Rouge, relived at a few places will brings a tear to the eyes of even the hardest-hearted, affording you a glimpse of reality to just lucky you are.

When asked why I had left Cambodia and won’t go back to live in Phnom Penh again is because one, it is too dangerous for me and secondly the wild-west attitude of the expats living there.

I would have no second thoughts of going back for a vacation though.



Xenophobia = the fear of foreigners
Ironic = a strange/unexpected or even nasty situation that reads amusingly/sarcastically
To long for/to = to wish for/to
Barang (Khmer lingo) = Farang
Turbulent = a period of time of big change/violence or even war.
Massive = very big
Stinkingly = extremely
Caucasian = a person of white race
Atrocious = very bad
Colloquialism = spoken part of a language
Expat = expatriate, a complaining farang that lives permanently in a foreign country.
Barbaric = unruly and uncivilised not too different from what you see back home.
Moto-dop (Khmer Lingo) = Moterbike-taxi.
Rowdy = noisy

Teaching in Cambodia

Quite a while back there, I thought that I would somehow broaden my horizons and venture out of the Land of Noodle Soup&Nam Prik and try a stint at teaching someplace else. Firstly, rather unsure on where to try my luck I asked around the ex-pat/teacher bars in Banglumphu before making-up my mind to go to Phnom Penh in Cambodia.

Being a teacher here in Thailand. I got quite used to having my own abode with all the essential everyday commodities but there in Cambodia, I soon found out that there wasn’t such a thing as an air-con condo at 4 and half thousand baht a month. Most teachers in the end, end-up spending their life there at a squalid guesthouse down by the lake or rent a ghekko-infested house all for themselves.

Next was the job hunt, sporting a shirt and tie I was ridiculed by the other teachers at the guesthouse for wearing such attire and that a scruff pair of trousers and a torn shirt was enough to find a job. I didn’t follow their words of wisdom and after a couple of hours soon had a part-time job at quite a posh school near the Central market. The money was pretty decent but the hours of work were beyond comprehension. My hours for the first couple of weeks were, as was the norm there, one hour in the morning 6-7, then a couple of hours from 12-2 and finally another hour from 7-8pm!

Well, I soon arrived at the job just in time for the 6 in the morning class expecting half the class to be still in bed but was flabbergasted to see that the whole class had arrived at 5:45! In no time, I realised that the standard of English in Phnom Penh was far higher than at any old pvt. school in Bangkok. I had got used to Thais, even with a proper enough education, still not being able to comprehend the difference between ‘I am going to’ and ‘I go’ but I was soon to be even more perplexed when a few of the Khmer students, asked me such mind-boggling questions as “Excuse Mr Steve could you pls explain the zero conditional tense” to which I replied “As a matter of fact I was going to delve into that tomorrow” before rushing out to buy a book on advanced grammar.

The class in the morning, weren’t too bad but the advanced class in the evening was made up of real boring serious stiffnecks. Even a couple of my buffalo and mother-in-law jokes didn’t get the slightest sign of a grin just a question as “What’s so funny about a buffalo?

As for the most of the other teachers in Cambodia, I have very little in the way of much value to say about them. Virtually everyone of them went to work like a scragg, dressed in flip-flops and fisherman pants, thinking this was appropriate working attire. As for their extra-curricular activities, these included just two pastimes: girls and a weekly visit to the pharmacy to stock up on as many ‘catchabuzz’ pharmaceuticals as they could cope with, before ‘conking out’.

As for teaching credentials, I don’t think the whole bunch had even a GCSE between them. I certainly wasn’t the most popular teacher at the school just because I preferred to look respectable, shower twice a day and did not have a fascination for chemicals. I really cheesed the quackwacks off when I landed one of the hottest teaching jobs in Phnom Penh at the country’s most prestigious company, CBL Cambodia Brewery Limited (Tiger Beer) paying a whopping $15 an hour, almost twice what they were getting, not bad at 24 hours a week.. When the scraggs asked me how I got the job, I replied “They were impressed by my tie and black shoes” and that I didn’t have a right greasy ponytail and blood-shot eyes.

I found the students at Tiger Beer a far friendlier lot to the boring stiffnecks at the pvt school. Especially fun to teach were the Sales guys in the morning, who had very little to chat about besides their naughty deeds with the Tiger promo girls in the back of their vans. Thailand has these promo girls now, I’m sure they got the idea from Cambodia as the first provinces of Thailand to have such girls were the provinces along the Cambodia border, now they are everywhere. Teaching in Cambodia was on the whole, trickier than in Thailand not just cause the students were of a higher standard but that some of the language from the book was difficult for them to understand and also for me to teach. For example ‘franchise’, now, not such a thing exists in Cambodia, or one time the book had us discuss the success of Mc Donalds or 7/11, of course most students didn’t have the foggiest to what they were, the closest they got was the song ‘Old Mc Donalds’.

The best thing about teaching at Tiger had to be the monthly party to which everyone had an endless supply of beer to top themselves up with before going home sloshed. One thing I did enjoy about Cambodia compared to Thailand was the working visa, which was of the simplest to get compared to the endless paperwork and time-wasting like you have to go through in Thailand. After 3 months in Phnom Penh and it was time to renew my visa. Arriving at the Immigration a little late I was informed by the guard that the office was closed, however, should I wish the ‘speedy service’ he pointed to a small office round the back.

Heeding his advice I was welcomed inside by an extremely friendly Pol. Cpt who advised me that the usual service at $30 was dreadfully slow, had to show a stack of paperwork and took up to a month to get. However, with his ‘special speedy service’, which cost $80, the service could be done within the hour. Of course his service sounded much more advisable and when I asked him to whether he needed a signature or at least a foto, he replied “Certainly not”. On leaving he handed me a stack of namecards to throw round to any other teachers that I happened to bump into. I returned the next morning and on seeing me, the Pol. Cpt called out “Mr Steve, sir” and simply picked out, from his shirt pocket, my passport and gave me it back. I was very impressed by the efficiency of his service.

Besides the pay and visa regularities, one other thing I liked about teaching there was the chance to really develop my knowledge of the technicalities of the English language as you seldom get the opportunity here, except for the odd TEFL class.

If you are interested in reading a little more about life in Phnom Penh, then do comment and I’ll write another part.


PS: I received a mail yesterday from a Thai student that read “Khru Steve, I enjoy reading your blogs very much but sometimes I don’t understand some your words and neither does my teacher”
So, for those wishing to learn some vocab:

Stint = some time
Abode = accomodation
Ghekko = cute little green four legged animal that enjoys running across your ceiling
Flabbergasted = amazed
The zero conditional tense = a scientific fact,V1+V1, such as ‘A man falls over when he drinks too much ’
Scragg = scruffy looking person: as the likes of that species that can be found along Khao San Road.
‘catchabuzz’ = prescription-only
conking out = falling asleep before you know it
to cheese off = to make angry
quackwack = not the brightest of persons