Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Questions I get about Cambodia

I get a fair number of emails from people who read "Cambodia Calling". I always reply to emails because I think it's only polite when someone has taken the time to write to you.

Some of the questions I get about Cambodia really amaze and amuse me. One of the stranger ones must be:

Q: What's their habit of bathing? i mean in Hot or Cold water?

A: All the Cambodians I know bathe cold water. Perhaps it's because they cannot afford to pay for hot water, but I also think it's because of tradition. My maternal grandmother, who was half-Thai and half-Malaysian Chinese, always frowned upon her grandchildren who insisted on having a warm bath. It was her belief that cold water keeps you healthy. Our housekeeper Wee, bathes cold water at the washing area where the washing machine is. For some reason, she does not like to use the bathroom. She's from Baray Province, Kampong Thom, and perhaps is used to bathing in the open. For modesty, she wraps a kroma (like a sarong, but with small chequered print, usually in red and white) around her.

And another:

Q: Do they sell clothes suitable for casual wear?

A: Yes of course! Cambodia has a big garment industry, and produces many casual clothes for big brand names. You can buy casual clothes cheap at the Russian Market. I pay no more than USD2 for a T-shirt and USD3.50 for a pair of men’s trousers.

Other common questions:

Q: Is Cambodia dangerous?

A: I've found Cambodia to be a very safe country. If you've watched Ian Wright on Cambodia, at the end of the programme, he confesses to feeling foolish for thinking Cambodia was a dangerous place to visit. It might have been in the past, but visitors will find Phnom Penh and Siem Reap especially to be very tourist-friendly. And in the cities, many people speak English. Even motodops (motocycle drivers who ferry customers).

I’ve also found the Khmers to be very, very, honest. I’ve never ever been cheated when I ask for the bill at a restaurant, for instance, the way I’ve been everywhere else in Asia when restaurant owners “miscalculate”.

Cambodia is much better than say, Bali, in terms of having to fend off touts and “white man price”. I remember being so tired and cynical that whenever I was offered the right price in Bali, I wanted to pay that person more, just to reward him for his honesty. In Cambodia, there is a market rate (USD1-2 for tuktuks for instance) and this rate doesn’t ever stray very far.

Like anywhere else though, you can find trouble in Cambodia if you go looking for it.

Q: Are there ATMs in Cambodia?

A: There are ATMs here. I have a bank account with ANZ Bank here in Cambodia, and can withdraw money at the local gas station, Total. As long as your bank card has a Cirrus sign at the back, you will be able to access your home bank account. Of course, credit cards can also be used. Check the bank fee first.

Q: What’s the food like?

A: Cambodians eat a lot of fish and you can find whole grilled fish (“trey ang”) almost everywhere. Soups are also very popular, I quite like Khmer sour soup with fish. Singaporeans who like “kiam chye” (salted vegetable) will be pleased to know Khmers love it too. Some Chinese dishes are also common, like stir fried sweet gourd with eggs, stir fried morning glory (kangkong—no sambal here though!). BBQ meat is now very popular and I love to eat BBQ pork with rice (not quite char siew, but for me, even better) at the market (only 2000riels, or 50 cents). Cambodian pork curry and Amok (a special curry dish) are some of the more famous dishes.

If you don’t like Khmer food, you can always eat at the many, many Chinese, Vietnamese and Western restaurants in town.

Q: Do they have proper grocery stores?

A: Yes and the variety of Western food is even better than some supermarkets back in Singapore. It’s the French influence and also the fact that the supermarkets here cater to the Western NGO crowd. As there are many many Koreans here, you can even find speciality Korean stores. There is also a Japanese section at Lucky supermarket.

Q: How's the transport there?

A: There is no public transport system. Travel within the city is negotiated between individuals. You can travel by moto (cheapest and shouldn’t cost more than 2000riels one way anywhere in town), cyclo (like a trishaw, and more expensive, as should be in my view, as it takes more effort, with the cyclist, usually a very fit old man pedalling you around), or tuktuk (a small carriage drawn by a motobike). Of course you can rent you very own car or SUV or bicycle if you like.

Travel between the provinces and between major towns is also very convenient. There are many bus companies and you can even take a ferry up the Tonle Sap to travel to and fro Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. You can also fly to major towns.

Q: For money, should I change US dollar or Khmer money?

A: Change money at home before you come. The rates are generally better. Change to USD. Riels are not available in Singapore, so it’s probably the same for your home country.

Q: How's the Internet connection?

A: Public use at Internet cafes is incredibly cheap (you can get it for 1500 riels an hour at some places) and usually quite fast and reliable. There are also wi-fi spots in larger hotels and restaurants. It’s only expensive for home use. I’ve written about my Internet costs elsewhere in the blog so I won’t repeat it.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting and informative...

Diana Saw said...

Hi Somongkol,

Thanks for the comment. Read your blogger profile. What do you lecture? Am keen to find out more about students and education in Cambodia.

Nice pic, by the way,


Jinja said...

Hi Diana,

Vireak in Singapore is also answering questions about Cambodia!

Anonymous said...

That profile needs updating. :) Well, I used to teach English at the Royal University of Phnom Penh from 2003 until August last year. Presently, I am pursuing my Master in Higher Education Administration in Boston.

I am glad you are interested in our education system. Feel free to share your questions with me. I may not be an expert in the area, but I am very happy to share whatever I know with you.

Diana Saw said...

Hi John,

Thanks for that! A Cambodian undergrad studying at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University emailed me. Things are really changing. I had not met a single Cambodian in Singapore (except for Jimmy's adopted Cambodian kids). Maybe we should start a Singapore-Cambodia Friendship Association.

Hope you're well and sorry I've not been updating the blog. Cafe opens in 3 weeks after Khmer New Year! It'll be the start of the rainy season, so maybe not such a bright idea! haha!

Diana Saw said...

Hi Somongkol,

I had dinner with some teachers from Northbridge and Bridgeton and Beltei. There are many new schools starting up in Phnom Penh. Some of the stories I hear about the kids at Northbridge, children of Cambodia's rich and famous, were very disturbing. I think rich people here are just like celebrities in the US, they literally get away with anything.

Anyway, will drop you email sometime about teaching. Tomorrow is my day at the tiny school run by Riverkids Project (www.riverkidsproject.org) under the Chrouy Changvar bridge (Japanese Friendship Bridge). I have no idea what to do with the kids, all under 10--maybe just crayons! It's 4:15am and I better get some sleep!

Vegemight said...

La Diana Hotel

While in Phnom Penh, I stayed at the La Diana Hotel (aka Bloom Hotel??). It was beautiful and homey, except on the first day there was neither toilet paper nor bath towel. It was alright, I managed ;-)

Yes, I feel some of those silly questions were mine ;-p Next time I'll bring home one of those gigantic camper mosquito nets - your housekeeper was sleeping in it so I didn't want to disturb her with questions and poking around it!!!

Don't say sorry again Diana as I got a chance to experience cambodia like no ordinary tourist can - yay!

Can't wait to return and try out your tempting dishes at Bloom Cafe - I'll have anything veggie and chocolatey :-p

Lots of big hugs,

Diana Saw said...

Hi Pauline,

Yes, hope you'll return and teach the women to knit or crochet. They were very impressed with your crocheted plastic bag belt!

Talk soon,

Pathfinder said...

I found a page for your questions for Cambodian way of bathing, with pictures from La Noria:


It also has good pictures of Siem Reap. Enjoy.

Diana Saw said...

hi m,
thanks for that. yes have seen the pix when i was researching guesthouses for our trip to siem reap. reminds me of my childhood trips to taiping, malaysia to visit my maternal grannie. cold water and huge concrete tanks. brrr!

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