Top notch birdwatching: A world of beautiful birds on Phnom Penh’s doorstep

One of the perhaps lesser-known wonders of Cambodia is the Kingdom’s abundance of exotic birdlife. The country is home — or host, in the case of migratory visitors — to over 670 different bird species, many of which are rare, and you don’t need to be a dedicated twitcher to see them in the wild. Nor do you have to travel far out of Phnom Penh for a fascinating birding experience as we — two enthusiastic but inexperienced birdwatchers — discovered when we took a half day birding tour with Vana Adventure Travel.

On the look out at Wat Pich Makot.

Thong was our friendly, knowledgeable guide; a bird-lover, keen conservationist and founder of the family-owned tour company. He and driver Narith picked us up from home at 5:30 a.m. (there’s a 2:30 p.m. alternative but we preferred to avoid the afternoon heat) and whisked us away to the wetlands of Kandal province, a short hop from Phnom Penh by ferry across the Mekong at its junction with the Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers, and a haven for winged wildlife. Continue reading

Crowning Glory: Up-close Cambodian Royal Ballet performance is a visual treat

A modern business park is hardly the typical backdrop for a centuries-old art form born in the royal palaces of Cambodia. Until the end of March, however, a compact studio at Aquation on Koh Pich is the go-to destination for a series of unmissable performances of Robam Preah Reach Trop, Khmer classical dance once seen only at the court of Kings.

King Jayarvarman VII and Queen Indradevi (Photo courtesy of Princess Buppha Devi Dance School)

The Princess Buppha Devi Dance School is a unique academy flying the flag internationally for the Cambodian Royal Ballet. Since the popular dance shows at the National Museum were discontinued, the school is also the only venue in the capital where you can currently see regular performances of the dance form that UNESCO added to its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage — aspects of living heritage in need of safeguarding — in 2003.

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How to get from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and vice versa) in 2024

If you’re heading to Cambodia in 2024, you may be wondering how to to get from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap (and Siem Reap to Phnom Penh).

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.

Table of contents


  • Taxi: Costs $80-100. Most comfortable option. Best balance of price and convenience. About 5 hours. Book now.
  • Bus: Costs $10-18. Smoothest ride and best views. About 6 hours.
  • Mini-bus/van: Costs $10-13. Faster than the bus, but more cramped. About 5.5 hours. Book now.
  • Plane: Costs $100-200. Fastest method, but domestic flights are unreliable. About 1 hour. Book now.
  • Ferry: Costs $35. Best scenery, if you sit outside. About 8 hours, sometimes more. Not currently running.

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One-street shopping in Phnom Penh for the festive season

Street 240 is a gift for Christmas shoppers! Christmas is coming, you can’t rely on Santa to do all the work, and time is running out. Forget the lookalike malls, there’s a pleasant, leafy avenue in Phnom Penh near the Royal Palace, where you can meet almost all your seasonal shopping requirements and then be spoiled for your choice of a lunch venue.

Need to get into the holiday spirit? Street 240 is where it’s at.

On Street 240, off Norodom Boulevard and close to the royal palace, lies a 200-meter-or-so stretch of retail joy. A hub for independent stores, many of which are social businesses with sustainable credentials so you can put something back into the community as you spend. Crammed into characterful colonial shop houses you’ll find everything from cute toys, stylish, individual clothing, and striking jewelry collections, to up-market interiors, hand-made homewares, and natural health and beauty products. Some brands you may know from other Phnom Penh locations, many you won’t. Continue reading

Airbnb party pads near Phnom Penh

Cambodia has some truly fantastic accommodation options. Hotel rooms of all size and price in towns, true family homestays for the more adventurous in places like Sambor Prei Kuk and Chi Phat, and tented glamping in the Cardamoms for the even more adventurous. But sometimes something different is needed, especially if searching for that special place for a party or event. And yes, I’ve stayed in all three!

Hanging out poolside at a Kandal province villa

A villa in Kandal province is just what the doctor ordered.

To truly see how Cambodia’s wealthy spend their weekends out of the city, experience a safe place to party and play as you wish, or just a wide space for children and pets to run around in safety, then there are some fantastic Airbnb options available across the Kingdom.

Earlier this month, just such a venue was required to host a brief return to Cambodia and a chance to catch up with old friends. Enter La Maison du Bassac’s water-front location on the Bassac River overlooking Anloung Chen Island, and its four-bedroom villa. Surrounded by trees and a grassy area big enough to attempt some ultimate frisbee, it was the perfect spot to reconnect with old friends for BBQ, music, board games, and more energetic fun in the fantastic pool.

La Maison du Bassac’s water-front location overlooking Anloung Chen Island.

The silence of rural Cambodia at night – the early morning wedding music in a nearby village a reminder than nowhere is truly quiet in the Kingdom – the fresh air in these bucolic surrounds, and birdsong all helped to create a vibe that felt much further removed from Phnom Penh than the hour-long tuktuk ride it was.

La maison du Bassac – Villa in Svay Rolum, Kandal

Get out of the city and into a four-bedroom villa!

A less elaborate Phnom-Penh escape, but still a noticeable break from the city is the architect-owned home at the northern end of Silk Island. With a fantastic open-plan kitchen and living room, it’s the perfect spot for a dinner party with a difference:

Arboris Entire Wooden Villa +1500m² Private Garden – Cabin in Kandal

For the ultimate party pad – albeit a little further from Phnom Penh – Villa Des Palms in Kep is hard to beat with its two swimming pools, bedrooms seemingly everywhere, and a glimpse of the Gulf of Thailand over the tops of the trees that surround it. And breakfast is provided. What more can anyone ask!

Villa des Palmes in Kep – Villa in Kep


Maloop Garden – Phnom Penh’s permanent green treat?

The capital has a worthy successor to Odom Garden – and one that will hopefully survive longer as a vital green oasis to recharge mental batteries to face life in the foliage-deprived city. While Odom was doomed from the start as a cruel marketing stunt to sell an expensive apartment complex, Maloop Garden feels different. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking. And I’m certainly not bitter about the loss of Odom.

Please stay forever, garden restaurant. Pete can’t take anymore pain.

Billing itself as “a small city park that offers a café, bar, and inhouse restaurant with local inspired dishes,” and run by the same team as Russian Market’s Kinin and Nesat, the verdant location in nearby Boung Tumpoun is a delight. And raises the important question of, “why can’t Phnom Penh ever have more than one nice green space at once?” Continue reading

Review: Caucasus Georgian Restaurant, Siem Reap

I love Georgian food. I have never actually been to Georgia, but I have multiple Georgian cookbooks and I’ve eaten Georgian cuisine at highly regarded restaurants in New York, London, and Ukraine. (I’ve heard that the Georgian food in Ukraine is better than in Georgia, though I have no idea if that’s true.) So imagine my surprise when I found the best Georgian food I’ve ever had in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Katchapuri, a delicious cheesy Georgian bread (the country not the state!)

The word supra in Georgian literally means tablecloth, but it has come to signify a Georgian feast with a table laden with traditional dishes. This is exactly what we got at Caucasus, a restaurant on Siem Reap’s Bamboo Street run by a Georgian family. The menu features all of the traditional favorites, including khachapuri, a boat-shaped bread filled with melted cheese and, sometimes, egg, and khinkali, meat-stuffed dumplings. Continue reading

Mind your language! Learning Khmer in Phnom Penh

“Jum riab sua. Knom chmuah Susan.” Likely the first words you’ll be taught (minus the ‘Susan’ unless that happens to be your name too) when you embark on the sometimes frustrating but ultimately rewarding journey to learning Khmer.

Living in Phnom Penh? Why not work on learning Khmer?

It’s fair to say that if you want to acquire a better understanding of a country and its culture you need to learn the language, and not just because it makes for more satisfying conversation with local people. A tutor told me you need a smiling face to pronounce many Khmer words — how lovely is that, a language that needs a smile to be spoken correctly? Continue reading