Pecking Order in PP

Phnom Penh is a mixing pot of people – many who seem to be hiding from something, running away, looking for adventure, wanting to help or even exploit people , start a business or to simply enjoy life in an Asian country. 

Talking about this with Pete and his friend Nick,  they said they’d come up a pecking order.  

It goes like this: ( and the glossary is at the end)

  • The corporate expats look down on teachers,
  • Teachers look down on NGOs,
  • NGOs down on backpackers, 
  • Backpackers look down on sexpats,
  • Sexpats look down on deathpats,
  • And everyone looks down on the French. (Remember this is me quoting )


Corporates: those who work with professional businesses including bankers, qualified teachers etc

Teachers: those who come over to teach English with few qualifications. 

NGOs : those who come to volunteer for organisations who help the locals. Mostly do it to help but others to feel good themselves and then  complain about conditions. 

Backpackers: those here to travel on the cheap and see the country but spend most of the time drunk. 

Sexpats: those who come for lots sex on holidays. Hopefully not with underage children. 

Deathpats: those older people who come to die on the cheap. Either drink or drug themselves to death. 

French: those French people who think and act like they still own the country. 

Sunset over Kampot River

Back from the cooking class and an hour to change. Tuk tuk waiting at the front of the guest house. 

No time to lose. Sunsets don’t wait. Neither do the boats! 

We made it and they have beer on board which makes Steve and Pete quite happy. 


view of the rover from our balcony

We got on the boat at Riverside with 2 minutes to spare with Peter the South African from our guest house. My goodness he asked a lot of questions. Best not say too much about him! 

The cruise got underway and it was great to see the river from a boat. To cruise past some of the places built along the banks including the spa we went to the other day and Greenhouse where we spent many hours on Christmas Day ( and just might be the venue of  Pete and El’s Cambodian wedding next December) It was lovely.  

settling in for a sundowner


Villa Vedici. some family & friends could stay here for the wedding


bungalows on the river. love to stay here.

Then the sun in all its glorious colours began to set. Stunning. I know I said it last night but it’s done it again! It’s gorgeous!  


After the cruise we tuk tukked to Samon villa on the river to meet up with friends of Pete ‘s from PP. in fact his Principal and his yr 4 teaching partner Gary from the UK. 

  A lovely last night

From Farm to Table. Cooking class in the Cambodian country side. 

I’m getting used to little omelet for breakfast ! Not that I need food today. It’s cooking school day!

Our pick up by tuk tuk was arranged by the cooking school and right on 10 our lovely man arrived and we set off for a 45 min ride. The best part was arriving in the countryside. Bumping down the dusty red lanes looking out of the Cambodian countryside was a treat. Come along……

 It was as though the people here have more skills and pride in their surroundings than those poorer people in the bigger towns. The fields were green and productive growing Durians, rice, corn all types of vegetable with cows wandering and a few pigs sitting under a tree.

We eventually turned off at a lake know as the secret lake. It was man made during the Khmer Rouge time , hand dug by the Cambodians they had taken captive. It looks lovely now surrounded by trees and hills in the background. It doesn’t even hint at the blood that was shed in its making. We had to get out of the tuk to get up the hill at the end of the causeway and then continued along the road past fields with workers toiling in the heat.

We arrived at the farm and walked in from the parking area. We crossed a creek on a 2 plank bridge and went past newly planted corn, papaya trees, banana trees, basil, eggplant, pumpkin, lemongrass, galangal, chilli, kaffir lime….. All ingredients we were to use later.

Our host and chef, Sok Lin greeted us wearing a cute little peaked cap. He told us to make ourselves at home before the tour of the farm to collect our vegetable for today’s dishes. There was a blackboard menu leaning against a tree with about 8 dishes. We could each choose one to cook later.

We relaxed in hammocks slung from the open walls of the kitchen.

Then Sok came back and with an  offsider his young neighbour – a boy 14 who looked about 10. He was so cute.  They walked us around the small but very productive farm. He used to have a restaurant in Kampot but decided he wanted to use his own ingredients so moved here with his English wife and they live very simply and run a cooking school with very basic amenities.

 There is an open kitchen, their house next door is just a room and verandah up off the ground. Another thatched area for their things. Then a short distance away 3 thatched huts on stilts,  a toilet and shower area – thatched with tiled floors. No electricity. Powered by cow dung ! Garden fertilizer from the toilet. Self sustaining and clean and neat.

The cooking started and we all were given our ingredients , told what to do then just went ahead with Sok watching and guiding.

the young helper and out tuk driver

El being watched by the young helper


peter grating hte cocnut to make the fresh coconut milk!



Sok lin keeping watch as we chop

Results were delicious. Peter did pepper chicken, Steve masaman  curry, El a yellow curry and I did smoky eggplant with chicken.

It seemed easy! But I think if you have the right ingredients it is easy to make good, tasty nutritious meals. And here they do it so cheaply and not in large amounts.

Now I’m writing this lying in a hammock relaxing until our hour tuk tuk ride home.

Back into the tuk for a bumpy but very pleasant ride home through the country side. Some great sights!


local boys collecting little fish from mud puddles


Tonight a sunset cruise.

Blissful spa and Pepper Crab

Today I was being thoroughly spoilt. My Christmas present from El was a 4 hour pamper package at a women’s only spa  just out of town on the river. Peter gave El the same thing! So we headed off together around 10.30.  

 What a great experience. We arrived and off with our shoes Cambodian style and down to the covered deck on the edge of the river. El had a quick dip and Tea was served from gently smiling young Cambodian women. 

 When it was time to start we headed up the stairs into the loft area which had billowing white curtains and fans whirring quietly. Down onto the plain bed for the first treatment : a papaya and honey scrub. I’d never had a scrub before and boy did I like it. My girl had strong and careful hands and for an hour scrubbed every bit of my dry skin. Then a wipe down,  a shower,  some more green tea before upstairs again wrapped in a pretty sarong. Then came the aromatherapy massage. Blissful I must say. By now we were both so relaxed. But there was more. We had a healthy fresh juice and then it was the facial. Gorgeous. 

It all ended with another shower and then into the tuk tuk and off to Kep with the boys. I think some of the good of the massage and facial was undone after the rattling journey along the coast to Kep. 

Kep is a seaside town best known for it pepper crab. We stopped at one of the many restaurants along the waterfront and got stuck into two pepper crabs  between us. Yum. They are becoming very famous and people travel down from PP for the day to eat them. 

We washed up at the two sinks convienently  placed in the middle of the restaurant so you can duck over at any time and wash your hands. So practical! We finished and walked along the beach front and looked at the markets. Same but different to markets the world over. 

The ladies in the markets are a pleasure to watch. All friendly and going about their business with calm and contentment. 

Simple lives. Simple pleasures. 

It would be good if we all seemed to enjoy our work. 

Then a walk along the coast and around the corner to a beach Pete had never been to. It was a pretty horse shoe shaped bay with people splashing around and could have been in any number of countries. The sand was white, the children playing soccer, the parents in groups chatting. People setting up their own comfy chairs along the promenade. We stopped for a drink at the Beach House hotel and watched the spectacular sunset. Ah! So beautiful. I’m entranced by sunsets and having seen a few good ones this one was right up with them. 

And so back to Kampot for a quick drink and dinner before heading back to our guest house. 

Did I mention that for the first time in a long while I got the accomodation WRONG. Yes , me who checks everything. I didn’t follow my gut this time. As it had  glowing reviews and seemingly good facilities. I went for comfort over position. And as a consequence we have to get a tuk tuk every time we go to the little town centre. I kind of sensed it would be wrong but didn’t change and of course now I’m sorry! 

Next time I’ll follow my instincts! 

Cambodian Christmas

Steve and I  woke to the sounds of chickens and roosters and what sounded like a call to prayer but could have been just karaoke. 

We had a tasty breakfast cooked by David the Australian owner a laid back almost hippy style guy who can actually cook very well. Steve loves his French toast for breakfast and the little omelet I have is delicious. 

  Off we went on our bicycles trying to ride like locals and not worry about anything hitting us! It’s not very busy here so it wasn’t too bad. Down the lane way near our place across the bridge and into the little town of Kampot. First thing we see is a crowd of motorbikes and cycles converging on the school. Not celebrating Christmas means schools and everything else is open. We cycled gently along Riverside Dr and took in the sights. The old bridge now blocked off, locals under palm trees catching the breezes off the river, men playing cards, old boats lined up with signs displaying sunsets cruises, offical looking buildings and the one we like best. The Cambodian Olympic Aquatic centre funded in 2008 by the Cambodian Olympic Committee, the International Olympic Committee and by Daimler Chrylser. Such sponsorship! It consisted of a unfinished building and big fence and two canoes. Not sure if the river itself is used for swimming!  

 We gently cycled around the town getting the idea of merging at intersections but never really stopping. To stop means no one will ever let you in and you’d sit there all day! So we became quite good. Steve bought a t shirt with elephants on it and we enjoyed our daily fruit shake. Yum. 

  Back to the guest house and met up with Pete and El exchanging one present before heading out to Green House. Down country lanes following the river a right turn took us closer to the river and anticipation grew. It was so bumpy. So dusty. Then round the corner and  into a little oasis. Very laid back timber style house overlooking the river and mountains and instantly we started to relax. 


 Out with the Santa hats. A few photos a few bottles of lovely French Rose. Great food several dishes using the local pepper in various colours and even the delicious local honey. More presents. I received a little necklace from Pete with my name written on it  made by a friend. El gave me a 4 hour pamper at the local women’s only spa. So tomorrow we go together as Peter gave her one as well. Pampering on the banks of the river in timber huts. Sounds delightful. Not sure about the naked swim at the end as it could be too much for my future daughter in law. But she is reassuringly encouraging telling me I look very good ( but I know next to her I would look a fright) oh well I’ll just relax and enjoy.  

Lunch turned into a long affair punctuated with a swim in the river, another glass and lots of chat about the wedding. Better to get it planned whilst we are here so we know what to expect. We all agreed that they being a fairly low key couple where we were sitting would be an ideal place to have the wedding. The back drop against the forested mountains is gorgeous. We discussed logistics and even talked to Sabine the French owner of Greenhouse. So we think we have a plan. 

  Sitting under the trees in the balmy night air was a lovely way to spend Christmas. Hopefully some will be able to travel to this poor country and enjoy the simple charms it offers. 

The Pepper trail to Kampot

Kampot is very well known for its delicious pepper and we set off today talking about the dishes we wanted to try with pepper in it.

Our driver picked us up at 11 and off we went to Kampot about 2 and a half hours away.

Driving through the outskirts of PP and into the countryside of Cambodia reminded me of the drive from Hanoi to Halong Bay.

Crumbling buildings, piles of rubble, plastic bags , dogs, scooters, bikes often with whole families on board ( some of the little ones asleep ) trucks, little wooden spirit houses, feather dusters, school children always dressed neatly in blue skirts or long pants and white shirts but not always wearing shoes , women walking in their pyjamas suits, lots of little shops. ……. We passed it all.

Finally it became more countryside and more mountains in the distance. Pete and El love Kampot and kept telling us how lovely it was there compared to PP. I’m not convinced we’ll find it equal to our weekend getaway spots!

After a lot of epic driving going round trucks and little school kids on bikes and older kids two and three deep on motor cycles we arrived at Kampot.

First impressions : old, dusty, eclectic, faded. Later after we dropped our bags at our Guest House and headed into the small main area I revised this impression to fading charm, laid back ambiance , original, friendly, slow and waiting to be discovered.

Pete and El have been here a few times and are wanting to get in on the growing appeal for this little place. They , particularly El, want to open a guest house, restaurant bar. Yes after all the teacher training , Pete is considering moving on. He can’t afford to do it too soon so might have to keep living in PP during the week and teach then return to Kampot and help El set up the business they want to run. It’s still a way off because it’s harder than it seems to do. But they are keen and have been gathering ideas. El is smart and has been using her experience at managing Nick’s restaurant to build experience for their own business. Who knows what will happen.

As most of you know I am very particular and quite successful at selecting our holiday accomodation. Well this time I got it wrong. Nice place but wrong location! Too far from the action of Kampot. But Pete has hired a motor bike and Steve and I have the use of push bikes for the 10 min ride across the river into town.

For Christmas Eve dinner we went to Baraca run by friend of the kids. It was tapas night. Great fun. Great food and lovely cocktails. Followed by a walk along the river which twinkled with Christmas lights I could feel the effect this place has on people.

Big Night Out

El had to work so Pete and his friend Nick picked us up in a tuk tuk and we headed off for Riverside. This area is probably more touristy than where we are staying but it has lots of bars and little shops and great views across the mighty Mekong River. 

We settled in a bar on the second floor of an old style building and watched the sunset drinking cocktails. ( poor El at work!)

We then moved onto dinner. Pete suggested a little place with fantastic ribs but Nick the restauranter stepped in and said it was Christmas and he thought we should step it up! No red plastic chairs tonight!

He also knows a few people in the restaurant business in PP so quickly got on the phone and got a table at Chinese House. 

A quick tuk tuk ride took us further up river to a beautiful oldFrench  style villa – all slightly crumbling but stylish, exotic and aging all at once. Nick was greeted by the chef, a young woman from South Africa and the owner a man also from SA. We skipped the gorgeous downstairs bar and went up to the fantastic dining room. 

Great place,  great food,  lovely surroundings and Pete and Nick to keep us entertained. 


     I had the best duck dish I’ve had in a while. Thank you Nick for taking us here. Again poor El at work keeping Nicks bar going! 

We went back to Che Culo after dinner and had s nightcap with El before walking a few blocks home. 

A lovely night. 

Tomorrow Kampot. 

The Killing Fields

We went in a tuk tuk not really knowing what to expect. It was sad. Gut wrenchingly sad. To think this sort of killing, by Pol Pot, went on largely ignored by the world is terrible. 

Pete took us there with his favourite tuk driver through crowded streets which gave way to bumpy country style lanes past lovely Cambodian people living so poorly. Then we reached gates opening to a field which housed a simple path around what looked liked garden and in the centre stood a tall stupa filled with skulls. 

We walked along the  little path with our audio guiding us around past graves and a killing tree. The audio contained stories from survivors and their families about the atrocities that were committed in these people – by their own countrymen. 

Pictures tell the story:

Morning Walk

I woke to the sound of birds, not drills and Jack hammers but still couldn’t sleep,  so set off for a walk. Now walking here is like a sport. Dodge the cars, avoid the motorcycles, twists around bicycles and tuk tuk drivers who all move along like in a well choreographed ballet. Great to watch as you walk along trying not to trip on uneven gutters, bits of stray concrete building materials,  sleeping dogs and people selling things from carts. So interesting to watch but then try crossing a road. I got the hang of it, just like I did in China a few years ago. Step out and walk steadily , don’t stop, don’t increase the speed of walking and .you just might get across. Well I got the hang of it and walked for ages. I got to Riverside and a saw few large monuments.


  It’s a big city but without the extreme pollution of Beijing or the brassiness of Shanghai or the cleanliness of Singapore. It’s got it’s own unique “Asianness” and has it’s nicer areas. 

Living here is a mixture of easy and hard. As one guy from Pete’s AFL team put it – the difficult things in Australia are easy here and the easy things at home are difficult here. He had started an IT business. To register his business took several months here but at home it would be done online in a day. But he started anyway and no problem here ! At home he’d be fined for starting with out official registration. 



 Well my walk took me past the monuments and the statues, past the stench of a small creek, past the new Sofitel through the Hutongs of  PP. – like in Beijing these are little alleyways where whole families live in little houses ( I use the term loosely). I wandered for over an hour till I. Realised I needed to get back for Pete’s pickup so just jumped into a tuk tuk. They are on easy option. I was delivered back for $2 

A lovely tropical breakfast in our pretty courtyard and we were ready for Pete’s pick up with his favourite tuk tuk driver OJ.  


An Evening to Remember. 

We made our way down two blocks from our Hotel to Che Culo the bar restaurant Peters friend Nick owns. It’s a pretty cosmopolitan place with a very mixed crowd. This night there were a group of local well heeled Khmer people spending lots of money , a tattooed group of lesbians, several tables of expat types and our party of about 20. They were a friendly bunch. The majority were mates of Petes from the AFL club he plays for here. Really nice bunch all with interesting stories / jobs of what brought them to Phnom Penh. One included a funny guy known as G who writes thrillers set in Surry Hills. 

Then there were the girlfriends El has made. Mostly Australians doing jobs like NGO work, teaching, journalism and one has her own successful food tours of PP business. 

Pete and El were happy. El looked gorgeous and their friends were ready to party.