Shop: Survival Tips for Bargaining

I love going to the market, and wandering through the lanes crammed full of little stores bulging with their wares. I love perusing the assortment of products; seeing what hidden gems I can find.

There's just one small problem. I hate bargaining. I love price tags. I miss being able to look at a product and find the price, all without the assistance of someone else, and then, having identified the price, not constantly wondering if it really is the price. On my first visit to Asia my travel buddy and I had a great time trying to haggle and get the best price. But now that its part of my daily life, its not so much fun any more.

But in my time in Cambodia I've figured out how to make bargaining as painless as possible and (mostly) avoid the horrible feeling of being ripped off.  These tips should help even the shyest bargain hunter.

  1. Always ask
    If buying something at the market (except for fresh food), I always ask if they can discount. You'll soon get a feel for how much movement there is in the price, and 9 times out of 10 you will get a discount of some sort. Another great question is 'Is that the right price?' - sounds strange but it works. Only last week I was buying ice-cube trays (at Central Market, of course) the seller quoted me $1.75, when I asked “Is that the right price?”, she answered “Oh, the right price is $1.25”. Easy.

  2. Be friendly and smile
    When you ask, always, always smile. You'd be more likely to give a discount to someone who was friendly and smiling, wouldn't you?

  3. If its not right, don't get annoyed, just walk away
    If you don't think the seller is giving you the right price, then walk away. The same item will usually be available at dozens of other stalls, so you've got nothing to loose. You'll soon see whether or not they are willing to negotiate, and its a lot more effective than getting mad.

  4. If you're not sure you want it don't show too much interest
    If just want to know the price, ask quickly and without showing too much interest in the product. The longer you look and the more time the seller spends with you, the more insistent they'll be that you buy something.
While most sellers will bargain on the price, you will find that the discounts are modest compared to other countries where bargaining is common, so don't expect to pay half the quoted price. Also, not all sellers will bargain, and some do quote the correct price from the outset, particularly if they know you.

A final word, even if you enjoy bargaining don't make a sport of it. The sellers are working long days to make what is often a modest living, and get, understandably, frustrated if they feel that you've been wasting their time.

Happy shopping!

Pin It Now!


Do: Bamboo Train in Battambang

I love Battambang.  It's pretty; it's peaceful.  Life just seems to move at a slower pace there.  It's a nice change from Phnom Penh.

And my favourite thing to do in Battambang is the Bamboo Train, or Norry, as it's referred to locally.  If you haven't experienced the Bamboo Train, it's kind of like a antiquated roller-coaster, without any dips.

You'll find it about 5km from the centre of Battambang, at a disused railway station.

The tourist police will be waiting to charge you an exorbitant (by Cambodian prices) amount to take a ride (last time we went we were asked for $5 per head). You can try bargaining, if you like. If you succeed, give yourself a pat on the back, because they're usually pretty adamant about the price.

They'll then call your driver, who will set up your norry (i.e., bamboo platform on wheels) and away you go.

The train heads in pretty much a straight line.  Most of the way, the tracks are lined with bushes, where cows graze, seemingly unperturbed by the clattering trains. Every so often you'll get a glimpse of the surrounding rice paddies, which are quite picturesque. I'm not sure how fast the train actually goes, but as it clatters along, it feels pretty fast.  A word from the wise, if you decide to take off your shoes, keep tight hold of them.  I lost one, which was very kindly retrieved by the next carriage.  

But the real experience happens when you meet a carriage coming the opposite way.  As there is only one track, someone must dismantle their norry to allow the other to pass.  Generally the side with the least norries/passengers is the side that must dismantle, with some help from the other drivers.

Eventually the train stops at a small village that has a brick factory, that I haven't yet explored.  A number of small stalls are set up selling drinks and snacks.  You're free to roam for as long as you like as your driver waits for you. Although the drivers will often call their passengers at the same time in an attempt to travel in a convoy and thus avoiding having to dismantle their norries.

On the way back, you may find yourself with extra company as some locals hitch a ride back.

At the end of the day, the train is a bit of tourist trap, and it's also overpriced.  But it's also, in my opinion, a lot of fun. And should be experienced once, if not more often.

Pin It Now!

Info: Mobile Telephone Providers in Cambodia

© Krzysiek_z_poczty | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

I see questions about Cambodian mobile networks come up all the time.  So I thought I'd put together some info for travellers and expats on the mobile phone options in Cambodia.

Choosing a Cambodian Mobile Telco

Local cross-network calls - All carriers charge pretty much the same rate, 7-8 cents per minute.

Local cross-network SMS - All carriers charge a similar rate, normally 5 cents per message

On network calls and SMS - Most travellers won't be interested in on-network rates, but if you're living here and you can convince your friends and family to use the same network, you can get some very cheap calls.  Some carriers include free on-network SMSs, with others you can covert credit to on-network credit to receive bonuses.  Smart offers some of the most competitive on network rates and bonuses.

International SMS - All carriers charge 10 cents per message

International calls - This is where you need to do your homework.  Rates vary quite significantly.  Smart is, in general, cheapest, but if you're calling home a lot, it's worth checking which carrier offers the best rates to your country.  Also remember that most carriers require you to use a prefix to get the best international call rates.  This can be annoying, especially if you're using numbers that are saved in your phone. If you want to avoid this hassle use Smart or Metfone, as they don't use prefixes.

Data - Rates for data also vary significantly and most carriers have data packages as well.  For pay as you go data, qb is cheapest at 1c/MB.  Beeline offers the cheapest packages ($5/month for 3GB or $10/month for unlimited). Metfone seems to offer the best overall service quality at reasonable rates.

Credit validity - If, like me, you don't use your phone much, you should think about credit validity. qb offers the best validity ($1 is valid for 45 days, or $20 is valid for 365 days).  Smart also offers good credit validity, and has an option to extend your validity for 365 days.

Service coverage - As you might expect, the Big 3 (Metfone, Smart and Cellcard) provide better network coverage, however qb roams onto one of the larger networks in places where they don't have coverage.   In the cities, any of the Big 3 will provide adequate coverage, but if you're going to far-flung places, Metfone generally has the best coverage in the country and is the only carrier available in some locations (e.g., Koh Rong Samloen).

Network - While most providers have 3G+ networks in the city, generally outside of the cities they all revert to 2G. 

For more information, here's a summary of the five carriers and with links to their rates.  Please note, there are many packages, plans and promotions available, but for simplicity I've compared and provided information based on the basic prepaid plans of each provider.

Fast facts: 7 million subscribers; 3G; owned by Viettel
Quick Links: TariffsInternational Call RatesData packages,
Best for: Service coverage - Metfone has arguably the best network coverage in Cambodia

Fast facts: 5 million subscribers; 3.75G; owned by Latelz and part of the Axiata group
Quick Links: TariffsInternational Call RatesData packagesCredit validity
Best for: International calls and on-network calls, or extra long credit validity

Fast facts: 4 million subscribers; 3.5G; also known as Mobitel, owned by CamGSM
Quick Links: TariffsInternational Call Rates (prefix required), Data packagesCredit validity

Fast facts: 600,000 subscribers; 2G; owned by Sotelco
Quick Links: TariffsInternational Call Rates (prefix required), Data packagesCredit validity
Best for: Cheap data packages

Fast facts: 3.75G network in the city; owned by CADcomms
Quick Links:  TariffsInternational Call Rates (prefix required), Data packagesCredit validity
Best for: Low volume users (long credit validity), and cheap pay as you go data

Cambodia also has one CDMA carrier, with a very limited network,  Excell, which you can check out here

Disclaimer: I have personally used Cellcard, Smart and Metfone.  I do not have any personal experience with Beeline or qb.  The information above is based on information currently published and publicly available.

If you've got any more information or recommendations on Cambodian mobile networks, please leave a comment.

Pin It Now!


Go: National Library of Cambodia

Force ties for a time. Ideas bind forever

As a die-hard lover of books and libraries, I've been wanting to visit the National Library of Cambodia for quite some time.  It's also been on my to do list as one of the Jewels of Phnom Penh (I am trying to get to all of them - very, very slowly). Unfortunately, for me, visiting the National Library is easier said than done - it's open Monday to Friday, from 8am-11am, and 2pm-5pm - not particularly convenient for those of us with jobs.

But the other day, I finally did it.  The Library is housed in a lovely, well-maintained colonial building.  Right next door to the equally beautiful Hotel Le Royal.

The outside has been carefully restored (by students of the School of Fine Arts, I believe).  And includes intricate decorations and friezes.

There's the French quote above, and it's Cambodian equivalent.​​​​​​  The Cambodian version sits above the door to the souvenir shop, which I doubt ever opens.

Another Cambodian piece, on the other side of the building, holds a much simpler message: look; learn.

Inside, the building is still grand, but somewhat less ornate.  Although there are some more friezes, and some lovely wooden furniture.

A few students from the University across the road sit at long tables and endure reprimanding stares from the staff if they get too loud.  I enjoyed flicking through some of the books in the reference library, checking out where the book had come from. Some were stamped as donations from the National Libraries of other countries or from Embassies, a couple had the mark "US Army Salvage" stamped heavily inside.  A few new volumes hid among an array of outdated encyclopaedias.

There is a small lending library, which a foreigner can join for $10 per year (if I remember right) and Cambodians can join for a much more modest sum.  The collection includes books in Khmer, English and French, and to be honest, the book-lover in me was tempted, but the problem is the Library is just too out of the way for me and the opening times too inconvenient.  But I enjoyed perusing the dusty shelves with a mix of books and disused typewriters and office furniture.

I think my favourite thing in the whole room was these beautiful old catalogue boxes (do they have a proper name?).  Oh, what I wouldn't give to take one of these babies home.

I asked whether they were still used (given the state of the rest of the library, I honestly wasn't sure).  But, no, they've been replaced by a catalogue, which is also online.  Everything in the catalogue is in the library, I'm told. When I request a couple of books, the librarian says she'll bring them if she sees them.  I'm not very hopeful, but 10 minutes later she appears with one of the two requests.

I chatted to her for a while about the woes of the library.  I'm told that the contents of a large box on counter marked "Donations" are used to fix the photocopier and the like.  "Not for books?", I ask.  No, the only books are donations, she tells me sadly, it's not like libraries in your country.  No, indeed, it's not.

Pin It Now!


Sleep: Phnom Penh's charming boutique hotels

I've had a few people ask me where to stay in Phnom Penh lately.  I tend to think that people who live in a place are often not the best people to give advice on where to stay, given that you don't often stay in hotels in your home city.  But,having had to give this advice more than once, I've pulled together a little list of highly recommended boutique hotels to forward to friends who as for suggestions. 

Phnom Penh seems to be bursting at the seams with charming boutique hotels.  Of course there are many guesthouses that you can stay in for less, but, if your budget allows it, I'd recommend trying out one of the following little gems. (These are places that friends have stayed at or have been recommended to me - or both.  But I haven't stayed myself - although I'd love to!)

The Pavillion

Image from here
Image sourced here
The Pavillion is always my number 1 recommendation.  Friends have stayed here and not been disappointed.  The colonial building oozes charm.  There's a gorgeous pool, surrounded by lush gardens and daybeds.  You could easily while away an afternoon here with a book and a drink, taking a dip whenever you got a bit too warm.

There are a variety of room sizes and the ones I've seen are not big, but they are nicely fitted out.  And, let's face it, how much time were you only need a place to sleep, right?  The location is great, in a quiet street, but walking distance to many attractions (National Museum, Palace, Independence Monument) and just around the corner from the cute boutiques and fabulous cafes (like here and here) on Street 240.

If you are planning to stay here in high season, make sure you book early.  Rooms start from $55 per night including breakfast (more in high season).

The Blue Lime

Image sourced here
Image sourced here
The Blue Lime is a 'sister' hotel of the Pavillion.  It's slightly cheaper, starting from $40 per night including breakfast.  The location, a small alley behind the National Museum, is as good as the Pavillion.  The design is much more modern and urban, and lacks some of the charm of the Pavillion. But, like its sister hotel, it also has a great pool with lots of lovely shady sun beds. 

If you've got kids, try the Kabiki, part of the same group of hotels.

Villa Paradiso

Image sourced here
Image sourced here
I wrote about the Villa Paradiso's lovely pool and spa here. But the hotel itself is lovely too.  It's housed in a grand villa with lovely spacious rooms, and each room is individually furnished with a specific theme.  Our friends have stayed in the music room, which has a large bathroom with a huge bathtub (a rare treat in Phnom Penh), and a lovely balcony. 

They've also got a large selection of inhouse movies and you'll find your own little espresso machine in your room so that you can get your caffeine fix before you leave the room. And of course, there's the shady pool and huge jacuzzi perfect to recharge those tired muscles after traipsing around in the heat all day.

The location is a few blocks or a short tuk-tuk ride from all the sights and action.  Rooms start from $70 per night including breakfast.

Raffles Hotel le Royal

Image from here
Image sourced here
Okay, so this is not technically a boutique hotel, but if you want to splurge, this would be my pick.  It is expensive, but as far as I'm concerned this is the hotel in Phnom Penh.  I haven't checked out the rooms but the building's Colonial charm won me over the first time I set foot in it.  There's a great pool, and don't forget happy hour at the Elephant Bar.

My only complaint about Raffles is it is a bit out of the way (near Wat Phnom).  But there are plenty of tuk-tuks waiting outside at any hour of the day.

Room rates typically start from around $240, but they often have special offers on their website, so keep an eye out if you're interested in staying here.

If you're looking for more ideas, check out my posts on White Mansion or the Governor's House.
Pin It Now!


Eat: Working my way through the menu at Taqueria Corona

Yes, it is.
Have you ever discovered a restaurant and loved it so much that you went back at every opportunity just so you could work your way through the menu?  I have. 

I finally made it to Taqueria Corona for what is supposed to be some of the best Mexican food in Phnom Penh.  Now let me say right now that I am far from an expert on Mexican food, and a total wimp when it comes to chillis, so I am in no position to tell you how authentic the food here is. But what I can tell you is that it tastes great (and it looks like the real deal). 

They also serve my favourite summer drink, Sangria, in huge glasses (the Mojitos aren't bad either).

Since first discovering this place a few weeks ago, I have used every excuse I can find to go back and try as much as I can on their small but good menu.  Most dishes come with your choice of meat and I am a huge fan of the Barbacoa - slow-cooked marinated beef.  I even get it on my nachos (by special request).

I know it's a big statement, but I'm pretty sure these are the best (and prettiest) nachos I've ever tasted. The purple corn chips are crispy and fresh, as is the salsa, there's a few jalapenos thrown in to give it a little kick and it's all covered in generous amounts of meat, sour cream and cheese (and beans if you want them).

In my many visits I've also tried the excellent red enchiladas, and the soft tacos.  The Boy has been working his way through the burgers which are also great.  Unfortunately most of the photos I've taken look like they were taken by a ballerina mid-pirouette (I blame the mood-lighting), but if you're interested take a look.

A main course here will set you back around $6-8, but the servings are generous.  My only complaint is that there are no sweets... but you could always grab ice-cream at the Blue Pumpkin afterwards ; )

You'll find Taqueria Corona on Street 51 between Streets 242 and 254 (just a couple of blocks from the Independence Monument).

Pin It Now!


Eat: Feeding my addiction at Chocolate by the Shop

I used to be a chocoholic. I didn't eat it every day, nor did I eat a lot of it, but we always had chocolate in the house.  I just needed to know it was there when I needed it, y'know.

Then we moved to Cambodia. Although we brought a stash with us, I was worried about what we would find (or more importantly, wouldn't be able to find) in Phnom Penh. Fortunately my fears that Phnom Penh would be a desolate wasteland as far as chocolate was concerned were totally unfounded. It's quite easy to source good quality chocolate here. But my favourite place to get a 'fix' is here:

I actually stumbled on Chocolate by The Shop (yes, the same crew responsible for my favourite lunchtime haunt) just after they opened on my first visit to Phnom Penh.  They were at the old shop a few doors down from The Shop on Street 240.  The Belgian girl behind the counter eagerly showed us the chocolate making equipment, explained where the ingredients were sourced and about the chocolate maker.

The chocolate factory is still on display at the new store on Street 63.  The new store is gorgeous, but the most beautiful part is the single display cabinet, packed with chocolates of every variety imaginable. All as attractive sounding and looking as each other.

Choosing my spoils is almost as much fun as eating them. Bars are sold for around $3 (my favourite is the Praline), and the individual chocolates and truffles are about $6/100g (try the Kampong Speu caramel and the passionfruit), making them an affordable treat.

The only challenge is getting them home in the heat without having them turn into a soggy (but very tasty) mess.

If you get a craving, you can find Chocolate by The Shop on Street 63 (between Streets 322 and 334) in BKK.

Pin It Now!


Eat: USA Donuts...and Burgers

I've been going to USA donuts for years (well, more accurately, I've been trying to stay away from USA donuts for years).  Donuts are one of my weaknesses and USA donuts has a pretty good selection, especially if, like me, you like the glazed variety.  

But, it was only recently that I noticed the burger menu and decided to try them out one lunchtime.  This place isn't going to win any awards for ambience, but I do kind of like the retro styled orange chairs.

The larger than life owner greeted me at the door and was very keen to show me what was on offer.  The menu has a wide range of burger options, starting from just a few dollars up to whopper burgers.  I went mid-range with a Bacon Cheeseburger with onion rings.

The burger was a good old-fashioned burger - nothing fancy but it tasted good.  The onion rings, on the other hand, were a little disappointing.

The burger left me far too full to consider indulging in a donut... so I had no choice but to take them home for later.

After being squished into my bag and bounced home, they looked a bit worse for wear, but they sure tasted good.

USA Donuts also houses quite a good little convenience store, especially if you're after American products, candy, snacks or toiletetries.

Pin It Now!


Do: Cinema Paradiso at Hotel Le Royal

A while back I told you all how much I love outdoor cinemas.  Yep, I love outdoor cinemas more than kittens.  I also mentioned in that post all the problems about watching movies outdoors - its uncomfortable and hard to see and hear.  Well, I thought that was true... until now.  The clever people at Le Royal have come up with what is, in my humble opinion, the ultimate outdoor cinema.  Best of all it's super comfortable and no-one obstructs your view.

Welcome to Cinema Paradiso...

Yep, a cinema full of sun-lounges.  Why didn't anyone think of this earlier?

Being Raffles, the service is fabulous.  We were welcomed with Martinis, which always make me feel so sophisticated.

Of course, you can't watch a movie without snacks.  At Raffles your munchies take the form of a bottle of wine and luscious canapes (naturally, dah-ling).

With snacks and drinks sorted, the only thing left to do is sit back and enjoy the movie.  Cinema Paradiso only shows classic movies.  We were entertained with Dirty Dancing.

As you can see, even though we were in the last row we had a perfectly clear view of the screen.

All in all, a great evening.  If you want to check it out, the last screening for this season is the last Thursday in March and I recommend booking ahead.  The price is $20 per person including drinks and canapes.

Pin It Now!
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...