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16 Jun 2012

Supporting Smart Social Enterprises in Cambodia

About 18 months ago, I posted here about a campaign some friends of mine ran to kick-start some social enterprises in Cambodia through their not-for-profit organisation Kinyei.

These businesses have taken off, and now my friends want to step back and hand them over to their local staff, so they become completely locally owned and run. This push is also in need of some funds though, and so there’s another campaign. The money raised from this will ensure that the necessary training can be given to the staff, so they’re ready to manage the businesses.

There’s only a few days before the fundraising deadline, and much like Kickstarter, if the target is not met, none of the funding gets passed through – and Kinyei haven’t quite got to that target yet. So, if you can chip in, please do!

Kinyei and Friends

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Battambang in Cambodia in the last year, and was able to see the projects in full flight – and it’s quite clear that the local staff have gained a massive amount of knowledge, skills and life experience from being involved. Particularly of note is their cafe baristas, who have become so well regarded that they compete at the country barista championships and train baristas at other cafes and hotels in Cambodia.

So if you can send some money their way, I know it’ll go to a great cause and make a clear difference. Just head on over to their campaign page to donate.

Seyla, Me and Chouert at Kinyei

29 Dec 2010

Kickstarting Collaboration and Co-working over Coffee in Cambodia

A couple of weeks ago, some dear friends of mine started a campaign on Kickstarter to raise funds for their cafe. Now, in most situations, you’d be correct to question whether such a campaign deserves to be on Kickstarter – why should people chip in to see a cafe come into being?

However, Kinyei’s cafe is quite special. To begin with, it’s in the town of Battambang, one of the regional hubs of Cambodia. And it’s not just a cafe – Kinyei are creating a space for co-working, collaboration and social ventures. They are supporting local Khmer entrepreneurs and community leaders in building businesses, running social awareness campaigns, hosting concerts, and conducting workshops. The introductory video does an excellent job at providing some context:

Kinyei have already been doing amazing things in Battambang – but this cafe will help them grow, and assist them in enabling local Khmer to grab opportunities with both hands. Cambodia is inundated with charities and aid organisations, and it’s extremely important that the Khmer people are given opportunities to take command of their lives.

So, if you’ve got some spare cash lying around after Christmas, perhaps you’d like to send it Kinyei’s way – it will definitely be put to good use.

03 Aug 2010

Keeping Busy in Battambang

This is the fifth (and last) of my guides to Cambodia

Well, this post has been a long time coming… don’t take that as any reflection of quality, mind you. And again, this post is focused on Battambang, as it’s where I’ve spent the vast majority of my time when in Cambodia.

The Smoking Pot Cooking Class

As mentioned in my previous post, Smoking Pot has cooking classes – quite possibly the first of its kind in Cambodia. Usually operating in the morning, they provide a great introduction to a Khmer cooking. Make sure you book a day or two ahead!

Fish Amok

Vannak (who runs Smoking Pot) will take you down to the market and purchase all the ingredients for the meals you’ll be preparing – and the market is an experience in itself. He’ll then lead you through making three meals – which you then will eat, so don’t have much in the way of breakfast beforehand! Vannak’s very good with the classes, and quite happy to chat about Cambodia in general.

The Bamboo Train

Cambodia has a very basic and unreliable train system – in most places, there’s no longer proper trains running. However, in and around Battambang there is the Bamboo Train – platforms of bamboo wood, metal wheels on axels, and a motor to power the whole thing along – which can be hired to get from one village to another.

For the most part, these are used by locals to ferry goods around, but can also be taken by tourists. It’s not the most comfortable ride in the world, but you get along at a decent clip, and you get glimpses of the Cambodian countryside.

Moto Train

Also: as you can see in the photo above, it’s a single track – so if there’s another bamboo platform coming in the other direction, whoever has the lightest load has to take their platform off the tracks.

Perhaps it’s the adrenalin rush from such an unsafe adventure – seats, let alone seatbelts, don’t exist – but this is easily one of my favourite things to do in Battambang.

At some point, the train line is probably going to be torn up to make way for a shiny modern system (as part of China’s cross-Asia train line) – so if you’re in town, make this a priority, as you may not get another chance!

Phare Ponleu Selpak Circus

Another highlight of Battambang is the Circus at Phare Ponleu Selpak. These kids are extremely talented – I wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of them find themselves in Cirque du Soleil shows.

Stretch

The performances they put together are a lot of fun – even though it’s all in Khmer, you’ll easily pick up on what’s happening. There’s performances at least once a week – make sure you get along.

Phnom Sampeau

One of the hills close to Battambang is Phnom Sampeau. If you take the stairs up, you’ll find several temples, as well as the Killing Caves. These caves were where many Khmer were killed or maimed and then left to die. It’s not a happy place, but it does help with understanding what the people of Cambodia have been through – and are still recovering from.

Duck Mountain

On a lighter note, you get some great views from up on the top of the hill. Also, if you stick around until late afternoon, you’ll get to see millions of small bats streaming out from the many caves to find food for the night. I’ve only managed to see this once, but it’s really quite something to watch.

Bat Trail

Phnom Sampeau is probably too far for a tuk-tuk journey – the roads aren’t sealed for most of the way, so taking a moto is a far better option. If you speak to your hotel, or ask at restaurants, you should be able to find tour guides and moto drivers without too much hassle.

Soksabike

One fantastic way of getting around Battambang and the surrounding areas is by bike – and there’s now bike tours, run by an organisation known as Soksabike.

This has only started up recently – a good friend of mine has helped get it going – but from what I’ve heard the guides are getting better and better, and it’s a great experience riding out through Battambang to the nearby villages.

Battambang – much like most of Cambodia – is extremely flat, so it’s really easy to get around by bike. Don’t feel you have to be super fit to give this a shot.

More Temples and Touring

There’s several other temples nearby – Wat Banan is perhaps the best known. Quite old, it’s like a small version of some of the temples you can find in the Angkor complex. The one catch is it’s on top of a hill, and the stairs are a killer.

Wat Banan

You can also check out some of the local industries – rice paper, fish paste, rice wine and more – as part of your tours, whether that be by moto, tuk-tuk, or with Soksabike.

In Closing

Well, these Cambodia posts have taken me a long time to write. Hopefully they’re useful for others in providing some perspective on Cambodia, Khmer people and Battambang. I’d love to hear from anyone who has made it to this corner of the world and what you thought of the experience.

22 Feb 2010

Dining in Battambang

This is the fourth of my guides to Cambodia.

I’ve let this series of posts lag so much that I’ve actually been back to Cambodia for a couple of weeks in the meantime. That’s refreshed my memory, so maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

Now, while Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are the major tourist centres of Cambodia, I’ve spent most of my time in Battambang, so it’s really the only place I can provide a decent number of recommendations for. Let’s get stuck into it!

Restaurants in General

A few points to bear in mind:

  • Khmer restaurants aren’t known for their speed, so it doesn’t hurt to bring a book.
  • Most places that cater for foreigners have both Western and Khmer dishes.
  • Unless menus mention both lime and lemon, assume that when it says lemon, you’ll actually get lime.

West of the River

Battambang has a few key streets – running north to south are roads One, Two and Three. One is along the river, and Three is the largest of the three.

Battambang, Cambodia

As you can see from the map, there’s also streets between these – they are usually referred to by expats as One-and-a-half, and Two-and-a-half, but I’ve no idea if the locals actually have names for them.

Fresh Eats

The food here isn’t particularly complex – but it’s tasty, and their shakes have no milk (a rarity), so they’re particularly refreshing. Perfect for breakfast or lunch. As an added bonus, has wifi.

And if you’ve visited Fresh Eats before, it’s worth noting that they have moved in the last twelve months from the far side of Road Three to Road Two-and-a-half, just south of Psah Nath (the main market).

Khmer Delight

A relative newcomer, Khmer Delight has only appeared in the last year. Good food, friendly staff, and intermittent wifi. It’s worth a visit for meals at any time of day.

You can find it on the road running east-west a block south of Psah Nath, between Roads Two and Two-and-a-half.

Smoking Pot

A stalwart of the Lonely Planet, Smoking Pot is best known for the cooking classes (which I’ll cover in a later post), but also has a good variety of dishes. They also serve a banana and lime milkshake, which became my regular drink (I know it sounds a little odd, but the combination works).

It is located on the corner of Street One-and-a-half, two blocks south of Psah Nath.

Snow White

This place always draws plenty of tourists, and so I rarely went, preferring to support businesses which were a bit quieter. The menu is long, so you don’t lack for choices, and the food ranges from okay to decent.

You can find Snow White on the corner of Street Two, two blocks south of Psah Nath (a very short walk from Smoking Pot).

Balcony Bar

An evening-only option, the Balcony Bar is at the higher end of the scale in terms of prices – perhaps not quite so good value compared to other places. That said, the food’s pretty good (though the menu is almost all Western), and it’s a very chilled location, away from the town centre.

You won’t want to walk here, especially late at night, but all Tuk-tuk drivers (and many moto drivers) will know it – it’s a far distance along Road One, south of central Battambang.

Riverside Stalls

Every night, a couple of dozen stalls set up along the river (south of the bridge that’s at the bottom of the map). You could try your luck here for a noodle soup, but it’s really aimed at the locals: you won’t find any western options, and English won’t get you very far at all.

It’s also probably a bit rough on digestive systems that haven’t spent a few weeks in Cambodia. All in all, you have been warned.

East of the River

While the focus of Battambang is on the west side of the river, there’s still some options out east. You’ll mainly find these along one road, where the temple is by the river, leading to the big statue roundabout on Highway 5.

Cambodia - Google Maps

Bamboo Train Cafe

Formerly known as Apsara Garden, the Bamboo Train Cafe has tweaked its menu somewhat, and offers meals at all times of day. The breakfasts are very good (especially if you’re dying for Western-style toast), meals are generally delicious, and the staff are friendly. There’s also a pool table in very good condition – a rarity.

You can find it just east of Spring Park Hotel.

Green House

A small place beside the Golden Palace Hotel (east of Spring Park Hotel on the north side of the main road), this restaurant has some Western dishes, but the local fare is better. Simple and affordable (moreso than the usually cheap Cambodian standards), but nothing sparkling.

Cold Night

Part of the Golden Palace Hotel (east of Spring Park Hotel on the north side of the main road), you may want to try Cold Night if you’re nearby. Some dishes are quite good (my favourite is the Chicken Curry with Rice), but the staff are rarely friendly.

La Villa

You don’t get much classier than this in Cambodia, let alone Battambang. La Villa is a boutique hotel in (as the name suggests) an old French villa. The food here ranges from decent to very good. If you’re going to go a steak, get the imported New Zealand beef, not the local stuff – it’ll be more tender. The creme caramel is great.

This is not where you come to get a taste of Cambodian culture – but it is a nice break from the culture shock. It’s along the river, north of the main road on the map, but Tuk-tuk drivers will know where to go.

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