Freelancing Gods 2015

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.


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.


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.

11 Jul 2009

Getting around in Cambodia

This is the third of my guides to Cambodia.

The focus for this post is how you can get yourself from one side of the country to the other.

Between Cities

Unless you have your own private tourist guide, you really only have two options to get between cities – buses and taxis.

By Bus

Buses are the cheap-but-slow option – you could be looking at 6 or more hours between Battambang and Phnom Penh, and a ticket is going to set you back maybe $7 USD. Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is a slightly longer journey, and Siem Reap to Battambang is shorter (around 4 or 5 hours).

Sometimes buses break down, and sometimes they’ll make a few more toilet break stops than really necessary. They are easy though – just buy a ticket, and hop on the right bus. Don’t expect air conditioning or a quiet trip – it’s likely you’ll have to put up with loud Khmer pop for the entire trip.

By Taxi

Taxis, on the other hand, can require a bit more patience to sort out. It’s not a formalised system like in developed countries – if someone with a car wants to be a taxi driver, then they just hang around the vague taxi point in a city, and try to lure passengers into their car. There’s plenty of competitiveness between drivers, so you could try and bargain for a seat. Don’t expect all drivers to speak English though.

Taxi drivers will try to fill up the car with as many passengers as possible. I’ve been in cars with four Khmer adults in the back seat of the Camry (almost all taxis are Camrys), two in each of the front seats (yes, the driver shares his seat), and in one case, one girl in the boot (kept open, thankfully).

If you’d like to have a little privacy, you pay more. For Battambang to Phnom Penh, $20 is a common rate for a Westerner to have the passenger seat to themselves. $10 will probably get you a seat in the back with two or three others. Westerners are generally given more space, because they have the money to pay for it.

You can also hire out a whole car if you’ve got plenty of cash or a group of people – expect to pay around $50. For the other major routes, prices can be modified depending on the distance (I’d guess around $60-70 for Phnom Penh to Siem Reap).

While finding drivers is pretty easy (your hotel or hostel may even help you source a driver), there is a good chance you could be waiting around for the rest of the taxi to fill up. Khmers are early risers, so as the day wears on, there’s less potential travellers. In some cases, I’ve waited over an hour before leaving. Of course, if you offer more money, then the driver will be happier to make the journey with less passengers.

So, for all this hard work, what are the advantages? Air-conditioning (indeed, you might actually be too cold) is the big one. The journey is much faster, too (I once did the Battambang to Phnom Penh trip in under four hours, but four to five hours is the usual length of time). You should still expect to be blasted with Khmer music (although some drivers will graciously accommodate and turn the radio down or off).

Either way, the roads aren’t fancy – and sometimes not even sealed – so don’t hope for a super-smooth ride.


The Boat

The one other major transport option is only for travelling between Battambang and Siem Reap, and even then, only during the wet season: the boat. There’s two different boats (I’m not sure if they’re run by separate companies), and one is apparently comfortable.

The Boat to Siem Reap

I say apparently, because I went on the other boat, which is a glorified gondola, holding about 20 people sitting on benches facing each other, with their backs to the water. The sides of this boat are low enough that you will get water flowing over the edge every now and then – nothing dangerous, but your bags may get a little wet.

The Boat to Siem Reap

Given my description thus far, it sounds like a horrible trip – and while it wasn’t super comfortable, and did take seven hours, you do get some great views of the Cambodian countryside. The boat skirts the western edge of the massive Tonlé Sap lake, and also motors through some floating villages. It’s certainly a unique experience, and I’m glad I’ve done it once.

In Cities

Unlike most cities, taxis (in their car form) aren’t used much at all in Cambodia for travelling within a city (although there is some normal taxis in Phnom Penh). What is used is a bit more old-school – tuk-tuks and motos. Motos are scaled down motorbikes – not quite as powerful, and not quite as large. Very similar to motorized scooters, if a little bit more motorbike-like. Tuktuks are motos with a little carriage on the back, which can fit four Westerners reasonably comfortably.



If you need to get somewhere by yourself, I’d recommend jumping on the back of a moto – there’s usually plenty of moto-dops (moto-taxis) around tourist areas and major intersections. It can be a little scary at first, but the drivers know what they’re doing, and it’s much faster than a tuk-tuk. The more you travel this way, the more comfortable it gets.

Prices vary between cities – I could generally get from one end of Battambang to the other for fifty cents (two thousand riel). For the same distance, a dollar is probably the least you’ll get away with in Phnom Penh (and it’s also a much larger city). Sometimes the driver will request a price, sometimes you just offer what you think it is worth – and bargaining is fine, although you may not get far due to the language barrier.


Much like the ride itself, estimating what to pay for a trip becomes comfortable over time.


If there’s a group of you – and particularly if you have luggage – then a tuk-tuk is the better option. You’ve got a bit more space, and it’s definitely safer than a moto – but the caveat is that it’s more expensive, and it’s slower. I didn’t travel by tuk-tuk too much, so I’m not the best source for prices, but I’d expect to pay a dollar or two to get across Battambang, maybe a little more if there was a group of us.

Both moto and tuk-tuk drivers are often happy to wait for you for the return journey – if that’s what you want, don’t feel obliged to pay until you’re finished with their services. You should pay them a bit extra for waiting, though.

A simple example: If I was visiting the Russian Markets in Phnom Penh, and then heading back to my hotel, I’d probably pay three or four dollars all up for a moto-dop. For a similar visit to the markets in Battambang, two dollars should suffice. Of course, prices may have gone up since my last visit, and I can speak a little Khmer, so I’m more comfortable with bargaining. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked for double those amounts, or more.


When you’re stuck with the language barrier, it can be a bit hard to describe where you want to go (particularly in a city you’ve never been to before). Regular moto-dops and tuk-tuk drivers will know all the common tourist places, so generally you’re going to be fine.

If the driver doesn’t know where to go – and sometimes they pretend they do know – they’ll usually ask other Khmer for help. However, often the drivers hanging around tourist areas are experienced enough (particularly in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) that you won’t have problems.


You definitely won’t struggle to find moto-dops or tuk-tuks – there’s always a few outside each hotel, and they’re quick to offer their services (read: hassle you incessantly). Sometimes, that’s fine, because you do need transport. Other times, it’s easier to just say ‘no’ (A’tay) or ‘I don’t need’ (A’trega).

You’ll also find some drivers ask if you want to visit tourist places, and offer to take you there (and if you’re busy, give you their number or ask when you’re free the following day). This can be handy – it’s nice to have a familiar driver taking you around – but if you don’t want to commit to any plans, make that clear, don’t just say yes to avoid confrontation.

Hiring Bikes

If you’d like to get around without a driver, it’s not hard to find places that hire out motos and bicycles (and perhaps dirt bikes for the out-of-town trips). Cambodia is quite flat for the most part, so it’s not hard to peddle your way through cities, but Phnom Penh’s traffic (much more so than Battambang or Siem Reap) heightens the challenge. You’ll also need to worry about locking the bikes up, so it may not be worth the hassle.

Border Crossing

Finally, if you’re planning on crossing the border overland from Bangkok, via Aranyaprathet (on the Thai side of the border) and Poipet (the Cambodian equivalent), it’s a bit of an adventure. I’ve done it a couple of times – the easiest way is by taking a bus that goes all the way to Siem Reap or Battambang (well, it’s actually two buses, since they don’t cross the border, but guides will look after you somewhat).

An alternative is to take a non-tourist-focused bus from Bangkok to the border, and then find a taxi once you cross over to Cambodia. This is more challenging – there’s some scam buses and taxis that charge a lot more in Poipet, so I’d recommend the bus.

If you’re going in the other direction though, taking a taxi to Poipet is easy enough, and then you can get a tuk-tuk to the bus stop in Aranyaprathet. No matter which direction you’re going in, Tales of Asia’s guide is essential reading.

That’s it for my generic Cambodian posts – the last two of this series will focus on dining and activities in the town of Battambang (as that’s where I spent the vast majority of my time).

Thanks to James Healy for the moto photos above.

18 Feb 2009

Khmer Culture

This is the first of my guides to Cambodia.

Let’s start with some general pointers about Cambodia.

One of the differences between Cambodia and Australia that I’ve been reminded of now that I’m back home is how friendly the Khmer people are. (In case you weren’t sure, residents of Cambodia refer to themselves as Khmer, not Cambodian. The same goes for the language they speak.) While often they may look at you seriously, if you smile, they will smile back nine times out of ten. You try that in Melbourne, and people may think you’re a little too friendly.

When travelling in the regions where tourists aren’t so common, you’ll often have Khmer children call out ‘Hello’ as you pass – occasionally the adults will do the same. If they speak any English, you’ll be asked what your name is, how old you are, and often whether you’re married or not.

Fun Times


The age question has some importance to Khmer – because the older you are, the higher status you have. You refer to people older than you as Bong, and those younger as Ohn – and if you’re not sure whether they’re older or not, err on the side of caution and go with Bong.

Other factors to status include gender – males ranking higher, unsurprisingly – and race. If you’re a white-skinned Berang (Westerner), that’s instant kudos, which means white women get much more respect than local Khmer women.


Status also determines how people will greet you. If you’re much senior, you’ll often get polite bows with hands pressed together as if praying – the more friendly restaurant staff will often greet and farewell you with this.

If you want to be a bit more informal, handshakes are recommended – and some Khmer men will press for one anyway, especially if you’re white-skinned and male, seeking to get chummy with you.

Apsara Dancers


Now, I’ve not read too much about the history of Cambodia, so don’t expect much detail here. I can provide a very brief overview though.

The Kingdom of Cambodia – or a Khmer nation in some form and name – has been in existance for around 1200 years. At one stage in the middle of the last millenium, it was the largest nation in South East Asia, covering at least parts of Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Much more recently, it was ‘colonised’ by the French, as part of French Indochina from 1863 up until 1953, when it became a constitutional monarchy. After the Vietnam War, the combination of bombing by the USA and the rebel communist Khmer Rouge drove the country into civil war, with the Khmer Rouge taking power in 1975. Vietnam invaded in 1978 to put a halt to the genocide (somewhere between one and three million were killed – including a high percentage of the more educated Khmer, such as teachers and doctors), but warring continued until the late 1990’s.

In the last decade or so, the country has returned to being a constitutional monarchy. The Cambodian People’s Party has held power ever since the first elections, and holds a massive majority. While the locals rarely discuss politics, it’s quite well established that there’s plenty of corruption within the government. If you’re friends or family of those in power, your living conditions are leagues ahead of the vast majority of the population.

These days, you really don’t need to be worried about violence – well, not in the heavily populated areas. Apparently things get a bit hairy in the jungles with fighting between police, poachers and rangers, and there is the on-again-off-again border dispute with Thailand in the Preah Vihear province, but outside of those regions, things are quite safe.


Onto something a bit more utilitarian: money. The Cambodian currency is called the Riel, and it’s worth roughly one fortieth of a US cent. An easier way to think of it is 4000 riel is 1 US dollar. While the Australian dollar is the currency I normally deal with, I’m sticking with USD references here because that’s the secondary currency in Cambodia – you’ll be able to work with that 4000-to-1 conversion rate in restaurants, hotels and such.

The official conversion rate is something closer to 4120 riel to the dollar, but you’ll only find people using that when you’re changing money, or if you happen to be buying phone credit (since that’s a pretty close parallel to currency in Cambodia anyway).

Because of how cheap (compared to Western countries) most things are, you can’t expect most places to handle $20 and $50 dollar notes, unless you’re paying them large amounts of money anyway. Close to markets you’ll find money changers, and you should get the official rate – which means you’ll score some extra riel.

One thing you almost certainly won’t see in Cambodia is coins. Apparently there’s a 50 riel coin, but I’ve only seen notes with values of 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 and 10,000 – and a 20,000 riel note once. Anything larger and you’ll be dealing in US dollars. And trust me, once you’ve gotten used to not having coins in your wallet, it’s tough going back.


If you’re only going to the tourist-centric cities – Phnom Penh and Siem Reap – then you won’t need to worry about learning Khmer. A growing number of the population can speak at least some English, and for the rest, you’ll get by easily with sign language. That said, if you know a few local phrases – beyond Socksabye (How are you?) and Oarkun (Thank you) – you’ll often get a good friendly laugh in response, as the vast majority of visitors just don’t make an effort.

I’ll be covering a lot more of the language in the next post, so stay tuned.

18 Feb 2009

Pat's Guide to Cambodia

Bayon Temple

I’ve recently returned to Melbourne after spending four months based in Cambodia. I’ve learnt a stack about the country and culture, and I figure it might come in handy for others travelling through, so I’ve got a few blog posts lined up with various tidbits of information.

Some will be pretty generic – useful for Cambodia in general – while some parts will be focused on the city of Battambang (aka The Bong), which is where I was living.

02 Jan 2009

Coping Mechanisms

One of the things that’s really stood out in my time here in Cambodia is that the ex-pat community consumes alcohol and cigarettes much more than back at home in Australia. Leaving alone any judgement over the right and wrong of this, I just wanted to share some of the thoughts a discussion with Mel about this led to.

While the ex-pat community here comes from a variety of nations and backgrounds, and this isn’t a reflection of all of them, it’s widely accepted that volunteer workers in developing countries often drink (and use other substances) more often than at home, wherever home may be.

From my own experience with the circles I mix in regularly, I’m in the minority as a non-smoker, and I’ve not met anyone else here who doesn’t drink – excluding locals, of course (although plenty of Khmer do enjoy their beer).

It’s been suggested to me that this is a coping mechanism – life here is definitely more challenging, especially if you’re not just passing through as a tourist. You’re in the middle of a different culture, facing different food, people, language and locations. Alcohol and smoking can be seen as something familiar – grounding elements in the face of all the other change. Mel suggested it’s much the same with backpackers in hostels. Indeed, religion can fill the same role for other people. For me as I’ve been travelling over the last year, Ruby was my familiarity to some extent – I was able to meet new people and feel a bit more comfortable in new countries and facing new experiences, using common skills and knowledge as a stepping stone.

The smoking in particular is a bit jarring though – it’s pretty common for people to light up in bars and restaurants (things you can’t do in Melbourne anymore), and so I’ve been questioning why it becomes more acceptable here.

Mel’s answer – which makes sense to me – is that there’s an absence of social norms here. You don’t have your home culture around you, and you don’t completely assimilate into Khmer culture (especially in the case of females, as that would mean getting married if you’re not already, and not going out after dark – well, in the less liberal parts of society here). In this absence, the few familiar things can become more common, fill in the gaps in your time.

Maybe it’s possible to draw some parallels to western society – do those who engage in binge-drinking not have other coping mechanisms to deal with stress? Is it related to stress at all? Or is this too long a bow to draw?

07 Dec 2008

Link: Tales of Asia - Overland - BKK-SR - Quick Summary

07 Dec 2008

Link: How do I get from Bangkok to Siem Reap? a Travelfish feature story

23 Oct 2008

Developer Ethics

A quick question to fellow coders…

Unsurprisingly, there’s a dearth of Ruby developers in Cambodia. I imagine the situation is pretty similar in other developing nations. PHP and Visual Basic seem to be the common languages in the small tech community here.

I’m currently working on building a website for one of the local NGOs here – and of course, Rails is my preferred framework. But looking forward, I don’t wish to be providing ongoing support for the site – and the client shares that sentiment. So to make it easier for local developers to take over, should I be considering using PHP for the project instead?

I have offered to help the IT guy at this organisation learn Ruby, but he won’t be there forever as well. And they’re a small NGO – they don’t have the cash to throw around hiring super-skilled developers. The project itself is pro-bono.

So, what would you do, given the circumstances?

(And for the record, it’s very likely I’ll stick with Ruby – using the Radiant CMS – but I’m interested in others’ opinions.)

19 Oct 2008

Misdirected Zeal

Okay, time for some more thoughts on poverty. Well, tangentially related to poverty really – it’s more focused on how religion can come into play within NGOs.

In case you weren’t aware, some of the biggest NGO charities are built upon religious ideals. World Vision and The Salvation Army are textbook examples. In Australia at least, other well known groups include The Brotherhood of St Lawrence and St Vincent de Paul. And I don’t have a problem with this, by and large. I think most atheists can find common ground with Christians (the faith which all the above organisations represent) and other religious people, and the actions of these groups are generally things I’m happy to support.

What makes me a little angry, however, is when faith gets in the way of helping people – ie. a missionary approach. I know there are NGO organisations here in Cambodia that teach English from the Bible, while others only employ locals if they convert to Christianity. The focus is less about helping others, and more about converting them to your religion.

I’ve no idea if this problem exists in religious-but-not-Christian NGOs – but I was raised as a Catholic, and have some understanding of the underlying ideals of the religion, and I’m pretty damn certain that these less than savoury practices are not what Jesus would do.

Anyway, that’s just an observation (well, more of a rant, really) from my time in Cambodia. And no NGO is perfect, really. I promise future posts will be a bit more constructive though (and hey, there’ll be some more code-focused ones too).

29 Mar 2008

Link: Stay Another Day

"Our goal is to promote "destination friendly" tourism, by connecting travellers with organisations that are in some way helping to conserve local culture and heritage, support community projects benefitting local people or initiatives to lessen negative

20 Dec 2007

Link: Tales of Asia - Overland - BKK-SR - Self

How to get from Bangkok to Siem Reap (Cambodia)

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