Category Archives: Life in Phnom Penh

Sam Bo in the news

Sambo’s owner tells their touching story on Al Jazeera. You can watch the video here.


More on Sambo here.


Phnom Penh ain’t so bad

Phnom Penh has not been doing so well in the press lately.  Lord knows I’ve had my share of complaints about living here, but my upcoming departure has made me a little nostalgic about Phnom Penh.  It’s not an easy place to love but it’s  been an interesting place to live. I’ll definitely be coming back, and I am hopefully optimistic to see how things change here.   After the jump I’m listing in no particular order some of my favorite things about Phnom Penh.


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Photos of Cambodia in Life Magazine

I’m having so much fun checking out old photos of Cambodia from Life magazine that are now available via Google.


Above: The Royal Palace in 1952

Below: The same area now via Google Earth


Below: The moat around Angkor Thom


Below: Back in the 50s there were Royal elephants associted with the Royal Palace.  Now Sam Bo is all that is left of the elephants in PP.


Below: This is from a US AID trip to Camobdia. Year?


Check out more here.

Khmer Noodles

Well due to all the madness in Thailand I’ve been delayed in PP for a few more days.  Not that I necessarily mind as I’m getting a chance to spend more time with friends here.  I had a previously scheduled cooking date with my Khmer teacher (she is awesome! and available for lessons!) where she and her friend were going to show me and a few of her other students how to make Khmer noodles, Nom Banhchok (នំបញ្ចុក). I’m a vegetarian so we made a normal version with fish and a vegetarian version with mushrooms.  It was by far the best Khmer food I’ve had here and I regret not having arranged this lesson sooner.   I definitely missed the subtleties of the recipe but here’s an overview.


The soup itself is made up of this mashed herb/spice mixture that typically has fish but my version had mashed mushrooms.  It’s made up of garlic, lemongrass, ginger, and some other ingredients whose English names I do not know.

Here’s a before (pre-mashed photo) – you can buy these all together at the market quite easily.


*apologies in advance for some blurry photos.

And below is the after shot- when the spices have all been pounded together.


We dumped a generous amount of this in with some boiling water and a splash of the secret ingredient- coca cola (I am not kidding).

My version then got some mushrooms and the pot happily sat on the stove boiling away.


Meanwhile the non-veg version had fish boiling in the pot.  After the fish was soft they took it out and mashed it up into crumbly bits and then put it back in the pot to simmer.

Meanwhile my teacher was busy chopping up fresh vegetables.  She kept saying over and over that Khmer is busy food- you are kept busy with lots of steps.  The fresh vegetables we used were:


Long beans (I think សណ្ដែកកួរ) and cucumbers (ត្រសក់)


Banana Flower ( ត្រយូងចេក) which was shredded into bits below.  It has a slight bitter taste.


This was then combined with some mung beans (សណ្ដែកបាយ), hot peppers (ម្ទេស), basil and other herbs ( ជីរ), and some limes ( ក្រូចឆ្មារ) to make this nice little spread of fresh tasties that you can add to your soup to your liking. Generally you pinch a few of these into a bowl first, then place your noodles on top, and then spoon on the broth.


Here’s the white noodles that come wrapped in a banana leaf.


Salt, palm sugar, and MSG can be added to the broth to taste.  The palm sugar comes fresh from the tree and my teacher bought some fresh from the market in a plastic bag (below).


My Khmer teacher’s friend, who has experience cooking vegetarian food, was adamant that tofu would not really add to this dish and wasn’t necessarily an appropriate substitute for meat in Khmer cooking.  Instead she really focused on mushrooms ( ផ្សិត). In addition to soup she made this amazing fried mushroom dish.  She pounded the mushroom before so it got tough like meat, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and then fried it to make some tasty little snacks.


Above: Mushrooms frying in the pan

After an hour or so everything was finished and we stuffed ourselves silly.



Now I have some delicious leftovers to keep me company while I figure out my schedule home.

Last but not least the chefs relax after the meal! Neakkru Sophavy is on the left and her friend on the right.



I am THRILLED that this karaoke song about two dueling Nom Bahnchok sellers exists on youtube.  I insist that you watch it whether you understand Khmer or not.

Another website details Nom Bahnchok in Kampot.

The grandaddy of Cambodian foodwebsites is Phnomenon– the website appears to be down but there is a version in google cache.

Cambodian cuisine on Wikipedia

Cambodian cookbook review from a local PP restaurant that does cooking classes.

Perhaps the most famous Cambodian restaurant in the US- The Elephant Walk

Some Cambodian recipes online.

Water Festival

From November 11-13th was the Water Festival here in Phnom Penh.  They predicted over 4 million people in town for the event and all crammed into the riverfront area.   I was a bit wary of the whole thing but I ended up having a great time- some of the best days I’ve had in Phnom Penh since I arrived almost one year ago.   I’ve got some photos of the boat races, fireworks, and the evening parade of boats after the jump!


Above: The massive crowd along the river for the Water Festival in Phnom Penh

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Everyone Loves a Parade!

Today marks the 55th Anniversary of Cambodia’s Independence from France and Cambodia threw a heck of a party.  This included a parade featuring elaborately decorated floats and everyone dressed to the nines.  I had a front row seat for part of the parade so you can be a virtual bystander and watch the floats go by after the jump.


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1960s Villas in Toul Kok

I had another fun Sunday doing a Khmer Architecture Tour (this time with one of my oldest and dearest friends who was in town for a visit).   Part of the fun of these tours are the very well informed tour staff made up of architecture students and graduates (primarily from the Royal University of Fine Arts).  Sokly is a guide I’ve had several times and I am always impressed with his passion and eloquence for architecture and urban planning in Phnom Penh.   This tour was short- only visiting three locations and not as photogenic as my last few tours, so I have only a few photos to share after the jump!

Above: One of the “100 Villas” located in the Toul Kok section of Phnom Penh

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60s Architecture in Phnom Penh

The Khmer Architecture tour continues to impress me.  I’ve already written about their great Phnom Penh by cylco tour, and recently I got a chance to visit one of their tours on modern architecture in Phnom Penh- the University buildings on the Boulevard Russie.

There’s more after the jump.

Boom Baby Boom: A view of the Phnom Penh city sprawl from the roof of the Royal University of Phnom Penh

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Sam Bo for President

Sam Bo the elephant is one of my favorite parts of living in Phnom Penh (in case that isn’t already obvious).  My enthusiasm has spread to my parents who were excited to meet Sam Bo while they were here.  We started by meeting her on her daily walk home at one of my favorite spots in PP- La Croisette.  Every day after she finishes work at Wat Phnom (around 4 pm) she makes her way down the riverside and stops at La Croisette for a bite to eat. We happily fed her a big tray of fruit….

Her owner told me she’s 49 years old!

Below you can see Sam Bo’s stylish shoes to protect her feet.  Looks like they are made from rubber tires?

Later on their visit my parents took a spin around Wat Phnom on Sam Bo ($15 for two people).

There is a great story about Sam Bo that was in the Christian Science Monitor in April.  You can read it here.

If you are on facebook join our group: The International Friends of Sam Bo.

A million little pieces……

There was such a positive reaction to my short little post earlier on reconstructing a pot that I decided to go back and write a more complete article to submit to TouchStone magazine.  I interviewed Sokha Tep who is one of the ceramics conservators at the Ceramics Conservation Lab (which just moved into their new space at the National Museum earlier this month).  I’ve posted the article, plus some more photos after the jump.

Above: Members of the Ceramics Conservation Lab working on reconstructing pots at the EFEO office in Siem Reap.

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