Month: January 2018

How to get around in Phnom Penh…living without a car

In North America, especially in rural areas, everyone has a car or a truck to get around.  I’ve had to learn how to get around in Phnom Penh, living without a car.  Most cities have public transit but buses are not even listed as an option in the city guide book.  The most common form of transportation for the locals is a “moto” or scooterbut the most common form for visitors is a tuk-tuk.  The most unusual thing I saw on the road was a scooter with a food cart.  There was an open fire burning in the bottom.

Open fire in his cart as he drives down the road.



Rules of the Road

To the untrained eye, it would appear that there are not rules at all.   Vehicles generally travel on the right side of the road, but it’s not uncommon to see a scooter coming down the wrong side towards you.   There are a few traffic lights with turn signals and a few traffic circles, but most intersections have no lights or signs.  Right of way is determined by what I call “critical mass.”  When there are enough vehicles wanting to go, they go and everyone else stops.  It is usually led by a bigger car or truck,  and all the scooters follow.  He who hesitates… I have seen a couple of scooters down on the road, but not in intersections.

Pedestrians have no rights.  This is a challenge because sidewalks are in short supply.  When you find one, there are usually trees planted all along the center, or scooters parked, or often cars parked right up to the entrance of a store. There was a wedding tent appeared on the sidewalk one afternoon and everyone just went around it.

I mostly have to walk along the edge and pay close attention.  The sidewalks are not even and have lots of loose blocks and drain covers to navigate.  If you are in a group, single file is the only safe option.  When I cross the street,  it’s important to move quickly but not to run and risk tripping.  The vehicles pace themselves according to this premise.  Again, hesitating is dangerous.

Luckily, my walk to school is only 400 m through a secure neighborhood.  The street I cross in front of the school has several speed bumps so it slows vehicles down enough to cross pretty easily.  The grocery store is another 400 m past the school so I can walk there easily.  The mall with a larger grocery store, dollar stores (1.90 US actually), movie theatre and ice skating rink is about a 20 minute walk from here.

Other Transportation

School Van

The school has a van and a driver.  For official trips, they are available.  I used one to get to the clinic for a required health check up.  It also took me to the bank to open an account.  This van is available to all staff on the Saturday after payday to go to the bank, although I was the only one who took advantage of that yesterday.  There are also school “buggies” that transport some of the students.

School buggy


This is the most common way to get around the city.  You can wave one down on the street and tell where you want to go.  If they don’t speak much English, you can show them on your phone map.  They hold 4-5 people.  For most trips, they cost $3 or $4 each way.  Since there are usually 2-5 of us travelling together, it is very reasonable.

Regular tuk-tuk

Since arriving here, however, I have learned about PassApp Taxi  It is like Uber for tuk-tuks and you book it on your phone.  It shows you where the driver is.  When you leave, the driver has the route on his phone so you don’t have to worry about explaining where you want to go.  They have some set routes they have to follow, though.  On a trip taken by friends last week, the driver took a different road and the police stopped him and gave him a $2 fine.

This is a cash society here so you just pay the driver what he tells you when you arrive.  I have to remember to keep a stack of 1’s in my wallet for this.  So far, it has been cheaper than what the negotiated rate would have been.  You also get a bill on your phone and it tracks your trips so can select the same destination if you need to go back another time.

The PassApp tuk-tuks are small and a self-contained.  Two people is comfortable but 3 is a crowd.  We discovered this weekend that some of the taxis are getting in on this system and we can book a car for almost the same price.  Five was tight, but if we have 4, it is great.  Air conditioning and seatbelts are welcome.

Pass App Tuk-tuk

Shopping on a Scooter

I try to shop often so I can carry home in my backpack what I need.  When I was first setting up my apartment, I did use a tuk-tuk to bring me home with my purchases.  While at the Cambodian markets, I saw many examples of how creative the locals are at getting their shopping home on a scooter.   I’ve included several pictures to give you an idea.  It’s hard to imagine shopping for a family with only a scooter for transportation.


Moving to Cambodia…How I got to Phnom Penh

Moving to Cambodia

I am writing this blog from Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  It was not my plan for this winter, but I found myself open to opportunities and one presented itself.  I have a 6 month teaching contract at the Canadian International School of Phnom Penh. (cisp) They use the Alberta curriculum and I have a grade 5 class with 24 students.

I will share more about the school in future blogs.  This is how I found myself in Cambodia.

Winter in Alberta

December 2017 arrived with cold and snow.  I had subbed at my previous school and helping my mom after hip replacement surgery complications.  We had completed our house renovations and were waiting for it to sell.  The downturn of the local oil patch-based economy meant we had only 2 showings since the summer.

We weren’t sure where we going to be next winter so we booked a trip to Panama and Medellin, Columbia for January to check it out for retirement potential.  We also found the perfect for us mobile home just 5 km out of Rocky Mountain House.  It’s on a rented lot surrounded by forest.  Possession was January 10.  Everything was settled for the winter…

Come to Cambodia

I awoke one morning to an email from my friend and former colleague, Bernice.  A teacher at her school in Phnom Penh had to leave at Christmas break and was I interested in a short-term contract.  After initially dismissing the idea since we had our plans already made, Pete told me to just go if I wanted and he would stay home for a while and get the new place painted and floored.

I sent in my resume with the required Alberta teaching certificate number and that day had what I thought was going to be a Skype interview with the principal. With 2 former teachers from Rocky already at the school, and the fact I had done a professional development session at the school last February while we were living in Thailand, she really only wanted to know where to send the contract.  By Dec 14 I had agreed to teach and live in Cambodia for 6 months.  I had 3 weeks to get ready.

Preparing to move to Asia again

White board of planning

This called for the “whiteboard of planning”.  I needed a large visual to finish planning for Christmas, a visit by our children, and preparations for this newest adventure.  I needed to pack for 6 months,  and include some teaching resources.  Knowing that our house could sell while I am away meant that I wanted to go through a few more boxes and purge some last items that won’t fit in our new place.  It was difficult to stay focused.

I was able to borrow a few resources from grade 5 teachers at my previous school, scanned them on the copier and emailed them to myself.  That saved a lot of weight in my luggage. A few key books came along with me since I didn’t really know what resources would be available.


I packed lots of dresses and skorts since I knew what the climate was like, having lived in SE Asia last winter.  I also went through our camping box and selected a few kitchen items I suspected would be missing in my new kitchen, like good knives, cheese grater, extra cutlery etc.  To ensure I had something for breakfast for my first days of school, I added Instant oatmeal packets, just in case.  I tried to buy another pair of sandals, but the stores said they had put the sandals away to make room for boots.  That’s such a Canadian problem.

The airline allowed two 50 pound bags to Asia, which sounds like a lot.  It is until you add 6 months of contact lens solution that’s not available in Cambodia, 2 pounds of coffee requested by my friends, and some Septo bac ordered to help with the septic tank in our buildings.  With a little creative balancing in and out of my carry on, Melissa’s expert rolling of clothes and the use of zip lock bags to compact clothes, I was ready to go.


Travel to Phnom Penh

I had a great family time over Christmas and said good-by to everyone.  We spent the last 2 nights in Banff, Canada before heading to the airport.  I flew from Calgary to Vancouver to Hong Kong to Phnom Penh.  My flight left at 10 pm on Wednesday and I arrived at 10:30 am on Friday. My luggage took an extra day to arrive but that’s a story for another day.

After paying  $35 for a business visa, a driver from the school and my friend Nancy met me at the door.  I bought a cell phone card just outside the airport for $5 which included 3 G of data and a few minutes of calling.  That was it and it’s good for a month.  Sure beats my plan at home.


My new job included a second floor furnished apartment about a 5 minute walk from the school.  It has a bedroom and living area with high ceilings and lots of windows.  Two of them have screens so I can get some air moving on occasion. There are lots of kitchen cupboards , a kettle, a coffee maker, a toaster, a sink with only cold water and a 2 burner cooktop.  It is like camping.  I also have a good-sized fridge and freezer.  That’s not like camping.

The bedroom has a wardrobe with a few built-in drawers, a desk, TV and the usual hard bed found in Asia.  The bathroom has a shower, sink and toilet.  It took me a few days and lots of questions to discover that the hot water is turned on by a light switch on the outside of the bathroom.  Both rooms have air conditioning units.

There are 2 washers downstairs and a drying rack on the balcony.  My unit is along the side of a large house that’s been converted to 6 suites.  It is surrounded by other houses so I don’t receive any direct sun, which is a good thing in a hot, sunny country.  The school provides a night guard who sets up in the front yard every night.  The community itself is called Elite Town and there are some spectacular homes in this gated community.  I’ll share more pictures of those another day.

Stocking up

Bernice and her husband live in a highrise about 10 minutes from here.  They made supper for me the first night.  On our way home, we stopped in the grocery store in their building for a few supplies.  Milk is $4 a liter, but local beer is only $10.50 for 24.  I was able to buy Shredded Wheat–made in Canada– for just over $5 a box, about the same as at home.  I also got a papaya for a dollar, peanut butter, eggs, canned tuna, cheese, shampoo etc.  It was enough to get me started.

As this is a wealthy neighborhood, there are not the little shops we had in our Chiang Mai streets.  There is a mall about 15 minutes away (all are walking times).  It has high-end products and could be in any city in the world.  It has a movie theatre as well as a skating rink with real ice!  There are a couple of “dollar” stores where everything is priced at $1.90.  Since Cambodia runs on American dollars, that is about $2.50 Canadian.

There is also a department store with a large grocery store, liquor store and bakery where I could find most of what I need.  A tuk tuk home is $2-$3.  My Sobey’s shopping bags and backpack are very handy when shopping on my own.

I will  spend some time in the markets looking for interesting things, but for staples, the shopping nearby has been very convenient and reasonably priced.


With working every day, I don’t expect to post as frequently as last year, but I want to share what this city is like and how I’m adapting to a new place.  I will also share how it is the same and different teaching in an International School.