We know we have been in Cambodia a long time when…

Some of us wear jeans in the hot season

Some of our children choose pork and rice for breakfast over croissants and donuts

28 degrees is a nice cool day for the hot season

We eat more rice than pasta and potatoes

Forget how to drive a car and prefer a motorbike

Can’t sleep properly if there is no fan sound

Will equally choose sweet iced coffee or iced tea over the hot variety (I also like bubbles/tapioca pearls added)


I think it creeps up on you. When you first arrive in Cambodia, everything is new and interesting or difficult to adjust to.Your senses are assaulted with noise, smells, sights and people everywhere. It is difficult to say when you feel you have settled in as it is different for everyone. 5f8ef0c2032493f6ba1a268ffa65a5d4

I think that having a positive attitude and giving things a try balanced with remembering traditions and special things from your home country helps to live well in Cambodia. Learning from Cambodians and asking for help when you need it and using local knowledge for things we have no clue about. When I first came to Cambodia God gave me a picture about walking like Cambodians. The Cambodians say foreigners are known for walking loudly and quickly where as Cambodians will take a much slower and quieter pace, pausing to look around as they go.

In a new culture I think it is a good approach to take a slower pace, to pause and look around before making judgements about how things are done and appreciate the great things about the culture and people. I know there are loads of things I have learnt in my time so far in Cambodia from my Cambodian friends and more I will still have to learn. So if you are new to a country or have been around awhile then take time to pause and look around at the good and amazing things, but also be prepare to work alongside indigenous people to make good changes which will have long lasting benefits.



House Hunting Khmer Style

Area 1 House 1b

When I am looking for a house in the UK  I go onto Rightmove and flick round the website, or pop down to the local estate agents and pick up a load of house details to browse through at my leisure. I can see floor plans photos of inside and out and room measurements. When I find a house I will go onto the internet and check out the amenities in the local area.
In Cambodia I have few options, I can either ask someone to look for houses for me. They will drive around and find houses for rent and then arrange viewings. The alternative is I can drive around and look for houses which involves taking photos of the houses and the phone number to ring if the house is for rent/sale. Here are some I found…

                   Area 3 House 3aArea 6 House 1a       

                   Area 1 House 7a2015-04-10_0952_0031

At this point I will have no idea what it looks like inside, how many bedrooms or what the rent is. I then give these numbers to my helpful house hunter and they will ring up and find out the details and then arrange viewings.
Then when we go to view a house there is no special treatment. You see the house as it is warts and all, or rather in the case of one house I saw today loads of dust and bats!
If you like the house you then need to negotiate the rental price, amount of deposit, start date, what improvements the landlord is prepared to do such as screens, air-con, painting, furniture included and hot water showers. This is all done through the house hunter (or if you speak good Khmer you can do it yourself!) It can go back and forth several times before both parties are happy.

Once you have agreed this there is the final negotiation of what goes into the contract which determines who pays for what if it is broken.Then the contract is drawn up and checked. It is important to make sure the contract has been drawn up and on official paper with the stamp from the local government chief or Sangklat (local area/village) otherwise it is not official. This requires you giving your passports to be copied by the Sangklat officials, your finger prints and a passport photo. This is usually sorted out by the landlord and is a legally binding document.

So after a lot of driving round by myself and Sam our house hunter we finally found some lovely houses in our budget…only to find yes there are others looking too!! Arrgh! Most of them wanted to rent straight away which we cant do so that ruled most o the houses out but one was willing to wait until June to start renting…however it was the most dirty and with the least extras of the houses we saw so we are in negotiations now to see what they are prepared to do. Watch this space!


Easter 2015 Cambodian Style


When I think of Easter I dream of blue skies, daffodils, hot cross buns, roast lamb dinner with friends and family, Easter day services at church, walk in the spring sunshine where you are not quite sure if you need to take a coat and of course Easter egg hunt in the garden. In Cambodia, it is important to do things that are significant in our home culture but  this version of Easter is quite difficult to replicate.

First of all the temperature at the moment is about 37 degrees and sometimes 75% humidity, so we have blue skies but no fresh Spring weather or daffodils.When you move you sweat, so definitely no desire to go for a walk.

Then no one here celebrates Easter so there is nothing in the shops unless you know where to go! Easter Eggs are nearly impossible to find however after trawling Phnom Penh I found some very yummy Easter eggs at The Shop on St 240. I managed to smuggle them in and hide them in the fridge for three days and none of my children found them! We did a chocolate coin hunt round the house and ended with the chocolate eggs which had quickly been removed from the fridge!

At school I did an activity where the students found 12 different items which told the Easter story from Good Friday to Easter Sunday based on the idea of Resurrection Eggs activity. We then repeated this on Sunday with our guests. I like it as it is a very visual way of thinking about different parts of Easter.

Hot cross buns have to be hand made and this year Colin and Lucia got to make them and did a great job. I did not make any gluten free ones yet so maybe I will have a go soon.

I bought some duck eggs and we blew them until all the egg white and yolk was outside then we dyed them with food colouring and vinegar. These were put on the table as decoration with sharpie pens so that our guests could decorate them.

On Easter Sunday while the lamb was roasting I went out for a high tea with some friends from church at Sugar and Spice.

As for family they are too far away so this year we decided to invite anyone from church who would appreciate a roast lamb dinner. There ended up being 23 of us from UK, US, France, Scotland/Korea and Cambodia. We managed to find a NZ leg of Lamb which was delicious from Smokey Dah Boar, mint jelly from Thai Huot. It was a lovely meal with lots of fun people who we love doing life with, so Easter Cambodian style was not much different, except with the very hot weather and minus immediate family.

Pchum Ben

We have just had a week off school as Cambodia celebrates Pchum Ben. I have written about it in a previous post so if you want to know more then read here
The celebrations for Pchum Ben start 16 days before the actual holiday with very early chanting from the monks at the nearby wat (sometimes as early as 4.30 depending on who has arrived at the wat and requires the monk to chant) So this month has been somewhat sleep deprived!
As people are leaving offerings at each wat for their deceased relatives inside and outside the wat will be these piles of food with a cut out of a person or skeleton. Normally I don’t see them but this year I noticed them outside a nearby wat.




As this is one of the holidays where shops could be closed for up to a week, many Cambodians return to their family in the provinces. It is a time where Phnom Penh is super quiet especially on the roads and the roads going out of Phnom Penh can be busy, so we have always stayed at home and just had a quiet week. This year was no exception! After the actual Pchum Ben day on Wednesday the wat fell blissfully silent and a lie in was actually possible!
I finally finished a project I started 6 weeks ago before school started to make a giant family planner for the wall. Giant it is… and also very bright!




We were also able to get away to a local hotel with a nice quiet pool where they let you swim as a day visitor…well it was quiet until we arrived! We were the only people using it and it was a nice break from the house. We then finished off the day out with a meal at Divine Pizza.


Great British Bake Off


We have finally managed to get BBC iplayer here in Cambodia and to my delight have been able to watch the Great British Bake Off each week. We have been watching it with our lovely friend Ha-na, who was a runner up contestant on last years GBBO, which has been really fun.The only trouble is while you are watching it you just have to eat something and afterwards you just want to bake something yummy!! So this week in honour of GBBO I made a gluten free orange and lime drizzle cake. I thought I would share with all my coeliac friends out there or anyone who fancies a slightly different recipe. As you can see from my picture there was not much left!

Gluten Free Orange and Lime Drizzle Cake

  • 6 oz margarine
  • 6 oz white sugar
  • 2 oz rice flour
  • 2 oz buckwheat flour
  • 2 oz potato starch flour
  • 3 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 tsp gf baking powder
  • 1 tsp xantham gum or honey
  • zest of 1 orange and 3 limes
  • juice of 1 orange and 4 limes
  1. Beat the margarine and sugar until fluffy
  2. Add the eggs and beat until smooth
  3. Add all the remaining dry ingredients and fold in until smooth
  4. Pour in 2-3 tsp of orange and lime juice and half of the zest and mix well
  5. Divide evenly between two round cake tins and bake at 180 for about 20-25 mins.
  6. When the cake springs back to the touch, take it out of the oven and prick all over with a fork. Carefully pour nearly all the remaining citrus juice slowly over the cake allowing it to soak in around the middle and edges of the cake. Put back in the oven for about 2-3 minutes to let the glaze set.
  7. Sprinkle the remaining zest over the cake and pour the a tiny bit more citrus juice over the cake. Allow to cool.
  8. Between the cakes you can either put a citrus butter icing, marmalade or lime curd.

We had run out of icing and had no lime curd so ate 1 layer at a time straight out of the oven still warm. Very yummy!!! I know if a gluten free cake is successful….there is never much left over for me to eat later!

Masaman Curry Recipe

This is a delicious curry I learned how to make while growing up in Thailand. When I was at school, my classroom was next to the kitchen. Maths lessons were just before lunch and I would find the preparations in the kitchen much more stimulating than my maths class. I would watch the lady cooking and see the ingredients she put in. Also my mum is an excellent cook and this is one of the curry’s she is best at making. She know exactly how to adapt and change the flavour to make it just so by tweaking the amounts of tamarind, fish sauce and sugar. Normally we would use a Masaman curry paste but I have discovered that the only difference from a normal red curry paste is the addition of cinnamon and star aniseed. If you use a Masaman curry paste you can omit these two ingredients.
I am still terrible at maths but I love making this curry and I think it tastes good so I must have learnt something!!!

This curry is best made with beef and is mainly popular in the south of Thailand. It is usually quite spicy with a thick creamy sweet, sour and salty flavour. Its secret ingredients are sweet tamarind and cinnamon which give it a unique taste.
250 mls coconut cream (thicker than coconut milk)
2 TBS oil
1 garlic clove
1 small onion sliced
2-3 TBS Thai Red Curry Paste
1 tsp cinnamon
250g lean beef
1-2 TBS sweet tamarind sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 TBS fish sauce
250 mls coconut milk
2 small potatoes peeled and cubed
2 TBS roast peanuts
1-2 star aniseed
1. Fry the garlic and add the curry paste. Stir for a few minutes then add half the coconut cream.
2. Stir fry until the oil starts coming to the surface then add the remaining coconut cream.
3. Add the beef and stir until outside of beef is cooked.
4. Add tamarind. sugar, fish sauce and cinnamon. Cook for 15 mins
5. Add the coconut milk, potatoes, peanuts, star aniseed and onions.
6. allow to simmer for about 30-50 mins until potatoes are tender.
7. Serve with jasmine rice.

Note: This curry tastes even better the day after it has been made as the flavours have time to mature.

Birthdays, AEON Mall and Ice-cream

One thing we decided when we arrived in Cambodia to help us adjust to life here was to set up some new traditions or family events. One of our favourite traditions is on someones birthday they get to choose somewhere to go to eat ice-cream. Over the last five years we have alternated between Swenson’s, Blue Pumpkin and Snow Yogurt.
This weekend it was my birthday and I chose to go to the new AEON Mall which has a nice ice-cream shop called TOTO. Very chilled out and girly!



Blue Sky Signature Smoothie

Blue Sky Signature Smoothie



The new mall is the first one in Cambodia that has outside brand names as well as well known quality brands in Cambodia. It was strange walking around a mall that made you feel like you were in Bangkok or even England. It is new, shiny and clean! There are brands like Costa Coffee, Burger King, Mango, Toni&Guy which I know from England. There are also lots of well known Korean, Thai and Japanese brands. It also has a Cinema, Bowling, and Ice Park as well as a nice World Food restaurant section.
It is nice to see opportunities opening up in Cambodia but the reality is at the moment many of the Cambodians I know could only window shop. (Looking at the prices in some shops think I will also be window shopping most of the time!) However it is lovely to have a sparkling, clean air-con mall to wander round in and remind me of home!
I’m not sure if Colin enjoyed the nearly 3 hours of shopping to explore the new mall but he said the ice-cream was good!

Outside AEON Mall

Outside AEON Mall

Lucia in front of Papa Beard

Lucia in front of Papa Beard

At home I got to eat a lovely gluten free carrot cake which Lucia had made for me!

Gluten Free Carrot Cake

Gluten Free Carrot Cake

5 YEARS!!!

5 years ed

Yes it is true and we can hardly believe it ourselves but we have been in Cambodia for exactly five years. 


We arrived very jet lagged on Saturday 25th July and after making it through passport and visa control, where all the children had collapsed in a heap on the floor (we are sure our visas got processed super fast as a result) we were met by Brent Willsmore and April Quimpo to be taken to the house we were staying in. Two week later we had started work at Hope International School.

In our five years we have moved 3 times and have ended up on the same street we started on. We have seen to school staff grow from about 20 expat to about 45, and the number of children in school is now 370 which I think is nearly double what is was when we started.

The church we go to has changed and grown too, from Jubilee Family Church to Liberty Family church, with Khmer leading worship and involved in the running of the church.

We have had fun and hard times, times when we wondered why we had come and times when we knew it was the right place for us to be. We have made many new friends and also said goodbye to a lot of those friends. We have enjoyed holiday times where we have been able to travel round Cambodia and surrounding countries. We have enjoyed having lots of different people visit and are looking forward to those who are going to come!

All through these last five years we have know Gods provision and blessings to us in so many ways. We also could not have done this journey without the amazing support of family and friends in England, Cambodia and those friends scattered. You have emailed, Skype, sent parcels, given us gifts, hosted us in your houses, kept us supplied with tea bags, looked after us when we had dengue, encouraged and been there when we needed help, laughed with us and cried with us. Thank you for being part of our time in Cambodia, we are so grateful -you know who you are!


Accidents and Emergencies

Recently I asked people what they wanted to read on our blog. Daily life was one of the things which came up most. So I am going to try to blog about the everyday mundane and sometimes exciting things which happen to us.
So this week we had two A&E situations. What do you do when your youngest daughter is escorted to you with blood dripping from her head after falling off her scooter? On inspection it is a nasty deep cut on her head about 1.5-2 cm long, do you…

A. Ring 999 for an ambulance?
B. Wash the blood off and use her hair to “tie up” the cut?
C. Jump on a tuk tuk and head to a clinic?

Thankfully as I have done first aid and after having four children I have dealt with a few injuries over the years. We took her into the bathroom which is completely tiled and after working out where the cut was applied pressure and carefully rinsed off all the blood from her hair. When the bleeding had stopped we cleaned the wound and realized that is was very deep and long and would need stitches. So as it was a head wound this ruled out traveling by motorbike so we rang a tuk tuk driver to come to our house.
There are a few choices in Phnom Penh for what to do next. Most expats use International SOS or Royal Rattanak Hospital and also the main hospital, Calmette Hospital, who have A&E departments. However serious illness or injury may still require medical evacuation, probably to Bangkok or Singapore.
If you needed an ambulance you can ring this emergency number 119 (from 023 phones), 023-724891 but usually you would be better to ring the number for the specific hospital you want to go to, and they will send their ambulance. In each case you would need to have cash available to pay in case you need to pay in advance before the ambulance will take you. Also many hospitals or clinics require either insurance information or a credit card before any treatment is started, even if it is an emergency!

For us, this time thankfully we did not need an A&E but instead a walk in clinic. After a quick discussion with some friends and we set off for the Clinic Sokhapheap Thmey
They are open 24 hours, are efficient, clean and speak English and for this type of injury are very good. Lucia was very brave and ended up having 3 stitches in her head.
Lucia sm

Our second emergency this week was when Sting one of our cats decided to venture outside and was attacked by our landladies dogs. Thankfully she tied the dogs up and we found him cowering under the woodpile at the side of her house. Phoebe very quickly checked on the internet to see how to deal with a cat who has been traumatized. We waited about 30 mins then got a pillowcase and talked gently with him to try to coax him out. When he got up and moved a little we gently picked him up using the pillowcase in case he tried to claw us and put him in a cardboard box. After ringing a vet we use called PPAWS we hopped on the motorbike and took him to be checked over. He had to stay in overnight but when we picked him up in the morning although he still had a sore back and had 3 bites on his leg nothing seemed to be broken. PPAWS are so lovely and caring and thankfully only a 5min drive from our house.
colin sm
Sting sm
Rachel Saunders
***NOTE** I realised I did not put where we normally go for everyday treatment….we use Dr Marissa who was recomended to us and is also on a list of approved clinic from the US embassy just in case anyone who reads this blog lives in or is visiting Cambodia and needs medical information you can find it at

The camera never lies …

… but then there’s PhotoShop

The school year finished a couple of weeks ago and next week we’re off to Vietnam (for the first time) for a holiday. To apply for visas we had to provide some up to date passport photos. The embassy’s website said they should be 6cm x 4cm with a white background. Time to setup a temporary studio but it wasn’t all smooth sailing …

Colin 1Rachel 1Phoebe 1    Jamie 1Ewan 1Lucia 1

After some trial and error we had a semi-decent picture of everyone which I dutifully cropped to the required size … and then I got on my scooter and whizzed over to the printshop.

I explained to the man that the photos were for Vietnam Visa and he quickly set to work in PhotoShop. The results weren’t quite what I was expecting …

Colin 2Rachel 2Phoebe 2Jamie 2Ewan 2Lucia 2

Nicely edited pictures, with moles and other blemishes removed, stray strands of hair trimmed, a nice sky blue background added, and all cropped to a different size!

This wasn’t, I have to say, all that surprising given the obsession with PhotoShop here and it was impressive to watch – it only took 15 minutes to edit all 6 photos 🙂

But, what would happen at the embassy … ???

I’ve lived here long enough to know that some times, in fact most of the time, one just has to go with the flow. So, if the man in the printshop says something different to the ‘official’ website then it’s probably going to be alright since he’s done it thousands of times before.

And, indeed he was. We picked up visas today and are all set for our holiday next week.