So you’re off to Cambodia for work, but you’re not sure what to wear (it’s alright, we’ve all been there), the best place to stay or where to take the clients for a casual drink after work. Fortunately, we’ve roped Chris Mead – Regional Director of Singapore and Malaysia for Hays Recruitment – into telling us everything there is to know about doing business in Phnom Penh.
1. How often do you travel to Phnom Penh and who do you fly with?
I travel to Phnom Penh about three times a year for two to four nights on average. I used to live in Cambodia in 1993 and I still speak a little Khmer. I fly Jetstar for the 90-minute flight. Bangkok Airways is good for domestic flights.
2. One thing everyone ought to know about Phnom Penh:
I’ve travelled in over 40 countries and Cambodians are, without a doubt, the friendliest people I’ve ever met.
3. How quickly can you get a visa?
Besides a handful of Southeast Asian passport holders, all other nationalities need a visa. I usually bring along a passport photograph and get a visa on arrival but you can also get it online.
4. Fastest way into the city?
The city is only 10km from the airport so you can either take a tuk tuk for US$5 or get a taxi for US$10. Sometimes the taxi driver will volunteer to drive you around the city for a day for US$20, which I’ve done once or twice. All the taxis are privately owned so you have to negotiate the fare before you get in. Cambodia is still a relatively poor country so I tend to not negotiate too much.
I have a taxi driver who regularly picks me up from the airport, I just send him a text before I leave Singapore and he will be there. If you find a reliable driver and will be making frequent trips, I suggest doing the same.
Although the official language is Khmer, most people speak reasonable English. It’s fairly easy to get around the city as most of the streets are numbered, while prominent streets and main boulevards have actual names. Khmer is an easy language to pick up.
5. When are the good and bad times to visit Phnom Penh?
Two great times to visit are during the Cambodian New Year (14 to 16 April 2013) and Bon Om Tuk water festival (16 to 18 November 2013). Everyone is in a festive mood. It’s hot and humid all year around, with little change in temperature, but I would avoid going during the monsoon period from May to October.
6. Hotels you recommend:
As in any big city, you can find the usual chain hotels but I prefer to stay in boutique hotels. A great one for business travellers is The Cambodiana (+855 23 426 288) down at the banks of the Tonle Sap River. It retains a traditional Cambodian feel while offering the usual business facilities. My favourite is The Quay Boutique Hotel (+855 23 224 894), which also overlooks the Tonle Sap River. In fact, there are many other boutique hotels springing up along the riverfront. They are usually well maintained and good value for money and you also get to experience the local culture.
7. What’s the dress code for meetings?
I usually wear a shirt and tie for casual meetings and reserve the jacket for formal business meetings. The business dress code is relatively conservative.
8. Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
It does pay to do your research on local customs before you go. Cambodians are very polite people; they like to wish you luck. If you want to get on their good side, wish them back and they will look upon you very favourably. I find that they are fairly conservative in the way they behave and the way they dress. They are also very gentle people so don’t take advantage of them.
Most locals are Buddhists and follow the teachings of Buddha quite closely so it pays to be respectful. Avoid loud or rude behaviour.
9. You are taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
My favourite place to dine at is the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (+855 23 724 014) where they do fantastic pizzas and lamb shank. Another one is Lemongrass on Street 130 (+855 23 222 705), which is a Thai restaurant but they serve local food as well.
Cambodians eat anything and everything. If you haven’t tasted the fried tarantula, which is a Cambodian specialty, you must try it. A famous local curry dish is amok. Friends Restaurant (+855 12 802 072) on Street 13 is great for local food. When in doubt, ask a local for recommendations; they are real foodies.
10. Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
If you don’t want to go too far, you can head to the bar in the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. There are many bars along the riverfront and most boutique hotels have rooftop terraces, which are converted into a bar and are beautiful in the evening. I recommend walking around the area and pop into any bars you like. I particularly like the bar in Chow Restaurant in The Quay Hotel, as it offers a great selection of cocktails and wine.
11. Any unsafe areas to avoid?
Take the normal precaution to watch out for pickpockets around the markets and you will be fine. There are a lot of children on the street selling things like newspapers, books and postcards but they are harmless.
12. You’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
Definitely the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, they are amazing. For some history, you can visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. They are both depressing places but they give you a very good insight into the recent history of the country.
If you want to get away from the tourists, go to the quieter backstreets just three or four streets from the waterfront and that is where you’ll find local shops and NGO (non-governmental organisation) shops. These streets are good places to observe local life. There are a couple of Phnom Penh guidebooks that are freely available in the airport and hotels to help you get around.
If you want to play golf, I recommend the Royal Cambodia Phnom Penh Golf Club (+855 11 253 703) near the airport.
13. Gifts to take home for family and friends?
Visit either the 1930s art deco Central Market or the Russian Market. Central Market is cleaner and more structured while the Russian Market offers more variety and friendly bartering is more commonplace. You can get anything from clothes to jewellery and artefacts at both markets.
For really good souvenirs, go to the dedicated art and craft shop Mekong Quilts (+855 23 219 607) on Street 240. Most shops along that street are operated by charities and sell beautiful handmade items by Cambodian and Vietnamese women to raise money.
14. How long before your flight do you really need to be at Phnom Penh International Airport?
One and a half hours is ideal. I rarely go to the lounges and usually pop into one of the many cafés at random to have a cup of tea, read the papers and go through my emails. The airport is not very big but it is very clean and beautiful. It’s got Wi-Fi and you can get last-minute souvenirs from the shops there.
Phnom Penh offers a great variety of nightlife ranging from sports pubs to karaoke and upscale bars, usually located in tight clusters along Sisowath Quay, around the riverfront area. Check out Phnom Penh Nightlife for reviews and recommendations.