Go Backpacking http://gobackpacking.com Around the World Travel Blog Tue, 22 Apr 2014 16:42:29 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9 Phnom Penh Travel Guide: Eating, Drinking and Going Out http://gobackpacking.com/phnom-penh-travel-guide/ http://gobackpacking.com/phnom-penh-travel-guide/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 12:00:05 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25412 hether you’re traveling through or a seasoned expat, you’ll always hanker for those places to give your taste buds a work over, a place to unwind after work, or simply a good place to get your groove on. Thankfully, Phnom Penh is full of all of those and more. Thai, Vietnamese, North Korean, Italian, French, […]

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Pyongyang II never fails to entertain

Pyongyang II never fails to entertain

Whether you’re traveling through or a seasoned expat, you’ll always hanker for those places to give your taste buds a work over, a place to unwind after work, or simply a good place to get your groove on.

Thankfully, Phnom Penh is full of all of those and more. Thai, Vietnamese, North Korean, Italian, French, Mexican and Lebanese, each is an experience in itself.

Eating

There are no shortage of great places to eat on any budget, dollar plates of noodles in the Russian Market and $50 boats of sushi next to Wat Bottom Park, you’re in great hands.

Pyongyang II: a little further up from where Monivong and Mao Tse Toung connect, North Korea waits for you.  Moral quandaries aside, you will not find an experience quite like this anywhere else in Phnom Penh.

Owned and operated by the government of North Korea, the immaculate presentation of their finest female exports is nothing to be sniffed at. Not only are they waitresses, but entertainers also.

They answers any questions you may have about their homeland with grace (unsurprisingly, Pyongyang sounds like quite the paradise!), responding to my curiosities with “Oh yes, it’s very beautiful” and beaming smiles where appropriate.

My suggestion is arrive around 7pm and order before half past.  Come 8pm, those ever-friendly waitresses don various costumes and outfits for the stupendous renditions of traditional North Korean music and dance.  To say they’re proficient would be a criminal understatement.

Pirouettes that would leave me dizzy and sick on the floor; drum solos that could be from any of your classic rock bands; perfect synchronisation between them all, it’s certainly a sight to behold as you munch down on the dog and cold noodles you ordered for a laugh.

Barn Barn Singapore Fried Rice: the best budget eatery in Toul Tom Pung!  The chalkboard menu with mains for only $2, how can you go wrong?  Each main comes with tea and soup.

  • Chicken rice (Hainan style)
  • Khmer paste with rice
  • Fried noodle
  • Fried rice
  • Rice noodle soup
  • Stir-fried vegetables and rice
  • Beef lok lak with tomato rice ($3)

Also up for grabs are homemade sweets, soy milk, ice lime tea, fried yam, mushrooms, fries, nuggets and spring rolls, all for a dollar or less!

Just a couple of blocks down from the south-east corner of the Russian Market (P’sar Toul Tom Pung), a nice respite from shopping.

$3 lok lak at Barn Barn, comes with soup and tea

$3 lok lak at Barn Barn, comes with soup and tea

Russian Market Best Ice Coffee: head to the middle of the market, where all the little food stalls are selling noodles, spring rolls and assorted fried goodies.  Then, you need to look out for the Best Iced Coffee In Phnom Penh sign, as well as one of those incredibly wide and welcoming smiles you’ll get used to here.

The owner of this little cafe/stall hybrid will take great delight in serving up something ridiculously strong and sugary coffee – and when you think you’ve finished it.. he’ll give you another.  All for the princely sum of 4,000 Riel ($1).

If you’re sitting there getting coffee, there’s a stall directly behind where you’re sitting that does Vietnamese noodles with a little chili and fried spring rolls, next to that is a place doing fried thick noodles with beef and egg for 5,000 Riel ($1.25).

Ngon Restaurant: Vietnamese food done extremely well, at extremely reasonable prices.  Mains from 10,000 Riel ($2.50), huge outdoor seating area with lots of greenery and views of the North Korean embassy.

Beirut Resto-Cafe: the best Middle-Eastern food in the capital. Not one thing I’ve tried has disappointed me, everything is fresh and authentic, right down to the quality of the tobacco!

Their mezze (side-dish) selection is ideal for sharing, and to top it all off they have the ridiculously unhealthy – and completely gorgeous – baklava (sweet pastry with chopped nuts and honey/syrup).

Wraps (beef, chicken, lamb, fish) for $3-$4 are just like the ones in Beirut itself. Free delivery with orders over $10 make this a great lunch choice. They also have a restaurant inside Golden Sorya Mall (next to Heart of Darkness, Pontoon and the other bars and clubs on Street 51).

Beirut serves up the best of the Middle East

Beirut serves up the best of the Middle East

Comme a la Maison: up-market but reasonable French restaurant just around the corner from the bars on Street 278. Great specials (around the $10 mark) and lovely ambience, they have indoor and outdoor dining.

My personal recommendation (aside from the great espresso selection!) is the Médaillons d’Agneau Grillés. Grilled lamb medallions in olive oil and rosemary, absolutely devine.

They also have a fantastic delicatessen, a must for foodies across the city, serving up fresh-baked French pastries and cakes, cooked meats and terrine, yogurt and wine.

Luna Restaurant and Bar: perhaps the best Italian choice in Phnom Penh, just ahead of Dolce Italia. Indoor and outdoor (both are good choices), great wine selection and utterly gorgeous pizzas.

The pastas aren’t the best but you can make them at home, pizza on the other hand is not so easy! Mosquito repellent is recommended if you’re sitting in the outdoor garden area.

Warung Bali: feeling that need for rich, sweet and spicy Indonesian food? Look no further, Warung Bali will leave you satisfied every time. My favorite dish here is the beef rendang, less than $3, incredibly juicy and mouth-watering. Service is quick, and the juices and shakes are good.

Their menu has something for everyone, vegetarians included. Located just one block in from Riverside and the Royal Palace, great to top yourself up with energy for the day.

Origami: sushi almost as good as any I’ve had (and I’ve been to Japan), fresh and plentiful. Set back from the main street, it’s a quiet retreat from the city bustle. Boats of sushi, bowls of ramen and plates of tempura, it’s genuine to a tee, the chef included. Expect to pay $30+ a head.

Spring Vale: curious Japanese lunch spot that’s only open for four hours in the middle of the day, Monday to Friday. Okonomiyaki, gyoza, tofu, Japanese curry, passion fruit shakes and a few other options. Japanese lunch for $5 is always something I’m up for.

ARTillery: one of the quaintest streets in Phnom Penh (Street 240 1/2), one that you’d never think to look down yet has a couple of delights you should be sure to check out. ARTillery Café is one of those – a steady fixture of mine for an easy Sunday lunch with a health-orientated menu including lots of smoothies, sandwiches, breakfasts and raw-foods you never thought possible.

The regular menu is full of interesting and delicious delights, my go-to-choice being the Supreme Sandwich ($5.50) with sweet potato and taro crisps (chips): a pork sausage sandwich with mustard mayonnaise, gherkins, salad and (my favorite part) an onion reduction.

One of the many delicious plates they serve up at ARTillery. Chorizo and an onion reduction with salad

One of the many delicious plates they serve up at ARTillery. Chorizo and an onion reduction with salad

The Italia ($5, cured peppered pancetta ham with olives) is another I’d put my name to, along with the Pumpkin Soup ($3.50, made with whole grain mustard, served with bread) and Fresh Pancakes ($4, with mango, banana and passion fruit) for breakfast. Also on the menu are lots of smoothies, shakes and juices to suit any taste.

ARTillery's specials for the day on one of the cutest streets

ARTillery’s specials for the day on one of the cutest streets

Drinking

Much like the food and restaurant options, there is such a variety on offer.

Liquid: cozy, with some of the comfiest couches in Phnom and the friendliest servers. Decent food and drink menu, as well as a free pool table and lively music. A regular after-work fixture for me.

Cambodian Beer Gardens: across Cambodia there are so many outdoor beer gardens, with jugs of beer for around 6,000 Riel ($1.50), towers of beer for 20,000 ($5), usually with a great selection of authentic Khmer food. The most adventures thing I managed was bull penis – once was enough.

Mekong River Bar: perhaps the cheapest beer on Riverside, with $2.50 cocktails upstairs. The balcony is great for people-watching, usually with synchronized groups of old ladies dancing around sunset. Food isn’t great, but there are plenty of other options around.

Score: by all definitions, this is the only place to be for the big games. All popular sports covered, they have three bars, four pool tables, two projectors, a multitude of flat screen televisions and the atmosphere to match. Drinks and food aren’t cheap compared to most places, but the quality and choice is good.

They do a Sunday Roast for around $10 if you’re really hankering for a taste of home. There are other places to watch the games depending on where you are in the city: Paddy Rice on Riverside, Gym Bar on 178 and many other local places that have the odd TV.

Huge projector screen, four pool tables and many TVs

Huge projector screen, four pool tables and many TVs

Zeppelin Bar: the best rock ‘n’ roll bar in Phnom Penh. I mean, when you’re only competing against one other place that’s not so hard, but it’s a great place to meet like-minded people, knock back some 50 cent drinks and request some classic rock tracks.

The owner never smiles, but has one of the biggest record collections I’ve ever seen. Read a little about him here.

Phnom Penh is host to hundreds of eateries and drinking establishments, these are just a few of my regular places that shape the place for me.

Going Out

There are a couple of western-style clubs in the center of Phnom Penh, as well as lots of cool spots for live music, art and the like.

Pontoon: regular house DJs, music varies in quality but normally is a good place to have a laugh with friends. As with all clubs, beer is on the pricey side ($3+ a bottle) compared to the beer gardens, but most eat and drink beforehand in the connecting Golden Sorya Mall (an open area with lots of bars, restaurants and seating on Street 51).

Entry fees required after certain times. Understand that this isn’t Europe or South America, the Cambodian girls there are generally ‘working’ and expect remuneration the morning after.

Heart of Darkness: one minute walk from Pontoon, Heart has no entry fee and is generally a good laugh. Renowned for being gay-friendly, Heart and Blue Chilli (on Street 178) are good choices for the LGBT crowd.

Heart is cozy, has a small but decent dance floor, a good seating area downstairs, and an upstairs bar and pool table, winner stays on.

DJ Club: two minutes from Ponton and Heart of Darkness, DJ Club is a local club, usually only Cambodians. Foreigners are more than welcome, but after midnight, there are few women due to cultural reasons (unmarried people tend to live with their parents and are expected home).

Music is hit and miss, drinks are the usual affair, but Cambodian clubs have their own charm, with the occasional dancing performance to break up the night.

Meta House: the German Cambodian cultural center has so much to offer. Music, film screenings (normally free), a gallery, DJs, German lessons, craft fairs and more.

Check their website for listings to see what’s going on, there’ll be something you’re interested in!

German lessons, art, music, drinks.. Meta House has it all

German lessons, art, music, drinks.. Meta House has it all

Equinox: on one of my favorite drinking streets (278), Equinox is a staple of the weekend crowd. Live music is regular and good, plenty of local and traveling artists make their way through their doors, as well as comedy and quiz nights.

Decent stock of drinks, a rooftop smoking area and a (barely passable) pool table on the ground floor. Keep an eye on their website or Facebook page for new announcements.

The best spot for live music in Phnom Penh

The best spot for live music in Phnom Penh

Among all these places, you’ll come across so many others when discovering the place for the first time, some even on the same street. Street 278, Riverside, Street 51 and the surrounding areas are all popular hangouts for expats and locals alike.

Just around the corner from Liquid and Equinox is Dosa Corner, for example, a small Indian restaurant serving up cheap dosas with various curries and bottles of beer. Around the corner from there is the tallest skybar.

There’s so much to enjoy in my adopted home, music, drinking, dancing, eating and go-karting, what more could anyone want?

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A Day at Honolulu’s Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve http://gobackpacking.com/honolulu-hanauma-bay-nature-preserve/ http://gobackpacking.com/honolulu-hanauma-bay-nature-preserve/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 12:00:44 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25308 Hanauma Bay, southeast of Honolulu, is more than just a beach, it's a nature preserve and a sea life sanctuary known for its reef and marine life.

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Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay

Hanauma Bay, located on the very southeast side of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu, Hawaii, is one of the most popular attractions to visit on the island.

Everyday thousands of both tourist and locals from Hawaii show up at this beautiful natural bay, which is carved into a crater, and surrounded by green mountain walls.

Hanauma Bay is more than just a beach, it’s a nature preserve and a sea life sanctuary, known for its reef and abundance of marine life.

You can come to do some swimming and relaxing on the beach, but the main reason most people visit is to enjoy the world-class snorkeling.

Koko Head in the background

Koko Head in the background

Hanauama Bay is a nature preserve, which is operated by the state – so it’s a protected area – and that’s great because it also means that the natural environment is regulated and maintained.

From the parking lot, you have a nice view of Koko Head Crater, another awesome place to visit, and also the nearby Makapu’u Lighthouse trail.

Marine reserve

Marine reserve

The parking lot is at the top of the bay, so after parking, make sure you first get an overview look of the gorgeous bay below.

From above, you can really see the incredible coral reef formations, and even spot some schools of fish in the crystal clear water below.

Also, if you visit in the right time of the year, and have a bit of luck, you might be able to spot a humpback whale in the distance (just outside of the bay, there are very deep blue waters, and it’s a prime spot for whale watching).

Beach and snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

Beach and snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

After paying the entrance fee, you are first required to go into the Marine Education Center and watch a short film about marine conservation, the do’s and don’ts for taking care of the reef, and some brief information about Hanauma Bay itself.

Though it might be a bit boring, and though you’ll just want the film to be over so you can get to the cool water below, I think the film is a good way to make more people aware of how to preserve and take care of the reef and bay.

Quiet beach, benefit of going early

Quiet beach, benefit of going early

From the top parking lot, it takes about five minutes to walk to the beach below. Alternatively, there’s a small trolley, and for a small fee you can ride down or up if you need to.

The beach itself is incredibly beautiful, brown coarse sand, green mountain walls, and calm lapping water that’s clear and refreshing.

It’s best if you have your own mask and snorkel, but if you don’t, you can rent a set along the beach.

During your visit to Honolulu, taking a day trip to Hanauma Bay is a stunning beach to see, and an opportunity to explore the many colorful and unique fish and marine life Hawaii has to offer

Entrance to Hanauma Bay

Entrance to Hanauma Bay

Open hours: 6 am – 6 pm (closed on Tuesday)
Entrance fee: $7.50
Here’s a little side tip: Since Hanauma Bay is such a popular tourist destination, they charge a premium for entrance. $7.50 in my opinion is quite a steep price to pay to go to a beach, especially if you have a family. But luckily there is a way around the fee, you just have to wake up and enter the park anytime from 6 am – and before 7 am, and you can park your car for free and enter for free. On my latest visit to Hawaii, I arrived at 6:45 am and it worked perfectly. Plus I avoided the major busloads of crowds who all seem to show up around 10 am each day.

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The Quiet City: Winter in Paris http://gobackpacking.com/quiet-city-winter-paris/ http://gobackpacking.com/quiet-city-winter-paris/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 12:00:00 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25486 The Quiet City: Winter in Paris from Andrew Julian “Claire and I recently took a trip to France, and I filmed this during our time in Paris. Until this trip, I had only ever experienced Paris in the summer and I was struck by just how different the city is when most of us tourist […]

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The Quiet City: Winter in Paris from Andrew Julian

“Claire and I recently took a trip to France, and I filmed this during our time in Paris. Until this trip, I had only ever experienced Paris in the summer and I was struck by just how different the city is when most of us tourist are gone. We were equipped with our metro and museum passes and were able to easily access most places of interest without even waiting in line. It was incredible! We were even given a private tour of the École du Louvre. Thanks Elisabeth!

The weather wasn’t always perfect, but our experience was totally different and unique. Now I’m truly curious to visit the city in other seasons. Maybe a trip during the Fall someday?”

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13 Budget-Friendly Things to Do in Durban http://gobackpacking.com/things-to-do-durban/ http://gobackpacking.com/things-to-do-durban/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 19:30:00 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25462 Durban is steeped in history, and the architecture reflects this, from Georgian and Art Deco to Palladian and the less interesting 1970s styles.

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Durban Skyline

Durban Skyline (photo: Mark Schoombee)

Durban is one of South Africa’s most vibrant cities.

It has a great Africa feel to it, especially in the downtown area, and it is very colorful.

The city is steeped in history, and the architecture reflects this, from Georgian and Art Deco to Palladian and the less interesting 1970s styles.

The mix of cultures is also reflected in the city, and the large Indian population adds color and aromas to the streets of Durban, while their mosques and temples add an interesting and exotic flavor to this formerly English town.

Of course, the weather in Durban is the best there is, and the beach life is simply terrific, with the broad Golden Mile Promenade offering a great attraction.

Evenings in Durban are warm and balmy, with café life vibrant and exciting as the sounds and chatters flow from the coffee shops and music clubs.

Spices in Victoria Street Market

Spices in Victoria Street Market (photo: jit bag)

Low or no cost activities in Durban are plentiful. There is the exotic Victoria Street Market with its aromas and colors of the East.

There is incense in the air, the spices are strong and alluring, the fish market is colorful, and there are many stalls with ceramics, baskets, brass trinkets, materials, and snacks.

Or, for a complete opposite experience, head to the tranquil and quiet Botanical Gardens with its great selection of palms, orchids, and cycads in a neat and natural setting.

The city centre offers the interesting Francis Farewell Square, where the City Hall holds centre stage. Take a seat on one of the benches and watch the color and charm of the people passing by.

Golden Mile Beach

Golden Mile Beachfront (photo: Joe Louthan)

Similarly, the Golden Miles beachfront, just a 10-minute walk away, is an exotic place to meander, with piers jutting out into the rolling waves of the Indian Ocean, giving you the chance to see surfers from a unique angle.

There are street hawkers along the promenade selling all sorts of African arts, and the colors are truly dazzling.

There is also a Japanese Garden that is well manicured and offers an oasis of calm and tranquillity along the northern side of the beachfront.

uShaka Marine World at the south end of the Golden Mile is a recent development and hosts the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere.

While the entrance fee is stiff, you can still wander through the shopping and restaurant complex at no cost and amaze yourself at the man-made ship which holds the aquarium, or take a coffee at one of the restaurants that face out to the Indian Ocean and see the large cargo ships enter and leave the Port of Durban, which is the largest in Africa.

Morningside is an interesting residential and commercial area popular with artists, cafes, and live music venues. You can pop into the Artisan Contemporary Gallery, which hosts some interesting art, sculpture, cutlery, ceramics, and fabrics.

Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding

Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding (photo: Keith Marran)

For the spiritually orientated, there is the Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding, which is tranquil and serene, as well as the beautiful Mosque in Grey and West Streets.

There is also St. Thomas’s Church and St. Peter’s Church for quiet, meditative contemplation.

Durban is a great place to spend a few days if you are on a backpacking budget. There is a lot to see at little to no cost, while meals and drinks at restaurants are affordable and always tasty, offering good value for money.

If you’re looking to make a trip out to Durban and need a travel buddy, you can always find one on Gumtree.

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This post was brought to you by Gumtree South Africa.

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Living and Teaching in Phnom Penh, Cambodia http://gobackpacking.com/living-teaching-phnom-penh-cambodia/ http://gobackpacking.com/living-teaching-phnom-penh-cambodia/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 12:00:44 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25391 A foreigner's guide to living and teaching in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, including information on visas, how to find an apartment and applying for work.

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The Royal Palace during the mourning of King Sihanouk

The Royal Palace during the mourning of King Sihanouk

The whole reason I went to University was because I knew I wanted to work and live abroad.

Initially, the goal was Japan, however that changed when I realized how much more there is out there. Eventually I decided on Cambodia, for a lot of different reasons!

If you’re looking on leaving your home country short or long-term, or you’re simply searching for that next challenge, be sure to visit the Kingdom of Wonder.

Making the Decision

For many, teaching English is a stop-gap before moving onto other ventures, for others it’s a way of traveling in a slightly different way. I decided that I didn’t want to return to England, and that after a couple of years of being ‘out there’, I had to make up my mind.

Cold winters and a poor job market in Europe gave me the impetus to find somewhere to settle down, somewhere more economical and without snow.

A family walks through Wat Bottom Park

A family walking through Wat Bottom Park

Preparing for Emigration

Lots of countries require that you have a degree (taught in English) in order to gain employment in the ESL (English as a Second Language) field.

On top of that, the teaching qualification you get will impact heavily on the schools you can apply to, as well as the wage you’ll be offered. It’s not necessary to be a native speaker, but it’ll certainly help for the best schools.

There are plenty of cheap online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) courses you can do, however, they aren’t a great preparation for real-life classroom teaching. I’d heartily recommend the CELTA or TESOL courses.

Each takes four weeks (Mon-Fri) and should consist of 120-hours of contact. This involves teaching, observing your peers, working on lesson plans and lessons where you’re taught how to teach.

I did the CELTA course at the British Council, in Krakow. Their facilities are second-to-none. Plenty of resources to help you, as well as interactive whiteboards and materials to assist in your lessons.

In total, you are graded on six hours of actual teaching time. It’s an intensive course, but the sense of accomplishment at the end of the month makes it worth it.

Krakow's market square, Rynek G?ówny. (photo: Wikipedia)

Krakow’s market square, Rynek G?ówny. (photo: Wikipedia)

Cambodia

I’d never visited Cambodia before going there to teach.

I simply went on the recommendation of a friend, and found myself enamored with everything about it. The culture, nature and atmosphere of the place is unlike anywhere else I’d been before.

A country of 15 million people, most of whom live in the countryside, has nothing but smiles and rolling green plains when you venture out.

Visas… Simplified

Easily the biggest benefit for those wanting to teach there, is the ease of which you get the business/work visa (required for teaching and staying long-term). You land at the airport (or arrive at the land-border) and pay $25 for a business visa, which is infinitely extendable when in the country.

This is far easier than Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, where you have to leave the country every month or two if you wish to work there.

Some schools will pay for your work visa extensions, some won’t. Six months works out to around $145, a year just shy of $300. Both of those visas are multiple entry (so you can leave the country and return), however visa extensions for less than six months are not.

If you have to extend your visa, I recommend Lucky Lucky Motorbikes on Monivong Blvd (where it connects to Street 182) – it’s the same price as doing it yourself, yet they take all the hassle away.

Monivong Boulevard which runs through the centre of Phnom Penh. Photo from Wikipedia

Monivong Boulevard which runs through the centre of Phnom Penh. Photo from Wikipedia

Finding a Place to Live

Initially, I stayed a couple of months in Lazy Gecko Cafe (& Guesthouse) back in 2011.

The weekly rate then was $42 for a double room with a fan and shower – split between a friend that worked out as $21 a week. Here are a few recommendations, though there are many more:

  • OKAY Guesthouse: guess what? It’s okay. It’s fine… it’s adequate. A simple place to sleep that offers no frills
  • Lazy Gecko Cafe: basic, clean, and the staff are nice, similar in price to OKAY Guesthouse and only a couple of doors down on Street 258
  • Eighty8 Backpackers: an upmarket hostel with a pool and excellent music, $7 dorms aren’t even close to being the cheapest, but you get what you pay for
  • Velkommen Guesthouse: very central, affordable rooms
  • Velkommen Backpackers: opposite Velkommen Guesthouse, the backpacker version has cheap and clean dorms with great staff

Apartment-hunting can be a little laborious, as there are so many places around the city of varying quality.  Most likely, you’ll go through an ‘agency’ (a couple of guys who take you to places and will be paid a commission by the landlord), who do all the leg-work for you.

They know where the apartments for rent are, and ideally will only take you to ones with your requirements.  For me, it was two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a balcony.  I saw around ten places before finding the one I moved into.

The view from my balcony

The view from my balcony

Your friend in this situation is BongThom.com, a Craigslist for Cambodia. You’ll come across ridiculously priced places and reasonable ones – the idea is to get in touch with a few of the people advertising there to take you to these places. They’ll all have motorbikes, and may take you on the back.

There is also the Phnom Penh Housing group on Facebook, very active and useful, normally with good photos. Ideal to find a house share if you’re also looking for friends and to ask questions before venturing out.

Otherwise, I’d recommend your first investment be a bicycle – check BongThom.com, the Phnom Penh Classifieds Group on Facebook and the bicycle shops near Orussey Market (just west on Street 182 from Movivong).

You should be able to pick up a Cambodian bicycle (a couple of gears, basket and lock) for around $40 from a shop, a little less in the classifieds.

For a frame of reference, my first apartment was two bedrooms with attached bathrooms, decent-sized kitchen and living room with a balcony (1.75m x 5m) on the fourth floor. Very clean and modern and furnished with durable beds and mattresses, air-conditioners in the rooms and wicker furniture in the living room.

My living room with balcony to the right

My living room with balcony to the right

Friends had rented apartments from $250 (one bedroom) to $500 (western-style with flatscreen TV, carpet and very comfortable couches and a dining table and chairs).

Expect to pay one month’s rent as a deposit, with the contract written in both Khmer (Cambodian) and English. Typically, landlords will try to charge you 1,000 Riel (25 cents) per kWh, however, the real price is 720. I wish you all the luck in the world trying to pay the real price!

It’s normal to be expected to pay $5 for TV/trash collection, though that figure may vary. There are no gas bills, as the stoves connect to gas canisters that you have to replace every three months or so.

My bedroom. Air-conditioners are highly recommended during the worst of the summer. Mosquito blinds are usually built in. Sheets are not usually provided

My bedroom. Air-conditioners are highly recommended during the worst of the summer. Mosquito blinds are usually built in. Sheets are not usually provided

Tap water in Cambodia is clean and apparently drinkable, though I still stick to the big 20L bottles with a tap on the bottom. They cost $6 ($5 for the bottle, $1 for the water) – when you run out, simply take it back to a shop and swap it for a full one for $1.

If you can’t carry it up your stairs, moto or tuk-tuk drivers will carry it up for a dollar.

Internet in Phnom Penh

There are a few providers in Phnom Penh, each of varying quality:

- ONLINE: fast, cheap, great customer service, the recommended provider in Cambodia

- Ezecom: expensive and slower than other ISPs (Internet Service Providers), but reliable. Marketed as a business internet provider

- Digi: free initial connection, very cheap ($12 for their basic package), one month free, but many reports of bad customer service and network throttling (slowing the download speeds in peak hours)

- Telecom Cambodia: my first ISP in Cambodia, reasonable prices, consistent for the most part, but setting up initially was a hassle as they didn’t set the internet up first time. Took a lot of arguing to get them to come out and fix the problems

Don’t expect very fast internet, but it’s more than usable. You will be provided a modem, however if you want WiFi, you will need to buy your own router. Computer stores on Monivong and in Sorya Mall sell TP-Link ones for around $30-$35.

Getting Around

If you don’t have a bicycle or motorbike (available for rent from $40/month), or you plan to go out, then there are hundreds of tuk-tuks (motorbikes with a carriage on the back) and motorbike taxis to take you wherever you like.

Prices are not set, so ask others for what they pay. For example, from the airport to the center is around $5 by tuk-tuk (takes around half an hour) or $3 by motodop (motorbike taxi).

Usually a motodop ride will cost around one or two dollars. Tuk-tuks another dollar on top. If there are more people (you can usually get two people on the back of a motodop and anything up to six westerners in a tuk-tuk), then pay a bit more.

Agree a price before you get in. There are metered taxi services in Phnom Penh, but you’ll have to call if you want one as most people use motodops, tuk-tuks, and even rickshaws to get around.

A Cambodian tuk-tuk. A motorbike with carriage on the back - we used one to move house, total cost less than $5 to take everything we owned

A Cambodian tuk-tuk. A motorbike with carriage on the back – we used one to move house, total cost less than $5 to take everything we owned

Applying for Work

Whether you’re trying to earn a little travel money, freshly qualified from the various institutions across the world or an experienced teacher, there’s a school for you. Term-times vary so you may be waiting a few weeks or months before starting work, but there’s plenty out there.

- ACE (Australian Centre for Education): one of the best in Phnom Penh (and Siem Reap), they pay for your visa renewals and pay a basic of $20 per hour of teaching time. They have four terms throughout the year, taking a long vacation over Christmas. Term-times can be found here.

Degree and CELTA/TESOL (NEAS-accredited only) are required. If your teaching qualification is from LanguageCorps, for example, ACE will not hire you, so be careful with the course you choose to give you the best chance of employment

- PUC (Pannasastra University of Cambodia): PUC have many campuses across Phnom Penh, pay averagely and are a good basis for gaining that all-important first year of experience of teaching

There are many more schools, but some come and go, change names or simply aren’t easy to find online. The Cambodian Yellow Pages provides many addresses and contact details.

Your best bet is to print off a stack of resumes and note down the addresses of all the institutes and schools you want to go to, and negotiate a price for a few hours with a motodop who will take you to all of them.

I’d recommend avoiding those with ridiculous names such as American Idol School, Disney School and Angry Birds Foreign Language School (which looks like it’s based out of a shed).

ACE Santhor Mok Campus

ACE Santhor Mok Campus

ACE Samdech Pan Campus

ACE Samdech Pan Campus

I spent over a year in Phnom Penh my first time round, taking a term off to travel around Malaysia, Japan and Taiwan. The whole experience set me on the path to living and working abroad.

Moving abroad need not be stressful or confusing, especially not if you choose Cambodia! Fly in, get that work visa and start applying for jobs.

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Visiting One City is Not the Same as Seeing the United States http://gobackpacking.com/visiting-one-city-seeing-united-states/ http://gobackpacking.com/visiting-one-city-seeing-united-states/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 12:00:58 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25451 hen someone asks you how many countries you’ve visited, what criteria do you use to calculate your answer? Does passing through count? Or do you have to stay at least one night or visit more than one city or town? Is enjoying a city break in Rome, for instance, enough to say you’ve ‘visited’ Italy? […]

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When someone asks you how many countries you’ve visited, what criteria do you use to calculate your answer?

Does passing through count? Or do you have to stay at least one night or visit more than one city or town? Is enjoying a city break in Rome, for instance, enough to say you’ve ‘visited’ Italy?

When it comes to the USA, there’s a very strong case to be made that seeing just one city is not nearly enough to say you’ve truly ‘visited’ America.

Can anyone really claim that staying for a week in New York or Los Angeles – common entry points for foreign visitors – gives you a true representation of a country that is nearly ten million square kilometres in size and populated by almost a third of a billion people?

In order to fully experience the diversity on offer in the USA, you simply have to hit the road – crossing state lines and passing through city limits.

From the hustle and bustle of New York City to the exotic flavours of New Orleans, no one metropolis is the same. And in between, there are natural wonders to captivate you, such as the Grand Canyon and the Niagara Falls – places that scream ‘America’ just as loudly as the government buildings in Washington, DC.

There are the oddities too, which say much about the American psyche – from the gambling mecca of Las Vegas to the UFO hotspot of Roswell.

See all these on a coast-to-coast road trip, and then next time someone asks you how many countries you’ve visited, you won’t need to hesitate when you proudly say ‘the USA’.


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The Shrimp Trucks on Oahu’s North Shore http://gobackpacking.com/shrimp-trucks-oahu-north-shore/ http://gobackpacking.com/shrimp-trucks-oahu-north-shore/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 12:00:28 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25323 If you plan to drive around the island of Oahu when you visit, you'll undoubtedly hear about the famous "Kahuku shrimp trucks."

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The Hawaii shrimp plate!

The Hawaii shrimp plate!

If you plan to drive around the island of Oahu when you visit (which is a great thing to do by the way), you’ll undoubtedly hear about the famous “Kahuku shrimp trucks.”

There are many of these shrimp truck restaurants, each with just about the same menu and similar prices, but with their own unique secret recipes and sauces.

If you love shrimp, you’ll definitely want to make a strategic shrimp stop when you drive around the island.

Lining up at the shrimp truck restaurant

Lining up at the shrimp truck restaurant

Kahuku is a very small town, located on the North Shore of Oahu, just a short drive from the famous Sunset Beach (also pretty close to Laie where you’ll find Hukilau Cafe).

Though there are some amazing beaches to the east and west, the town itself is not known for its beaches. Rather, when anyone from Hawaii hears the name Kahuku, likely an image of shrimp comes to mind.

The area around the sleepy town of Kahuku is famous on Oahu for being home to many freshwater shrimp farms. In recent times, due to high costs of land, shrimp farms haven’t done as well as they did in the past, but the fame of shrimp in Kahuku still remains.

Having little more to offer than a bunch of freshwater shrimp farms and the main highway (Kamehameha highway) which leads along the coastline and goes straight through town, someone had the great idea to open a restaurant where shrimp lovers could stop on the side of the road to enjoy some of the wonderful fresh shrimp.

In 1993, Giovanni’s opened as the first shrimp truck restaurant in Kahuku.

It didn’t take long for the brilliant idea to catch on, and soon other shrimp trucks began to open as well.

Nowadays, there are many different shrimp trucks to choose from, and while Kahuku is still the most famous town, you’ll find shrimp restaurants all the way from Kahuku to Haleiwa, stretching the entire North Shore.

Decorations at Giovanni's

Decorations at Giovanni’s

Most of the shrimp trucks in Hawaii are quite similar in style. You go up to the truck, place your order in the window, and within a few minutes you’ll have a scrumptious looking plate of shrimp ready to be devoured.

All the cooking is done inside the truck, and there’s usually a few or more benches and tables so you can eat right then and there.

The last time I was in Hawaii, I chose to eat at Giovanni’s in Haleiwa, the second branch of the well-known original.

At the peak of lunch, many of the famous shrimp trucks can get extremely busy, with long lines of customers, and all the tables packed. To avoid the traffic, I personally decided to go early, arriving just as they opened at 10 am.

Shrimp scampi

Shrimp scampi

The menu at Giovanni’s is quite simple. You have a choice of shrimp scampi, hot and spicy shrimp, or lemon butter shrimp. There’s also a garlic hot dog on their menu, but really, if you don’t love shrimp you shouldn’t eat at a shrimp truck in the first place.

I decided to go for the shrimp scampi, a dozen shrimp sautéed in olive oil and garlic, and seasoned with little more than a hint of salt and lemon juice. My plate also came with two scoops of rice, and a side of hot sauce, which I requested.

The immediate aroma of garlic was incredible, and you could just see the layer of minced garlic caked onto each shrimp. The shrimp was incredibly garlicky, and fried until cooked through but not rubbery. They were a little bit on the oily side, but still really good.

Giovanni’s is just one of the numerous shrimp trucks on the North Shore of Oahu.

Each truck has their own recipes, and their own set of devout followers. No matter which truck you choose, if you’re a shrimp lover, you’re in for a real treat on the North Shore.

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Senso-ji: Tokyo’s Oldest and Most Significant Temple http://gobackpacking.com/senso-ji-tokyo-temple/ http://gobackpacking.com/senso-ji-tokyo-temple/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 12:00:25 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25306 Tokyo's Senso-ji Temple is one of the most well-known religious sites and attractions in the city, attracting thousands of tourists and locals daily.

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Senso-ji Temple

Senso-ji Temple

Tokyo’s Senso-ji Temple is one of the most well-known religious sites and attractions in the city.

Thousands of both tourists and local Japanese who make the pilgrimage from throughout the country, visit every day to pay respect.

Senso-ji is a wonderful place to experience the ancient side of culture and religious practice in Tokyo, without having to break the budget.

Passing into the Main Hall

Passing into the Main Hall

Senso-ji is the oldest and one of the most significant temples in Tokyo. The temple is located adjacent to the Sumida River, in an area of Tokyo known as Asakusa.

According to the official story, it was on a quiet morning in 628 when Hinokuma Hamanari and his brother Takenari were fishing, and all of a sudden they felt something heavy in their net.

They pulled in their net to find a statue of Bodhisattva Kannon, a Buddhist deity who is often depicted as a female and known for compassion and being responsive to people’s needs and prayers.

The head of the village, Haji no Nakatomo, realized that this was a truly significant find and a blessing. He therefore dedicated his life to the Bodhisattva Kannon, by first remodeling his personal home into a temple.

In 645, Shokai Shonin a traveling Buddhist priest, visited the small fishing town of Asakusa, and decided to build Kannondo Hall dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon.

The priest also made the decision, which he received in a dream, that the statue itself should not be seen by humans – which remains today.

In World War II, the Main Hall of the temple was destroyed, but it has since been rebuilt into what it is today.

The temple remains one of the most sacred sites in Japan, and a place that attracts over 30 million people per year.

Kaminarimon Gate

Kaminarimon Gate

One morning, during my visit to Tokyo, I decided to head over to Senso-ji to see this important site.

Walking in from the south, I first passed through the Kaminarimon Gate. The gate was built in 942 and includes a huge red lantern marking the entrance.

Incense cleansing

Incense cleansing

Before getting to the Main Hall, you’ll first see a giant incense burner.

Many Buddhist and Shinto followers, before entering the Main Hall, will first purchase a bundle of incense, light it on fire, extinguish it by waving it (instead of blowing), and then place the incense in the main burner in front of the Main Hall.

They then take their hands and direct some of the incense smoke over their body’s, a gesture that is believed to cleanse ones body and also symbolize healing.

Another purification process you’ll notice at Senso-ji is the water cleansing. To the right side of the Main Hall is a fountain of water where followers rinse their hands and mouth with the pure water to symbolize cleansing.

Inside the Main Hall of the temple, people toss a coin into the coin box, bow twice, clap twice, and then bow once more before saying a short prayer.

Outer shopping street at Senso-ji

Outer shopping street at Senso-ji

Another part of Senso-ji that I enjoyed, was walking around the outskirts of the temple.

The entire neighborhood and the surrounding alleys are lined with stores selling all sorts of souvenirs and relics, as well as quite a few vendors selling Japanese snacks and goodies.

Japanese sweet bread

Japanese sweet bread

I decided to sample some traditional Japanese sweet bread at a shop right next to the temple that was continually busy with Japanese students.

The bread was extremely light and fluffy, and had just the right amount of sweetness to it. Make sure you taste a few snacks when walking around Senso-ji!

As one of the most popular destinations in Tokyo, as well as being one of the most significant religious sites in Japan, a visit to Senso-ji should be on your list of things to do when you’re in Tokyo.

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Last Minute Easter Camping Getaways http://gobackpacking.com/easter-camping-getaways/ http://gobackpacking.com/easter-camping-getaways/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 12:00:00 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25376 he Easter weekend is creeping up quickly but that doesn’t mean that it is too late to plan an exciting holiday over the four-day break. While some people may take a quick trip to see friends and family, those after a larger adventure should look no further than an exciting campervan trip. Hire company, Britz, […]

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Britz Voyager Camper

The Easter weekend is creeping up quickly but that doesn’t mean that it is too late to plan an exciting holiday over the four-day break.

While some people may take a quick trip to see friends and family, those after a larger adventure should look no further than an exciting campervan trip.

Hire company, Britz, offer campervans to suit all types of travellers. To illustrate, the Britz “Explorer” campervan is great option for families or small groups. It comfortably sleeps four people and has a built-in kitchen, including fridge/freezer, a 4-burner gas stove as well as full bathroom facilities.

With your mode of transport sorted, we’ve compiled the top four destinations for Easter 2014, giving you freedom to tailor your holiday to your group.

Jervis Bay

Jervis Bay is one of the hidden gems of NSW’s South Coast. Said to have the whitest sand in the world as well as crystal clear water, there is a lot to do here over the Easter break.

Jump on one of the expertly skippered chartered cruise tours to catch a glimpse of wild dolphins, seals or migrating humpback whales just off the coast, or hike to the ruins of the Cape St George Lighthouse in the Booderee National Park.

The town offers plenty of camping spots, allowing you to park your campervan within walking distance to the beaches. For example, the Jervis Bay Caravan Park has powered sites starting from as low as $30AUD ($28 USD) a night.

Surfer's Paradise

Surfer’s Paradise (photo: David Lee)

Surfers Paradise

Surfers Paradise is an iconic beach town in Queensland’s Gold Coast and from April 2 – 26, 2014, the city holds its annual ‘Surfers Paradise Festival’.

Focussing on the Easter weekend, you can catch-all the action of the Australian Street Entertainment Championships, which is a four-day tournament featuring clowns, mimes, jugglers and dancers. The whole event makes for a wild and exciting carnival atmosphere.

If talent competitions are not your thing then why not check out some of Australia’s best theme parks?

Until June 30 you can pick up a 28 day unlimited entry pass from only $99AUD ($92 USD), which gives you access to Wet and Wild, Sea World, Movie World and Dream World. Each theme park offers thrilling rides and spectacular experiences for young and old.

Toowoomba

Beautiful Toowoomba is Australia’s largest inland city and has been a traditionally popular destination over the Easter long weekend. The reason is the vibrant ‘Easterfest’, an annual three-day music festival that takes place in Queens Park.

A three-day pass will only set you back $140AUD ($130) and this year you can catch Aussie band, Evermore, headlining the stage and pushing their latest album, ‘Follow the Sun’. Joining them are the Underoaths spinoff band, The Almost, as well as Young&Free and crowd favourite, New Empire.

There will also be Xtreme sports on show, including freestyle BMX and skateboarding.

Camping is available at the festival grounds but space is limited so make sure you book early.

Bendigo

If you would prefer to head south over the long weekend, then set the GPS for the Victorian town of Bendigo. Over Easter, Bendigo puts on a show like no other, coming alive with activities and attractions for everyone.

The oldest running festival in Australia, the Bendigo Festival offers everything from magicians and performing arts shows. Check out the workshops on African Drumming and SkateBeat, and don’t miss the famous Bendigo Easter Parade featuring Sun Loong, the giant Chinese dragon.

Camping in Bendigo is as easy as setting up shop at Big4 Bendigo Ascot Holiday Park. Powered sites for the campervan begin at $40AUD ($37 USD) during peak seasons and the Park is located just 4 kilometers from the town centre.

No matter where you choose to spend Easter, enjoying four full days of freedom is something to look forward to. You can choose to be as relaxed or busy as you like, and choosing a campervan gives you the freedom to do what you want.

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Online Taxman: The Budget-Friendly Expat Tax Service http://gobackpacking.com/online-taxman-us-expat-tax-service/ http://gobackpacking.com/online-taxman-us-expat-tax-service/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 13:30:00 +0000 http://gobackpacking.com/?p=25292 Dave reviews his experience with Online Taxman, an internet-based, tax preparation service specializing in American expat tax situations.

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Online Taxman

The beginning of April signals the final push for most Americans filing their taxes.

A common misconception amongst Americans traveling extensively or living abroad is the idea that once you’re beyond the borders of the United States, there’s no need to file annual tax returns.

Out of sight, out of mind, right?

Unfortunately, unless you renounce your US citizenship or make under $10,000 as a single filer or $20,000 married filing jointly, you’re on the hook for filing a return. That’s the bad news.

For Americans living abroad, there are good opportunities to take advantage of tax saving strategies, however there are increased filing requirements for people with foreign bank accounts and foreign companies, which makes hiring a professional all the more worthwhile.

The good news is there are internet-based tax preparation services like Online Taxman which cater specifically to expat tax situations.

Not only do they have a global reach (they’ve helped expats in over 100 countries), but by leveraging the internet, they’re able to reduce the cost of doing business, and pass along those savings to customers in the form of lower prices.

Founded by Vincenzo Villamena, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with “Big 4” audit and corporate accounting experience, Online Taxman is focused on providing support to American expats, residents and non resident’s with US interests.

I met Vincenzo earlier this year in Medellín where he gave a free tax presentation to a group of expats and entrepreneurs at the Espacio co-working space.

Not only did I find the information in the presentation useful, I took him up on his invitation for a free one-on-one consultation so I could ask questions specific to my situation.

Last year alone, I formed two US-based Limited Liability Corporations, the first being RTW Media LLC for my two blogs and books, and the second being Travel Blog Success LLC, a partnership.

Vincenzo Villamena

Vincenzo Villamena giving a tax presentation at the Espacio coworking space

The second time I met Vincenzo was in a popular café for my free consultation, where I peppered him with questions.

In years past, I’ve always relied on a mix of my own research, my Dad’s advice and tips from friends and fellow bloggers who did their own research or paid for professional help.

My Frankenstein approach toward tax planning has always left me feeling less than confident.

After all, I was basing where I spent my time each year on the Physical Presence Test for the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. What if I wasn’t understanding it correctly?

Figuring out what can and can’t be claimed as businesses expenses as a travel blogger has been another constant challenge.

Our meeting at the café left me feeling even more confident in Vincenzo’s ability to save me time, energy and hopefully money.

For the first time in my life, I hired a tax professional.

Working with Vincenzo to prepare both my business partnership return, and my personal return has been incredibly easy.

In fact, I don’t even know what we would’ve done without his help as it’s not possible to file a business partnership return online through Turbo Tax or H&R Block. You need to download software, and it’s only available for Windows PC’s (I use a Mac).

Both me and my partner are currently based outside the USA, so it would’ve been a hassle in more ways than one. His help with that process alone has saved me countless hours.

Back in January, I’d used Turbo Tax to fill out much of my personal tax information for 2013. I was able to get an idea of my liability very quickly, and it was higher than I expected considering I earned less in 2013 than 2012. I let the information sit, as the return for my partnership had to be filed first.

Vincenzo completed the partnership return very quickly. He then moved on to my personal return, where he calculated my liability as being roughly 30% higher than what I had come up with on my own in Turbo Tax.

This disparity alarmed me, until he offered to review the data I entered in Turbo Tax. Within 24 hours, he’d found multiple mistakes. Once those were corrected, the software reflected a similar amount owed as he’d calculated independently.

I realized Turbo Tax may seem easy to use, but there’s still plenty of room for user error.

In addition to feeling confident that a tax professional was preparing my return, it also felt great to have someone I could count on for questions.

Some of those questions lead to me calculating my business travel expenses (specifically lodging and meals) in a different manner than 2012. This change alone will save me over $500, which is more than enough to make up for the cost of hiring professional help.

Through my experience working with Vincenzo at Online Taxman, not only have I’ve learned a lot, and saved money, but I also feel more confident than ever that the return he’s filing on my behalf is accurate, and thus less likely to trigger an audit (a common fear amongst small business owners).

Additional Benefits to using Online Taxman:

  • Free, no-obligation consultation with a CPA
  • Free review of your tax returns for the last three years
  • Free IRS representation in the case of an audit
  • A commitment to answering your questions within 24 hours
  • 100% money back guarantee

If you’re an American expat living abroad, a non-US citizen or even an American living in the US who’s simply looking for low-cost, high quality tax help, I’m happy to recommend Vincenzo and his team of qualified CPA’s at Online Taxman.

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I received a discounted rate in exchange for my honest review of Online Taxman’s services.

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