cait +tiff

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C + T / Kate Korpi


Tiff and Cait have pretty high standards when it comes to hair and faces. We think they are both pretty important things, and we want them well-taken care of. We are constantly looking for great new places, and we were thrilled to come across Kate Korpi Salon. The sixth-floor salon is relatively new in Phnom Penh, and located in the SunCity complex. Despite it’s new-kid status in the Penh, it’s set the standard for quality pretty-making services.

The owner of Kate Korpi, Matthew Fairfax, was introduced to Cambodia through a client while he was living in Seattle. He had been managing a high-end salon and one of the patrons insisted that he talk to her friend about Cambodia. With a fair amount of skepticism and good manners, Matthew agreed to a coffee, and the rest is history. As he said in our interview, coffee is dangerous.

After a few years of visits to Cambodia, research, local interviews and second guessing, Matthew made the decision to pack up his life in Seattle and move to Phnom Penh. But before making the big move across the big blue, he pulled together a team of experts to kick-start the salon. Enter Brianne and Timea, the lead hair stylist/colorist and make up artist, who are just like your coolest friends, but they make you better looking every time you see them. Alana joined the team a few months ago, as another hair wizard, and is a wonderful addition to the team.


Brianne at work


Matthew providing entertainment


Timea and Lucinda, bonding over blowouts


Tiff’s transformation to ombre

Kate Korpi isn’t only a salon, it also serves as a training center for young Cambodians who want to work in the industry. Each year, Matthew returns to Seattle for the annual fundraiser, Fashion SOULstice, which looks like a ton on fun. The money raised at this event goes into providing scholarships for students participating in the two year program. Most of the students in the program come from rough beginnings and it’s no secret that Cambodia has it’s fair share of human rights issues to deal with. Some of the students participating in the training program have been through the worst of it.

The training system at Kate Korpi starts with the basics, things like shampooing and drying, and as the student starts to grow, the training program grows with them. The goal of the program isn’t to shape the student into someone who can make it in Cambodia, but to help them become someone who can make it any where in the world. They instructors keep standards in the salon incredibly high, and they take the “Nordstrom” route when it comes to customer satisfaction: if you aren’t happy, they will fix it and make sure you leave with what you came for.

Along with the training in technical skills, the students are given leadership training and life-skills training, which is everything from general management to lessons in budgeting. It has become a place for previously vulnerable people to become empowered and change their own lives.

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One of the coolest things about the salon is that they attract stylists from all over the world. Guest artists come to Cambodia for a minimum of one month (ideally more), work with the team, help out with the training, all while exploring a crazy new country. (Attention cool stylist friends: please come visit!)

For Cait’s show last month, the amazing team at Kate Korpi took the reigns for hair and make up, and made it work for all 16 ladies in one afternoon. Total pros.

lin makeup.jpg

Thanks, Kate Korpi, for being a wonderful place to get beautified, and for doing such beautiful things in the world.

Kate Korpi Salon

#255 Street 51, corner of 370

For appointments, call 023 988 166


Photos are property of Tiffany Tsang and Julia White.

Please request permission for use.





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C + T / colorblind

Colorblind-HeaderJean-Benoit Lasselin arrived in Phnom Penh without the intention of becoming one of Cambodia’s most interesting and creative designers. But of course, he did just that. With a background in political communication, JB touched down Cambodia in 2008 with a few classmates, looking for an adventure. He got one. 

He was raised in France and his grandmother is Vietnamese. He didn’t learn the language, which he now regrets. The family wanted to assimilate into French society, and that meant focusing on French. (Though having Vietnamese these days would have really helped with regional suppliers…)

It’s just they were immigrants from Vietnam. So they wanted to integrate with the high-French society, so we had to. We grew up with very strong codes of being very French and how to be super French…more French than the French.

03---JB-standing.jpgJB took a communications job, but spent a lot of his time at the tailor. Known for his natural sense of style, friends would ask for his help when getting a suit made, or whenever they needed something made with a bit more class. Eventually, his reputation got the best of him when a friend asked him to present a collection for the 2011 Phnom Penh fashion week. He had a month to put it all together, and had never done it before. No big deal.02---JB's-Tools.jpgAfter a month without sleep, the show went off without a hitch. One of his best friends was once a model and was able to guide him through what a fashion show should look like. He was one of the few designers showing men’s fashion and his line was a huge hit. After the show, he became so busy with his new project that he left his full time job to pursue a career in fashion. And that’s how Colorblind was born.04---JB-and-jacket.jpgIt’s worth noting the name of the company. JB is, in fact, colorblind. He sees shade, warm vs. cool, dark vs. light, but never the exact color. He relies heavily on how each fabric feels, and sources fabrics from France to India. The textures and non-traditional colors add a beautiful element of the unexpected to his designs, and every piece feels unique.05---Striped-Tie.jpg

13---Hankerchiefs.jpgHe cares deeply about the clothes that he makes and works with every customer to ensure they are happy with the details. He gives advice as to what cut would look best, how many buttons should go in the front, if the fabric will wrinkle well, and if the piece is more for work or for a wedding. He knows his stuff. He will recommend a fit, but can can adapt to what the customer wants.

My favorite part is when I have a couple and you have a man trying on the suit and the wife is sitting here and the man asks ‘how do I look?’  And the wife is like ‘smiling and nodding head.’ It’s the best reward I could ask for. You should get that one in every color.

Customers often start out with a “safer” option for a suit, and then as they figure out how fun it really is to have red polka-dots in the lining, they do that in the next order.

He likes to change it up and bit, and does two full collections a year, a long with the ready-to-wear line that is sold at the Sofitel in Phnom Penh. It’s uncommon for most designers here to have more than one collection a year, so it can be a struggle convincing the team that its worth it, but it absolutely is.

You can visit JB at his shop on street 57, near the corner of street 294. If you go in for a look, be warned that you may leave with a suit. And a quick word of advice, let him do his thing. You won’t regret the polka-dots. 08---Cait-Cuffed.jpg

Visit Colorblind for more information.


All photos by Tiffany Tsang, please request permission for use.

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T / cool kids, cool feet / mohinders

02---headerWhen my eye first caught these beautifully woven flats on The Reed, two thoughts came to my mind: 1) where can I get these? and 2) what is the story behind these hand woven beauties?  An email inquiry lead to a great conversation with founder and shoe peddler Michael Paratore and on Thanksgiving Day, a pair of mohinders Women’s Flats found their way from India to California to Phnom Penh.  Since then, I’ve found a favourite pair of high quality, ethically sourced,  hand made leather flats, which have moulded themselves to my feet. They are now my go-to-every-day-shoe and pair with any outfit among my uniforms of shorts and shirt dresses.  This morning, I decided to take the shoes out for a little shoe-t (flexing my pun muscles there) to help share the story behind mohinders and Michael Paratore’s efforts to bring together sustainability, style and comfort for our feet.


My Mohinders in the morning.

Michael Paratore’s departure from the corporate world and pivot to the sustainable fashion scene was a sound investment. Based on a curiosity behind a phenomenally designed shoe he bought in Mumbai, India, Paratore left his career as a corporate lawyer in Silicon Valley.  From 2012, he would find the source of that original shoe, and help to improve its design with the assistance of friends and family.  Hearing murmurs from the artisan cooperative scene, he even wound up hopping on a 16-hour train ride to Bangalore, India to locate an NGO to help him support the ethical and sustainable production of these shoes. One thing ties together Paratore’s journey from discovering the original shoe’s producer, the partnership with artisan cooperatives in Karnataka, to the meteoric rise of his new brand across social media: word of mouth.  And this all culminated with the realization that this journey would be more fun and exciting than his daily lawyering.

Mohinders-on-a-MotorbikeWhat initially attracted Paratore to the original shoe was its ease of wear.  Slip-on, slip-off.  And on top of that, multiple people were complimenting him about them every day. One more thing: the shoes didn’t smell after daily wear.  With all those positives in line, he added a natural crepe rubber sole and cushioned foot-bed with insole lining leather to make it more comfortable and durable.  The finishing touch of turquoise and red stripes are Paratore’s own too.  This was a product that mohinders could use as their flagship.

The partnership with a well established, decade-old, artisans cooperative in Karnataka, India, has also made the work rewarding.  While Paratore is unsure to what extent mohinders has played in improvements that have taken place in the village, he is aware that the cooperative itself has improved the standard of living among artisans in the community, reduced their reliance on money-lending and has altogether improved the perception and social standing of highly skilled artisans making top quality products.

These durable and beautifully designed products have caught on fast in mohinders’ markets in North America.  Mentions by strategic and potent individuals on social media (Brit+Co and Huffington Post to name a couple) and a successful Kickstarter campaign have helped to propel the mohinders brand across coasts and in our case, continents.  As a result, mohinders’ list of stockists was able to grow organically, starting with friends of friends, outside interests, and stores that were good fits for the shoes.


My Mohinders in the evening.

Building on the competitive advantage that mohinders’ offers compared to his previous line of work, Paratore intends to keep making decisions based on what sounds fun in order to open more amazing opportunities for mohinders.  This might even include some colour play on their City Slippers.

Oh and the name? Paratore thinks its a little embarrassing, but I think it’s absolutely charming. He first heard the name on NBC’s Heroes. Specifically on the super hero defender, Dr. Mohinder Suresh.  It turns out that the name was particularly sticky, because when he quit his job and needed to name his new venture, it was an easy choice: mohinders.

Thanks so much to Michael Paratore for the interview and shipping these incredible flats all the way to Cambodia!  If you’re interested in getting a pair for yourself, you can order them online, or check them out in person at any of their stockists

All photos by Cait+Tiff. Thanks to friends who helped shoot my feet when I couldn’t do it myself, and to Corbett Hix for lending me the 28mm lens!


T / Cool Kids / TA.THA.TA

Tathata-HeaderEarlier this year, a new brand based in Southeast Asia landed in our focus, and I couldn’t wait to get all over it.  Our buddy Lin was a big fan of a new treasure she had just found in Bangkok: a high quality and water resistant canvas bag with leather handles and great detailing.  Immediately I was all over their social media and trying to locate their closest supplier.  A few months later, I found myself in Bangkok, finally got a bag of my own and a chance to hang out with the wonderful ladies behind Tathata.  Not only that – I got to visit their studio in the Suttisan neighbourhood, and learn all about their beginnings and craft.

In 2012, Vipavat Darapongsatapom (more commonly known by her nickname Potae), was working as a graphic designer at a major Bangkok firm.  But at home, she was actually crafting by hand, high quality leather bags, and selling them each month at the Aree Garden Green Market.  Right next to her, Kavita Srisan (who prefers to be called Kivi) was working at the same firm and crafting her own textiles for bags and watches.  It was only a matter of time (about eighteen months) and many conversations about textiles before the two joined forces to launch Tathata, a brand devoted to high quality leather work and timeless products.


Left: Vipavat, who prefers Potae (left) and Kavita, who likes to be called Kivi, Right: One of Tathata’s “Grey” Bags, part their new Live Serie Collection.

The name, Tathata, originates from Buddhist script and means a maintenance of “real.”  And this defines many of the elements that Potae and Kivi craft into all of their products.  With technical backgrounds in textiles, three dimensional design and leather work, Potae has carefully worked out the combination of flowers, careful timing and temperature needed to dye sun-bleached leather into the magnificent and tender hues that now colour their line of third collection of timepieces, called Bloom. You can watch the entire process here.

To create their new line of high quality canvas bags fit for use in every day life and accessibly priced, the pair focused on their own desire for functionality and clean design. Bags that were neither “nerdy” nor specific to the “IT crowd” that they were seeing in Bangkok department stores.  Potae described the influences behind this collection’s design as being fit for her own life and needs and this explains why the bags have been so successful.


Potae displays the prototype and process for a new design coming.


Painting the leather handles that accompany Tathata’s new Live Serie collection of bags.

The pair work together on each new piece of all of their lines of products together.  From concept to prototype and testing, to colour matching, graphic design and costings, Potae and Kivi have clearly outlined their areas of collaboration and expertise.  And since their bags and watches are selling out in Bangkok and abroad, they have turned to working with factories in Thailand, who make their bags, and Taiwan who produce the mechanical bodies of their watches.  The careful production of their organic hand-dyed leather watch bands, the leather handles of their collection of canvas bags, and assembly of their gorgeous watches, remains in their studio and in their own hands.


Left: Potae’s father works the leather cutter, Right: Members of the Bloom collection of timepieces.

Potae and Kivi do not come from a line multiple generations of creatives and makers.  Potae did learn how to sew from her dad, and Kivi inherited the skills behind bag making from a grandmother who loved textiles. However, they have built this brand and craft, literally with their own two hands. The duo have also turned their growing business into a family affair with Potae’s father, a retired engineer, assisting with leather work at their studio at Potae’s family home (which also warehouses the lot of their watches, and bags).

Kivi-QuoteAnd as for world domination? Potae and Kivi would prefer to keep their operation small in order to grow their brand. They have expanded the distribution of their products from Thailand eastwards to Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and as far west as Barcelona and Switzerland. However, they wish for their relationships with stockists to continue to be as high quality as their products. This calls for smaller operations.  Kivi describes all of their stockists as friendships and keeps in close contact with all of them, inquiring on customer preferences, improvements that can be made, and ensuring that the people using their bags and wearing the watches are always happy.

This strategy is clearly taking off.  This year, Tathata launched their Live Serie collection of ultra-functional multi-wear canvas bags.  All of these originated when Australian bag brand, Crumpler invited Tathata to take part in a workshop they were hosting in Bangkok.  These bags are beyond sturdy and I’m looking forward to take mine all over the world as my new carry-on.  I’ll be talking a lot more about these amazing bags soon.

And now for the important facts:

You can find Tathata products for sale on their website (with free shipping internationally).  If you are in Bangkok, you can also find them every Saturday at Chatuchak Market, where you’ll also get to meet Kivi and Potae.  They also have a number of stockists in Thailand and selected cities in Asia and Europe which you can find here

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.



T / antique x industrial chic in yangon

HeaderV3Deep in the Yangon community of Yankin, down an assuming alley and a sweaty climb up to the sixth floor in an apartment block only filled with Myanmar script, you will find the home that Jojo and Jerome built.  And I couldn’t have been more lucky to have done that climb one night when friends invited me to a small get together that Jojo and Jerome were hosting.  I knew I had to come and hear the story behind their beautiful home filled with equal parts elbow grease, a keen eye for beautiful old things and the good sense that walls should get knocked down.

Looking for a change, and a place that wouldn’t make too much trouble about the paperwork involving a bi-national relationship, Jojo, an American, and Jerome, who is from France, were attracted to Myanmar by friends who described the place as a “blank canvas.”  Both left their lucrative finance and consulting gigs in London and made their way over to Yangon in 2014 and have since built careers and reputations as serial entrepreneurs.  And what a little empire they are building with Jojo opening Yangon Yoga House and designing the interior of downtown bespoke bar, Hummingbird and Jerome providing key business development and marketing services local firms.  But this wasn’t necessarily a huge leap from what they were doing before. Before moving to Yangon, Jojo helped to develop, design and build wine crate shelving solutions at Le Petit Monster, and the pair grew a huge collection of collectibles and pretty things throughout all of their homes around the world. Art history, economics and some knowhow around a toolbox goes a long way.

When they first arrived in Yangon, Jojo and Jerome knew they didn’t want to blow all of their money on an expensive condominium or indulge in the upswing of real estate values since Myanmar has slowly opened up to the world. Instead, they chose to invest in a place they could call home, a respite from the chaos of emerging Yangon.  To do that, they had to knock down a literally legally binding wall, strip off the unfortunate lime green laquer adorning their doorways, rearrange some electrical outlets, and endure the pains of DIY in a place where tools of the trade are still scarce and local tastes may conflict.  Nearly one year after moving into their Yankin sixth floor walk-up, the hard work has paid off.  Jojo and Jerome wanted a vintage meets industrial Brooklyn chic apartment in the heart of Yangon and that is exactly what they got.

12---Hallway-TableWith Jojo’s hustling skills (as Jerome describes), the pair also quickly made fast friends with Htet, the owner of Rangoon Tea House.  Through Htet, they met the man who is now their most trusted antiques dealer in Yangon.  That hustle has resulted in one of the most gorgeous homes cum showrooms in the least likely of places.  And as a result, Jojo and Jerome have a constantly evolving home.  Every few months, they acquire a trove of new treasures their new friend keeps an eye out for, immediately contacting them when a new piece arrives that he knows they will like. And after some of their own refurbishment and a short stay with them, the collection of benches, chests, side tables and other coterie originating from Myanmar’s colonial era, make it onto the web for the fastest bid.  Though they do experience some seller’s remorse after the money is handed over.

End-Table--Jojo-and-JeromeHowever, there is one piece the pair will absolutely not handover.  Unless you’re willing to finance their acquisition of several new Chesterfields.  Knowing the difficulty of finding high quality pieces in southeast Asia, Jojo and Jerome searched high and low in the UK for the perfect vintage Chesterfield sofa with the perfect spread of patina from a history of warmed bums. This precious item was subsequently driven 400km around the UK before being stowed away in a shipping container bound for Myanmar.


Top: An original Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation Bed. Bottom: That pre-loved chest of drawers comes with its own original lock. Sadly no key, though, so that adornment is there to stay.


Left: The Chagall frame that came all the way from New York when Bernie Madoff’s estate was auctioned off and Jojo bore the winning bid. It sits on one of their most recent local antique acquisitions (right), painted light blue to let the wood shine through.


Upper Right: The impromptu sketch of Jojo by director Michel Gondry. Lower left: Jerome shows off a recently acquired lock box.

Jojo and Jerome’s home is filled with similar prizes collected from sheer will to serendipity. Like the 25kg antique sewing machine they found in Bordeaux, which was hauled by bicycle (and Jerome), plane and train to London and now sits as the legs for their dining room table.  There’s a sketch of Jojo by auteur Michel Gondry which sits proudly framed on a bookshelf.  Another piece for conversation fodder is the antique and genuine Chagall that Jojo acquired when Bernie Madoff’s estate was auctioned away.

Likewise, there are the gems they have collected here. Jerome proudly shared an antique lock box they recently found. And then there’s their equally pre-loved bed, which was fashioned by the historic colonial era Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation and bear’s the company’s well known fan-shaped logo.


The 25kg antique sewing machine base that traveled by bicycle, plane, train, taxi and shipping container from Bordeaux to Yangon via London. With a teak table top, it now carries all the dishes during Jojo and Jerome’s fabulous dinner parties.


Right: One of two Myanmar masks the pair found at Augustine’s Antiques in Yangon during their first visit to Yangon in 2013. They were toted around Asia, lived in a box in London for a year, and are back home in Myanmar adorning the couple’s lovely living room.

So having given this home some skin that’s been burned by paint solvents, the anxious heart palpitations of hauling antique pieces up twelve flights of stairs and the joys of sourcing DIY tools, and all that jazz, Jojo and Jerome have built themselves a most beautiful home that is so perfect for being shown off during dinner parties, game nights, or tiny little design blogs.  I hope you find their home as inspiring as I did.

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.



C + T / The Lemon Tree

The-Lemon-Tree-HeaderPhillpe and Emeline met in Vanuatu a few years back. They were both working with NGOs and development agencies, dabbled in the private sector, and it was really only a matter of time before they made their way to Phnom Penh. They arrived just under three years ago, and we are so glad they did.

The initial goal was to create a place with homemade pasta, using local ingredients. Both have French backgrounds, and miss the food from home. They wanted to make a warm, friendly place for people to grab a healthy, and delicious, lunch, packaged in eco-friendly biodegradable containers. The Lemon Tree has a small, get menu, tacked high with French favorites, and as far as we can tell, they have blown past their initial goal.


The restaurant has only opened it’s doors recently, but we were lucky to use the space for our photo shoot a few months ago and check out the operation, and now we come back regularly. They are doing well, but not without a bit of a struggle from the neighborhood. Apparently, to some people, “quiet cafe that closes at 10pm” is the same as “all night sexy rave parties drugs and music and fornication and sin.” They are back on track now after managing some particularly feisty neighbors.

These two really care about their food, bringing in locally cured meats, organic fruit and veg, and importing all of their (delicious) dairy products from small vendors. They care immensely about the quality of the food and the atmosphere where it is eaten. They wax poetic about the complexities involved in making a quiche or the labor of love that goes into a duck confit or cassoulet.

The neighborhood community is supportive and encouraging of new businesses and new kids on the block. (The people, not the band; no one is encouraging of that.) The 308 Alley community is hip and delicious, making great company for this sweet little spot. The friendly crew down the road at Chez Flo often sends happy hour patrons to the Lemon Tree for dinner, and the love is sent right back.



The front garden of the traditional wooden house (that serves as both their home and the restaurant) is scattered with tables and chairs and plants and jungle bits right in the middle of town. A majority of the furniture in the place is from a local artist who works with reclaimed wood. The Lemon Tree is located on 308, just down the road from Mama Wongs and Chez Flo, and they put in a lot of hours to make the place look and feel as cozy as it is. After striking out with a few contractors, they enlisted the help of their visiting guests and went to work to create a beautiful and unique space. Five months later, things are running smoothly.

Though both have a vested interest in development and have worked in the field, the restaurant is not a training cafe, like many are in town. This is a place that works hard to employ good people and help develop their skills, and it is not charity. The restaurant brings in a variety of customers including the expat community that huddles around 308, but also the burgeoning community of young local professionals. During our interview, they mentioned more than once how impressed they were with their local staff and how have been lucky to have a great team full of young Cambodians, eager to learn and share knowledge.

And now, very important facts.

Restaurant family favorites: Duck confit and the quiche

Most popular menu items: La Plancha, Flammkuche, and a goat cheese and bacon salad.

Things to come: The team will be taking on brunch, bringing in new pasta recipes and trying their hand at falafel. Emeline will also be bringing some favourites from her mother’s home of the Reunion Islands.  Can’t wait.05---In-the-Kitchen

The Lemon Tree is located at #8b, Street 308 in Phnom Penh Cambodia. Look for the twinkle lights as you pass street 21. 

Photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.


T / pro tips / katie mcknoulty

Pro-Tips---The-Travelling-Light---HeaderMeeting travel blogger Katie McKnoulty in Phnom Penh happened as most amazing new friendships here start: through friends of friends of friends. And this friend happened to be the very talented designer, Jane Heng.  And boy did we all have a good time.  The Travelling Light started in November, 2013, but a meteoric rise has happened in the last year since Harper’s Bazaar named Katie’s gorgeous website as one of the top travel blogs to follow in 2015.  The self-described digital nomad has spent the last two years travelling the world and recording all of her discoveries online of the world’s special and hidden places.  You can find Katie, not only on the Travelling Light, but also through her writing for Fathom, Pepper Passport and Hostel World.

This past Monday, I got to spend one more evening with the bright and sunny Brisbane native.  We went on a fun little pub crawl down the fun street cum alley 308, where I got to creep on her while she worked and ask her about her story, her style and some tips!

05---Katie-and-BraidsHow did you get into travel writing?

I guess I got into travel writing because I always worked in travel. I also traveled around growing up, and was always obsessed with moving overseas. I suppose all my career decisions have been based on working overseas. Following university, I worked for the tourist board in Brisbane, doing marketing with them and there was always a lot of writing, photography and design involved with that.

After that, I moved to London and I worked for [a major international airline], and that was more on the business side of things. But I guess being on the business side, you’re sort of told what you have to write about and are told what you have to promote. So I wanted to work to tell more of a real story of what was coo. So I started my travel blog from there.

I guess I never really considered myself a travel writer. Since I started the website, different people have asked me to write articles for them, so I guess it’s happening.

What we your background in before you started The Travelling Light?

My degree was in marketing, economics and French. Then I happened to find this amazing job at the Tourism Board in Brisbane.  It was a huge impact on me because we didn’t have external creative agencies, we did everything in house, so it was sort of like we were an advertising agency,  a marketing company and a tourism board, It was an ‘all hands on deck’ situation with everyone pitching in where you can, and learning on the job, so it was a really creative place. So that was amazing and I was working there with copywriters, graphic designers, photographers, filmmakers, all these really creative people. So it was this creative business, but it was a business that had creativity in it. I just learned so much there. It was a baptism of fire. It was really hard, but it was amazing.

In London at the bigger airline, it was great too. But I learned about traditional marketing and how creative it wasn’t; and that I was more into being put into a “baptism of fire.”

I was also  just a bit burnt out there, so I decided to quit and I didn’t have anything to go to, but I knew I wanted to start this travel website, and I didn’t have a plan. And I started receiving life coaching from my best friend’s older sister. She asked me: “what is it you want to do?” And I said I want to do branding, I want to do this travel website, and she said need some help So I started doing some work with her, and that was my first foray into freelancing. I just really started from there.

The Travelling Light focuses on ‘hidden places.’  What does that mean to you?

Well, it started as ‘hidden places,’ but then I was faced with the dilemma that ‘sometimes places aren’t hidden, but they’re really good as well.” So I think it’s expanded for me from ‘hidden places,’ to places with a heart and a soul behind it; where the person who’s creating it has a good intention, they’re doing something really unique and innovative and they’re creating from their soul. You would know it because it comes out, you can feel it, you can see it. It’s something special. So it’s ‘special places’ now and sometimes it’s also places with an interesting history behind it, and maybe that story isn’t being told. So certainly I’d never tell someone to go to the Eiffel Tower because I think those stories are always being told. I am trying to tell the stories that aren’t being told, of places that are really special, something feels good about them.

Pro-Tips---The-Travelling-Light---Special-QualityHow did your distinct style of photography develop? (pardon the pun)

It was definitely when I worked at the tourist board for Brisbane, the photographers we worked with had a really distinct style and I think I took a lot from that. I was in charge of cataloging all the images, so I saw these images every day, all day, and it just put an imprint on my brain. I loved what I saw because it was the first time I was interested in photography. There was a huge impact on me.

I do remember also when I started the site, I had a drink with this really amazing and successful filmmaker I had worked with. We were talking about photography and he said: “just always ask yourself before you take a picture: ‘why am I taking this picture?’ Is it because I’ve seen someone take the same picture before and that’s why I think it’s cool? Or am I actually digging deep inside and asking myself for what I do I think is beautiful? What do I think is interesting?’ ” So I try to do that as well. You can definitely very easily fall into that trap of thinking “I need to take this picture because I saw it on Instagram and it’s a cool set up.” It’s unconscious. I try to be conscious about what I think? Because people want to know your perspective.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I think it’s more just from the actual place. The most excited I feel about photography is when I arrive in a new place and I’m in the taxi, taking pictures from the window, and I’m thinking “oh my god.” I think that clean slate of seeing something you’ve never seen before and feeling it, and even similar places. There’s that new feeling. That’s what inspires me: walking around the streets and that’s when I’m most inspired: when I’m new in a place. But also when I’m most overwhelmed. So it’s all about finding a balance.

Where have you felt overwhelmed?

Here. Because there is so much stuff going on. The architecture is so interesting and I didn’t expect that at all. It’s all beautifully coloured, but it could be quite ornate. Equal parts “take a picture take a picture,” but also “oh my gosh, I’m so lost, I don’t know where anything is. I don’t know what anything is.”

And the opposite can happen. But I think in any place where it’s a new city, you always have to remind myself: “give it two weeks, or at least one week.” Because you’re always going to feel really weird and it’s always going to look different and you’re not going to feel settled and you’re going to think “I don’t like it here.” I always have the one to two week rule of giving a place a chance. I don’t think there is any place I could go where after that time I think “I don’t like it here, I’m leaving.”

You also have a distinct writing style. What do you think is the most important element when you’re writing about a place?

I want to describe how it feels to be there and what is that special quality that makes your heart beat a little faster or make you light up and think: “Oh that place is really special. This is what I want to write about.” I don’t want to write about the menu like it’s a product description. They’re describing, say for a hotel: “there’s a safe in the room. And there’s a double bed.” I just think that sort of thing is for the company website. But for me, I just want to write about what it feels like to be there.

03---Katie-and-Barbed-WireWhat does authenticity mean to you?

It’s probably two things. One component is the authenticity of the travel: did you really go there? Did you really want to go there? Did you really find it amazing? Did you really stumble across it? And then there’s the other authenticity of a place being authentic in its place or in its city. Not being a copycat of another hipster joint they’ve had in another place in the world or catching up on some trend. But it’s more authentic like what we talked about before; someone creating something unique, something that fits in with the city and its environment, serves a purpose, locals go there, expats go there.

What is a digital nomad? What does it mean to you?

I guess a digital nomad to me, is someone who is living out of a suitcase but working online to support themselves. They have a lifestyle of moving around nomadically and not really having a plan or security blanket.

I think I read recently that this digital nomad culture has arisen because this generation now growing up in their twenties and thirties cannot commit to anything. I totally feel like that: I just want to see everything. I’m young and if I can work online and work from anywhere, that’s really great and I can just soak up everything the world has to offer me. I can see everything and meet all these different people. I think the thing I liked about the concept is that it breeds a certain kind of person who is courageous, has confidence in themselves and doesn’t need a security blanket of a house or a stable background. People who are willing to throw themselves off cliffs and see what happens. I think they’re a group of really passionate group. So I really like meeting all those people. It’s the same for me for expats too I think.

What’s the most risky thing you’ve done since starting this career as a travel blogger?

I think every day is a risk. Because you don’t have a stable income. I have bigger clients and regular clients. But you don’t know when that is going to stop and nothing is guaranteed. But it always works out. I think if you’re on the right path and you’re doing it for the right reasons, it just seems to work. But you can’t let your ego take over and say: “This isn’t going to work. What are you doing? You’re not going to have money.” Because logically, it never looks good for me.

Now that I’ve been jumping off cliffs for 2 years now, I sort of have this track record of “okay well that was pretty scary, but I did it and it worked out. So why can’t I do it again?” So I keep jumping off cliffs and keep hoping it will work out and it always does and it always gets a bit better too. So I think “ okay, I’m going to be fine.”

02---Katie-308Since you live out of a suitcase, what are some of your essential items?

I just pick my very favourite things and really cultivate all these things from my toiletry bag: “these are the essential things I need and I went and found them all.”

I am kind of a weirdo because I try to follow an Ayurvedic lifestyle even though that’s quite hard while traveling. So I do things like use Ayurvedic massage oils while traveling. I also bring incense and a yoga mat. It makes me feel at home. I travel with spices and some things to cook with. So there’s a few things that I do, try to cook and eat that create a bit of a routine for me.

Also just having a proper keyboard to attach to my laptop and having a mouse. Having earphones. And having a little journal to write in. It’s just about having some physical things that create a stability and routine in your mind; that you can travel and move and maintain a stability and groundedness inside you. Because you can go crazy really easy living like this. And sometimes I do.

Do you have any tips for someone interested in going into travel writing?

There are two camps. One camp would say: just start and start developing your style. But that’s not how I did it. I actually sat on the idea for maybe 2 years; and really thought about how I wanted to present it and what was the real intention in what I was doing. I also considered how it was going to be different and something uniquely coming from me and not something everyone else would write about.

So from my experience I would say: first figure out why you want to become a travel writer/blogger, and what is the special thing you think you bring even if it seems weird or you don’t think it’s going to work. Try to figure out that unique point of view and go forth with that.   But also just spend hours and hours and hours doing it, which you probably already are if you are trying to be a travel writer. It’s all about the hours in everything. Just putting in the hours.

Thanks so much for your story, Katie!  We can’t wait to see where you put your feet down next!


All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.


C + T/ jen green, coffee yoda

Last week, we were lucky enough to sit down with Jen Green, Phnom Penh’s resident coffee consultant. Over a few cappuccinos and a double espresso, we picked her brain on her very cool life and all things coffee. Hope you enjoy! 


Like a lot of people in this part of the world, Jen Green has had an interesting journey to Phnom Penh. Unlike most people here, Jen’s journey involves a little black drink. She’s a coffee consultant and knows more about coffee, coffee trade, coffee flavors, coffee production, and coffee value chains than Cait knows about Tommy BoyInitially driven by law and an interest in energy trading, Jen started work with a big law firm right out of college, living in New York and then London. A few years down the line, she decided to take a brief sabbatical and travel for a few months.

How long have you been here?

Three and a half years.


Left, Jen Green


After working with a local human rights group in Phnom Penh, Jen took a trip through Mondulkiri, in the northern edges of Cambodia. On the way, she stopped to talk with a coffee farmer and asked where his coffee was sold. He didn’t know.

 “It occurred to me that this was a common problem: people don’t have a sense of the whole supply chain or what’s marketable, of course that means that the value adds happen further down the supply chain and away from the farms.” 

This began her adventure into the coffee world. Her work has taken her all over, and to all the highest corners of South East Asia. She works as a coffee consultant, which (we now know) means she does everything from working with farmers on how they can improve the quality of the coffee at the farm, to working to develop coffee co-ops, to working with cafes and roasters on sourcing beans, to setting up a barista station work flow and training baristas. Her blog, Little Black Drink, is beautiful, full of coffee flavor profiles and a clear, deep appreciation for a delicious little bean.


If you live in Phnom Penh, you are going to want to read this part. Jen is the mastermind behind the Disappearing Brew Bar . The Brew Bar is a pop up that, um, pops up, every few months. She collaborates with local business owners to use shop or restaurant space to host a brunch with a 3-5 different types of specialty coffees, and options from the SE Asia region. There are always delicious pastries and snacks, but if you hit the Brew Bar on the right day, there are sometimes coffee cocktails. The treats are made by Jen, fresh that day, and though she didn’t mention it in the interview, we know she wakes up at 2am on the day of the Brew Bar so she can make sure the bagel dough rises in the right way, and the chocolate-cayenne dipped bacon is perfectly crispy. (We forgot to mention that her mom is a chef, and we are thrilled those genes are strong.) The food is paired with the coffees and meant to bring out certain flavors in the drink. It’s a wonderful way to wake up on a lazy weekend, and you can find out more about them here!


The next event is this Saturday, at Common Tiger, and you should go and ask her 345429 questions about coffee, because she will know all the answers. In all honesty, she really does know more about coffee than you could believe, but without an ounce of snob in her body. She is able to look at coffee that some might call “garbage meth drink” and simply see it as a different product. She has a deep appreciation for the flavors in different types of coffee, and for the people that grow it. She has more stories than we can fit into a post, but she did tell us one, about an adventure to Chaing Mai. On a trip to a coffee farm, she was able to roast the beans from 20 feet away and make a cup of coffee for the farmer that grew it, which he had never tasted. Go ask her for the details.




Seriously. Go to the Brew Bar this weekend, if we were in country we would be there and would totally be hogging the donuts, so get in there while you can. Thank you Jen, for letting us pile on the questions, and for making something awesome and delicious in Phnom Penh.

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.

All noises caused by the photos by Tiffany Tsang are made by Caitlin Decker.


T / pro tips / Roberto Westbrook

People always ask me what it is that I’m hoping to be as this blog develops.  Am I training to be a photographer? A graphic designer? A writer? Well, it’s a little bit of everything as I’m hoping to one day work for or have a web-magazine of my own, telling stories about creatives in our newly border-broken world, and sharing their experiences.  This year is all about learning for Cait and I, and where better to learn from than the pros themselves.  So manicures be damned, we’re getting some pro tips and a new series.  Enjoy!

Pro-Tips---Roberto-WestbookSo it all started a couple of months ago.  Cait said “Berto is coming!”  I thought, ‘okay another friend is visiting, cool.’  But this Berto turned out to be none other than Roberto Westbrook, the plenty talented photographer who’s work has been featured in everything from National Geographic to the New York Times just to name a few, and a bunch of awards to boot.  Roberto never worked a day in the world of investment banking that he originally trained for in college. With subsequent formal training in photography and a dedication to authenticity, he has not only worked on editorial features, travel stories and advertising campaigns over the past decade, but also in stock photography too.  This is one of the projects Roberto had come to Cambodia to do. So when we all piled into cars to Kep two weeks ago, Roberto was in for the ride, the seafood and a lot of beautiful shots of that little seaside town. Back in the city, he even had a little (and very early morning) photoshoot of professionals in the Penh and got some of us to model (I also got to take some fun meta shots!).  During a break in all this photography, I had the chance to ask Roberto for some advice on photography and breaking into the business.

Berto-and-CameraYou yourself went to formally study photography. Do you think it’s necessary for beginners to do the same?

No, it wasn’t even necessary for me to go back to school. There’s always been ways to learn photography. When I went back to school, I sat down and thought about ‘how can I get better?’ I knew that a lot aspiring photographers will go and assist a photographer. That’s one way to learn. You learn not only the creative side, but also the business side. That’s really valuable for a lot of people. But to do that, you need to be assisting almost every day in places like New York or Los Angeles. For me it made sense to go back to school, especially if I could get it paid for through scholarships and by working as a teaching assistant. I also really like school. It was a worthwhile investment for me. I would never advise anyone to go into debt, a lot of debt for photography school because you’re coming into a very competitive market and you’ll just be saddled with debt as a huge burden.  People just have to figure out what. If you’re great in school and you like school, maybe that’s the right path. Online courses and local photography groups may also be less expensive.

Did your personal style of photography take time to develop? 

It definitely developed. I always knew I really prefer authenticity to something that’s really staged. So when I started out, I wanted to be a National Geographic photographer, and I always try to take a documentary approach and inserting yourself in the scenes in observing and photographing. But as the media landscape has changed and everyone was going freelance, there seemed to be less opportunities in editorial and I had to shift my focus and start looking for more commercial work. That forced me to go into an arena where you do set things up; but I try to bring what I’ve always liked about documentary work into that space. So when I do my own shoots, like the stock shoots, I’m trying as much as possible to be an observer while also realizing that the pictures must be beautiful to a certain extent, where there’s composition, lighting and all those things that make a photo great.

Where do you draw inspiration from?

I draw a lot of inspiration from painting and older art. I try not to look at too much contemporary photography because I don’t want it to affect how I shoot too much. I know if I look at somebody’s picture, I’ll bring that to mind for my next shoot, and I’ll consciously or unconsciously try to copy it to a certain extent. So I try not to do that too much and try to look at paintings, drawings and how people use colour in painting and drawing to try and bring that into my own photography. But that said, I definitely still look at magazines sometimes. I have very mixed feelings about the visual trends that are going on and try to avoid that as an influence.

What do you think is the most important element of a photograph?

For me, there’s always two things I’m looking for: light and gesture. I learned that term from a guy named Tom Kennedy. You could just as easily call it body language. For me, the gesture and the interaction between people and sometimes just the individual and what they’re doing; I’m trying to get something interesting out of their body language.

I love natural light. For me it’s fairly directional. I love a Rembrandt style light, that’s always really nice. I’ve been shooting a lot of stuff backlit, partially because I like and partially because it’s trendy right now. I tend to shoot a lot in slightly open shade because that’s flattering to people. That depends on the person you’re photographing. Sometimes its about what the right light is one them. I generally like an early morning light, or if it’s in the middle of the day, something like just at the edge of the shade so it’s still sculptural. If you go too deep into a shaded area, then it starts to get flat and muddy. So it’s always about being at that edge of shade and light for me.

Berto-at-the-WatWhat’s the best thing you could buy if you’re just getting started? 

One good lens. That’s my one recommendation. It would be just picking one prime lens that’s pretty fast and goes to at least f/2.8 is a good starting place. Not messing a whole lot with zooms and not feeling the pressure to buy three or four lenses. You can do amazing work with one amazing lens whether it’s a 35mm or a 50mm, and that’s where people need to figure it out. If you’re a documentary photographer, probably a 35mm or 28mm is a great lens just to work with and learn that focal length and how close you need to be without stepping back. It makes you move. Having one focal length makes you move a lot which I think is really important in learning composition. If someone’s a portrait photographer, maybe they want to start with a 50mm or 85mm. If they love shooting people, that really focuses you. The 50mm is a good in-between lens that you can do a lot with.

What’s the most overrated thing you could spend money on?

People are constantly buying bags because they can’t find the perfect bag. That seems to me to be a waste of money. One camera and one lens is all you need. Sometimes you don’t even need a bag. I also think UV protective filters that they are always trying to sell you. I think those are unnecessary. Especially if you’re trying to shoot backlit. Because it just adds one more element to potentially create extra flare and abberations. That’s my personal take. I know some people would say you need it to protect the glass. I’m pretty nice to my stuff. I always protect it. If I’m walking through a jungle, I cover it. If I drop it, I drop it. That little UV filter is not going to protect it.

Berto-and-LinAny tips for breaking into the business of photography?

Find a mentor: someone who is willing to share and talk very honestly about the business. If you can find someone to talk to you about it, that’s really wonderful. There are a lot of creative people out there. But where photographers and a lot of creatives need help is in the business side. So if you can find someone to help you understand the business and getting clients, that’s pretty important and help people understand how hard it is to break in.

Breaking in is so hard. You have to be social and I mean that on every sense of the word. Not just on the social networks, but in person. These days, it’s as much about knowing people and being a good person.  People know so many good photographers. You not only have to be a good photographer but a nice person that people want to work with.  Just be likeable and get out there and meet people. And let them know that you do what you do.

Part of being likeable is being professional: delivering on time and doing what you say you’re going to do. Because that’s what people expect.

Was it difficult to ask to be paid for your photography in the beginning?

The weird part, wasn’t the discomfort of being paid, but the amount. I think when I was first starting out, I didn’t realize really how much life costs once you account for health insurance, equipment insurance, all the gear, the computers, which you have to update every few years. When you first start charging people, you don’t think people are going to pay this, but you gotta just say “I’m worth it, this is what it costs for me to be in business.”

Wonderful Machine is a very good resource, especially for estimating jobs. There’s also software called Blink Bid that’s really good for creating estimates. And comes with built in suggested licensing prices. Going to a site like Getty Images is a great way to get an idea about how much photos should cost.

It takes a while to establish yourself. You have to be patient. You should give yourself at least 5 years before you feel comfortable in it. It’s discouraging, but it takes a while. From the time you quit and go part time on a job, it might be 5 years before your living standards you’re used to are coming from photography.

Thanks so much Roberto for your advice! 

All photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use. Mega thanks to models Cait and Lin!


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C+T / Alma Café

Alma-HeaderOne of the first things we do in a new city is scope out the food scene. For both of us, knowing where to get a decent linguine pesto or chicken tikka is essential to our overall happiness. For some reason, the one thing that is usually missing in SE Asia is good Mexican food. Lucky for us, we have Alma Café.

Alma Café opened in June of 2013 near the Russian Market and has been going strong ever since. In fact, they have been going so strong that they never even had time for a grand opening. On the breezy corner of 454 and 123, the building has bright, high ceilings, and is an ideal spot for chilaquiles, quesadillas, or their standout tres leches cake.

Yessica-and-Aaron-at-the-CounterOwners Yesica and Aaron Hassenboehler came to Phnom Penh a few years ago. Yesica is from Acapulco, and Aaron is a New Orleans native. They met while he was working in Mexico and they have traveled all over the world together for the last ten years. Their travels including a three year stint in Mumbai, where the only Mexican food was in their kitchen.

When Yesica and Aaron arrived here, they wanted to do something good for people in Cambodia. They weren’t interested in providing traditional charity or giving anything away, but instead believe in providing jobs as a way to encourage responsible and sustainable development in Cambodia.Staff

“We believe that it is good to teach [young people]: how to work, how to fish for themselves; so that one day when we leave, it won’t affect them. They would have something to help their families. So that’s why we decided to start the café and give them jobs. And because I’m good at cooking. At least he says I am.” 

Alma Café has managed to build a creative and welcoming community on their little corner. The cafe is often packed with the expat crowd, and even a few local residents. (Locals love the burritos, but aren’t too sure about savory beans yet.) The café also attracts Spanish-speaking patrons from across the globe and regularly hosts events with Latin music and dancing. They are constantly training the staff in new skills and engaging with local NGOs to provide restaurant training and support for disadvantaged youth. The current employees at the café are especially motivated and one of them is even learning how to bake traditional Mexican cakes; a skill we could probably all use.

They are open for breakfast and lunch, and are so busy that other restaurant owners in the area have actually asked them not to open for dinner. The restaurant community in the neighborhood is supportive and as the neighborhood grows, they share the perks, and burden, of being so popular. Most of their publicity comes from TripAdvisor and Facebook, and the fact that everyone is talking about the café, all the time.

Yesica uses recipes from her family, and guards her secrets well. The tamales are steamed in banana leaves, as some grandmothers do in Mexico, and the salsa recipe is her mother’s. 

We have a lot of people who come in and say ‘This salsa is not good, I’m from California and I know.’ And I’m like ‘I’m from Mexico.‘”


It’s a family affair: secret recipe tamales, Yesica and her fabulous brother, Carlos.

The menu changes daily and is dependent on what is in the local market. If there are avocados, its guacamole time! (We love guacamole time.) If there are squash flowers, they go in the quesadillas. A lot of local ingredients work very well in Mexican food, but they struggle to find the right kind of chilies and specialty items. 

These two, along with their fantastic staff, have brought great food and culture to the neighborhood. We highly recommend you stop by and get the specials before they inevitably sell out.  If you are lucky, the Khmer staff will send a “gracias” your on the way out. It’s completely wonderful.

Photos by Tiffany Tsang. Please request permission for use.