After spending the last 9 days in Malaysia, we flew out from KL and arrived in Phnom Penh. As we arrived in the late afternoon we decided to just walk around our hostel and sample some Cambodian food. Our first experiences of Asia were Hong Kong and Malaysia which are much different to Cambodia. Like Hong Kong, where it felt everyone had somewhere to go, Phnom Penh was just so busy. It was a bit of a culture shock as we learned as soon as we got out of the airport the roads were mental!
Before expanding on our trip to Cambodia, we would just like to point out that Cambodian food is incredible. Although most of our posts have raved about the food, (and deservedly so) we really did appreciate the Cambodian food. Not only the food, but the culture and people are incredible. Everyone is so friendly, and really make you feel welcome. You hear a lot of scare stories as Cambodia is a relatively poor country compared to other SEA countries, but we always felt safe and welcomed where ever we went.
For our first proper day, we relaxed and took things nice and slow. As we had scheduled to have a lot of time in Phnom Penh we didn’t feel the need to rush things. Although we spent way too much time in Phnom Penh (one of the many mistakes we have learned from), there were still lots for us to see and get involved with. We started our trip by just walking around the city and getting a feel for Phnom Penh. In other words, we just wanted to chill whilst still enjoying our time. As is very common in Cambodia, we were soon stopped by so many different Tuk-Tuk drivers asking us if we wanted a tour of X, Y, and Z. Some people may be put off by this constant nagging, but just remember your business is how they make a living and feed their families, and usually, the Tuk-Tuk drivers were very friendly. After a bit of persuasion, we decided to take a Tuk-Tuk city tour around the city, in which we saw the old city and the newly built part. During our trip, we stopped at many attractions, like the war monument, many Buddhists temples, and the Grand Palace. Although our day was pretty ‘tame’ compared to our whole Asia experience, for once it was nice to chill and just take in the city. The breeze you get in the back of a Tuk-Tuk is always very welcome!
During our second day, we decided to again go by Tuk-Tuk and experience Phnom Penh. During the day we visited Monkey temple, where we got to hand feed some bananas to the monkeys there. One little monkey wasn’t allowed to be fed as the big monkey, unfortunately, get very territorial over the bananas. After we visited a temple in the shape of a boat, a quite strange temple, and you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that it’s called Boat temple. This was included in the package we negotiated down, but if it wasn’t we wouldn’t recommend. The temple is nothing special and not worth going out of your way in our opinion. An activity we did enjoy was visiting Silk Island and its surrounding temples. Having to get a ferry boat over, we first visited a family’s house to see the weaving process. It looks quite a difficult task, and if you like you can purchase a pure silk scarf, tablecloth or other garments at a much lower price than you would get it at home. We then went to a more ‘industrial’ place (although not like you would see at home) where they made silk on a slightly larger scale. We got to see the silkworms here and learned more about how the silk was actually produced. There are a few other attractions at the site, such as a few (caged) animals. One of our highlights of our day was sitting on a big swing chair and just looking over the river and listening to our tour guide tell us about his life, and experience with the Khmer Rouge. Although we had to leave just before seeing a good sunset, it was a really enjoyable way to end our trip to silk island. We made one more stop off at the so-called Golden Temple. Again, the name literally explains what it is, a golden temple. However, unlike the Boat Temple, we really enjoyed walking around all the golden temples and buddhas. It had a lot more to offer and a lot more to see. Throughout our trip to Asia thus far, we had been trying local cuisine wherever we went. However, we decided to go and eat some western food at a burger place close to our hostel. The place called ‘Cousins’ was a French-owned restaurant and it served amazing food. The burgers were some of the best we have ever had, and we didn’t think we would be saying that in Cambodia.
The next day involved a bike tour that we had booked before leaving for Asia. The tour group consisted of us, two Australian guys, and our tour guide. After cycling for a couple of hours, we reached our first destination, another silk weaving family. Here we tried some locally grown fruit: rambutans, mangosteens and dragon fruits. I have to say that these tasted delicious. After we had eaten we set off again and stopped at a local primary school where the kids suddenly became more interested in us than they did their studies. This was great fun as every child wanted a hug and a high five. The Cambodian children almost made you feel like you were a celebrity, and this was another fitting example of the welcoming feeling you got from the place. Finally, we ended our 5hour cycle tour seeing some temples and being blessed by a monk. We found this very interesting and enjoyed the experience as we had never been blessed by a Buddhist monk before.
On day 4, we met up with a friend that we had met in Malaysia. After having a catch-up and breakfast together, we decided to visit the Royal Palace and the National Museum and not do much else. The Royal Palace was a great piece of architecture, but it seemed a bit pricey for what you get to do. You are not allowed to walk inside the actual palace, which for us really killed the buzz. Nevertheless, the National Museum was very interesting and had hundreds and hundreds of artifacts spanning back over 1000 years. The Museum was a time warp into Cambodian culture and history and is worth taking a look. Most of you will be happy to know that beer is incredibly cheap in Cambodia. With beer only being 50 cents during happy hour, we decided to have a little bit of a night out for the first time since arriving in Phnom Penh. We eventually stopped at an Irish bar at the end of our pub crawl and watch Wimbledon, where Nadal lost in nearly a 5-hour match. Safe to say one of us wasn’t happy the match went on too long.
Even though we went out the night before, we got up early so we could visit Tuol Sleng Prison (S21) and Cheoung Ek Killing Fields. As someone who is immensely interested in history and politics, learning about the genocide in Cambodia really frustrated me. In the West, we don’t get taught about it, either at all or in any kind of depth. It’s hard to believe that the atrocities committed here by the Khmer Rouge happened only 40 years ago, and the places both feel so surreal. Almost all the local people of Cambodia have been affected by and lost family members to the evil deeds of the Polpot Regime. It made us reflect just how lucky we are that not only are we able to live in a free country, but were able to visit Cambodia and learn about the culture, history and the remarkable progress it has made since. One of the policies of the Khmer Rouge was to execute any educated people to prevent possible uprisings, and it is thought by many that this is a large part of the causation of Cambodia’s poverty-stricken situation. Comparable only to places such as Auschwitz, if you visit the country you really must visit these places to be able to take into consideration the scale of the nefariousness of the Khmer Rouge.
On our final day in Phnom Penh, we decided to make it all about the markets. The Central Market in the daytime is huge and is so easy to get lost in (trust us, we did). We must have walked down the same aisle thinking it was a different one over 5 times. As someone who doesn’t have a massive interest in markets, I had to say I really did enjoy this one. In fact, both of us did! With clothes being so cheap, we decided to buy a few tops each as we wanted something that would fit the climate and also stop the constant “Tuk-Tuk?” calls. Obviously, we opted for the ‘No Tuk-Tuk T-shirt’ each, and you’ll be surprised to hear that they didn’t work.
All in all, although we agreed that we spent far too long in Phnom Penh and could have done everything in a much smaller time frame, we did thoroughly enjoy our stay. The people really did make us feel welcome, especially our Hostel, the Sla Boutique which we can recommend. We would defiantly recommend visiting Phnom Penh so you can visit S21 and the Killing Fields, but we wouldn’t stay there as long if we went back. Again, it comes down to not pre-booking your travel arrangements, as we would have left for Siem Reap a couple of days earlier if we hadn’t already paid for the bus and hostel.
View the rest of our Cambodia pictures here