63-65 Phnom Penh Cambodia

See trip index here, Cambodia index here, and more photos from Cambodia here

On day 63 we entered our fourth country on this trip – Cambodia. We have to admit, prior to this trip we knew nothing about Cambodia except the infamous Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, and perhaps we had heard of Ankor Wat.  Chatting to people along our route, Cambodia got mixed feelings – some people hated it and wanted to get out quickly.  There were also travellers tales of corruption and necessary bribes…

And so from Vietnam on the Mekong, we paid $22 for our Visa – which was actually $20 plus $2 beer fund to get us in.  Everyone had to pay $22.  The Sinhtourist trip worked well till our last minibus where we had to get out overcrowded van and walk when the road was rough, and then dropped everyone in the middle of nowhere except a load of expensive TukTuks…

With my Android phone and GPS maps, it wasn’t actually a big issue as we knew where we were and where to go – so when quoted $8 to get there we laughed, said we have GPS and its not that far to walk, and as we walked off he agreed to the $2 price which in truth was fair.  Oh dear…  Is this what it is going to be like…?

Our guesthouse was basic but clean and as expected, and very friendly, and we went wandering…

And what a very pleasant surprise!  The only annoyance is the constant “Hello – TukTuk?” – but apart from that it is a great place to visit. Instantly we were very happy buying food off the street for genuine prices, and happily surprised we can read road signs and menus etc.  French and English are in most places and its very easy to get by, and there is no feeling of being scammed as there was in Hanoi.  I even had a lovely street burger with local touches, and made with so much effort it was like the scene out of Love Actually where Roan Atkinson was wrapping the Christmas present.  Superb and fresh for about 80p.

The only real negative is that many of the bars are for the many sex-pats who live or holiday here, where “friendly girls” are always good company.  Seems fairly open and one of the local magazines has a 2-page article on how to choose them!  Weird, but harmless and non aggressive, and there are plenty of other bars.

Great positives are decent coffee and cappuccino sorely missed in ‘Nam; lovely ice-cream; and even a Euro-standard supermarket with everything you can find in the UK – even Cheddar cheese!  As well as the familiar feeling, you do get the chaos and adventure feel as you do in Hanoi – just on a lower stress setting.

Phnom Penh has many large open spaces, and walking around is easily done.  The S21 prison is the first insight into the Khmer Rouge regime – where a primary school was used as a prison and a torture area for pretty much everyone the regime didn’t like.  During their reign the cities were evacuated and like ghost towns.  Some quite horrifying bits in there, but a bit dated. 

The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda were also worth a visit, with a huge similarity with the Bangkok Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew – even down to the model of Ankor Wat.  The Bangkok palace is more colourful and restored, but the Palace in Phnom Penh is still very much a must see and mightily impressive.

After a couple of markets and monuments Mel decided to have a hair cut, so for $2 someone cut it but were too scared to take it as short as she wanted.  Still a vast improvement and no longer resembles a birds nest.  From the new shopping centre you can climb to the top, through a restaurant, and right to a walkway with impressive city views – and a good view over the central market where Mel tried to get some new underwear.   Now Mel isn’t the biggest of girls, but she struggled to get anything that wasn’t Bridget-Jones sizes!

More walking took us to the never-really-used Olympic stadium – bet it cost a lot less than the ones we’re building in London!  And then on to Wat Phnom – which means Hill Temple.  Hence Phnom Penh is so called because a lady called Penh founded the temple – hence Penh’s Hill – Phnom Penh.  Which is pronounced in Cambodia as “p-nom pen”.

A rather pleasant start to Cambodia, and if it continues like this we’re amazed it isn’t on everyones holiday radar yet…

Next installment here

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