Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Chaotic traffic, unstable electricity supply, and unsafe street with beggars and street children roaming around in mobs. That was Phnom Penh through our reading. However, after we stepped into the city by our own, we realized that the city was not as terrible as the hearsay.

We spent 4 days 3 nights at Phnom Penh. As we ventured into the city, these are what we have learned about the capital of the Land of Wonders. First, the street was safe. We strolled around with backpack and sling bag across the city without losing anything (however, that doesn't mean that we don't have to stay alert and take care of our own safety). Our night walk, from Landscape Hotel to whole area beside the river front, from Central Market (Psar Thmey) down Street 63, we met none but the peaceful and polite locals, gathered at the stalls by the roadside to enjoy their time after a long working day. Several of them had tried their very best to help us with the direction, with their very limited English.

City blends with modern and traditional architectures. The construction of high rises are eye catching in the middle of existing lower buildings.

River front at 6 pm. The busy Preah Sisowath Quay is a strong contrast to leisure and relaxing river front.

We encountered beggars and street children only once in a while. They left us alone after a polite rejection. We were advised by not to give them money, as the blind Samaritan deed would encourage them stay in poverty for the rest of their life. Several short term of electricity breakdowns occurred daily, without much effecting us.

The traffic however, was in total anarchy. That was true. Vehicles in all sizes might turn to any direction, without any signals. Bikes stopped in the middle of the road, blocking half of the traffic, just to wait for the chance to sneak across the road. Heavy vehicles parked and blocked half of the street and paralyzed the traffic. These were just a few real case that we had seen. We took time to adapt ourselves to the traffic condition there, on a tut-tut. Accident? Nope, as long as we could see. Maybe they have their own "hidden rules" to keep themselves from knocking down someone else.

During our stay in Phnom Penh, we were surprised by flash flood during our visit to the Royal Palace. A nearly one hour downpour turned the palace compound into one feet deep swimming pool. We were forced giving up our plan to visit the national museum, which is located just a few hundred meters away. Well,  besides the traffic, the unpredictable flash flood should be the next thing that we should keep an eye on.

A scene from tut-tut.

Shopping around night market with motorbike is nothing new for locals. So, we have to get used to this new shopping experience.

During our stay, we visited infamous Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Field, followed by the majestic Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, and Angkorian themed National Museum. Walking along the water front by the junction where great Tonle Sap meets Mekong River was an unforgettable experience. Delighting food (both Western and Khmer styles) and warm service offered by Daughter of Cambodia and Romdeng were great. We spent some time shopping at busy Central Market, Suriya Shopping Centre and night market. We were a little bit disappointed by predominant "Made in China" labels.

 Infamous interrogation room in Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Now, the best part of Phnom Penh- the leisure atmosphere and the people. Unlike many cities, people here were living with a slower rhythm. In late afternoon, many people gathered at the parks around the city, talking, walking, jogging, playing around with football or badminton, or even dancing together. Many  gathered at the temples and shrines as well.  People we met were polite and kind. They always smile. We couldn't really catch the hardship that they had experienced on their face. That's what we need to learn from the people in Phnom Penh- smile, even in hard time.

This photo explained much about friendliness of Cambodians. As we waved, these workers waved back with big smiles on their face.  Photo taken at river front.

English is not a common language in Phnom Penh. Even many police could only communicate in extremely simple English. Body language helped a bit, but not much. The best way to cross the language barrier- get a tut-tut driver as a translator. Most of the tut-tut drivers speak simple English, and were willing to translate for free. Mass public transports were next to zero there. Getting a taxi was hard as well. Tut-tut was the most convenient transport that we could find in the city.

Daily expenses can be low in Phnom Penh. If you are willing to take tut-tut, the fare is around USD 0.75 - 1.5 per trip within the city, depends on the distance. If you don't mind to sit under a fan squeezing with the locals, then you can enjoy a Khmer style meal within USD 2 - 3. From what we could know at Tripadvisor, top 30 hotels in Phnom Penh had offered 4 stars' service to their customers. So, we had a variety of choices there.

Tut-tut is everywhere in Phnom Penh.

Next, we will share our experience at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Field. Follow us now.

[A Trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia
[Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Cheoung Ek Killing Field]
[Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and National Museum] [Food in Phnom Penh
[Shopping and Accommodation in Phnom Penh] [All Our Destinations]

You might like to read about our sharing on our Siem Reap trip too.


  1. I find Phnom Penh very interesting as in late afternoon/early evening, everyone will go out to exercise/dance/etc together in the park...where can you find this in Malaysia?

    I still have yet to fully explore the city as well as Siem Reap properly...

    1. Agree, especially when we put the situation on KL. Maybe, the lifestyle and growing culture have long driven us far from that.

      Get a place fully explored is not easy as well. For us, we are lack of one important element for that- time. In fact, we haven't even fully exploring our own country :)

    2. I totally agree with it. Even now I have been living in KL for a year and still have yet to go to the National Monument and the Lake Garden that area. But I will for sure go there next month. I can't procrastinate anymore.

      By the way, want to share with you something. Here's a chance of winning a free trip to Komodo National Park, Indonesia. Hope you'll try it out.

  2. That's great my dear friend. We have being to these places a few times, but never wrote about them... Hope your move will motivate us to really go around KL again, and write about our capital inside out..

    Now browsing our way to indonesia. Thank you for sharing :)

  3. Detail sharing. Very helpful & Thanks. From Malaysia