Phnom Penh in a nutshell, Cambodia
We decided to head over to Phnom Penh on a lark, one of my best friends and I. It was her birthday and we figured it would be fun to celebrate together. By this time, we had already headed to Siam Reap, Cambodia’s famous daughter. Our decision to go to Phnom Penh started with a question most of us have asked ourselves “Why not?”
Phnom Penh is known mainly for its sad history, its killing fields. In the blood bath with the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh was where the genocide plans were mostly centralized. You visit the city with a sense of foreboding, this sense of wonderment at how badly human being can treat each other. But we must also keep an open mind and know that we also visit to remind ourselves of these monstrosities, and to remind ourselves that we need to do better.
We landed in the city and grabbed a cab straight to our hotel – the Blue Lime Inn. Tucked in a little corner towards the end of a busy street, it was pretty much what we were looking for. A boutique little hotel with a hidden oasis pool. Breakfast by the pool was fabulous, nicely shaded with a wonderful array of fruits. We weren’t that far from the main area, and walked around a bit enjoying the small streets. To get into the city area from here, all we had to do was walk outside our hotel. There is always a whole range of tuk tuk drivers that will bring you into the city area for a total fee of USD2-3. Ask to be dropped off by the waterfront. You could also easily walk to the city area in about 15 minutes otherwise.
There is a wonderful array of restaurants/ cafes and bars by the waterfront. Rows and blocks of them lining the side. They don’t actually face the river itself, but most have a nice terrace to relax at. We had dinner one night at Friends restaurant. The food was good and their staff members are actually made up of reformed former street youths. You help them stay off the streets.
One place that was a must see was the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) for drinks and food. It has an amazing rooftop view and an incredible preserved setting that evokes sentiments of Cuba. Relish, relax, and pretend you were a journalist back in the day, covering the war and coming to this café for some much needed relief and camaraderie.
Another place we really enjoyed was Brasserie De Durga which was conveniently located near the Central Market. Unfortunately I just found out the restaurant has been closed. You could also head out to the numerous restaurants by the waterfront. My only caution is that it can be hit or miss. Or you can head over for one of their ‘happy pizzas’ and not have a miss. =)
My friend and I did this trip as a nice slightly long weekend, flying in on Friday and out on Sunday.
Friday night: Headed out for dinner at Friends Café, then walked around the fun (but small compared to Asian standards) night market for some walking around.
Saturday: We rented a car for half a day and headed off to Tuol Seng Prison. This wasn’t a ‘fun’ place. It used to be a school until the Khmer Rouge came and turned it into a prison known as the S21. They kept prisoners in appalling conditions and massively tortured them. So much so that they wired the space in between the floors so that you couldn’t even commit suicide.
We then headed over to the Killing Fields. Just as bloody and barbaric, this was where they would take the victims and execute them. Some legends vary, but there is a killing tree identified as a place where the soldiers would beat babies against the trunk to kill them. They also used to play loudspeaker music to drown out all the crying and screaming of the dying. Right in the center, to commemorate the area is a huge monument filled with the skulls of the dead.
After learning about the sad and gruesome parts of Phnom Penh, we headed for more light hearted areas visiting the Russian Market. A maze market place selling the usual (if you’re Asian this is pretty usual) knick knacks. It was called the Russian market as it used to cater to or were run by Russians.
In the afternoon, we decided to laze about and headed off to lunch at Brasserie De Durga (now closed) and to Central Market. Which is like the mecca for all things blingy, glittery and jewellery.
In the evening, we decided to laze about even more (can you tell how much we loved travelling here) and headed off to one of the spas along the waterfront for a wonderful massage. We both got the Khmer massage which is quite similar to a Thai massage – lots of stretching and moving you body rather than them massaging you while you lay down quietly. Though it was less intense and physical than a usual Thai massage.
Sunday: We opted for a lazy Sunday relaxing and enjoying our breakfast by the pool. We then slowly pulled ourselves outside and walked around to enjoy another cup of coffee at the FCC. We did stop by the National Museum but were not in the mood to enter, so can’t tell you how good it is but just to let you know its there if you want to do something indoors.
In the afternoon sun and lull, my friend and I decided to do what I consider was the best thing of all. We offered a tuk tuk driver USD 8 to just drive us around the city for about an hour. It was amazing! Nice and slow, you enjoy the heat and the breeze blowing in your face, you get to see so much more than you normally would otherwise including driving around in their suburban areas. Lazing around with your best friend. I truly recommend doing this.
By evening, we had walked around the waterfront, gone serious souvenir shopping and headed off back to the airport to head home.
It may not sound like much to some of you, but Phnom Penh was easily one of my most favourite vacations. Maybe it was the company, but it was the perfect balance between really seeing a place, and having a truly relaxing trip. The people are friendly, the currency is cheap, and the food is good. I would go back to Phnom Penh in a heartbeat, especially from many of these low cost carrier locations.