After a morning being ferried form boat to boat to packed bus we finally arrived in the centre of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. It’s decidedly western capitalist feel is pretty much everywhere. It has a very open, wealthy and marketing savvy approach to business. You can really see that all of Cambodia’s business flows through here.
We had fun negotiating a price with a tuk tuk driver who got us to the Top Banana Hostel. We’d read about the place in the guide and decided it was for us. Akin to house sharing when you’re a student. It’s a very laid back place. More than it’s fair share of bean bags, friendly staff, a very relaxed vibe and boasts a great terrace overlooking the city. Perfect!
We settled in and decided after a long morning of traveling we needed to chill out so grabbed some food at the hostel and chilled out with a beer. The food was amazing, indeed every meal we had there was fantastic. Western and Khmer.
We went for a walk in the evening and found our way to the Tonle Sap riverside, said to be the prettiest area of Phnom Penh. We couldn’t really see anything to be able to tell! We wandered along looking for an appealing bar or restaurant and stumbled upon the famous FCC. The Foreign Correspondence Club. A colonial style building with great Khmer beer and great food too. The walls decorated with amazing photography and the occasional Gecko near each wall mounted light.
Our first full day in Phnom Penh gave us a chance to venture out in a Tuk Tuk to the infamous “Killing fields” or “National Genocide Center”. I’m not sure which sounds less inviting but it was a worthwhile visit to get more educated on an era of unimaginable horror for hundreds of thousands of Khmer. Once again our travel plans were thwarted for just a few minutes while our tuk tuk got a puncture and had to be repaired in the tiny village we passed through. A rare treat for us, a pain for our tuk tuk driver! Once at the Killing fields site a very helpful guide was able to shed more light on the subject as we walked around the monument and excavated pits. The rows of skulls do little to help you connect them to such atrocities. One element of the site which really did connect you was the clothes of the dead slowly appearing through the ground you walk on as the heavy rain each year washes more dirt away. It’s an unnerving sight, one which I won’t forget.
Phnom Penh is the first place we’ve come across on our travels where the price of food was relatively expensive. No doubt much of that was our own doing by choosing restaurants that clearly weren’t the cheapest around. You can eat for a dollar if you look hard enough but most tourists are attracted to the western looking restaurants where food is usually around $8 a meal with beer around $2.
We got chatting to some great people at our hostel. A group of people from Brighton (naturally) who are working in Cambodia. Canadians, Americans and Finnish too either traveling through or in most cases spending at least a month in Phnom Penh, enjoying the Khmer culture.
Our time there was brief. Our second full day was spent getting up late, chilling by the pool in the hotel next door to the Top Banana. It’s free use if you spend over $5 which is easily done in Phnom Penh. In the afternoon we visited the breathtakingly shiny and impressive Royal Palace. Khmer architecture and art is quite stunning and every building within the walls of the Palace was very well presented and accessible to the public. All but the rather strange derelict building that on closer inspection happen to be Nepoleon’s house during the french occupation of Cambodia. A dilapidated french town house that looks wildly out of place next to all the golden shimmering buildings.
We really enjoyed our time in Pnom Penh. It’s amazing Khmer character and charm mixed with modern day Wester Amenities and business make it a friendly and inviting place. Not what most people expect from Cambodia.
An early start and another bus, this time heading on Battambang. I made use of the book exchange at the Top banana and grabbed me a new novel to read.