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Big Trip Blog Bigtripblog is a multimedia travel experience capturing the adventures of Kevin and Valerie during their one year trip around the world.

Phnom Penh

CAMBODIA | Thursday, 17 May 2007 | Views [852] | Comments [2]

Phnom Penh is small and quaint compared to most capital cities, and that’s what makes it so interesting. The scooter traffic is as manic as elsewhere in southeast Asia, yet it’s remarkably easy to navigate the city on foot, moto, or tuk-tuk. And it has a slightly rough edge to it, something many people are looking for in their travels. In this respect it didn’t disappoint. We stayed in the backpacker enclave near the lakeside, filled with your standard cheap guesthouses, restaurants offering a hodgepodge of cuisines, and bars with ridiculously cheap beer. It’s a beautiful, chilled out spot, and it is no wonder that it’s so popular. Finding a place without handing over a commission took some determination, however. Our tuk-tuk driver asked if we wanted to go to a “lakeside hotel” when we hopped in at the bus stop, and I figured that meant he would drop us off in the area. But of course, he pulled up to the “Lakeside Hotel.” The exchange was typical, with them trying everything to get us to stay, and then donning wounded looks when we refused. Upon exiting their compound we were immediately assailed by touts, drivers, hawkers, etc. The area itself is fairly small, making it very difficult to get away from the touts, and we eventually picked a room that a guy showed us. For $4 a night, it was hard to imagine how much, if any, commission that guy was getting for his efforts.

he bars and guesthouses on the lake have great views, particularly at sunset. It’s a popular place to while away the day (or days). I could see myself staying there and chilling out for weeks, if we still had the time.

Along the Tonle Sap river is where all the hipper, more atmospheric, and therefore pricier bars and cafes are. This is where most of the NGO people hang out, and there are plenty of them. Cambodia has hundreds of NGOs, and whereas lots of places in southeast Asia feel like the foreigners mingling are a mixture of travelers and various ex-pats (such as English teachers and volunteers), Phnom Penh feels like it’s predominately NGO people hanging around.

There is indeed plenty of work to be done. I think the heavy presence of non-English teaching ex-pats is what gives Phnom Penh part of its edge. And you can’t say that there isn’t a lot of drinking going on in Bangkok, or Siem Reap, but Phnom Penh is a drinking town. Day after day, all we could think to do around sunset was find a nice place to sit and have a couple of cold ones.

"You buy book?" This will sound familiar to anyone who has been to Cambodia or Vietnam. It’s impossible to sit for more than five minutes before a child approaches you at your cafe, bar, or guesthouse restaurant and says, “Hello, you buy book? Very cheap for you.” All of the books are copies, selling for a dollar or two a piece. They’ve got stacks of the titles and subjects everyone is looking for: Lonely Planets from all over (primarily places in southeast Asia on the backpacker trail), accounts from the Killing Fields, S21, Cambodian history, etc. If they’re not selling books, they’re selling flowers. It’s hard seeing such young children put to work, but life in Cambodia can be pretty hard.

We did some sightseeing around town, but the best experience by far was checking out the riverside at sunset. It’s a great time to people watch, or watch life go by in general. People are selling fruit, flowers and incense for offerings, or just hanging out. With the gentle Tonle Sap on one side and the main square, backed by the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda on the other, it’s quite a sight. Throw in hundreds of people cruising around, shopping, chatting, enjoying the evening, and the buzz and noise from dozens and dozens of motorbikes going every which way, and you’ve got a really cool place in a city that seems to be on the up and up.

Tags: Sightseeing



Hi. Now, I'm planning travel to Cambodia but still thinking how to apply the visa more easier and convenience. Do you have any suggestion to apply the visa?Please give me some advices about it. Thanks. :)

  Connie Nov 2, 2007 9:15 PM


Hi Connie,

You can try e-Visa http://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh

It's completely done by online. I used it during my trip and it's fast and easy.

I also found a very good map for Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Take a look


  nIc May 6, 2008 7:18 PM

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