The Capital of Cambodia: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh was my first destination in Cambodia and it is the capital. I took a bus for 9 USD from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh and the trip took around 7 hours. Crossing the border was easy. The bus company took care of the visas by asking passports and money (35 USD) and everything went smoothly. The first thing I saw in Cambodia were big casinos at the border, which was quite surprising. There weren’t many hotels or houses so it made me think that who goes to the casinos near the border?!

A pickup from the bus stop was included in the hostel room price so I had no problem to find the hostel because there was a taxi driver waiting for me at the bus stop. The hostel is near Wat Phnom which I went to see on the first day. I didn’t go anywhere else on that day because I was dead tired after the bus trip. I went to sleep at 9 am! The night was crazy because I saw couple of dreams that felt real and I wasn’t sure if they were dreams or not. The other dream was a repetition of the other day when I bought sunglasses. Except in this dream the vendor didn’t sell the sunglasses to me. After I woke up I had to check that do I have the sunglasses or not :-D and I did have them. The other dream was a bit more thrilling.. I saw a dream where the guy on the next top bunk bed was singing extremely loud in the middle of the night and I asked him to sing in the morning or when people are not sleeping. I found out later from others that he was actually hitting and kicking his bed and fighting about something… I still don’t know if I said anything hehe..

My second day in Phnom Penh was pretty boring because I stayed almost the whole day in the hostel. I had to sacrifice one day for school assignments because they have a deadline so I had no choice. And it is my last university course so I didn’t actually mind. I spend most of the time in the bar / restaurant area where they play good music, the chairs are comfortable and it is a kind of an outdoor area.

On the third day I finally had time to go and see what Phnom Penh has to offer. I left already 9 am because I woke up quite early again, and I came back to the hostel around 4:30 pm so I spent quite many hours in the downtown. I decided to walk as much as I can and take a tuk tuk when I get tired. After doing almost nothing for two days, except sitting, I just wanted to walk around. First I went to National Museum of Cambodia which was a bit of a disappointment. The entrance fee was 5 USD which is quite a lot. Due to the high price I was expecting something great but the museum was just full of ancient sculptures. I usually skip sculptures but this time I couldn’t.. At least they had really nice and interesting sculptures of Buddhas and Hindu gods (Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva). The museum building and its yard were really nice too. But I wouldn’t say that all this was worth of 5 USD.

After the National Museum I visited Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which was about the horrible genocide that happened right after the civil war. The genocide ended in 1979 which is only 36 years ago. 2 million people were killed. The history and the recorded evidence are very disturbing. The rulers of Khmer Rouge, that was behind the genocide, forbidded education and thought that power lies in work. People were forced to work and people who somehow seemed “suspicious” or opposite to forced labor were put to prison or were killed or something else horrible happened to them. The prison time was full of sadistic torture. Just awful to hear and see. I decided to skip Killing fields because I think Tuol Sleng museum has shown me enough of this part of the history of Cambodia. Plus it is a bit expensive to go there because it is a bit far from the city.

I guess going to sleep early and waking up early feels natural now so I won’t try to force myself to change it even thought I’d like to wake up later. Today I woke up early again and went to see the Royal Palace. Because I was quite efficient yesterday, I had nothing special left for today. So I just walked around the city, went to the river and enjoyed the warm breeze and had an ice coffee and a fruit shake. The Royal Palace was really nice even thought I think that the entrance fee was quite high again, 6,25 USD. You enter to a yard which is full of beautiful buildings and nice flora. Visitors need to dress conservatively here. I also got a sunburn today because I was careless and forgot to put more sun cream. The sun and the weather seemed a lot hotter today compared to yesterday.

I also encountered today two young girls who were selling bracelets. I was sitting on a bench near the river and the girls came in front of me and laughed a bit. Then they explained that they had tried to guess what is my nationality. The other one guessed Japanese and the other one Chinese. I laughed a bit too hehe.. Then they asked me that what is my home country and I had to explain a bit because they had never heard of it (like most of the Vietnamese and Cambodians who had asked my nationality). They said that they aren’t selling anything because they have a free day but of course they tried selling me the bracelets. I said that I have only 1 USD extra so if they agree I can buy a bracelet from both of them with this one dollar. They gave me great discount and I let them pick me the bracelets. We talked a bit and it is hard to not be sad when you hear that kind of stories. They were really cheerful, full of joy but still didn’t possess much.

Overall I enjoyed Phnom Penh a lot. I was a bit surprised about the higher prices because I thought Cambodia would be cheaper than Vietnam. But I have heard that Phnom Penh is more expensive than for example Siem Reap. Basically all the meals that I had (breakfast and dinner) cost around 3 USD (from the cheapest end) and the tuk tuks were quite expensive (one trip in the city 2-4 USD). I had really yummy fruit shakes that cost only 1-2 USD and the motorcycle taxis are cheaper than tuk tuks so not everything seems expensive. The city had nice atmosphere and the people are nice and they have good sense of humour. On the other hand I got the impression that there are more poor people (or they are more visible), there were more children selling stuff and I also encountered few beggars (old and disabled people). I also saw how a woman left a baby on a pavement and left somewhere. The baby was on an asphalt without pants and only a thin blanket under him/her. I don’t know how that ended but I didn’t feel comfortable and I am afraid to see other disturbing things..

Comments about the hostel Eighty8 Backpackers:

  • Rooms, beds and washroom are ok
  • Receptionists seem not very proactive, and when you are asking something it feels like you are disturbing them
  • Bar staff ok and the food is good (also prices very affordable)
  • Breakfast not included
  • There were two blackouts during my stay, and the internet isn’t very good which made me write this post twice and once the restaurant “forgot” my order because of the internet (kitchen didn’t get the information)
  • There is a pool and a pool table (freeee)
  • Bed in a mixed dorm (6 people) is 7,75 USD per night
  • For some reason I got 3 USD voucher to the bar..