Take A Detour To Cambodia’s Capital And Check Out Its Charm
Forget the clichéd and well trodden stopovers that are so familiar in South East Asia and go that extra mile to Phnom Penn instead.
Although there are not direct flights from Europe or North America into Cambodia at present, the country is well connected to its South East Asian neighbours. From Bangkok, take a short flight over to Phnom Penn and see what Bangkok might have looked like a decade or two ago before the hordes of hennaed, corn-rowed backpackers descended on Thailand. Time rich but cash poor? Combine the Cambodian capital with an overland route from Bangkok via Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples and really take the opportunity to see what Cambodia has to offer.
Phnom Penn – A City With Attitude
On arrival in Phnom Penn, the city can seem quite over-whelming. It is certainly a city with personality and character, and if arriving by land, the first moments of leaving the safety of the air-conditioned bus and jumping into a clamouring crowd of tuk-tuk drivers can create a feeling of complete chaos and panic. Arriving by air gives a little more time to adjust to the feel of the city, so this might be the better option for novice travellers in this part of the world.
Backpacker Haven At The Boeng Kak Lake
For those shoe-string travellers with a few dasy to explore, a fair amount of budget accommodation is located on the banks of Boeng Kak Lake area, but it is imperative to check out the accommodation on offer before parting with any money. The seedy side to Phnom Penn never lurks too far beneath the surface but can be minimised with a little research and careful consideration before checking in to a hotel or guesthouse. Described by one guidebook as, “Ko Pha-Ngan without the Gulf of Thailand,” the area around the area around Boeng Kak lake is definitely a great place to chill out, with several guesthouses perched over the edge of the lake and most boasting bars, restaurants and general chill out areas dangling over the water.
A twin, air-conditioned room with attached bathroom around this part of town will only set you back around 8-12 USD in the almost identically priced guesthouses; real budget travellers could abandon the air-con, making do with a ceiling fan and the breeze from the lake, for only 4USD or even less. This standard of rooms can also be found in many other popular touristy areas of town if the lakeside scene doesn’t appeal.
Royal Place And The Russian Market
One problem that Phnom Penn does not have is the issue of transport. Numerous tuk-tuk drivers loiter in the streets all day, ready to be of service. This means that all the most famous, and infamous, sites that the city has to offer are easily reached as a half day trip or less from Phnom Penn’s city centre. The Royal Palace is a must-see, providing a stark contrast of wealth against the ever present backdrop of poverty that the city fails to hide. Shopping at any of the huge, maze-like markets dotted around the city centre provides a chance to stock up on clothes, DVDs, and almost anything else imaginable. And of course, a trip to Phnom Penn would not be complete without a glimpse into the country’s violent and tragic past, events that happened barely a generation ago.
S21, or Tuol Sleng Museum
S21, located near to the city centre, provides a sobering and instant reminder of Cambodia’s painful past. Tuol Sleng Museum, previously known as S21 prison, is an incredibly moving insight into what Phnom Penn would have been like at the height of the Khmer Rouge madness.
Much of the former high school has been left in the same condition as it was when the Vietnamese soldiers found it, the day they drove the Khmer Rouge from the city several decades ago. It has since been turned into a museum to remember the lives lost there and the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.
Phnom Penn is a raw, energetic and highly intoxicating city that definitely deserves a look if there are a few days to spare in South East Asia.