Before I start on this journey to Phnom Penh, I have to first explain why did we choose to travel to Cambodia. It is quite amazing that the two most common comments I had when friends knew that we were traveling to Cambodia were, “Are you there for missions?” and “Why travel to such an exotic place?” My answer usually will be, “Why not? It’s cheap and something totally different from Singapore.” And this is probably the main reason why we chose Phnom Penh. Secretly I have planned to travel to all the countries in the Southeast Asia – Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos (these 5 countries are aka Indochina) & Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei and East Timor (these 6 countries are aka Maritime Southeast Asia).
Out of the 11 countries, we have visited 7 so far, and 1 more to go to complete the Indochina portion. I think I might just skip East Timor and Brunei, can’t imagine what to do there at all. Unless it’s for a purely photography trip.
So, the big question is. What can you expect in Phnom Penh? Nothing much basically, just some interesting tourist attractions and lots of motorcyclists. Unless you are willing to travel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (6-hrs bus ride), you can visit the famous Angkor Wat.
We took the early flight out to Phnom Penh on Tigerair and thankfully the hotel (The Billabong Hotel) we booked was kind enough to allow us to check-in early. I would definitely recommend this hotel which is more like a budget luxury hotel (one that provide luxurious surroundings at a budget price) that is very popular with foreigners. The place is about 30mins taxi ride from Phnom Penh International Airport, and the hotel will help you to book the airport transfer for US$12 per trip. But I overheard from one other guest from the hotel that the taxi ride will be about US$7 if you get a taxi on your own from the airport. By the way, the commonly used currency in Phnom Penh is USD or Cambodian Riel (exchange is approx. USD1 = KHR4000).
The Billabong Hotel
Took this photo outside one of the guest’s room. It must be a real treat to be able to enjoy nice fruits while having a quiet morning facing the pool. Holidays should be like this!
We booked a room with a Double-bed and two Single-bed, perfect for a family setting.
A night scene of the pool from the second floor. The hotel has only 20+ rooms, so you can expect a quiet exclusive time here in Phnom Penh. Probably one reason why many foreigners like it here. I had a chance to talk to a Canadian working in China, a German who was traveling round Cambodia for a month and a Belgian traveling the region with his family. They initially thought I was from Korea, a typical assumption I guess.
Since we planned for a 4 days 3 nights trip, the pace was to be as slow as possible, take our time to relax and truly escape from the busy life in Singapore. We did that exactly and in fact the girls were in bed around 8.30pm every night. I regretted not bringing some family mini-size games to entertain the girls, or maybe the hotel could have provided some simple games like monopoly or cards.
Traveling around in Phnom Penh is by Tuk Tuk or walk. We took Tuk Tuk transport all the time, helps that the drivers were very friendly and the cost is very cheap. If you had bad experiences with Tuk Tuk in Bangkok before, this will totally change your view about it again. More than once, our Tuk Tuk driver cautioned us about our belongings and reminded us to carry it tightly instead of just leaving it on the seat. One driver even stopped by the roadside to get us free face mask because of the dust along the trip. Excellent service. Most of them understand simple English and the cost is US$2-3 for most trips. Only the trip to the Killing Fields was US$10, mainly because the journey is about 45mins long.
Food is not a worry. As compared to Ho Chi Minh, there are lots of restaurants to choose from, and my recommendation will be either along Street 240 (the drivers will know the place, it’s quite famous) or along the riverside aka Sisowath Quay. Incidentally, we spent most of our budget on food, since the shopping is not that fantastic. Personally, I think BKK has the best shopping in this region.
Oh, must mention that the salad is very good in Phnom Penh, the vegetables are generally very fresh.
Of course if you are more daring and has a strong stomach, you can always try some of the street food vendors.
Check out this video of the only street food we tried on this trip. It was delicious!
If you are genuinely interested in shopping, then my recommendation will be to skip the malls totally (City Mall, Sorya Mall, Savanna Mall), just go straight to the Markets (Central Market or Russian Market). Central Market is just 5mins walk from our hotel and the place is very clean and airily. The shops are very neat and easy to walk around inside and outside. All the stalls will accept USD but be prepared to go with smaller change (US$1 or US$5), because most of the vendors do not hold lots of USD for business. They may sometimes accept your USD but return the change in KHR. It would be good too since you may want to purchase some other items along the way.
Along Street 240 or Sisowath Quay, you are able to find more shops that sells souvenirs and clothing. The shops surrounding the Russian Market also has such shops.
Lastly, the main interesting places in Phnom Penh are the tourist attractions, like the Killing Fields (US$6), River Cruise (US$18), Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda (US$6.50).
I will introduce a bit more of the various markets and places of interest in my subsequent posts.