I’d been to Phnom Penh last July, and to be honest, it hadn’t really grabbed me as a location. As a result, although it was still firmly on the list of places to visit, initially I was keen to keep our stay here pretty brief. Well, this is an occasion where I admit that I was wrong! Maybe the fact that this time I could take advantage of the $2 gin and tonics had something to do with it…
Yes, Phnom Penh is chaotic, hot, smelly and dusty – but that’s not exactly unusual for this area of the world. But it is also a busy, thriving city with a lot going on. It’s not quite in the league of Bangkok for stuff to do, but we certainly weren’t stuck for choice.
We stayed at Eighty8 Backpacker Hostel, in the north of the city near the riverfront, and were really impressed. It’s not the cheapest place to stay (but at $15 a night for a shared ‘pod’ for both of us it’s not exactly bad!). In terms of stuff going on though, it’s fantastic. The staff are great; the bar is cheap; there is a pool and a pool-table; the food is surprisingly good and they serve a mean full English (with actual bacon and a proper sausage). Highly recommended.
Eating out is an essential Phnom Penh experience and a real treat. The night market was a great find. Mats are laid out on the paving slabs for seating, ringed with stalls cooking noodles, curries, BBQ’s and selling drinks. A great experience, some of the nicest ‘street food’ we’ve found anywhere, and half the price of a restaurant in the city proper.
The restaurants in the city however, are superb. You name it, they’ve got it. London is the only place I’ve been where there is a wider variety of choice, and even then not for $5 a main course! Mexican, Italian, French, Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese, American, and of course local Khmer cooking. Literally ever type of cuisine you could want. And enough coffee shops to even satisfy Kat. We even found one that served ice cream made with liquid nitrogen – my Year 8’s would be proud!! Put it this way, we didn’t starve – and it’s a good job I won’t be running any marathons soon!
If I’m honest, the amount of sightseeing we did was impacted by the fact that I’d been here before – and seen the Royal Palace and the National Museum then, so we mainly contented ourselves with people watching and soaking up the atmosphere, and wandering through the many markets. Both the Russian market and the Central market, which was redone by the French in 2011, are well worth a visit.
Overall, Phnom Penh surprised us with the variety of activities on offer, although I suspect that it will remain in our memory for the Killing Fields and S-21 prison. See the next post for that update.