Commonly over-shadowed by the Temples of Angkor in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh might not be on every backpackers list, but it should be! From grand palaces to tiny cinemas, from lively roof-top bars to melancholy historical sites, Phnom is a real mix. Plus, it’s only a $13 coach ride from Siem Reap, so why not spend 48 hours in Phnom Penh? We did, and here’s what we got up to.
First stop, Street 93. Graffiti and street Art cover the walls of these narrow lanes. The area of Boeung Kak Lake used to be the backpacker hotspot in Phnom Penh, however, land developers filled in the lake to build new luxury properties. With the lake gone and the locals relocated, the travellers left too. What lies there now is a poor area, with hints of what once was (including an abandoned arcade full of broken, dusty, classic games.) Wonder through the colourful paths to see some great examples of street art, including stencils, portraits and some political themed work. The aim is to bring people back to Street 93, to rejuvenate the area. Wha they need is Banksy painting, it would fit right in and help boost it’s popularity again. (Just an idea in case you are reading this Banksy!)
Note: We paid $10 for a round trip on a tuk tuk. We had to explain it is near the Al-Serkal Mosque.
A visit to the Killings Fields of Choeung Ek and S-21 Prison is a must. Gruesome, heart-breaking and terrifying, it’s not an easy visit but an important one. The two sites tell the story of the Khmer Rouge, who after winning the Cambodian civil war, went on to kill over 2 million of their own people (1/3 of the population). The Khmer Rouge wanted to make Cambodia ‘pure’ again, and to them that meant taking it back to an agricultural society. They banned ‘normal schooling, private property, foreign clothing.’ Any ‘intellectuals, city residents, minority people’ and people who wore glasses were all tortured and executed. They took over Tuol Svay High School and turned it into a prison (S-21) where they held the kidnapped. Here they tortured and deprived them, before transporting them to the killing fields where they were brutally murdered and dumped in mass graves. This shocking act all happened quite recently, between 1975 and 1979.
Note: A tuk tuk driver can do a round trip for around $25, you then have to pay entry into both the fields and the prison, $6 each. Image taken from Google.
After all that horrible history, you’re going to need a drink! The area around Riverside was where we stayed and is the most backpacker area of Phnom Penh. Here you’ll find restaurants serving English cuisine, and rooftops bars are on every corner. Our hotel, Rachana, had a basic room and a cold shower, but the rooftop bar more than made up for it. Comfy chairs, cheap drinks and views over the streets, it’s a great spot to people watch. Another good rooftop bar is 11 Happy Backpackers. Here you’ll find pool tables and dart boards, along with happy hours on cocktails.
We also ventured further north of the Riverside, Street 104, where we read there were multiple bars. Yes, that was true, there was also multiple local women in very little clothes with a lot of make-up (I know, I sound old!) Let’s just say, it didn’t look like they were there to have a few drinks with their friends. It looked like they had other ‘business’ plans in mind.
Note: 11 Happy Backpackers was centrally located. Photo taken from Google.
You can’t visit Phnom Penh without visiting the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Trouble is, on our visit, a lot of the building’s were closed or were covered in scaffolding. We did still see plenty of ornate details, heavily decorated ceilings and beautiful architecture. This is the first palace/temple we have visited where a shawl wasn’t sufficient cover for my shoulders. We didn’t get to visit the Grand Palace in Bangkok but I heard that was the same. So instead I had to purchase a very cool ‘Royal Palace’ T-shirt for $2. That T-shirt is now Pete’s, it was one of his birthday presents, the other being the balloon!
Note: The Royal Palace is centrally located and can be easily accessible by tuk tuk or short walk.
Got a free evening? Head to The Flicks 2. What better way to celebrate Pete’s 29th Birthday than a full afternoon at the cinema! Here you pay just $3.50 for the day and can stay to watch as many films as they show! We saw two films, a British film – Sense of an Ending, and a Hollywood movie – Life, with Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal. Laid back (physically – the tiny cinema is made up of beds and loungers) with cheap beers we bought from the shop, watching two movies for $3.50, Pete is a cheap date!
Note: This is at the same venue as 11 Happy Backpacker roof-top bar. Check the daily schedule on their website. Photo taken from Google.
There is so much more that Phnom Penh has to offer that we didn’t have the time to explore everything. Although not quite as ‘travelly’ as the South East Asian capitals we have visited previously, it is still one to add to your plans. It seems to have a bad reputation, of being ‘rough round the edges’ which I think is unfair. Just go, make up your own mind. We spent 48 hours there and we loved it. Maybe we just like a bit rough!