Backpacking Phnom Penh, Cambodia 101

1:00:00 PM Pinoy Boy Journals 8 Comments

Phnom Penh's Royal Palace
Phnom Penh City... I love this City...

STORY: Phnom Penh, Cambodia, until now is hard for me to describe. I don't know if i like it or not. It's funny because this city is where i stayed the longest en route to Mekong River. For two weeks, i spent the best of my days walking around, doing crazy stuff, and hanging out with Khmer crew.

The city was once known as the Pearl of Asia. The capital of Cambodia is bustling city littered with temples, crumbling structures from the 60's, friendly monks and immeasurable number of dive bars, pool joints, and night clubs. 

Phnom Penh is a very hot city, literally. Never underestimate the enigmatic street connections at 12 noon. It is a city of contradictions. You can never dissect the culture, if it's conservative or liberated.

As you step out of the bus, you'll sense the craziness of Phnom Penh, and of its tuk-tuk drivers.

Early morning chill in Phnom Penh
Amidst the 5 million poor people of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the capital is also a runway show for Class A luxury cars such as Hummers, Lincolns and BMW. My good friend told me the children from wealthy families own them. The business in the country range from poultry, fashion to heroin. 

I called my Canadian friend, Adam, whose suppose to pick me up from the bus terminal. A few minutes later, he arrives with another Australian friend, Matt. Soon after, I squeezed myself as the third passenger of his Honda motorbike, and off we go to explore this city.

Hanging out with the noodle family
Living in Phnom Penh
I settled down at his apartment where i will stay for two weeks. His apartment is located few blocks away from the mall, near the old market and a few steps away from Heart of Darkness. For about $100 a month, he rents out the apartment on the third floor. With two rooms, a sala and a balcony in tow, this is an awesome deal. Nearby is a Filipino store which sells P80 Lucky Me noodles. I'm nearing a month out of the country and I badly miss familiar food so i splurged a little. 

Independence Monument in the capital city of Cambodia
Here comes the tricky part. Phnom Penh is a hit or miss kinda city. It's either you'll fall in love with the city so much or you hate it that you want to leave the soonest possible time. 

A hammock stands still in the apartment
Most of my days were spent cooling off in the balcony waiting for the heat of the sun to subside. With a music blasting on the speakers, i chill there a lot. There were days were i will open my book and read a few pages, and doze off  minutes later. When you look down, you'll see the world pass by.

Late breakfast with the expats of Cambodia
Breakfast of Champions
I would wake up around 10 in the morning depending on how my night the previous day was. We would scoot to the best breakfast place where they serve really a champion plate of bacon, hash browns and pancakes for about $3. Go back to the apartment and shower.

Madness of motorcycles at Preah Trasak, Cambodia
Walk Around the City
Some days, I would spend my days walking around the city. I would visit the market to shop, walk around the neighborhood and chat , or i would run my errands. When i'm more lazy, i would just sit in a restaurant, drink fruit shake nicely priced at $.75 and hang out with lovely Khmer girls. If i stumble upon an internet shop, i will update my blog and skype with my family. Internet costs about $1 for an hour use.

If you're wondering Where to Stay in Phnom Penh. Two choices come to mind. 

Dusk till dawn happening by the river side, Phnom Penh
The River Side
This is where most backpackers stay because of the wide variety of cheap rooms. You can choose a fan or a/c room. Most of the rooms have cable TV. Location is perfect because there's a bunch of restaurants and bars nearby.

Afternoon chill at the lake side, Phnom Penh
The Lake Side
This is so called "the ghetto" district where cheap rooms are floating on stilts by the lake. Rooms cost $5 or sometimes less than that. There are restaurants, pool tables, lounge areas with foreign DVD movies playing 24/7. You can find a good place to chill out during happy hour and watch the sunset. This is the place I would go to around 5PM to drink Anchor Beer, while my friends teaching English to Khmer kids at the preparatory school.

A pose in front of the central market in Phnom Penh
Shopping is awesome in Phnom Penh, too. But haggling is a very daunting task. Generally, most shops would sell silk art, fashion clothing, handicrafts and food.

Central Market (Psah Thmei)
It's always a delight to visit this huge market interconnecting with different buildings. The building is built with an awesome architecture in mind. The famous clock is displayed within the vast walls shaped like a giant spaceship. You can buy everything here; from toiletries, home furnishings, $1 underwear set, leather belts, branded shoes, backpacks, jewelry, designer knock offs, and bags. Name it, Psah Thmei has it. If you become tired from shopping, it's good to know that there are a dozen of restaurants and eateries within the area. 
Shoppers start early at the Russian Market
Russian Market (Psah Toul Tom Poung)
A tuk-tuk ride away from anywhere in the city is the Russian market. Stalls are right next to each other. You can buy music and movie DVD's here, baby clothes, pants, artifacts, jewelry and art. There's GAP, OLD NAVY, and A&F. If the fit is not right, you can check out the tailor next door to whip up a couple of inches on your pants.
Best seafood meal in Cambodia
It's quite confusing placing an order because the menu is in Khmer. I placed an order of stewed beef and pointed at the photo to be sure. Minutes later, my dried squid came. The best Khmer food is right by the wet market, and it's not too expensive. Anchor beer is sold for $.80 ,while most fried dishes should cost you around $2 only.
Side street food joint in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Fear Factor
If you're brave enough, go to one of the side street joints and order a plate of crickets. Can you handle it?

Crickets up for grabs in front of the Royal Palace


Ysera said...

Interesting post. I'm bound for HCM in July but I haven't given a second thought to visiting Phnom Penh because I couldn't find any interesting sites. My itinerary only included Ho Chi Minh and Siem Reap. Maybe I'll visit PP.

Now if I only knew if there was a midnight bus going to Siem Reap from HCM, my planning would be complete. Lol.

@Ysera Siem Reap is super beautiful but the real essence of traveling to Cambodia is discovering the hidden gem of the country. Phnom Penh is the real heart of the Cambodia and traveling to this side will lead you to discoveries you will never forget. i actually stayed here the longest and i think i was able to fully understand Khmer living. Although it may be hectic to some, i find Phnom Penh to be the real deal.

Check it out! I recommend visiting PP!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for finally talking about > "Why all backpackers head to Phnom Penh City, Cambodia" < Loved it!
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@Anonymous Because indeed, all backpackers seem to wind up in Phnom Penh and stay there for a very long time. Thanks for visiting!

I wasn't able to visit PP when I went to SR 2 years ago. Would love to go there too to know and feel the Khmer city living style hehe :D I enjoyed my time in Siem Real and I find the locals lovely and helpful. As they say, it's different when you reach the capital.

I love phnom penh! Withe exception of toul sleng museum which i will never visit again, everything is perfect. Haha USD100 one month sure yan? Parang gusto ko dyan magmuni muni hahaha

@Micamyx|Senyorita Phnom Penh is so different from Siem Reap. Up until now, i still really don't know if i like it there or not. But, i have no regrets visiting. i thank God that i was able to set foot on Cambodia's capital city.

@julius | lakwatserong tsinelas Phnom Penh is probably one of the few remaining cheap places to visit in South East Asia. I spent two weeks in the capital city, and spent only $150 for everything. Go, atty!