Phnom Penh, Cambodia – a surprisingly enjoyable city! We extended our planned three night stay to a full week to check out some charity, roller skating, and catch a movie (in a bed!) If Hanoi, Vietnam is like a hyper assertive no nonsense friend then Phnom Penh, Cambodia is your kind, calm cousin, waiting on hand to help you out.
First Impressions Phnom Penh, Cambodia
First impressions on arrival – this city is very westernised. There’s billboards everywhere and large concrete buildings and more tuk tuks than mopeds. We pre paid our visa online for ease which I recommend, it brought about a swift entry (unlike Hanoi). We got a taxi for $10 to the city centre from the airport and were hit by shoeless children begging for money when we were stopped at traffic lights. It was very hard to look at their faces, heart wrenching actually. We were later told by a New Yorker that now runs a bar in Cambo (after falling in love with a Cambodian woman – a lady of night) not to give them money, it’s an organised business. He also told us a lot of the kids do go to school, school runs in four hour slots so if they are begging in the morning they go in afternoon. I really hoped that was true.
Things to Get Over
On the first night we took a tuk tuk down to the waterfront and had dinner in a Tenerife style restaurant which sold Findus Crispy Pancakes (just after the horse meat scandal!) They travel well… The initial feeling you have to get over is hate, hate for the overweight white European men walking the promenade with their young Cambodian wives/girlfriends. Every second person sitting on the wall is in this situation. What is exciting is to see such a well used vibrant waterfront – the water is filthy looking but the path is filled with people doing aerobics and kids playing football. Unfortunately there are heaps of street children trying to sell you DVDs also.
Charity in Cambodia
Day two we met the charity Choice Cambodia at 9am at a named pub where we were briefed by the Australian man that runs the charity. We drove for about an hour, passing the shack houses next door to the rich Khmer houses, and arrived at the primary school. We were left to interact with the children, Craig opted to go on the water run to the village. He saw shacks with nothing in them bar massive sound systems. We bought lunch from the school cook. I was then asked to go on the school bus with the students. They sang and giggled and jumped off when they saw their houses. These kids have nothing but they are happy.
Their families set up homes on the side of private land – basically squatter’s rights, in the hope of work on the farm in high season. Choice offers their children education and when the kids are older and their parents want them to leave school to work, they try and find work for them also. They also offer help with healthcare. On the way home we were shown around another village (houses on stilts- that’s dirty water).
An elderly many was very sick, the charity drove him to the hospital and gave him $25 to help with his stay. He had some sort of health insurance card that would cover most of it. This village relies on the jasmine fields next to them, they make ornaments out of the jasmine, travel into the city and sell them to tourists to make money. It was a great experience to see life outwith the city and the improvements that a charity can make beating the bureaucracy. This is the part of the trip that my school kids have enjoyed discussing the most, that and in dog/cat eating in Vietnam.
Where to Eat in Phnom Penh
That night we met new friends who we first met in Hanoi (beauty of travelling) at Friends Restaurant (how apt). This was a unique experience as your food is made and served by ex street children. You need to the queue but not for long (we grabbed a cheeky tin from the newsagent across the road). The food was genuinely delicious and the cocktails even better.
The turnaround is pretty quick as it’s so popular so we went for a few drinks to the Foreigner’s Correspondents Club. It was nothing to write home about, it’s on the second floor so you can watch the waterfront but that’s about it. Pretty much could be said for the main drinking area too – Street 51. The area where guidebooks rave about, unless you are looking for a wee Asian bird don’t bother. A tuk tuk driver took us to a bar to play pool where we met the New Yorker mentioned above.
Hotels in Phnom Penh
We stayed at The Frangipani Living Arts Hotel & Spa and man alive were we impressed.
It had two pools, one on the rooftop and two bars. The rooms were massive and private with a TV and warm shower all for about £15 each. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful. It was a bit further out than the main drag but I wouldn’t really want to be staying there to be honest. The hotel had tuk tuks out front and we paid no more than $3 to get to the water front (which we were told was more than enough so you could haggle more).
Craig lost his phone in the tuk tuk, I called the hotel from the restaurant and low and behold the Iphone was there. That just would not happen in Scotland – a nod to the kindness of Cambodians.
Have you been to Phnom Penh?