Phnom Penh people

Memorable week in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

During our Asia trip, the second country we visited was Cambodia and we stayed in the capital Phnom Penh. In this post I’ll describe, what we did, experienced and what I learned about the country, while staying there.

What I learned about Cambodia

Cambodia has a really sad history. Before going to the country, I had heard about the genocide that took place in the 70s, but I didn’t know much about it. We visited The Killing Fields of Phnom Penh to learn about the history of the country. We took the audio tour to learn what exactly had happened.

Phnom Penh Killing Fields

It was terrible to see and hear, that more than 2 million people were killed during Khmer Rouge time, which was between 1975-1979. All the people were innocent and they were forced to work hard, they were tortured and killed. The regime in the country was terrible and people were forced to leave their families. The government believed that there is no place for smart, intelligent and talented people. All people were forced to be farmers to serve their country with doing basic farm work.

Phnom Penh Killing Fields

Their goal was to purify the people, which were also indications of racism. Therefore, basically all the teachers, doctors, advocates were tortured and killed. Cambodia lost 25% of their total population of the country due to this awful regime. This has left a true mark on the country and their people. The Killing Fields we visited, was one of the places, where the massacre happened.

Phnom Penh city

I had a little bit of cultural shock in Phnom Penh. I didn’t expect to see that the country is quite poor and the capital is so full of rubbish. There is so much garbage on the streets, in the canals, in the river. There are many people living very modestly. I got to see that many families were living in small houses, where they also worked – by selling food on the street from their house. Or having a small shop right inside their house. The children are playing on the streets, often barefoot and with limited toys.

The traffic in Phnom Penh, as was in Bangkok, was quite chaotic. There are thousands of motorbikes, tuk-tuks and cars. There are only limited amount of traffic lights. The normal way is to have some “whistler guys” on the roads, who whistle, to notify, when it’s time to move. This was quite strange. Also, crossing the road is quite impossible, if you’re not daring enough. There is no chance that somebody just stops, you have to be persistent and just step on the road.

Carrying stuff on motorbike in Cambodia

The people of Cambodia

The people are very kind though. They always smile and wave at you. People try to help you and speak to you sometimes, but their English is very limited. We maybe found a few people, who could understand us. The street vendors, tuk-tuk drivers and even restaurant staff don’t really know any English. Also, we learned that people are quite modest and shy. They tend not to speak very much with strangers. But they all seem very hard-working and dedicated in what they do.

Cambodian family on motorbike

The children gave us a lot of attention and were really excited as we walked by. They know how to say “hello” and sometimes a few extra words in English as well. It seems like the people there haven’t got used to foreigners that much, as they were staring all the time. Every time we were walking on the streets, all the people were not just looking and turning away, but they were STARING at you, like they saw a white person for the first time. Some people were even staring with their mouth wide open, which was truly funny and weird.

Staying with a local

We stayed in an Airbnb apartment with a host from Nigeria. We stayed in Phnom Penh for 7 days and payed about 100€ for a private room in a condo. Our place wasn’t in the city center, we had to grab a tuk-tuk taxi to get to places. The ride to city center took about 30 minutes, depending on the traffic. The place looked good and better than some other apartments I checked out. It also had a gym on the rooftop, that I could use. It was small and dirty, but I could get my workout done anyway.

Our host Remmy told that there are many Nigerians living in Cambodia, which was an interesting fact that we also didn’t know. He is a businessman shipping clothes and shoes from Cambodia to his home country. Remmy explained that the Cambodian quality of apparel is really good and these items can be sold with a quite high price in Nigeria. He also gave us a pair of jeans and a shirt as a souvenir, when we left.

Phnom Penh bar

The guy was really helpful with tips and explaining how the life in Phnom Penh is. He took us to a local bar, where he likes to hang out. The bar was popular among locals, who aren’t originally from Cambodia, but who have moved there from other countries.

Be careful with catching an illness

Unfortunately, we weren’t so lucky in Phnom Penh. Me and Siim both got food poisoning on the 3rd day we were there. We’re not exactly sure, what gave us the poisoning, but we thought maybe the ice (as it’s normally made from tap water) or maybe some fruits we bought from the store. The illness was quite bad and rough. I had stomach aches, stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea and headaches. It lasted about 2,5 days.

We couldn’t go anywhere I had planned, because it would have been too much, since we had to visit the bathroom like 3 times in one hour. So we spent 2,5 days basically lying on the bed and feeling sick. Wasn’t good at all and it ruined our stay in Phnom Penh a litte bit. I really wanted to visit seaside area and Siem Riep as well, but since we had the illness we had to skip the trips and stay in Phnom Penh only.

What to do in Phnom Penh?

We visited Wat Phnom, which is a temple in the city center, surrounded by a huge park. You can walk in the park and have a look inside the temple as well. Looks really beautiful and has a good view from the top.

Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh

There are a lot of markets to visit as well. We visited the Central Market and the Russian Market. I liked the Russian Market more, because there were more souvenirs and interesting stuff to buy as gifts. Also, many food and drink places. The Central Market was cool to see as well, but it had a lot of jewels, clothes and raw meat and fish, which didn’t appeal to us.

Central Market of Phnom Penh

I really enjoyed walking on the Riverside Promenade of Phnom Penh. The promenade offers great views. There are fitness classes going on, there is an outdoor gym, many restaurants, bars and street vendors.

Riverside of Phnom Penh

We also took a boat tour on the river. We took the tour to see the sunset. It was relaxing and nice to stroll along the river. It cost us about 4-5€ per person and we just randonly stumbled upon the boat cruises and decided why not.

Sunset Boat trip in Phnom Penh

We tried some local food places as well. For example, we found a great brunch spot named Vibe, which served us with awesome pancakes. We also tried local food in a food court in a supermarket, some street food (which wasn’t good) and a restaurant, where we had fish amok and some chicken, which was gooood. We didn’t try much street food, because we weren’t sure of the cleanliness of the places. But I guess if you Google the places and ask from some locals for tips, then you can find great food with extremely cheap prices. For example, food plate in a supermarket cost about 2€.

Phnom Penh Street Food
Phnom Penh restaurant Vibe

In conclusion

I would say that I wasn’t a fan of Phnom Penh. The city has some good attractions and activities that you can do there, but I found it a bit poor, dirty, loud and not as interesting as I would have hoped. Of course, our health was one issue, that didn’t allow us to visit other places in the country. In the future, if I had the opportunity, I would come to Cambodia for some other destinations, where I could enjoy some nature.

Hope you liked this post and found some useful or interesting information about Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Melissa 🖤

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