TUK TUKS, POLPOT AND A BUNCH OF NEW BUDDIES
Despite copping an eye full in Vietnam, we were sad to say goodbye to all the amazing places and people we’d met along the way. Quickly replacing these emotions was the excitement at exploring a new country, we were desperate to see what the food and people would be like. A relatively short bus ride (only 6 hours this time) and easy border crossing later and we had arrived in Phnom Penh, a city growing at a soaring rate. With such a devastating past behind it, Phnom Penh was embracing tourism and international business, the newly constructed buildings evidence of this.
An overpriced Tuk Tuk ride later and we were checking into our hostel, The Mad Monkey, a really well run hostel that offered great pub crawls, great staff and clean rooms. If you’re headed there make sure you check out their restaurant, a little pricier than your usual backpacker grub but everything we ate there was amazing and the service was top notch. We paid a solid $18 for the Standard Double Room with shared bathroom facilities, pricey considering it was a shared bathroom but it was nice to have our own space.
One thing that you need to know about Cambodia is the way they use currency, they prefer to use the almighty American dollar, but, they also use their own currency the Cambodian Riel (KHR) for smaller change. 4000 RHL is equal to $1 (USA). So don’t be confused if you use an ATM and American Dollars come out! The ATM’s are also much more frustrating as a lot of them don’t work with Mastercard or VISA. The easiest way to tell if your card will work is to look for your cards name on the ATM. Otherwise you can do what we did and try 10 different ones until you hit the jackpot!
Many tourists only spend a day or two in Phnom Penh before they head along the coast or off to Siem Reap but there’s enough to see and do for a few nights. Obviously on the top of the list is the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) and the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum which both explore Cambodia’s very dark, not-so-long-ago past. Check out of special post here. For some more uplifting activities there are plenty of markets, restaurants and things to go and see depending how long you have to explore.
We befriended some nice people our first night and all decided to chip in and see the Killing Fields and Museum together. One of the girls had organised a tuk tuk for the whole days for $10 but cause there were 5 of us the price went up to $15, not bad for $3 each for a whole day of transport. Don’t be afraid to haggle with the tuk tuk drivers, the price is negotiable and you usually will get the price you’re after. We’d recommend having 4 people per tuk tuk as it’s a bit more comfortable especially on a long Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum were both sombre attractions, giving much needed light to the atrocities that Polpot committed against the Khmer people.
We also had time to squeeze in the other sites that Phnom Penh has to offer such as the Royal Palace on the river side. Royal Palace will cost you $6 to get in or you can admire some of it’s architecture from the riverside for free if you get there after hours. The Independence Monument located in the city centre and was built in 1958 to celebrate the Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. Great place to get a couple’s photo done. Central Market is also worth a look, it’s full of gold, clothes and a wide array of interesting street food. We had some really nice meals for a tiny price, the most interesting thing was watching the locals interact as they sold fruit, noodles and drinks. We also checked out the Russian Market, a lot smaller but still had the goods! Both these markets close at 5pm so if you love these sorts of places, get an early start!
First impressions of Cambodia were excellent. The locals are friendly, prices are still cheap (although we found Vietnam slightly cheaper) and still has the the perks of Asia that you love… or hate!
PRIVATE ROOM @ THE MAD MONKEY $18USD
We decided to skip the dorm experience at the Mad Monkey and were glad to have our own private space. The room was super spacious and had air conditioning which was very welcome in the hot Cambodian heat. Shared washroom was clean with individual stalls. Food at the Monkey was really tasty although a little over the basic backpacking budget. Upstairs bar is pumping fun with a great bar hopping tour fun by fun staff.