Cambodia – Phnom Penh
8 nights – 9 days
Cambodia is a complicated country with a complicated history. From my personal point of view, I will attempt to provide helpful information as you prepare or consider this destination.
Cambodia is a destination that I’ve looked forward to ever since I began international travel. When I mention visiting Cambodia a typical response is, “why would anyone want to vacation in Cambodia”. Yes this is a logical question for most Americans but not for me.
For me a vacation means relaxation. Vacationing is a beach, shopping or cruise. Truth is I seldom take vacations anymore, instead I do whats more of an adventure or journey. When I travel, my goal is not to kick back and relax. If this happens of course I have no problem taking it in but its not my goal.
I tend to select destinations that are very different than what I experience on a daily basis. My goal is to experience the people, culture and history and return home with a sense of answered curiosity. For instance, what are the local customs, compare their daily routine to mine, see how families and communities interact, imbue my senses and ultimately understand what brings them hop, joy or lack thereof.
I did not go directly to Cambodia from the US. I arrived direct from Tokyo which was about a 6 hour flight. A popular route from the US is via South Korea. Now a moment of honesty. Lots of folks have a notion that the Phnom Penh airport is rundown and you step out the door to stifling heat, chaos, live stock roaming the streets and barefoot men pulling carts. Well yes and no. Although you may not experience all these things right outside the airport doors, you will within a few miles or minutes.
Phnom Penh is a bustling city. Tuk tuk, cars, trucks and buses are zooming everywhere. I would say that the most popular modes of transportation are motor bikes and tuk tuk. Every few miles you come to an intersection with traffic lights but the signals are largely ignored.
I can’t imagine what locals do in the rainy season since most vehicles are without cover on the roads.It goes without saying that you may want to consider avoiding the raining season if you visit.
As a visitor you will mostly take tuk tuks for transportation. Its fun to ride the tuk tuk around town in the middle of what seems to be a constant rush hour but I am not sure if I’d learn to enjoy it long term. Dust kicks up from everywhere as well as exhaust fumes so I’d recommend a face mask, plenty of eye drops and head scarfs or caps. The heat is also worth considering since the ‘feels like’ temperature stays about 93F degrees daily and very humid.
Below is a typical middle class home in Phnom Penh. The construction is similar to US townhomes and usually do not have central air-conditioning.
Phnom Penh is the capitol of Cambodia with the largest population in the country. No need to bring anything fancy to wear here. Shorts, t-shirts and sandals are fine. Women may want to carry a scarf to cover bare shoulders when visiting temples. Its not like Paris but that’s what makes it so interesting. I would say the city I consider most similar to Phnom Penh is Bangkok, Thailand. So if you didn’t enjoy Bangkok you probably wont appreciate Phnom Penh. Most visitors are other Asians and Europeans.
While some areas of Phnom Penh appear very depressed others are cosmopolitan. Restaurants and shopping venues are everywhere. It was difficult to distinguish different streets and neighborhoods since most are lined with small mom and pop type stores, mechanics, food carts, restaurants and clothing.
We had no problem finding all types of cuisine and I didn’t have a bad meal or fall ill! I didnt drink the tap water because locals mentioned that its best to use bottled water (I do this at home too). Access to basics like drugstores and groceries are not a problem. We even did pizza delivery one night with wings and it was delicious.
The Cambodian people are very kind, welcoming and hard working. English is widely spoken just about everywhere and the US Dollar is accepted everywhere.
Cellular data is no problem and free wifi is available at restaurants, cafes, bars and hotels. I purchased an international hot spot to use in Tokyo and Cambodia. This was the first time I’ve used a hot spot on travel and I highly recommend it. I bought the ‘Skyroam Solis‘ for $150. The Solis does not require a Sim card, provides charging for your devices and available to rent at airports state side. Unlimited data usage per day was $9 for 24hours for up to 5 devices. I wanted to do lots of walking, use Google Maps, access travel books and apps so the hotspot was extremely convenient and much cheaper than getting the international plan or loaner phone. Once I activated my data card I put in my pocket, purse or backpack and instant wifi.
Most of the population of Cambodia is Muslim but historically also Hindu so one of the main attractions are the many many ornate temples throughout the city and country. If you love to shop till you drop then Cambodia’s Central Market is for you. The Central Market is not unlike central markets around the world. A maze of everything you’d want to bring home. If possible, I’d suggest doing the bulk of your souvenir shopping here and a couple of hours before closing for the best deals. Of course you want to bargain and be ready to move on if you dont get the price you think is fair. I saw one guy buy an item for $15 which was the exact price the merchant requested. I offered $6 and he was willing to accept it and if I would ask my friend, who is a local I bet the price would have been even lower.
If you are wondering how long to stay, I think 4 days is enough to see the capital. Almost forgot to mention the very modern, large gambling casino. I didnt visit but that maybe something that folks would find interesting.
Phnom Penh City Scenes