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Puttering Around Phnom Penh

ABBA music was blaring as our bus pulled out of Siem Reap headed to Phnom Penh. To be precise it was a bootleg copy of the movie Mamma Mia! that was skipping as the bus sped through the Cambodian countryside. Minus Pierce Brosnan’s laughable singing, it was actually a pretty pleasant drive and a quick lunch break in the middle of the trip made the 4.5 hour trip go by quickly. My colleague and friend in Jakarta, Christi, had lived in Phnom Penh for two years so she gave me a list of places to see. She suggested spending some time at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club. We whiled away a few hours and watched the sky change over the convergence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers.

Correspondent's Club At Night

I really enjoyed the days we spent in Phnom Penh. Things move slower, probably because it is a much smaller capital city than Bangkok and Jakarta. It was easy to walk everywhere and the mix of old colonial buildings was right up my alley. I even got to see a housemate from college who has been teaching in Phnom Penh. It was fun to go out with her and her boyfriend to a less touristy bar and catch up.

Night Market

Sitting by the River

Locals hang out and work out next to the river:


We strolled through the laid-back city and did the pretty typical tourist itinerary as well.

Colonial Days

Old School

Royal Palace: When I am on vacation I like to take it slow. The Royal Palace staff likes to lunch between the hours of 11 and 2, so this meant I had to speed up my morning routine. It was worth seeing the palace with its ornate buildings and gifts from French royalty. Oh and then there’s that gold Buddha decorated with 9,584 diamonds, no photography of course.

Palace Life


Gated Glory

Also, I decided I must some day have bushes shaped like elephants in my yard:

Elephant Bush

French Gates

Buddahs Everywhere

Diginified Stroll


A mini Angkor Wat:

Mini Angkor

Chipping Paint

Anyone know what these flowers/tree/bush is? I thought they were really beautiful.

Spiny Flowers

Buddah Beneathe

Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng Museum: Early one morning we hired a tuk tuk driver to take us a bit out of Phnom Penh to the Killing Fields. The same emotions of deep sadness, not much of desire to speak, and general ‘why are humans so horrid to each other’ came over me much like it had at a concentration camp in Germany and a town in Western Ukraine obliterated by the Nazis and Soviets. It’s odd to tour a place where horrible things once took place. We listened to the well-made audio guide tour and grimaced as we walked and read signs:

Killing Fields

Many prisoners were bludgeoned to death to avoid using bullets. I won’t go into the history here, but I think the sight is worth a visit.

Killing Fields II

Following our tour of the Killing Fields, we returned to Phnom Penh and went to the prison informally known as S-21 where many were held before being taken to the killing fields. I had read a lot during my work year about the ongoing trials of the Khmer Rouge leadership. Needless to say, it’s a complicated and messy process that began many years after the horrific human rights crimes they committed.

Prison Wire

Prison II

Less than 10 people were found alive when the Vietnamese liberated the prison.

Prison III

Russian Market: Also known as Psar Tuol Tom Pong, this was a fantastic labyrinth of a market. Lonely Planet tells me the Russians liked to shop here back in the 1980s so that was how it got its very un-Khmer nickname.

Guava Gamble


Hard bargaining is a must here and you can often get two or three items for the original price of one:

Russian Market

What to Buy?


The Haircut: Outside of our hotel a few street barbers had set up shop. Victor was in desperate need of a haircut. When we came out of the hotel only one barber was working. When he saw Victor was interested, he called over a tuk-tuk driver (yes, everyone has more than one useful professional skill). Then he pulled out a long straight edge and got to work. Both Victor and I were really nervous and I was praying he wouldn’t get nicked. In the end, all turned out fine and the barber/tuk-tuk driver probably got the biggest tip of his life.

Hair Cut Time

Close to our hotel was a charming street, 240 to be exact, which was lined with nice shops, restaurants and cafes.

Shopping on Road 420

Hotel Heaven

Before we knew it, we had to head to the airport, where our flight on Laos Airlines was not listed on any monitors…

Where to Stay: Pavilion Hotel is a centrally located boutique hotel. We decided to splurged in Phnom Penh and paid $75 a night. This was one of my favorite hotels I stayed in while in Asia. Worth it. Did I mention the complimentary massage?

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great tour of the city and lovely photos.

    May 15, 2013
    • Thanks, Andrew. Editing photos from Laos now — a country that really surprised me.

      May 15, 2013
  2. I remember my short visit to Phnom Penh back in 2011 when my travel pace was a lot faster compared to today. I stayed at a guesthouse near the Royal Palace so it was conveniently within a waking distance to the palace and the banks of the Mekong. I would love to come back to Cambodia one day and explore more of what Phnom Penh has to offer. By the way, that’s the flower of Bodhi Tree, a scared tree in Buddhism under which the Buddha achieved enlightenment.

    May 15, 2013
    • Thanks, Bama! I never saw the flower around Buddha statues in Indonesia. And I’m with you — would love to go back to Phnom Penh and Cambodia, we didn’t have time to see and travel the coast.

      May 15, 2013
  3. Love your photos! I also went to the Killing Fields and the S-21 museum while I was in Phnom Penh. I didin’t know a lot about the genocide before I got there, so it was such a powerful experience. The fact that they turned a school, which is a place for kids to learn and grow into a torturous prison is such a chilling notion!

    May 17, 2013
    • Yes, I was really overwhelmed at both sights. Our guide in Siem Reap, to the floating villages, told us about losing a sister to the Khmer Rouge and he said almost every family has a similar story. Very sad.

      May 17, 2013

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