Dirty, dreary and disturbing times in Phnom Penh

We arrived in Phnom Penh in torrential rain, as it was the start of rainy season. Luckily we were saved from being drenched as the hostel we had booked in at had complimentary tuk tuk transfer to the hostel from the bus drop off point, which was literally a street somewhere.

The rain that greeted us in Phnom Penh

Thankfully our hostel- Lovely Jubbly (yes we booked it for the name!) was only a few blocks away so the tuk-tuk driver didn’t get too wet either. The first thing we needed to do when we got there was get money as we had no Vietnamese dong left to exchange or any other currency on us. There is not a shortage of ATMs but we asked about ones that are supposed to have fewer fees and our hostel directed us to try to find Canadia Bank. After wandering around the streets for a while trying to find this though we gave up and just used another one. It was a bit daunting having quite a lot of money on us.

This is normally the case, just in case anything happens to it, however, this feeling was made considerably worse due to the signs and horror stories we had heard about Phnom Penh being unsafe. There are warning signs in all hostels advising not to take any bags out with you and to limit the valuables you have on you due to lots of violent thefts being common. The most common of these is often that bags are grabbed whilst you are walking, are on a moped or even from a tuk-tuk by men on motorcycles and they just continue to ride whilst holding onto the bag. Therefore if you do take bags with you, it is advisable you do not have them over your neck as they can cause great damage when the strap takes a while to break and you are dragged to the floor by your strap. Often things like this are stories blown out of proportion but since being on our travels we have heard first hand from other travellers quite a few tales of them being mugged or incidents happening that they witnessed whilst being in Phnom Penh. Due to this, I felt quite unsafe the whole time we were in Phnom Penh and it definitely wasn’t a place I was going to walk around the streets after dark. Both of us disliked Phnom Penh anyway partly due to feeling unsafe, partly due to it being very dirty and really chaotic for traffic and majorly due to being hounded constantly by tuk-tuk drivers who would beep, call out and berate you about taking you places today or tomorrow.

During our walk we did manage to find the central market though and sat down for fresh spring rolls and fresh noodle soup at nice cheap prices. A great place to visit for food if you are on a budget. There is also a lot of fruit and seafood sold too.

Fresh spring rolls
Central market where we stopped for chicken noodles soup

We returned to the hostel for a few hours to look at what we wanted to do in Phnom Penh. In the evening we walked 15 minutes from our hostel to a place Dave had found on a Phnom Penh Post food article– Kai Fun.

Kai fun restaurant- pizza oven and taco/ kitchen truck
Some of the food menu at Kai Fun

This place did a mix of tapas sized dishes (a mix of cuisine) mostly which were $1.50 each. Phnom Penh is quite an expensive place to eat which was difficult for our budget. This meant as the food was good here we actually ate here every night we were in Phnom Penh sharing 4 dishes between us. The place itself had a little pizza oven as well as a taco truck and bbq they also had indoor and outdoor dining options and just a cool vibe. We had:

  • Night one: A pork taco, a mini chicken burger, curry and rice and pork belly
  • Night two: Pork croquettes, a pork taco, mince and rice and a mini pepperoni pizza
  • Night three: A pork taco, a mini chicken burger, mini pizza and curry and rice
Dave with mini food

We had planned to visit the palace the next day as it was supposed to be nice but it didn’t quite end up going to plan. We took the short 15-minute walk to the palace from our hostel however it was incredibly hot and we were dripping by the time we got there. When we arrived it was very quiet and it turned out that the palace had closed for the morning and wasn’t due to open until the afternoon. So instead we walked another half an hour to check out Aeon Mall just to see what they had as we heard there was a decent cheap food court. We just generally like to look around malls to see what they have and they are usually airconditioned!

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It’s Quite
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Empty park by the palace

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The riverfront
Standard South East Asia transportation
Roundabout monument

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At the bottom of Aeon Mall is a supermarket and a reasonably priced food court so we had so we had some tasty beef fried rice for $2.50 before the long slog back to the palace. On arriving there we were told we needed more appropriate clothing so once again we left the palace to go change at the hostel. We were hot and bothered at this point but we tried once more to visit it however we got there and were told that it was going to cost us $10.50 each which was not the price we were expecting or willing to pay when it was just supposed to be nice. We cooled off instead with an iced Khmer coffee (not as good as Vietnamese but still refreshing) at Free Bird cafe. They also gave us cold towels to cool off with which was a nice touch. On returning to the hostel we were happy with the decision we made about the palace as some people had visited and were not overly enthusiastic about what they had seen for the cost of it. It ended up being a day where we didn’t really accomplish much apart from walking a lot and being hot! In the evening we ventured to Kai Fun for food then had a beer at our hostel and played pool.

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Just a Few Signs about the new Year

The next day we did the heavy stuff in Phnom Penh and visited Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields to learn about the atrocities of the time the Cambodian people spent under the Khmer Rouge. This was a truly draining day but something that should be done whilst in Phnom Penh so that the people that suffered are not forgotten and so that we can hopefully learn from the past. We walked to the Tuol Sleng or s21 genocide museum and paid our $3 entrance fee. You can pay for an audio guide but we didn’t want to do that here. S21 is an old school that was turned into a secret genocide and torture camp where thousands of Cambodian people and children were tortured for false crimes and then killed by the Khmer Rouge. When the Vietnamese found this place there were only a 7 survivors that made it out alive out of 14 000 people known to have entered. Learning about the things that happened here was harrowing and hard to believe. It is harder to believe that this was one of the hundreds of similar places around the country. As well as the fact that no one really knew these atrocities were occurring as Cambodia had closed its borders. After the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge the western world still did not understand or accept the extent of the events that happened here and the Khmer Rouge kept its seat in the United Nations for 15 years. Only in recent years have high powered Khmer Rouge members begun to be put on trial or charged with war crimes.

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The outside of Tuol Sleng
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One of the rooms inside s21

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You can still see its resemblance to an old-school
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Some information and photographs of people that went into Tuol Sleng
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Barbed wire was put up to stop people from trying to commit suicide
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Inside where some of the small holding cells were


After this, we took a tuk-tuk from our hostel ($12 return) to the Killing fields or Choeung Ek. We paid $6 entrance fee and this provides you with a very well organised and insightful audio guide to guide you through what is essentially now fields and mass graves. Equally harrowing- this was the place that people would be brought to from Tuol Sleng to be killed. The Khmer Rouge had large walls up and played music and sounds of people talking over the walls to cover up what was happening here. It was only when local people came to loot what they thought was an army base when the Khmer Rouge fell that they discovered the mass graves. Again this is one of about 300 similar Killing places that were spread across the country. It was hard to take in what happened here.

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In the late afternoon, we returned to the mall to search for a new hard drive (luckily just the spare one) for Dave as his had failed but they were too expensive. We ate at the food court and then hid in the entrance for 20 mins avoiding a huge thunderstorm before walking back to the hostel. In the evening we booked our bus to Kep for the following day and sorted our accommodation out before going to Kai Fun one last time to eat.

In the morning we headed to the south coast and thankfully out of Phnom Penh!



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