PHNOM PENH

Phnom Penh hasn't much to impress - hence it surprises by being probably world's most provincial city with more than two millions inhabitants.

Royal Palace Phnom Penh
Getting there right after they re-open in the afternoon allows a more tranquil visit to the Royal Palace, one of Phnom Penh's most popular tourist attractions.

It's rare to travel a country and not missing much by avoiding its capitol. Actually there are tourists who do not make it to Phnom Penh: They go from Bangkok to Siem Reap and from there straight to Sihanoukville from where they cross the border to Viet Nam via Kampot and Kep; and that's it.

My trip was meant to be a Cambodia-tour so I flew into Phnom Penh and spent three days there. Which would have been one day too much had it not rained.

Phnom Penh
One of the main streets of Phnom Penh - still having a certain provincial flair.

So on the rainy Sunday with not much to do - it's not pleasant to walk in the rain and it's even less pleasant to walk in the rain in a city as dirty as Phnom Penh when the water washes all sort of disgusting stuff including dead rats on the sidewalks; where sidewalks exist, that is.

Memorials of Khmer Rouge


However, for the afternoon I booked a tour to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as S21, and Choeung Ek, better known as the killing fields, where the prisoners who by then survived S21 were slaughtered. I've mentioned this visit in the 1st chapter of my Cambodian Diary and denied to get too much into details. And I won't get into details here, either, since I find it difficult to describe these places in an appropriate and dignified fashion.

I only tell you that I got a tour to both places for 10 bucks, it was a group tour, but it was just two of us, a young German and me. On the bus's TV they screened a very informative film with interviews of Pol Pot, journalists that where in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge, Leung Ung, writer of "First they killed my father", a book that accompanied me during my entire trip through Cambodia and that I recommend to everyone because it tells and explains you a lot that Cambodian people don't - be it only for the lack of English skills. So anyway, this film prepares you in a very informative fashion. Actually, this additional information and preparation is the main reason why I would recommend to rather go with a tour than with a tuk tuk driver.

Choeung Ek - Killing Fields - Phnom Penh
Does a place with such a sign need further description?!

The film's information is then completed by the excellent audio guide you get at Choeung Ek that guides you through this place of horrors.

Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda


Of course there are also nice things to see in Phnom Penh - like for instance the Royal Palace which is by far not as grandiose and impressive as the one in Bangkok, but it's one of the main attractions.
It's open from 8 a. m. to 11 a. m. and then again from 2 p. m. till 5 p. m. and you are denied access if you are not covering your shoulders and knees, and they are quite strict about it. Anyway, I recommend you have a large, light scarf on you all the time since it can always occur that you drop in at a Wat or another site were covering is required.

Royal Palace Phnom Penh
Buddhist monks admiring the model of Angkor Wat.

Besides this most majestic site there are four Wats you should visit:


Wat Phnom


located all the way in the north of the city center close to the Cruise Terminal. It's a Buddhist temple built in 1372, that stands 27 m / 88.5 ft above the ground. It's the cities largest temple and its central point.

Wat Phnom at Phnom Penh
Stairs to Wat Phnom.

Wat Oulanum


located at the entrance to the old city center, about three blocks north from the Royal Palace. Built in 1443, Wat Oulanumis the most important temple of Phnom Penh and the center of Cambodian Buddhism.

Wat Oulanum is one of the most richly decorated temples in the city center of Phnom Penh.

Wat Botum


located next to Park Botum and very little known although it's really beautiful with its variety of different stupas - since many politicians and other celebrities are buried here. Built in 1442, it's one of the most important temples in Phnom Penh.

Wat Botum
Wat Botum is a rather hidden treasure - and absolutely worth a visit.

Wat Langka


located close to the independence monument and built in 1442, itt was established as a sanctuary and meeting place for Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks. Since the Khmer Rouge used Wat Langka as a storehouse, it was not destroyed.

Wat Langka
Wat Langka has the most interesting history of the temples of Phnom Penh.

Today, Wat Langka is still very important and prestigious in Cambodian Buddhism. If you survive crossing the streets around the traffic circle, you will enjoy a nice temple with a large variety of beautifully decorated stupas; and there are many cats on the premises, which is very rare in Cambodia. It seems to be a designated dog country.


National and Cultural Treasures


To admire Cambodia's ancient Khmer treasures even before heading for Angkor, you can visit the National museum located behind the Royal Palace. And especially at night you shouldn't miss the traditional dances performed by the talented ensemble of Cambodia Living Art.

National Museum Phnom Penh
Interesting architecture outside, interesting collection inside: the National Museum at Phnom Penh.

This project was founded in 1998 by genocide survivor and musician Arn Chorn-Pond and promotes and supports young artists performing traditional Cambodian arts.

Certainly a cultural highlight of every Phnom Penh visit: The dance show of 'Cambodian Living Arts', an organization that encourages and teaches young people to cultivate their traditions and arts.
(Photo: Jim Heston/Cambodian Living Arts)

So it's an absolutely win-win: You get to see a beautiful, inspiring show and they get the money to continue their wonderful work.

Not only the sophisticated dance performances are impressive, also the rich in detail costumes are worth to be admired.
(Photo: Jim Heston/Cambodian Living Arts)


National Museum of Cambodia 
Street 13
Phnom Penh
Phone: + 855 - 23 - 211 753
Email: museum_cam@camnet.com.kh 

Tickets for the Dance Show can be purchased online or at a stand on the museum's premises.

Memorials


Further south of the Royal Palace is a nice green stretch, the Park Botum (see Wat Botum described above), dominated by the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument. That this great friendship is promoted in a quite obtrusive fashion is a bit funny, since many Cambodians are not that fond of Viet Nam, despite the fact that this good neighbor liberated them from the Khmer Rouge. At least there is a monument demonstrating fond feelings in every larger city.

Walking all the way down the park to Preah Suramarit Boulevard, you turn right to see first the statue of Norodom Sihanouk and behind this former leader the Independence Monument - actually both not that impressive.

Norodom Sihanouk Statue
The visitors taking selfies and posing where a much more interesting motif than Prince Norodom Sihanouk's Statue.

Besides the designated attractions, Phnom Penh is certainly not everybody's cup of tea: It's very, very dirty, there is much poverty and misery, there is much prostitution 24/7 - a walking the streets east of Norodom road is not pure pleasure. But especially if you are on a certain budget, you will find most of the hostels, cheaper hotels and eateries here.

To have a Khmer dinner with a view - and a good, cheap bed - you should try out 11 happy backpackers.

11 Happy Backpackers Roof Top Bar
Food and refreshments with a view: The roof top bar and restaurant at 11 Happy Backpackers is a great place to relax and meet other travellers.


11 Happy Backpackers 
#87-89, Street136
Phnom Penh
Phone: + 855 - 887 77 74 21
Email: happy11gt@hotmail.com 

Wanna have some Indian for a change? Be in for a treat at Sher E Punjab.

Sher E Punjab Phnom Penh
Butter chicken with garlic naan - one of my favorite dishes.


Sher E Punjab
#16, Street 130
Phnom Penh
Phone: + 855 - 23 - 216 360
Email: rajkumar01977@yahoo.com and info@sherepunjabindianfood.com

These are of course only two of numberless possibilities to dine in Phnom Penh.

If you're in for a longer walk, the promenade along the Tonle Sap river is your best option - the wind is mildly blowing, taking off the humid heat. In the northern part of the riverfront are some better hotels and eateries and bars - most of them facing the mighty river. To do some shopping, turn left into the 130st street and walk west to the Central Market which is surprisingly not exclusively catering to tourists, but mainly to the local crowd. However, you can find some nice handcrafted souvenirs here at a good price - of course also depending on your haggling skills.

KOH DACH


You'll be amazed that it takes only about 20 minutes to get away from the hustle and bustle and smog and dirt of Phnom Penh's city center. Just crossing the Mekong by a rustic ferry and you are amidst Cambodian country side with fields and rice paddies and hens and cows.

Koh Dach
If you can spare an extra day at Phnom Penh, a visit to the country side of Koh Dach is certainly a nice way of getting in touch with Cambodia's rural area. Just don't buy there - go to the central market for much better prices.

It's called Silk Island and there are a couple of private vendors who show you how silk is woven. Then there is a silk cooperative explaining the entire process from the mulberry tree to the silken shawl. It won't surprise you that they are selling these products. But it's simply impossible that these loads of shawls and neck ties and pillow covers are all hand woven at this plant. Surprisingly you'll find them - absolutely identical - at the markets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and all around the country. And guess what: Everywhere else they are much, much cheaper than on Silk Island, as a matter of fact I've probably paid about six times what I had paid somewhere else. Got the message? Do not (!) buy here, it's a rip off!

Koh Dach
My tuk tuk driver was convinced that it was totally fine to visit the local school, distract the pupils and take pictures. 

I'm afraid it will be the same with the silversmith villages around the former capitol Oudong.

I did the Koh Dach tour by tuk tuk and I paid 25 $ which is not cheap, but all the organized tours I inquired for where even more expensive.

ferry to Koh Dach
On the pretty basic ferry taking passengers to Koh Dach, the so-called 'Silk Island'.

Of course you can do the tour by yourself e. g. cycling. But the way to the ferry is quite far and it's along a road with much traffic and little oxygen, so I would not recommend it.

Wat Kien Khleang
Probably the most beautiful temple I've see during my trip to Cambodia: Wat Kien Khleang. 

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