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Phnom Penh: Happy to be Back in Southeast Asia

I love Southeast Asia and when we landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I couldn’t have been happier to be back. I first visited the area just under two years ago on a two-month backpacking trip by myself where Dan joined me for two weeks in Thailand – our first trip together. My love of SE Asia is hard to explain – it has something to do with hectic cities that are somehow calm and refreshing; the amazing mix of nature and ancient cultures with hints of westernization everywhere and of course, the people.

We spent a week in Phnom Penh to really enjoy the city – much longer than you “need” – and recuperate after our short stint in India. The simple things – novelties – that remind you of home can go a long way when you’re feeling burnt out. We went to the movies, ate sushi, and chilled in a coffee shop. Being from Vancouver, I have a known love affair with sushi and was craving it hard. I was incredibly impressed and surprised by just how many sushi and Japanese restaurants there were. We passed at least a hundred different places! Amazingly, we also stumbled upon a Poke restaurant. For those of you who don’t know, Poke is a Hawaiian dish usually made from raw tuna mixed with soy sauce, wasabi, and sometimes avocado and mango – think somewhere between ceviche and sashimi. I recently read an article that it’s one of the “it” foods of 2016 so expect to see more of it! And, if you’re in Phnom Penh check out “Poki Poke” where you can get a small bowl of poke on rice for just $3 USD!

The only slightly negative thing that happened in Phnom Penh was someone tried to steal my purse on our second night there. In retrospect, I should have known better and last time I was in Cambodia I never once carried a purse. It’s the only country I’ve travelled in where I swore to never carry a purse. It’s widely known that “bag-snatching” is common in Cambodia; it’s when two people on a motorbike drive by you and rip your purse off you while you’re walking down the street. I guess I got cocky this trip and wore a small non-expensive looking purse over my shoulder. I was still careful – I always wore it on the opposite side of passing cars and kept a eye on it. Walking home one evening, around 7PM, I heard a bike going a bit too slow and close to me but didn’t think much until I felt a sharp pain in my neck as my purse was being yanked off of me. I instinctively screamed and ripped the purse back and the bike drove away. The purse had been on the opposite side of traffic but the bike waited until we were crossing an intersection and snuck in behind us to grab the purse. Luckily the purse was sewn all the way down the edge or it would have been long gone. I didn’t wear a purse again and would recommend against it anywhere in Cambodia!! As an alternative consider carrying a wristlet that is around your wrist and held in your hand at all times, or rock a fanny pack. 

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Other than being ecstatic to have sushi and proper coffee – with soy milk – we didn’t get up to a whole lot else. We caught up on our blog (and then fell behind again!). As for tourist attractions, we did almost nothing. Ironically, we saved visiting the Royal Palace for our last day in the city which turned out to be a public holiday and the Palace grounds were closed to tourists.

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Probably the most notorious and well known tourist attraction in Phnom Penh is both horrifying and interesting: The Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (or S21 Musuem). I chose not join Dan on his visit as I previously visited and I didn’t feel the need to go again. The killing fields contain mass graves of approximately 20,000 Cambodians, many of whom were tortured before being killed. The site is one of thousands of other such sites around the country where the Khmer Rouge practiced genocide during the late 1970s. The Killing Fields entrance fee includes an audio guide which is probably the most well-done guide I’ve ever listened to. The entire area is silent, everyone grievously listening and reflecting on the horrors that happened not that long ago. I learned a lot about the atrocities committed within the country about how the UN and the world reacted. An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians (over 20% of the population) were killed under the Khmer Rouge’s rule (Note some estimates are as high as 3 million).

After the Killing Fields, most people then visits Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide (or S21 Musuem). Once a high school, Tuol Sleng became a torture camp, prison and execution center. The Khmer Rouge regime arrested and eventually executed almost everyone suspected of connections with the former government or with foreign governments as well as professionals and intellectuals. Something that happened so recently goes almost completely unknown throughout North America. If you want to learn more about what happened, read this link here .

It’s incredible to see how quickly Cambodia has gotten back on its feet. They’ve managed to turn a horrifying part of their past into a tourist attraction that both brings in revenue and educates foreigners. However, the devastation isn’t completely over for Cambodia. The country is still covered in unexploded bombs and land mines that injury and kill many every year. In recent years there have been massive efforts to clean up the country but work still remains. Amputees of all ages can be seen around the country begging or playing music for money. 

OK, so this isn’t Cambodian at all (the company is owned by an Aussie and debuted in the States) but at Aeon Mall there is a Sticky store that makes hard candy from scratch on the premises. I’ve never watched anything like it, their creations are truly art. Check out this YouTube video if you’re curious (it’s pretty cool, but a bit long – skip parts if you get bored but make sure to watch when they stretch the big glob of candy into a long thin piece!):

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Also at the mall, we were pleased to see countless Christmas decorations and absurdly loud Christmas carols playing on the speakers. Our Airbnb host told us that Cambodians love Christmas celebrations 🙂

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On our last night in Phnom Penh, we had the chance to met up with Aditi who we first met in Maipu, Argentina near the beginning of our trip. Ironically, we wanted to meet up with her in India (she lives in Mumbai and travels to Delhi often) but she had already planned a two-week trip to Cambodia – and then we ended up leaving India and going to Cambodia! 

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We went to a nearby pub one night because we saw that they had dart boards. These weren’t your ordinary dart boards though, they were electronic boards that also allow online play. This means you could play a game of darts with anyone in the world and even watch each other via a built in camera in the machine.

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Check out more photos on Flickr

How did we get there: Flight: Delhi-Phnom Penh via Bangkok (Bangkok Airways)
Transport cost: $600 CAD per person
Recommended nights: 3 nights

Accommodation: Airbnb at $39 CAD per night
Average Cost per day: $115 CAD/day for two people (Note, this is the first time we’ve been over-budget in months. This was our fault though and it would definitely be possible to spend much less here.)

2 thoughts on “Phnom Penh: Happy to be Back in Southeast Asia

  1. Anna Jean Mallinson says:

    It sounds as though you’re having some pleasant times in a place you like. I’m glad you found some good sushi to eat. I watched the candy-making video but could not tell what the initial materials were and wondered why thy went to such trouble to make layers which then vanished into green.Strange! Nice that your friend met up with you in Cambodia.

  2. Kyra & Daniel says:

    Maybe the video wasn’t the best. If you skip to the last 30 seconds of this video then you will understand what all the layering is for. It creates intricate designs in the candy. When pulled thin, the layers become a word or a fruit or some other picture – that’s the part that’s art!

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