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This is Phnom Penh
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A Day in Cambodia

To provide some context, today is February 14th, Valentine's Day, or, as my lady friend would prefer to think of it, Ham Day. So, Happy Ham Day Melissa!

The day began with a voyage up the mighty Mekong River by boat, à la Heart of Darkness. I was hoping to have The Doors provide the soundtrack, but I guess they didn't make the cut when I was loading my iPod, so I had to settle for Radiohead instead. The creepy, ominous effect was diminished by the grey-haired bougeie aristocrats chattering loudly in french and the the fact that we were cruising along smoothly in a motorboat. I also had a nice conversation with a Korean guy from London on the remarkably easy four-hour trip.

On arrival in the capital, Phnom Penh, the disparity from block to block between the breathtaking beauty of the historical temples and the disgusting dilapidation of the impoverished masses immediately made a dramatic impression.

In Phnom Penh it seems like everyone wants a dollar. Just one. One dollar can buy you almost anything, from a rickshaw ride to a Buddha trinket to a bit of string touted as a bracelet to a pair of sandals. The regular price for a glass of beer is a dollar, but it is easy to find a place that offers beer for even less during "Happy Our" (from 2-8). I even found a place that offered 50 cent beer during happy hour, which was advertised as "All Night Long". Seriously.

At one point a child tried selling bracelets to me, offering three for a dollar. I actually started bargaining with her until I realized I was trying to swindle a five-year-old (who could speak more English than most of my students in Korea). And she had NO SHOES! So I offered her 5000 riel for one bracelet, which she coolly accepted.

Holy crap! I just saw five people go by on one motorcycle... twice in like 10 seconds! I wish I'd gotten a picture.

Wat Phnom was cool. Monkeys all over, begging for food, humping, wrasling. There was even a mama monkey dragging around a baby kitten. I saw plenty of nice Buddha statues and I even fed a bunch of bananas to an elephant (for a dollar, of course).

For dinner I sat out on a terrace across from the river and had a grilled fish amok. Hot damn was it tasty! More please. Also, I paid about $7.50 (including four beers).

After a few more one dollar glasses of Angkor Beer (and a free Angkor Beer mug) I tried to find the Zeppelin Café, a 70s rock + roll lounge recommended by the Lonley Planet. I got lost walking around, tried to get a moto driver to take me there, he got lost and confused, stopped twice to ask other drivers for directions but finally pulled up to the place on a dark + eerily quiet street. Of course it was closed. So I walked off and found another place to drink happy hour Angkor beers.


Wat Phnom is very loud for a Buddhist shrine. The cicadas evidently have no respect for the sanctity of the place.

The night market was cool until the music stopped and they started blasting advertisments + promotions on the loudspeaker in Khmer.

The riverside promenade was dramatically less dangerous than dealing with the chaotic traffic.

The distinct lack of street signs was to blame for much of my aimless meandering + dodgy road crossings.


Phnom Penh is a city I would definitely consider hiding out in for a few years if I ever did something really drastic.

I never did any of the depressing genocide attractions. Many of the rickshaw drivers recommended the killing fields, shooting range, prison tour, etc. Perhaps that's why I maintain a positive impression of Cambodia. I also passed on the entrance fee for the Presidential Palace—no time. So there's still a lot of this city that I missed out on but next time I'm totally going to shoot a friggin' bazooka.

The restraint shown by Cambodians for honking their horns (as compared to the Vietnamese) is much appreciated.

Ice cream is too expensive here.

Off-leash monkeys + elephants are awesome.


The bus ride out of Phnom Penh offered many views of the stunning temples in this country found next to derelict shacks on stilts (stilts that were really no more than some sketchy sticks bound together). I noticed signage proclaiming animal rights, bio-energy production and rain forest preservation through sustainable ecotourism. Cambodia has a long way to go, but it does seem like they are moving in the right direction.

Oh, and there was even a kung fu movie on the bus featuring Tony Jaa that totally kicked-ass!

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