Travelling Cambodia – Phnom Penh

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The MacInnes family – apart from Campbell – take on Cambodia and Vietnam for a family holiday that will sure to bring a lot of laughs, a lot of arguments and a lot of drinking.

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Siem Reap was done and it was time to head to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh in what was very tiny 40 seater plane, or as Dad called it Phnom Penh Ping (they did use to have another name at the end, not sure it was that though).

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I would recommend getting either a late flight or an early morning one. We arrived at 4:35pm and it took us an hour to get from the airport to our hotel, which was only 8km. Yep one hour, although it gave us a good look on our way. In total, we only spent two nights, but I would aim for three. 

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Much like Siem Reap, you notice the poverty straight away but this is on a bigger scale. As we were told by a Cambodian, they either have very rich or very poor people, there isn’t much in between. 

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We did witness a new game, foot volleyball, where you headbutt and kick the ball over a net instead of hit or spike in volleyball. 

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For our two nights in Phnom Penh, we stayed in a hotel called Sunway. Across the road from the beautiful Wat Phnom temple and only a street back from the Mekong River, however, at night it is recommended you don’t walk as the streets are a little dangerous.

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Overall the hotel was nice, clean and we had a good view of the city. The staff were helpful and breakfast was included, which is always a plus. Ohh and the Cambodian soccer team stayed while we were there too, so if it is good enough for them!

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The view of the temple from our room was beautiful. The Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple which was built in 1372. It marks the central of Phnom Penh and is the tallest religious structure in the city.

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Back to the hotel side of this, we did have another shower incident when Dad stomped the plug down in the shower AND bath and couldn’t work out how to let it out. He even resorted to my nail file until I clicked what he was doing, baths in a lot of hotels in Asian or American countries have a leaver you pull to let the bath water out, Jesus Dad. 

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Our first adventure was a tuk tuk to the river to book a sunset river cruise, because as Mr Sow recommended ‘we cruise the Mekong River on sunset to witness its beauty’.

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Tuk tuk drivers are extremely friendly in Cambodia every time we had bags they told us to hold onto them tights so people don’t grab them as they drive past. Phnom Penh was also a lot more developed that Siem Reap and as we were told, a lot of skyscrapers were built by the Chinese. 

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By the river was busy, restaurants, bars, markets and the Royal Palace all swarmed with people selling, buying and sightseeing. Dinner was at a busy four story bar and restaurant called Grand River, the mango chicken was delicious and happy hour kept us happy but our dinner was interrupted by a little girl selling bracelets. She bailed up Dad and as we have been told many times to not encourage children selling goods by giving them money.

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We said no a few times but she wouldn’t leave, she glared at Dad and when he asked her to please go away, she looked at him once more and in a voice so deep she said “you go away” and walked off. She actually resembled Samara from The Ring. She moved on quickly and went off to hassle more people, it is actually sad that parents use their children to get money and I just hope they are getting some form of education during the day. But then it just comes down to desperate times. 

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We only had one full day in Phnom Penh and the morning of that was spent on a tour of the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum with Buffalo Tours. As part of this tour, you firstly head 20 minutes out of the city to the Killing Fields, which is where prisoners of the Khmer Rogue were taken (those who were challenged his ‘political party’) to be killed after spending time in the S-21 prison being interrogated and tortured until they confessed. In the Killing Fields, no one was shot, it was all death by tools because guns were too expensive. 

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Once they were killed they were buried in the fields with over 100 people in one grave. We walked through these fields and also viewed the display created in honour of those who died. This monument, Choeung Ek was built with 17 tiers which feature skulls of those who were found, clothes, bones and the tools used. Although it is confronting to see, this is how they honour those who died in the time the Khmer Rouge was in power where around 2 million lost their lives and 20,000 alone at the killing field we visited.

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After looking at the fields and learning about what happened on this land, well as much as they know, we headed into the city to the S-21 prison, which is now the museum. In this time no one really knows 100% what happened but all they can tell is the stories they know and what they have learnt. They tell these stories so we can understand the history, we can help the country get back on their feet and we can prevent this from ever happening again. 

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In the museum they have the pictures of those who were omitted to this prison, their mug shots taken for evidence, we got to see the rules the Khmer Rogue followed when interrogating the people, see the cells they were kept in and see paintings from a survivor who recalled what he saw. 

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After this experience, you might need some downtime to really process all the information. It is confronting and sad to hear about all the suffering one country has experienced. They have books for sale so you can learn more about the history, we purchased Cambodia’s Curse: The Modern History of a Troubled Land (historical) and First they killed my Father (biographical), then also purchased a book from one survivor who was saved by the Vietnamese when he was just a small boy. 

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Phnom Penh is a big city and to see as much as you can it is worth getting a tuk tuk around to some major sites. Go to the central market and experience the amazing street food, the squid was so tender and amazing, followed by the Cambodian donuts, yum! Or head to the Wat Phnom temple, pay $1USD and explore the beautiful gardens that surround or go inside and experience prayer. 

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My personal favourite area in Phnom Penh was by the river, Sisowath Quay. They have many places to eat along the river including Bopha Phnom Penh Titanic Restaurant. They even serve water buffalo here, I thought I better take it easy on the foreign delicacies and went for the pineapple beef, which was very flavoursome! The restaurant overlooked the water and was a very nice spot. Or you can eat on board as part of their Mekong River cruise.

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They even have an outdoor gym along the river in case you’ve eaten too much and need to get a quick work out along the way, which I did. 

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Our last night in Phnom Penh was spend on a sunset cruise with Cambo along the Mekong River. Definitely a highlight! A free cocktail on arrival and dinner included for $24USD per person, definitely great value for money.

 

Shuret was our host for the night and we spent a lot of the night talking with him, a lovely man who wants the best for his country. He reads a lot and knew more about Australia than most people would!

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Honestly one of the nicest people I’ve met, he even went to buy me a bottle of water when we got off the boat and my hiccups wouldn’t go away – too many baileys’ on the boat.

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Along the trip we did see the other side of the river where some people live, five people to a small boat, it was horrible. What is more horrible is they park opposite a five star hotel, which I’m sure really doesn’t make it any easier for them.  

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Overall Phnom Penh was a lot busier than Siem Reap, the people we came into contact with were friendly but we were always warned and told to be safe.

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We learnt more history from the Cambodian people, I don’t think I’ve ever learnt as much as I did from a short stay in a country before. 

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If you are looking to go to Cambodia, book any tours and transfers through Buffalo, they have friendly and organised staff and definitely aim to provide great service.

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I also recommend you put Cambodia on your list to travel. They rely heavily on tourism to provide jobs to their people.

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They are friendly people are always willing to help, the food is incredible and it is a beautiful part of the world with a lot to offer.

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Explore the temples, experience the heat and learn about how the other people in this world live, how they make their money – some by catching birds and encouraging people to pay to set them free – see the monkeys climb the powerlines looking for spare food and just take it all in, you won’t regret it.  

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