This is the largest and most metropolitan city in Cambodia. There are many French influences in the building structures. So far this is one of my favorite cities on this trip. This city is very rich in history and culture. The traffic is much heavier here than other cities in Cambodia.
The Statue of King Norodom Sihanouk is in the center of town. The monument was built and dedicated to the King in 2013. At night its beautiful to see. The trees that line the streets are lit up with colored lights and the statue of the king can be seen from far away.
We were lucky enough to get a reservation at the Pavilion Hotel. The Pavilion hotel is right next door to the Prime Minister’s home. The hotel was built by the King’s mother in the 1920s. It was also the former home of the Prime Minister. It is a beautiful serene property and very hard to get a reservation. Most of the area outside of the hotel is blocked off because it is the Prime Minister’s private property. Across the street is the beautiful Wat Botum where many politicians and high ranking people of the city are buried.
The fresh baguettes are some of the best I’ve ever had. There are many things to do in Phnom Penh, from the Royal Palace to the Genocide prison and killing fields. The Mekong River runs through the city, making the riverfront a very festive place to be. Lots of hip cafes and guest houses line the riverfront with plenty of outdoor seating to people watch. It kind of reminds me of New Orleans in America. Any DVD movie/series you can think of is sold for $1.00 in Phnom Penh. Beautiful high-rise condominiums are mixed in with run down homes and store fronts. The feel of a third world country is still present even with the modern buildings.
The markets here are the same as most of the ones we have seen in Cambodia. Lots of vegetables, meat, fish and eggs are sold openly without refrigeration. Some of the meat was infested with flies which makes me wonder how the locals don’t get sick from that.
Many brand name clothing manufacturers have their clothing made in Cambodia. Some of the vendors at markets were selling the brand names. I think these may have been the irregular items not fit to sell in retail stores or just a backdoor bargain. Gap, Banana Republic, Adidas, Armani, H&M, and Hollister were a few names I saw most. I know that Cambodia has been under scrutiny for using child labor to sew the garments. Last year a factory sewing clothes for H&M collapsed in Phnom Penh. Four people were seriously injured and some were pinned under their sewing machines until help arrived. This brought attention to the treatment of the workers and the long hours and impossible quotas these women and children were forced to meet. This also brought attention to the substandard construction and building safety at these factories.
The famous Central Market was built in the 1930s. Since then, it has been renovated. It was very hot and humid in there. It’s considered one of the largest markets in Asia. Everything is sold in there from food to gemstones. A large yellow dome in the center of the market is the trademark of the building. Most of the shops extend out from the dome, gemstones and precious metals are sold inside the dome. The Tuol Tom Poung Market a.k.a. the Russian Market is famous in Phnom Penh. The reason why it is called the Russian market is because in the 1980s there were many Russian expats lived in Phnom Penh. I was told that some of the older Cambodians can speak Russian.
The genocide had a great effect on the Cambodian people. Visiting the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Killing Fields) and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) Prison was an educational and very sad experience. I learned about the genocide when I came to Cambodia. This was the worst thing I have ever heard of happening in my lifetime. Knowing this went on made me admire the kindness and resilience of the Cambodian people even more. There are still many scars left on the country from the genocide, aside the mass graves. The genocide has left 82% of the country under the age of 45.
I had the privilege of meeting one of the survivors. His name is Chum Mey. He survived two years of torture at the S 21 Prison. He had a chance encounter with his wife newly born son in captivity while being transferred on foot at gunpoint. For two days they travelled together with a group of other prisoners. On the second evening, while resting by a pagoda, the guards ordered them to walk into a rice field before suddenly opening fire on his wife and new baby in front of him. His life was only spared because of his high level of knowledge in machine repair for communist soldiers.
The food is phenomenal in Phnom Penh. From creamy pâte, quiche, and fresh roasted coffee to the traditional fish amok and curries everything is seasoned and flavorful. Beef jerky is very popular here. Most vendors have the beef drying out in the sun. Some of the beef jerky vendors looked better than others. In the end it’s a dried until its flat. The jerky is heated up before serving.Coffee is delicious in Phnom Penh. We found a restaurant famously known for their roasted coffee. A man was sitting on the street side roasting coffee throughout the day. The taste was incredible. The restaurant didn’t have a name but went by the address “126”, it was always packed with locals drinking coffee and tea.
The street side store fronts are also the owner’s house. The store is displayed out front and the bedrooms are in the back. At night you can see in past the store front and view families sitting watching tv or eating together. It’s not the best living conditions but one thing I’ve noticed is families and friends spend lots of time together laughing and enjoying life.
On a side note, I encountered another man and escort transaction. I was waiting in line to use an ATM. The street we were on was filled with sexually oriented names. It was then I realized this was a high traffic prostitution area. A Cambodian lady was walking on the sidewalk. A man in his late 60s rides by on a bike and she propositioned him in front of all of us. Even at 1pm sex was for sale in the open. Makes me wonder about the men in line at the ATM.
I hope to return to Phnom Penh. The Cambodian people are one of the reasons I loved it so much. Everyone across the board was genuinely kind. It was so peaceful there and the countryside is beautiful. The prices were the lowest I’ve seen on my trip so far. The variety of cafes, things to do and places to see throughout Cambodia makes this one of my top destinations so far.