Phnom Penh First Impressions
“We were in the hot air balloon for 20 minutes before Benson could even bare to open his eyes and look at the game park all around us.” Harriet, First Lady of the Adventurer’s Club 1937
The bus ride from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh was probably the most comfortable I have ever had. Bus travel up to that point had been pretty heinous so we splashed out on a “limousine bus” and had plenty of leg room, free water, cake and a decent toilet on the bus. The comfort definitely made for a reasonably enjoyable 5 hour ride and somewhat served to soften the blow of leaving Siem Reap, a city I had fallen in love with.
Phnom Penh has a completely different vibe to Siem Reap and to be honest I didn’t like it there very much. Our hotel was just OK, a bit shabby looking. Our room was on the corner and had a balcony which went all the way round which we thought was incredible until evening came and the restaurant across the road flung their doors open and started playing the loudest music I have ever heard. From about 8pm until at least 4am in the morning our room was vibrating with the noise. It was like standing in the middle of a night club. I can cope with traffic noise and the constant sound of construction that is everywhere in Cambodia, but this was unbelievable. The next morning we complained to reception who not only moved us to an interior room but contacted Expedia for us who gave us a partial refund which almost made up for a whole night of no sleep.
The area around our hotel was not so desirable. We went out on the first night to try and find some dinner and I was taken aback by the rubbish on the street and the smell of urine everywhere. We couldn’t find any restaurants to eat in and as it was getting darker I was feeling really uneasy so we went back to our hotel and ate there. I could not shake that feeling of not being safe. It is probably because I had read online about attacks on tourists in Phnom Penh before I came. If I had not read that beforehand I would have felt as safe as I did in Siem Reap.
I found the tuk tuk drivers and beggars extremely aggressive in Phnom Penh. There are far too many tuk tuk drivers for the really small number of tourists there. Every second we were outside of the hotel tuk tuk drivers would shout at us and follow us. We would say no hundred times and they would still persist in asking us. We would actually be asked if we wanted a tuk tuk while we were IN A TUK TUK. One day we found a bench in a quiet park and sat down to relax for a minute, drivers kept coming up to us again and again. It was infuriating but of course I can see it from their point of view. Most people in Phnom Penh are extremely poor and are trying everything they can to make a decent living. Clearly there is more supply than demand and it must be very tough for the drivers to make enough to justify the cost of the tuk tuk. If I was in their position I would be just as persistent. I always tried to go for the less pushy drivers. I found the beggars and street kids more aggressive than in other places too. Older street kids would come inside restaurants and pester us at our tables while we ate to buy books or postcards. It was intimidating and we would go to restaurants which were upstairs or not in the main tourist areas so we could eat in peace. I would not give them money because I did not want to do anything to encourage them to stay on the streets and in danger. It was worse around the Riverside area which was a shame because for me it created an atmosphere which spoiled an area with some great sights and restaurants.
I have a few posts to write about what we did in Phnom Penh. Really after two days we ran out of things to do. On our last day I was thrilled to find a book shop with a Blue Pumpkin café that I could eat macaroons and do some writing in in peace. The main photo is of me at Wat Phnom temple which was up a hill in the middle of a park. It was a fairly standard temple under a bit of construction. One thing I really loved was the area around the Victory Monument. We took a walk there one afternoon and watched hundreds of people jogging around and a few people playing badminton.
When I was walking about Phnom Penh I constantly kept in mind the trauma that this city has been through. The people there have definitely been to hell and back and it is nothing short of a miracle that the city has got itself back on its feet to the extent it has. Obviously there is still a lot of work to do but I have every confidence that the standard of living can improve for the people there and Phnom Penh can become a proud tourist destination.