Phnom Penh


Phnom Penh, almost as expected, was the city that I struggled the most with.

Transported from Singapore, we arrived to the city in the early evening. Our passports were taken away, I paid $10 for the boy’s visa, then his passport was given back. I was waved on to another line. My name was called, my passport handed back. $20 for me. Confusing, aye. The boy, normally impeccably behaved, had decided that this was the time where he would spin on the tiles… and spin he did, followed by running around and not listening when I called him over for the customary wave at the camera/fingerprinting/passport part of the trip.

We grabbed our luggage and emerged into the warmth. It was lovely. I love the way that the heat envelopes you after you leave the plane and you begin to wake up and realise that you are somewhere new, different and the adventure has truly begun.

I grabbed a taxi and made a rookie error that I didn’t make again on our trip – I didn’t ask how much the fare would be or negotiate. It was an airport taxi, it should have been a flat $9. I am rubbish at negotiating fares, so thought that going for one of the airport ones I would avoid the trouble… well.

We got stuck in peak hour traffic, the 7km trip took 40 minutes.

It was at one of the first intersections where the most gorgeous little girl knocked on our window and asked for money. I’d prepped the little man that we were not going to give money to children begging… Further up the road, a little boy who couldn’t even see over the door of the car knocked on my window.

Then my taxi driver started taking me on a “tour”, past the independence monument, past the poorest streets, complete with small children urinating onto the “road” on and on, until we got to our hotel and the doubled taxi fare.

*sigh* It was not pretty, dear readers. I quibbled and wavered. I ended up negotiating down, slightly. In retrospect, I should have given him 9 and stormed off to our hotel and let the reception staff deal with him if he’d followed. One word: Sucker. If that had happened at the end of our trip, well, things would have been different.

We carried our bags up the 5 flights of stairs to our top floor room, surveyed the beautiful sunset past Wat Botum and Botum Park and then contemplated dinner. We spotted a playground and made our way there, crossing the roads bravely (no organised crossings, remember!). We meandered, then got hungrier and hit up Suki Soup… It was disastrous as we realised that we had major communication issues, had drunk drinks without establishing if they had filtered water in them, then had no idea how to cook the food.

We ordered off the easy part of the menu and found a bottle of water.

And called it a night. I was questioning why Cambodia, why by myself and with the responsibility of getting the boy to enjoy South East Asia.


Our first full day we went to Phnom Tamao, which will be getting its own picture heavy post. Things really turned around when we went to dinner that night, to be greeted with the royal palace and surrounds to be all lit up with fairy lights. It was extraordinarily beautiful and felt like being in an Eastern Paris. I fell in love with Phnom Penh in that moment.


We hit up the Russian Market, as seen above, purchasing the boy a digital watch with a calculator, a few factory seconds from Osh Kosh, Zara, H+M and Adidas. We toured the silver pagoda, but not the royal palace as the King Father’s body was still lying in State. We went to the Riverside and had dinner and a drink at the Foreign Correspondant’s club.


There is a lot I purposely left out of Phnom Penh and more that I want to explore next time. We avoided the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng, people told me that I would regret it, that I was missing the soul of the country… Next trip, perhaps. We didn’t go to Angkor Wat on this trip, either. Certainly, next time.


We left 3 sleeps after arriving. An early morning trip with a pair of lovely travelling American ladies to the Island. I was sad about leaving the thriving, teeming, changing beautiful mess of Phnom Penh. A complete 360 degree turn around in 2 and a half days. I can’t wait to explore more of the crumbling buildings and see the new surprises when next we return. The city isn’t one of those light ones, you can feel a menace in the shadows. It’s a two faced city – a proud, smiling face for the foreigners and you just know that there is darkness happening in and around you.


I was scared of things going wrong in Phnom Penh – of my passport being stolen, my big camera being taken (hence why so few photos were taken, I didn’t feel comfortable), being separated from my beautiful boy… yet, circumstances didn’t really prompt that. It was all the talk leading up to the trip – people saying how scary Cambodia was, even the guy next to me… and I bought into it, again. Things on our final full day were much more relaxed, until we caught a tuk tuk home after dinner and the driver turned around and said “be careful, Miss” and pointed at my bag on the floor…

The thing is though, I was alert, but never really scared. I keep saying “next time” over and over, I cannot wait to share this city with my partner and see what he thinks of it. I want to explore so much more, but I am so glad that I’ve started the explorations!




One thought on “Phnom Penh

  1. Oh these posts about South East Asia have me reminiscing about our 13 month backpacking adventure in SE Asia in 1986 (Stan and I – before we got married and before children), What a special time for you both!

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