Jan 28 – Feb 11, 2017
Love it! Or hate it! We got both these reactions when talking to other travelers about Phnom Penh! We actually liked it and wished we’d spent more than a week there.
There is a sense of energy and excitement in the city and yet along the riverfront life takes on a slower pace during the day, with coffee shops and restaurants inviting tourists like ourselves to sit a while and watch the boats along the river. At night the street turns into a backpackers party mecca!
It was here, one lunchtime, that we met an interesting couple from Chicago who had sold their home and all their possessions and had been traveling since 2015, house-sitting as much as possible. They gave us the name of the agency they used to find house-sitting “jobs” and had our heads spinning with great ideas about our possible next adventure!
Situated on the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, Phnom Penh has been the capital of Cambodia since the French colonization in 1867. Today it’s the center of commerce, government and diplomatic missions, attracting international business travelers as well as tourists.
Once known as the Pearl of Asia due to its beautiful French colonial buildings, today you have to search them out amidst the new buildings and traditional Cambodian houses. Everywhere we looked we saw cranes rising into the skyline erecting yet another skyscraper – either a hotel, apartment complex or office center.
As in most Southeast Asia cities, markets and street food stalls abound offering food that is inexpensive and delicious.
A note about Visas in Southeast Asia
The first thing we needed to take care of when we arrived in Phnom Penh was our Vietnam Visas. Vietnam requires that visas be obtained prior to arrival so we used Facebook Messenger to contact about a dozen travel companies in town to see who could assist us. Within a few minutes we had a reply from 2World Travel and arranged for a Tuk Tuk to take us there, fully expecting to spend about an hour filling out forms, producing passport photos, etc.
Much to our surprise, the agent took our passports, gave us a receipt for payment ($60 each for a 90 day visa) and said the visas would be ready in three days! No paperwork or photos required! We had taken copies of our main Passport page with us so we had identification while we were without our Passports. Three days later, as we were enjoying breakfast at our hotel, a courier arrived with our Passports duly stamped with our Vietnam Visas! Wow … we were impressed! This was the most painless Visa process we had experienced on our trip!
2 World Travel also offers tours within Cambodia and throughout Southeast Asia and if their tour service is anything like their Visa service, we feel confident their clients will be extremely satisfied.
Unlike Laos, where the Royal Palace is used as a Government building and not open to the public, the Royal Palace compound in Phnom Penh welcomes visitors. The King, currently His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni, lives in the Palace which is also used for Court Ceremonies.
We decided to have a 45 minute guided tour and, although our guide spoke good English and was knowledgeable, we think it would have been better to use an audio tour instead so we could take it at our own pace. The Palace closes at lunch time so it’s important to get there early to avoid being forced to leave!
The grounds and buildings are beautifully maintained and, in fact, reminded us of the Royal Palace in Bangkok. Within the Palace grounds are several Stupas, the Throne Room and the spectacular Silver Pagoda, so named because the floor is inlaid with 5,329 solid silver tiles! It contains priceless treasures including the Emerald Buddha made of Baccarat crystal dating back to the 17th century and another Buddha statue decorated with 198lbs (90kg) of gold and over 9,000 diamonds!
Shoes off and no photos in this building! Although it was quite crowded inside, we were still able to appreciate the splendor of the building and its treasures.
We were fascinated with the mural on the inside of the compound wall which, we found out, was the Khmer version of the Ramayana. Restoration work was in progress and, when finished, will add greatly to this superb Royal Residence.
What Else Did We Do in Phnom Penh?
After traveling through three countries and twelve cities, each one claiming to have the most famous Wat (Temple), one gets a little leery about visiting yet another! Wat Phnom, located on the only hill in the area, close to Riverside was worth a quick visit to see the temple sanctuary and grand staircase guarded by lions and nagas (snakes). An event was about to take place and many monks were arriving which made an interesting scene.
We also visited the National Museum of Cambodia, just north of the Royal Palace. The striking traditional style building sets the stage for what is considered the finest collection of Khmer sculpture in the world. It’s a good idea to have a guide here to explain the many different pieces otherwise they all look alike after a while!
Of course there is plenty more to see and do in Phnom Penh – more wats, more markets, river boat cruises, etc. but we also needed time to relax so these will have to wait until next time!
Cambodia has a long and at times violent history and we expected it to be obviously Communistic. However, we learned that it is a Constitutional monarchy governed under a Constitution enacted in 1993. The Monarch is chosen by the Royal Council of the Throne from among members of the Royal Family, and the Government is headed by a Prime Minister. It’s interesting to note that the Prime Minister, Hun Sen, is an ex-member of the Khmer Rouge!
Cambodia is also listed in the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world although, as visitors, we were not aware of this. The country has much to do to fight widespread poverty, lack of political freedom, damage to the environment and low per capita income, however, it has the fastest growing economy is Asia and the tenacity of the people leads us to believe that – with time – these challenges can be overcome.
As is so often the case, it’s the People who leave a lasting impression and, for that reason, Cambodia is definitely a favorite of ours!
Photo Link: https://goo.gl/photos/Ncd4jZdDanQSVNNs6