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krisek Phnom Penh - A travel report by Krys
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Phnom Penh,  Cambodia - flag Cambodia
14317 readers

krisek's travel reports

Colourful and busy capital of Cambodia.

  9 votes
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At a first sight, Phnom Penh does not look welcoming. Not from the boat landing. It is noisy and dirty. One thing stands out in the capital - the riverfront promenade fringed with palm trees and old lanterns. The royal enclosure is also stunning.

Flags flying along the river; Czech, Polish, Russian...
Flags flying along the river; Czech, Polish, Russian...
The French apparently attempted to build the city from scratch after it had been burnt to the ground by the Siamese in the XVIII century and then neglected by the governments. However, it is quite difficult to see any resemblance to a pretty town in France. There are a few colonial houses around, but not many, and it simply does not do the trick. One thing stands out in Phnom Penh, however. It is the riverfront promenade fringed with palm trees and old lanterns, separated from the riverfront boulevard and the road by a wide lawn. It is reasonably long and it has plenty of room to sit down and enjoy the look at the rivers – the Mekong, Tonle Bassac and Tonle Sap. There aren’t any benches or anything, but one can sit down on the small wall separating the riverfront boulevard and the concreted river banks. Many locals do. So did I.

I came for Christmas. There was nothing going in any 'western style Christmas' but it was exotic and I decided to treat myself for a nice dinner at a good restaurant. I liked the capital of Cambodia. It was friendly. It was colourful. It had a very agreeable districts, a few examples of interesting architecture, typical Asian feel and bustling markets, and fantastic views of the rivers. It felt safe. I walked at night on a few occasions and never spotted anything sticky or dodgy. I was happy there.

Favourite spots:
The Silver Pagoda
The Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda are the key attractions in Phnom Penh and extremely deserving a visit. They are the bright spot of the city, painted in very bright colours and in a perfect condition. The Royal Palace is still in use and footwear has to be removed when stepping into. It is painted in gold, which gives a fantastic impression. It has an incredible roof and rows of thin columns going around the building. The palace is best seen early in the morning or around sunset (just before they are about to close the site). The sunrays falling on Earth at a small angle bring up the colours and make them look even more golden. Entire school trips ride through this place and the number of the school children on the premises exceeds the number of tourists wandering in a significantly less organised manner around the buildings, the palace, the garden, shrines and temples. I loved it! It was like a 'forbidden', lovely city inside a city.

What's really great:
The Royal Enclosure
The Royal Enclosure
One can also see a single monk or a couple of monks passing by who take care of the shrines, pagodas and the temples. It had to be imagined (or simply look at the picture opposite) that an addition of a bright orange costume to the overall background pleases the eye. The property stands out in this unattractive city. It is actually quite shocking to see such a difference between the poverty of the streets and the wealth of the royal compound. It reminded me of Madagascar, where the president lived in a palace as large as several villages surrounding it, combined! Like a fortress! The Silver Pagoda is a temple on the premises of the royal park (and walled around), which has become known for its silver floor tiles. They are made of real silver, which is extraordinary. Otherwise, it is also special for its look, I mean the architecture. It actually follows the traditional pagoda architectural style, which is not particularly special, but it is a bit larger and it is beautifully decorated.

The main street in Phnom Penh
The main street in Phnom Penh
I forgot to mention shoe-cleaning boys, who hunt their prey on the promenade. Hang on a minute – this was not supposed to sound like that. These were boys hoping to make some money by cleaning people’s footwear. My hiking shoes can hardly be saved now, so I normally say no to these little guys to avoid their disappointment. No matter how hard they would have tried to resuscitate them, nothing could help them. But this cutiest six year-old boy with the most infectious smile approached me, walking on the very steep concrete river bank, smiled and looked me in the eye with his saddest, beyond belief, black eyes and said - 'ok mister?' I would consider myself utterly heartless had I refused.

The next day, I started with breakfast for the kid of the street. He started asking for food and then changed his mind and asked for one dollar. I said no for the dollar and yes for food. Until today, I cannot figure out how this boy all over sudden turned into three boys. We went looking for food.

The breakfast boys
The breakfast boys
It was a while until we found a street stand serving food at this time in the morning. The man, who owned the stand, could not believe that I wanted to buy the food for the boys. It was actually four of them then. They were incredibly dirty, I have to admit.

It cost me CBR 1,000 (USD 0.25) and the boys were jumping up in happiness as the food was being prepared. They had a chance to boss the cook around a bit as well, telling him and pointing what they wanted. It was quite funny to watch how the cook desperately tried to avoid these eight little hands sinking in the sauces, the baby bamboo canes, and even hot boiling oil in the wok! I was glad they got a healthy breakfast – an egg fried with baby bamboo cane and plenty of vegetables – I am not exactly sure what it was. It was a nice heap of food for them for sure. It would be a nice heap of food for an adult as well!

I briefly came back to my hotel, one of the cheapish along the riverfront promenade, to regroup and make further plans.

On the way to the Killing Fields
On the way to the Killing Fields
Then, I decided to have breakfast myself. An Asian one! As I was consuming my breakfast rice – right at the riverfront boulevard, a tuk-tuk man talked me to a ride around town. Well, I had nothing better to do in this unexciting city, so I thought I might go and sit in a tuk-tuk and see something, maybe take some pictures. Unfortunately, it was actually my decision to go on an extremely bumpy road to the Killing Fields, a sad place in Cambodia. Many touts were telling me about this place and said that it was very important for their country to go and see the fields. The fields represent massive graves of people who did no agree with the regime of Red Khmers. It is seriously a sad place. It resembles Nazi concentration camps from World Word II. Massive killing and massive burial, a crime against humanity. In the middle of the fields, there is a monument erected in the memory of those murdered there. The monument contains sculls and bones of the victims. Quite a powerful sight.

The view from the promenade
The view from the promenade
It is actually a pity that the sit down bars, restaurants, and cafes are situated at the other side of the boulevard, rather than on the promenade. This way they do not offer any direct view to the three rivers. What they do offer is the busy road filled with mopeds, motorbikes, tuk-tuks and, obviously, cars. It is fine if it does not disturb you eating your tiger prawn fried rice and drinking very cold beer. It would nevertheless be so much better on the promenade. One can definitely eat and drink at the promenade, though. It is the entire army of food sellers who miraculously cook something for the brave on the extremely small cooking devices. These devices are based on charcoal and the 'oven' is a coconut shell. I was officially impressed with this. People happily eat there. Plus, there are more than enough of canned drinks and bottled water sellers everywhere. So, if you’re fussy about the cars and mopeds, you can eat and drink from a coconut.

Riverfront boulevard, where cafes, restaurants and hotels are based
Riverfront boulevard, where cafes, restaurants and hotels are based
There are a number of restaurants with full river view directly on the riverfront. Some of them are really good. Although not open all day, there are a blessing and adequate alternative to the coconut miracle dishes. Looks of the restaurants do not denominate the quality of the place, however. I personally liked Goldfish River Restaurant. Interior a bit communistic and aluminium but the terrace with river view is great. It would be even greater if the baby palm trees placed in the brown clay pots right on the edge did not block most of the view. The food successfully killed all imperfections this restaurant may have. Even those I did not spot myself. I had Mekong Prawn in Black Pepper Sauce. This most definitely and undoubtedly made my day! For about twenty minutes, these divine prawns were giving orgasm to my taste receptors of the lower tongue. The prawns were grilled to perfection, crispy, beautifully and healthily firm. They were large and it was incredibly pleasurable to bite them.

Other recommendations:
The stone stupa at the Royal Enclosure
The stone stupa at the Royal Enclosure
The sauce was a triumph on its own as well. Thick, but not too sluggish and marvellously spicy! I could believe that the sauce was actually the natural habitat of these prawns in their previous life. The pepper made the taste last forever in the corners of my tongue, and on the edges – right in the middle of it. And slightly on top as well! Poetry! Heaven in mouth! The meal was good value, too. For twenty prawns with two heap spoonfuls of rice and chives with baby onions, I paid only 8,000 riels (CBR), which at the time was USD 2. That was truly incredible! I was in heaven, and it was Christmas Eve too.

My plans were to transit from the capital of Cambodia to Saigon in Vietnam. I had nothing organised but it turned out that it is rather easy to get everything sorted in no time. I just mentioned something at the reception of my cheap hotel, and they came back with a number of various options. It was great and cheap. My advice therefore is to be friendly with the receptionists...

Published on Thursday December 25th, 2008

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Fri, Dec 26 2008 - 12:23 AM rating by yuliangpang

your report is excellent which makes uninviting place look very great. it seems to me that you enjoyed your visit there. I love that part about the restaurants and food, I was watering.

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