A quick visit to Phnom Penh
The Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, was actually just a bridge between our travel from Sihanoukville and Vietnam. We wanted to take a straight bus from Sihanoukville to Ho Chi Minh City, but all the options had to make a stop over Phnom Penh. Well, if we have to go there anyways, let at least enjoy the city for a while, right?!
Contrary to the Cambodian/Thailand borders where you get your visa right there (click here to read more about it), to enter Vietnam you need to provide your visa in advance. The Vietnamese Visa can be done by three different ways: online, via travel agent or at the Vietnamese Embassy. Each of those ways has a different rule and way. The price, in the end, will be pretty much the same. In our case, as Europeans, we spent around 40 us dollars each. The online visa can be only made by people who are arriving in Vietnam flying. That was not our case. We were taking a bus from Phnom Penh to Vietnam, so we needed to have our Visa printed on our passports. Click here to read about our bus travel from Cambodia to Vietnam.
On the next morning after our arrival, even before breakfast, we went to this travel agent to make our visas. They took our passports and we payed only by the time they gave us back our passports with our visas by the end of the next day. If you are in the central area of Phnom Penh, we recommend their services! The name of the place is CTT Net Travel, click here to see where it is!
Just 1 and a half day
We basically had one and a half day to visit Phnom Penh, because we arrived around 3 in the afternoon, but until you get to the hotel and make the check in, relax a bit, another hour or two was already gone. The next day we would spend entirely in the city and on the third day we would take an early bus to Vietnam. So, what can you do in Phnom Penh for just one and a half day? Well, read down there our suggestion. When you don’t have much time, the best thing you can do is to save some time to walk around to feel the city and discover some corners that are not on the guides. That was what we did on our first day. We walked to the Night Market to get some food and then we walked around to feel the city. On the second day we did pretty much everything written down, besides the night market. The city is small, so you can use your time pretty well around there.
The Water Side
In Phnom Penh the Tonle Sap river meets the famous Mekong, the 12th longest river in the world. For you to have an idea, Mekong starts in Tibet, China, and goes until South Vietnam. Besides that, in Phnom Penh, the biggest touristic area is by the shore of Tonle Sap. This area is a very large sidewalk where you might find one small restaurant, a cafe, an ice cream shop and maybe something else. Then there is an avenue a bit hard to cross (you gotta do it on the Asian way, with bravery and one lane per time) and then the other side of the street is a normal sidewalk filled with restaurants. From time to time you will find other stores or travel companies, but mainly is composed by restaurants with mainly Khmer food and some “western” promises, but not so nice.
Like every Asian city, you are going to find few temples around the city. The most popular one is the Wat Phnom. It is a roundabout and non Cambodians shall pay one American dollar to visit. It is a very sacred and peaceful temple, so show your respects while visiting around. The chances that you will find friendly monkeys around there are huge as well. The second temple we’ve been is a small one, but very interesting as well, the Wat Ounalom. Click on the names to see their location on the map.
During our adventure in Cambodia and Vietnam was not uncommon to find to markets in the city: the Central Market that would usually work during the day and the night market that would take place for the night time. In Phnom Penh they also exists. The Central Market works from 7:00 to 18:00 and the Night Market just run on weekends and holidays from 17:00 to midnight. The amazing thing about the Night Market is that you can order some food in the Street Food kiosks and you will eat it sitting on a huge matt in the floor and will eat pretty much like a local. It is a pretty nice experience and the Khmer food is also really good.
The Royal Palace is very beautiful and has a nice and spacious area in front of it. The working hours are from 8:30 to 10:30 in the morning, reopening again at 14:00 until 17:00. Unfortunately this working hours didn’t fit to our tour and we couldn’t see it from the inside, but we believe it to be very beautiful. An interesting fact about this area in the city is the night life. If you walk south from the Royal Palace you will get to an are with the friendship monument. In this entire area (which is very big), making an L until the Independence Monument is filled with locals exercising, dancing, skate boarding, playing some badminton, football, racing with kit cars or simply hanging around with family or friends. It is a super amazing environment and you must walk around there early in the evening.
Genocide Museum and Killing Fields
If you don’t know, Cambodia has a really bad history and it goes until not long time ago. They had a very bad dictatorship called the Khmer Rouge that started in 1968 and went until 1979 and killed around half of the Cambodian population by the time. The story is pretty ugly and you can visit a bit of it while going to the Genocide Museum and to the Killing Fields. In our case, we couldn’t go to the Killing Fields, because it is a bit far from the city center and we didn’t have much time for that. People that experienced it says that you can still see the bones all around. It is pretty sad. The Genocide Museum is near to the city center and is opened from 7:00 to 17:30. It was a school taken by the Khmer Rouge and transformed into a prison. We all know that the first thing that dictators usually do is to take away the knowledge sources from the people. In the Khmer Rouge all the schools were shut down and many of them transformed into prison or killing place. In the case of the Genocide Museum one, more than 20.000 people were taken their and only 7 went out with life. This can give you a bit if the horror scene that was staged on that place. Besides the poor exhibition, the visit to the place is very amusing and it can be pretty hard to imagine everything that happened around there. To enter a small fee of US$ 2,00 is charged. Like any genocide place, don’t visit it if you are going through some hard moment, facing some depression or you are psychologically unstable.
About the Killing fields, we were told that a Tuk Tuk drive to the place would cost around US$ 15 – 20. Unfortunately we were in town by the time a national and important holiday was going on and to find someone who could take us there for a lower price would be pretty hard. So I believe that in normal days you might be able to find transport to the Killing Fields for around US$ 10,00. The entrance fee for the place is of US$ 3,00 without an audio guide.
Olympic Stadium and Village
It is funny to know that Cambodia never hosted or has no plans to host the Olympic Games, but even though they have an Olympic Stadium and right now they are building up the Olympic Village. As football lovers we went to visit it and by some lucky moment we even managed to go inside the football field without paying any fee. Actually we don’t know if there’s any visitation available on the place, we simply walked there and the doors were opened. We went inside and there were some photo shooting of a wedding running inside the football field and we could go inside and even step into the field. It was a very cool experience. The interesting fact about the Olympic Stadium is that there’s not only the Football pitch, there’s also a Basketball pitch in the inner part of the complex. If you are into sports, it is a nice place to go.
We had a pleasant day at the Cambodian capital. We got specially impressed by the night activities near to the Royal Palace and how the population found their way back to life after such a horrible story. The population of Cambodia is mainly young duo to the historical massacre and many families still have to deal with some consequences of the Khmer Rouge time. So, if you are in Cambodia, take at least a day to walk around Phnom Penh and feel a bit their history. Also the Cambodians are very friendly people and you will always find a helping hand in case you need some there!