Monday, September 4, 2017

Phnom Penh: The Royal Capital City of Cambodia


If you'd ask me about my latest trip to Phom Penh, all I'd tell you is that prepare to get seared. Don't get me wrong, I live in the Philippines all my life but the midnoon April sun will pierce your skin like thousands of needles. The good thing though was that they have the best green mangoes and salt+chili dip in the world. The two have no connection at all, but these were the memories I have of Phnom Penh.

It was our second stop in Cambodia during Same Same Summer Trip 2017, our annual two-month backpacking trip. Me and my buddy just came from Siem Reap after our four-day stay and sought the help of an online travel company, Angkor TravelPlus, to secure our ride to the capital city via van (which they call express mini-bus). After rediscovering Malaysia (we tagged along our respective moms and showed them around our favorite cities in the country), we headed to Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam afterwards.

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It was our first time in Phnom Penh, and as usual, we had no concrete plans for our three-day stay. All we knew was that we weren't gonna take a trip to the horrific genocide museum and killing fields; we try to avoid such depressing places. So we devised our own walking tour and trusted our sore feet to lead the way (check here for discounted tours, transportation and activities in Phnom Penh).

What To Do In Phnom Penh
Early morning sun+heat. Checking out the stalls for the best green mangoes in the world.
It was around three in the afternoon when we arrived in the capital city of Cambodia, and the moment we stepped out of the van, hordes of tuk tuk drivers approached us with their offers to take us to wherever we're going. Politely declining their services, we went to a discreet area to book a ride via an online taxi service app, bearing in mind the warnings of the locals in Siem Reap about the random cellphone snatching in Phnom Penh. In fairness, we didn't get into any such trouble during the course of our stay.

Phnom Penh Traffic
Traffic jam, Phnom Penh edition.
We were dropped off by our tuk tuk driver to our home in the city, Billabong Hotel and Hostel. We dashed to our room and fell into a deep slumber that lasted until nighttime. We only went out for dinner and skipped our regular beer night. We were aching for rest. 

Billabong Hotel and Hostel Phnom Penh
Billabong Hotel and Hostel Phnom Penh
Recharged after a much needed rest, we woke up early for a full day of getting lost moments on our DIY walking tour of Phnom Penh. Our first stop was the Central Market which is near our hotel.

The Central Market is a landmark in itself . This huge market was built in 1937 in the shape of a dome with four branched-out hallways. It is filled with numerous shop stalls that sell almost everything. I found pleasure on checking some cute trinkets, but ended up buying nothing (blame it on our super tight budget). Shopaholics would definitely have a great time here.

The Central Market Phnom Penh
The Central Market
We then headed towards Phnom Penh’s Royal Railway Station, planning to purchase our train tickets to Sihanoukville the next day. The old station, with its beautiful architecture, was built in 1932 during the French colonial administration. The 600-kilometer rail network goes as far as Poipet in the north and Sihanoukville to the south. It took 35 months to build. The railway system suffered great damages during the war era, around 40 years ago, and was almost destroyed. Efforts to rebuild the transport infrastructure of Cambodia started in 2010, including the Royal Railway Station.

The Royal Railway Station Phnom Penh
Royal Railway's Phnom Penh Station
We bought tickets for our trip to Sihanoukville the next day at US$7 each, way cheaper compared to taking the bus. Travel time is longer though as it takes seven hours; the fastest bus will take you there for only four hours. The train from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville is available every Fridays (3:00 pm), Saturdays and Sundays (7:00am and 4:00pm).

We had two roadside coffee stops before we reached our next destination, the Wat Phnom. We paid US$1 each for the entrance fee and explored one of the famous landmarks of Phnom Penh.

Wat Phnom Phnom Penh
Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom, which literally means “Hill Temple”, is a Buddhist temple built in 1372. It stands 27 meters above the ground  with the central altar complex featuring a large bronze Buddha, multiple statues, murals around the main sanctuary, and more.

Wat Phnom Phnom Penh
Seeking refuge
The online map showed us that we're near a body of water (we purchased a local sim card in Siem Reap for US$4 for our online needs) and we headed towards that direction only to find that there was no park or whatsoever to lounge at. We ended up having lunch on a fast food outlet because of AC as we ditched our plans of having a meal on a roadside eatery. 

The heat was unbearable at that time, so we took our time having lunch. We then went out and followed the river that led us to Sisowath Quay. The three-kilometer-long boulevard is where the audience for the Water Festival, especially boat races, is accommodated.

Sisowath Quay Phnom Penh
Sisowath Quay: Where the Mekong River meets Tonle Sap Lake
Our leisurely saunter brought us where the Mekong River meets the Tonle Sap Lake (which I remember vividly as we visited the houses on stilts on a part of Tonle Sap Lake in Siem Reap). The sun was still at its best as we walked towards the park. 

There was a temple, Wat Ounalom, across it which seemed interesting. Not minding a man who insisted that it was close at that time, we still went finding out on our own that it was indeed having a break from visitors. The man suggested some place to visit instead which, I politely declined. Scammer alert!

Wat Ounalom Phnom Penh
Wat Ounalom
Our sore feet then brought us to The Royal PalaceThe US$10 entrance fee for each person prevented us from entering though. The two o'clock sun was bearing down in all its glory and we're taking break every chance we get. This time, sitting on a low stool on a roadside vendor. 

The Royal Palace is a complex of buildings which functions as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. Built in 1860s, the complex houses the Silver Pagoda, Moonlight Pavilion, Khemarin Palace, Throne Hall, and the Inner Court.

The Royal Palace Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace
I was freaking out because of the heat but my buddy said that we still have one last stop before we go back to our hotel. 

Built in 1958, the Independence Monument was constructed in commemoration of Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. Located in a rotunda in between Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard, the monument is in a form of a lotus-shaped stupa. It is the center of activity during important national celebrations.

Independence Monument Phnom Penh
Independence Monument
I was already aching for a time-out from the punishing afternoon heat, covering most of our intended spots on foot. Finally, we took a tuk tuk to our hotel and my body effortlessly surrendered to the bed.

We had a good rest that afternoon, which we needed so much as we had to meet up with a blogger friend which we met on a trip in Indonesia last year. Kounila was born and bred in Phnom Penh and is a successful blogger/entrepreneur in the city. A café near the Russian Market was our rendezvous for that evening.

Russian Market Phnom Penh
Russian Market at night
The Russian Market, or Toul TomPoung Market, is located in the southern part of the city. Although there are no Russian knick-knacks here (the name came from the loads of Russian expats who favored this market during the 80s), you can find cheaper souvenirs here compared to other markets in the city.


Russian Market Phnom Penh
Food trippin' with Phnom Penh's top blogger/entrepreneur, Kounila of wheninphnompen.com.
After our food trip with Kounila, we went to a hip bar/cafe, TINI Café + Bar, where we had the best local beer with a kick. We then spent hours of catching up and went home with a Bok Beer buzz (Cambodia Beer + chili + lime + salt | US$3).

TINI Cafe Bar Phnom Penh
You should try Bok Beer whilst in Phnom Penh. Only at TINI Cafe+Bar
I find that Phnom Penh City is the perfect place to chill. You can actually do away with all the key spots in the city and just enjoy the Cambodian way of life by having coffee or probably beer on a riverside café. As a Southeast Asian capital city, I find it very different from the crazy fast-paced scenes of Bangkok, Manila, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore--but in a good way, as you can enjoy the city without enduring the stressful commute and such.







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