I had a feeling I would like Phnom Penh, and I was right. It is hectic, vibrant, exotic and energetic – a bit like an Eastern version of New York. I love the buzz!
Here are my top tips:
Budget accommodation: Sokha Heng Guest House – great location close to the river. Rooms clean and spacious. Only drawback is no elevator – bad news when you’re lugging a heavy rucksack up 3 floors within days of climbing Mt Kinabalu! Around $20 a night.
Best coffee shop: Cafe Fresco – quite possibly the best coffee shop I have ever been to, and I’ve been to many. Fantastic coffee, fresh-squeezed juices, smoothies, pastries, breakfasts, and sandwiches – just about anything a Westerner could want.
Best bar: Foreign Correspondents Club – above Cafe Fresco – great views of the river. Happy hour daily. Excellent margaritas.
Best massage: for sheer serenity, try out Bodia Spa, conveniently situated between Sokha Heng Guest House and the FCC. I paid $26 for 90 minutes of bliss.
Best photography course: yesterday photographer Nathan Horton took me on a trip to Silk Island, a little bit of rural Cambodia just a short boat ride from central Phnom Penh. He runs courses covering the basics of photography, and then takes students on an escorted trip to try out their newfound skills. Cambodians have to be amongst the most photogenic people in the world – especially the children. Show them the results on your camera, and they will happily ham it up for you for hours!
Best way to get around town: today I hired a tuktuk for about 5 hours (at a cost of $15) to take me around the various sights. If you don’t mind taking your life in your hands, it’s an exhilarating experience. Laws relating to which side of the road to drive on are apparently advisory only. But I much preferred to have the freedom of my own schedule rather than being herded around on a tourist bus.
appall me. This is very topical – today one of the key perpetrators received his prison sentence.
Most amazing sight: the Grand Palace? Phnom Wat (temple)? No – what amazed me most was how much stuff can be transported by a 150cc engine and two wheels. Family of 5? Two mattresses? Full-length mirror? No problem! Scooters are definitely the mode of transport of choice, and seem to easily accomplish what requires a 3500cc pickup in the US….
A few facts about Cambodia (source: World Factbook iPhone app):
1. About 1.5 million Cambodians died under the Pol Pot regime. I don’t know what the population was at the time (late 70s) but it is now about 15 million, with a growth rate of 1.777%. So we can safely say that at least 10% of the population was executed. Unimaginable.
2. Land area slightly smaller than Oklahoma. Mostly rice paddies and forests, dominated by the
Mekong River and Tonle Sap. Ethnically 90% Khmer, 5% Vietnamese, 1% Chinese, 4% other. 96% Buddhist.
3. The garment industry employs about 5% of the workforce, and contributes more than 70% of Cambodia’s exports. Oil was discovered here in 2005, and mining is also starting to attract foreign investment. Sigh. Another one.
4. More than 50% of the population is less than 21 years old – a major demographic imbalance. Most of the countryside lacks basic infrastructure – despite its proximity to Phnom Penh, electricity only arrived on Silk Island within the last 5 years.
5. Human trafficking: Cambodia is trying to reduce the trafficking of men, women and children for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. It is on the US Government’s Tier 2 watch list, meaning that it “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but are making significant efforts to do so…”
Tomorrow? Another day, another country. Off to Manila to speak to the Young Presidents’ Organisation, then on to the eco-resort of El Nido….