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!

Bike a little large - but he'll grow into it...

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.

Silk Island kids hamming it up

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.

Most moving experience: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek extermination centre. On a par with Hitler’s holocaust in terms of sheer brutality, man’s inhumanity to man never ceases to

Photos of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime

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

Scooters photographed from my tuktuk

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….

14 Comments

  • I visited Phnom Penh in April 1999. Amazing vibrant city full of beautiful people.. Also visited the Tuol Sleng and wept at the site of what I saw there… You should visit Angkor Wat if you haven’t already done so.

    Wishing you all the best on your travels Roz. : )

  • Something amusing I forgot to mention: the two main brands of beer in Cambodia are Angkor and Anchor. Try pronouncing them out loud. Yup, they sound the same. So to avoid confusion, Angkor is pronounced Ang-kor and Anchor is pronounced An-chor.

    Got it?!

  • It’s interesting to know how to pronounce them, but more helpful if you could describe how they taste. You never know, I just might get stuck there one day and such vital information could make all the difference!

    Oh, and thank you for the pictures, Roz – excellent as usual.

    John

  • roz—cambodia is one of my favs!!! Sounds like a great time yet depressing with the killing fields and past history…but a great people. I loved Ankor Wat too. if you need any tips about the area drop me a line.
    cheers
    norm

  • John – what on earth makes you think I tried them?! 🙂

    I had one Anchor. Fizzy. Didn’t try Angkor – so you’ll have to live dangerously and try it yourself if you ever find yourself in PP.

  • Roz,
    In your fund raising box at top of page, you say you need money for your final Pacific voyage. I thought you had already made that voyage, and are now off to conquer the Indian Ocean. Please let me know if I am a little mixed up. Thank you…much love….much good fortune.
    Dully

  • Bad thing about those scooters is they pollute more per mile than many of the full size vehicles in the United States. Much as many of the older gas lawn mowers produce more pollutants then vehicles.

    Since gasoline produces more power per unit than just about any other material (including gunpowder and the like) it is the first choice for power in almost all portable applications, especially when considering distribution networks and the state of current technology.

  • Hi Dully – I have indeed completed the Pacific row. The fundraising box was set up earlier this year, before that row. It will be removed from the site when the appeal ends on Aug 15.

    BTW, no “conquering” of oceans for me…. the ocean is gracious enough to let me cross. If humans think we ever conquer nature, we are sadly deluded!

  • The country’s culture
    is initiated from the reign of Angkor- a
    thriving empire that lived along the provinces to the Northwestern side of the
    country. The kingdom controlled majority of the land in the present Thailand, Vietnam
    and Laos.
    The Angkor monarchy left in its wake an
    impressive culture of architecture, music, art and dance which reflect the
    country’s exotic beauty.

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