Before anything about Phnom Pehn, I have to tell you about our very interesting bus ride from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Pehn. So we left Pham Ngu Lan at around 3PM because it’s a 6-hr trip to Phnom Pehn. And it’s just a normal long bus ride but of course you have to go off and back on the bus for immigration. So after a couple of hours, we stopped at the Vietnam border to get our passports stamped to exit Vietnam which took about 30minutes since we were not the only ones passing the border and we were a whole bus of people. But after the Vietnam exit, you still have to ride the bus again to get to the Cambodian border to enter. So we get to the other side of the border and get stamped. After they took our fingerprints and photo for the immigration entry, we were officially in Cambodia. But since there were still some people getting processed, we decided to look for a washroom, since the bus toilet sucked and we thought we had 5minutes to spare. So we found the washroom and cleaned up. After we went back to where the busses where parked and to our horror, the bus wasn’t there anymore. THE BUS LEFT US AT THE BORDER! We couldn’t believe that the bus just left us there, that they didn’t even account for the number of people in the bus. It never occurred to the driver and his pal that, are we missing anyone? Oh yeah, whatever, let’s go! To add up to the horrifying reality, it was raining so hard and we didn’t have any umbrellas and had no idea how to get to the bus or if we could even find the freaking bus. (Please do note that literally all our things were in the effing bus, including my laptop.) So in our panic, we started thinking of what to do and good thing we found a motorcycle nearby who agreed to “follow” the bus so we can catch up. So we rode the back of the motorcycle wearing the clothes on our backs under the pouring rain hoping that we see the freaking bus that we weren’t sure what looked like. But to our delight, the lady sitting next to us at the back of the bus noticed that the persons she was sitting beside her weren’t there (SURPRISE!) and asked the bus to stop. So because of this sweet lady that we met, who also treated us to dinner, get were able to get back on the bus and get to Phnom Pehn in one piece.
So we arrived at Phnom Pehn about 10PM I think and we get to the hostel only to find out the kitchen was already closed and there were no delivery services, we had to go a restaurant if we wanted food. But due to exhaustion, we decided not to eat dinner and just hang out at the bar at the hostel. The bar was really cool and the staff was very fun to talk to (we stayed at the 88backpackers hostel) we downed our drinks and made friends until the bar closed and we had to get to bed.
What to see
Royal Palace – This is just a group of buildings where you learn what Cambodian architecture is about. Since we only hired a tuktuk for the trip and no tour guides, we had no idea what this building was for. Entrance is USD5 and it’s open from 7:30AM to 11:00AM.
National Museum – Cool place to see artifacts (if you can call them that, I honestly don’t know what would qualify as an artifact other than being really old). There were huge Buddha statues inside and gold jewelry worn by their royalty. Entrance is USD3 and open from 8:00AM to 5:00PM.
To our dismay, the War Remnants Museum was a less depressing than the genocide museum in Cambodia. The genocide museum is a school turned into a concentration camp by the Khmer Rounge (since there were anti-intellectuals). Imagine a school where the façade is covered by barbed wires, not because prisoners were trying to escape but because prisoners were trying to commit suicide. Also, the rooms were either big rooms where you can see where the chains were installed on a huge room divided into teeny tiny cells to hold prisoners in. The museum is dedicated to all the people who were held there and died under torture. What’s also sad about it that you can see all the pictures of the prisoners displayed in the rooms and some of them were children. It’s really a very sad place to visit but necessary to realize how bad Paul Pot was to his fellow countrymen.
Where to shop / What to Buy
Russian Market – Don’t buy from the boutique stores in front of the market, because those things are expensive. Buy from the actual market. It may take some effort but we were able to buy Esprit, GAP and MNG overruns for less than USD5.
Make sure you buy a scarf that is naturally dyed. I actually regretted only buying one but there is a store that’s near the National Museum where you can buy a naturally dyed scarf for USD10.
But before we left Phnom Pehn, we were struck by another misfortune. We were cutting time short since we were preoccupied with shopping. We left the Russian market with only an hour to spare before our van leaves for Siem Reap, then rain poured to the point that the streets were flooded. We barely got the hostel in time and had to ask the hostel if they could call the travel company so that they could arrange for the van to pick us up from the hostel. But according to the receptionist, it can’t be done since we were already late. So he had to bargain with the driver (I think) to meet us somewhere so they can pick us up and we can get to Siem Reap. After all the commotion, we had to ride a motorcycle again, with our backpacks in the rain just to get to the van. Again, it was a good thing that the receptionist at the hostel, intense as he may be, made his magic happen and we caught up with our ride.
What to remember
1.You can hire a tuktuk for a whole day trip. Just make sure you haggle for the price.
2.Bus your bus tickets with the hostel. It’s much easier that way. Don’t do the smart thing we did which was buy our bus tickets to Siem Reap somewhere else and risked missing the van.
3.Cambodians are the nicest people we’ve ever met! They always have a smile on their face and ready to great you.
4.Make sure you talk to the locals about their history; it will literally move you to hear their stories about the war. The hostel we stayed in have the nicest staff and told us stories of their relatives during the war and you can see how much they are still affected by it. I think it’s important that when you go somewhere, you learn the history of their people through their eyes because it will make you appreciate the country and their customs more.
5. Despite your misfortunes in your travel, you will meet people who will show you that kindness is still something worth hoping for.