A month ago, we flew to Cambodia for our best friend’s wedding. After a long flight, with a stop in Vienna and Bangkok, we’ve enjoyed two days with our friends and were part of a beautiful wedding. After the wedding, we stayed for one more day in Phnom Penh to discover the capital of Cambodia. In 24h you can’t see everything, so we’ve decided on the following must-sees: The Royal Palace, The Genocide Museum, The Russian Market and we finished the day on a sunset cruise.
We’ve chosen to stay at a hotel near to the Royal Palace, the perfect starting point for our sightseeing day. Due to jetlag, our nights were not the best. We found ourselves waking up in the middle of the night, not being able to sleep again until the early morning. I now know the real meaning of insomnia. Having started a bit late into that day, we’ve walked to the Royal palace around 11.30am, only to be told that the palace will close for lunch time soon and that we should come back at 2pm.
So, we moved our visit to later in the day and ordered a tuktuk through their taxi app called Grab (similar concept to Uber) to drive us to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was midday; the sun shone brightly with its ruthless hotness (it was around 33°C). Everybody seemed to be in a hurry to find a shelter. Street vendors invited to take a bite of their grilled fish or enjoy a cooled bottle of water. I sensed familiarity; the scotching sun, traffic, noise, busyness and vendors selling everything they could get their hands on. I somehow felt like I’ve been here before and I felt a sense of happiness. How can a place so far away feel like home?
2. The Genocide Museum
The streets leading to Tuol Sleng Museum are noisy and crowded but, after a fifteen minute ride, we arrived at the Genocide Museum. The entry fee (including audio tool) was around 5$.
I have never been to a place like this before. The heaviness and sadness of this place was palpable to everyone. I have read First they killed myfather by Loung Ung, a moving and sad story of the civil war in Cambodia. While reading, I sobbed throughout the pages. I cried so hard while I could barely understand the complexity and motivations of human beings. Now witnessing this place in person; I could barely withhold tears again.
On the picture, you can see the place of a former school building that served as a major prison under the Khmer Rouge regime which ruled Cambodia between 1975-1978. It was during this regime that it was renamed to S-21. We are confronted with the horrors of the genocide that took place right here; the senseless killing, the ruthless and torturous interrogation methods, the unusual suspicion of everybody, installment of fear, human rights violation and inhumane treatments. Even now, I started shaking with fear; my body became completely cold. How can people do something like this? How can anyone beso inhumane?I can’t get it, I give up. At this point, the sadness was too much to bear for me and I left these former school grounds.
One and a half hours later, we finished our tour with heavy hearts. The 2 hour visit was a little bit too much for me, I’m a sensitive person and thinking about all the people who lost their life here, was very hard and saddening. Nonetheless, I’m grateful that I could visit and learn more about the genocide.
Next up, was the Russian market, a place to distract us from what we’ve just seen.
2. Russian Market
After a 20-minute drive with the Tuktuk, we arrived at the Russian market gate or commonly known as Phsar Toul Tom Poung and we honestly, didn’t know what to make of it. From the onset; it looked more like an open car garage. We had been told it was worth visiting and a little bit doubtful, we asked the driver again if he was sure that this was the right place. He nodded and so we paid, and entered the market.
Despite its name; the market sells everything except Russian things. The market holds its name because it was frequented by Russian expats in the 1980s. We walked towards the stalls and asked again whether this was the Russian market and the locals confirmed.
Located in the south of the city off Monivong Boulevard and Mao Tse Tung. To give you a geographical indication; it’s a 15-20 minute Tuktuk ride from the riverside (and the Royal Palace). The market is open from 7am to 11pm and it’s mainly visited by tourists to buy souvenirs.
The market is mostly flanked by Cambodian urban houses and a network of quiet back roads that endorse its charm. It is interestingly calm compared to other areas of Phnom Penh and navigable by foot. I found the rest of the city rather pedestrian-unfriendly. Its quirky collection of restaurants, bars, cafes makes it a foodie’s paradise.
We walked around the stalls; enjoyed the scenery, discovered and admired different products, artifacts and bought some souvenirs. 1 hour later; we were walking the streets to find a place to eat. As it was already 4pm we opted for a snack at Bayon bakery which was around the corner from the Russian market.
Ordering a Tuktuk through Grab had been the order of the day and so we did again the ride back to the Royal Palace. 🙂 Traffic was picking up as people were headed home from work. As we got off the Tuktuk, we were jostled by pedestrians who seemed in a hurry. The memory still puts a smile on my face now, writing about it.
3. The Royal Palace
Crossing a street – tip: As weird as it sounds; when crossing a street in Phnom Penh; always continue walking without stopping. This gives the motorists a signal and hence they won’t try to run you over. Also; always cross the street where there are many people as motorists will automatically slow down due to the crowd.
We arrived at the Royal palace only to be told it was closed. We’ve failed to check the opening times but never mind; we decided to take pictures outside the palace as our last resort and souvenir. We were leaving Phnom Penh to Siem Reap the next day so we wouldn’t be able to come back.
4. The sunset cruise
To end this beautiful day full of sightseeing, we’ve gotten ourselves tickets for a sunset cruise (5S each). On the cruise (it was a simple boat ride – no dinner or anything), we’ve watched the sun go down. From the boat, we could see the Royal Palace and got a glimpse of the local life as we cruised past the islands and the villages along the coast. The fishermen were docking their boats, it was the the end of the day for them too. The Phnom Penh skyline took shape as we listened to traditional Khmer music, which was relaxing and romantic at the same time.
I found the evening boat trip an excellent way to enjoy and feel the local life of Phnom Penh while getting away from the busy and noisy streets. The cruise we’ve booked normally takes 1-2 hours and runs up to Tonle Sap river along the central riverfront area providing a magical view of the Royal Palace and Phnom Penh skyline.
There are many options and while prices vary; the sunset experience is mostly the same. Boats leave somewhere along the bank of Tonle Sap (Ours left on the river side right in front of the Royal Palace cruising out across Tonle Sap past the southern tip of Chruoy Changvar – the landmass which is home to Sokha Phnom Penh Residence – and over the waters of Mekong River.) The boats will then cruise along the far banks of Mekong river (which is the Kandal province) before circling around and slowly making it back to Phnom Penh.
It was already 7pm by the time we came back.
We shortly went to the hotel to freshen up before heading to dinner and drinks at the Eclipse bar. Another place I can recommend if you want to enjoy the Phnom Pehn skyline from above. Good food, amazing drinks, great service, great ambiance and good music. It was a perfect end to a great day!
That’s is it for my first article of my Cambodia trip. Next up: my adventures in Siem Reap; the second largest city in Cambodia with temples and floating villages.
I am a blogger and youtube vlogger who likes to share stories through words, poetism, videos and pictures. I particular like to explore the travel and lifestyle domain by focusing on different experiences in different countries and cities. While taking my audience with me; I’m sharing my journey through imagination and presence. I get inspired by people I interact with; the weird places and formations of cities, the unexpected stranger I meet along the way and the feelings I get while travelling.