After reading a recent submission by Pakbung (A Road Trip To Phnom Penh), I thought I might be able to give anyone else thinking of travelling there a few tips. Ever since reading a book called "Off The Rails In Phnom Penh" by Amit Gilboa I had wanted to go there. To me it seemed like it was the last frontier. I was told by many that it was like Thailand had been 30 years ago. I cannot compare the two because I had never been to Thailand 30 years ago.
Wanting to stay in Thailand for more than 30 days I had to do a border run anyway, so I decided in 2007 to stay for a few days and check the place out. I was told by some expats living in Thailand that it was not really safe to walk the streets alone in Phnom Penh at night. They suggested hiring a driver to stay with me at all times. They also said this would not cost to much and it would be well worthwhile.
It is worth mentioning that you need a passport photo for a tourist visa and the visa will set you back US $25. On arrival at Phnom Penh Airport I obtained my visa, picked up my luggage and headed towards the something to declare sign. I had picked up a throat infection in Thailand and was taking antibiotics for it. On the entry card I had declared that I was carrying drugs. The customs officer looked at my card and said "Ah you have drugs?"
"Yes", I said. He smiled and laughed.
"Okay you go" he said.
He did not ask me what they were or what they were for. He did not seem to care. (I would not recommend anyone try to smuggle drugs, from anywhere to anywhere).
This place already seemed very different from Thailand.
Outside the airport I was swamped by taxi drivers. Every one of them trying to grab my bag and get me into his taxi. The going rate for a taxi seemed to be US$7 to the main tourist area where most of the hotels are situated. I was also approached by a motorbike taxi. His fee was US$3 to the same area, so I decided to go with the motorbike taxi.
On the way to the main tourist area where most of the hotels are the driver asked which hotel I was booked into. I explained that I had not booked into a hotel yet but had a list of some that I had checked out on the internet. He asked me how much they would cost. Telling him most were between US$15 to US$20 a night he told me this was too expensive. He said he could find me a hotel with a colour TV, air conditioning and a nice hot shower for US$10 a night. He asked me if I wanted to take a look.
"OK" I said.
Ten minutes later we pulled up outside a hotel with a very small frontage (about 15 feet). It did not look like your average hotel. It only had a counter (reception desk), and a small enclosed area which was the kitchen. A stairway went up to the rooms. Just outside on the footpath were two tables with chairs where you could eat breakfast or have coffee. The rooms were quite small and older style but were clean and did have air-conditioning, fridge, colour TV and a hot shower (probably a two and a half star rating). Seeing I was only going to spend three nights in Phnom Phen, I decided this would suit my needs.
The motorbike taxi rider offered his services for US$10 (all day and all night) to take me wherever I wanted. This seemed like a bargain so I also accepted.
By this time it was about 5 PM so as I settled into my room and asked the motorbike taxi to meet me at about 7 PM in front of the hotel. At 7 PM I went down to the front of the hotel and found my taxi already waiting for me. He took me down to the riverfront and pointed out some good places where I could get something to eat.
After eating he took me to a few different bars. There were quite a few ladies in these bars but nothing took my fancy. I had just spent a month in Pattaya and had become quite fussy. At around midnight I'd had about enough to drink and asked my taxi to take me back to the hotel. I asked my driver to pick me up at 9.30 in the morning and went up to bed.
In the morning I went down to front of the hotel at 9.30 and found my taxi already waiting for me. I had a coffee and talked to my driver about things I wanted to see and do during my stay. First would be the shooting range as it was on the way to the killing fields and after the killing fields I would check out S21 (Tuol Sleng). The shooting range is a lot of fun if you are into that sort of thing. The choice of weapons is amazing. AK-47, M-16 and M-79 assault rifles as well as rocket launchers, M-1 carbine rifles and machine guns. I must say that the shooting range is not cheap though. In 2007 it was US$30 a clip of AK or M16 bullets (30 shots) but in 2009 a clip of AK ammo was US$40 and a clip of M16 ammo US$50. If you wanted to fire a rocket launcher the price has jumped from US$100 in 2007 to US$300 in 2009. Besides the monument (pictured above) there is really not a lot to see at the killing fields. There are a few fenced off areas telling you that these were mass grave sites and how many bodies were located in these areas.
S21 (Tuol Sleng) is another story. This place will really give you an indication of what really happened to the Cambodians during the Pol Pot years. It is a truly morbid place that will leave you feeling disgusted that the world stood buy and let this happen. It is something I will never forget. I cannot even imagine the terror these people must have felt. After seeing this place I just wanted to spend some time alone and asked my taxi just to take me back to the hotel.
On arrival at the hotel I asked my driver to pick me up at 7pm. Just before 7pm I went down to the front of the hotel and again my driver was already waiting for me. After checking out a few more bars my driver suggested a disco called Martini's. On the way there my driver explained I should pick out a young attractive girl and grab her quickly. He said "otherwise the older women will sit next to you and while they are next to you the younger ones will not approach you".
I found Martini's very interesting. It has an outside area with a couple of bars, some pool tables and a large outdoor cinema that shows some of the latest movies. Inside it has a small disco which can become very crowded at times. Entering the disco I went to the bar and bought a drink. (A beer here will set you back US$1.) I found a seat right next to the dance floor and spotted a nice looking girl almost immediately. I approached her on the dance floor and asked her if I could buy her a drink. She said "yes" and came back to sit at my table. I ordered her a drink and after her drink arrived at our table she asked if I wanted to go outside and play pool because the music was so loud we could not talk inside. While we were outside playing pool I asked her if she would like to spend the night with me and she said she would. (I do realise this would not be for free.) She said she had to go to the toilet and off she went.
While she was gone I was approached by an American. He asked me how long I had been in Cambodia. I told him this was my first time in Cambodia and it was my second day. He asked me if the girl I was playing pool with was my girlfriend tonight. I said that yes she was. He told me that he had been living in Phnom Penh for two years and the girl I was with was one the best girls if not the best he had been with in Cambodia. We got talking and realised that we both had drank at many of the same bars in Thailand and knew some of the same people.
My girl returned and looked at us quite funny. What are you talking about she asked. I told her we were just talking about Thailand and that we had drank in some of the same bars over there. As she was taking her shot on the pool table the American guy told me "Look, I am not going to say too much but she doesn't complain about nothing and that's all I'm going to say. I can't believe it's your first time in Cambodia and you have only been here two days yet you have ended up with this girl". He said "maybe I will see you later" and then he disappeared into crowd.
After my girl had played her shot she came back to me and again asked me what we had been talking about. I told her again that we had drank in some of the same bars in Thailand and showed her a card from my favourite bar. She looked at the card and said "I have been to this bar." She told me exactly where it was. There is no doubt in my mind, she definitely knew this bar. After some more drinks and more games of pool I was ready for some R&R or some R&F you might call it. My driver was waiting out front and the three of us fitted on his scooter just fine. Dropping us off at the hotel my driver told me I had made a very good choice and said he would be waiting for me at 9.30 AM the next day. All I will say is yes I had a very good night. (Long time US$20).
In the morning I told my girl I would like to see her again. We agreed to meet at Martini's later that night and she left. Again my driver was waiting for me when I went for coffee just before 9.30 AM. Today we would go to the national museum and then the Royal Palace. The national museum is in a spectacular building with beautiful gardens. Some of the artefacts here are dated BC. It is well worth a look. In 2007 it was US$3 for entry but in 2009 it was free. The Royal Palace is also quite spectacular, but if you have seen other Asian palaces you may find that they are very similar. There is not a lot to do in Phnom Phen during the day but eat or drink so you might find it is worth a visit anyway. After checking out the Royal Palace my driver suggested a mountain which is in the middle of Phnom Phen and not far away. I agreed and it was off to the mountain (I cannot remember the name). It was more like a hill than a mountain but Phnom Phen is very flat so I guess to the locals it was a mountain. The main feature was a temple at the top of the hill. I couldn't believe how many monkeys were surrounding the temple in the middle of a city.
By now it was about four in the afternoon and I'd had enough sightseeing. My driver returned me to my hotel and said he would be back to pick me up at 7pm. I just kicked back and watched some TV.
At 7 PM I went downstairs and again my taxi was already there waiting for me. So it was off to get something to eat a few bars and then Martini's to meet my girl. Another good night was had. My girl explained that she had to leave early the next morning because she was going to Sihanoukville. My taxi driver said he would be here at 9.30 AM as always. And another great night was had. Next morning my girl left at about 8 AM. My taxi was again waiting for me at 9.30 AM and took me down to riverfront where I had some breakfast.
After breakfast I told my driver to just drop me off at the hotel. I just wanted to relax before my flight back to Thailand later this afternoon. Tonight I would be back in Pattaya with friends and partying hard. Later that afternoon when my taxi dropped me off at the airport I gave my driver US$40 and he was quite happy. It seemed like a bargain. At one stage it was raining and my driver pulled over and gave me his own raincoat so I wouldn't get wet. He got soaked but he made sure that I staid dry. He was never late and always looked after me. By the time I had finished this submission Pakbung's submission was not so recent, it is now about 2 months old. But after hearing Pakbung saying it was US$20 for short-time and US$40 for long-time I thought I better set things straight.
I visited Phnom Phen again in August 2009 and the price most girls will be happy with is US$20 long-time. I never took any girls short-time. I travelled with an Englishman who had been living 3 months in England and 3 months in Pattaya for the past few years. It was his first trip to Cambodia but he said he will definitely be returning there soon. For the people who are Pattaya regulars Cambodia is well worth a look. 2DOGS.