Phnom Penh, Cambodia
We arrived in Phnom Penh by bus, but thankfully the road from Siem Reap is tarmac, not dirt track. And the bus was newer, air conditioned, and had more leg space - a good thing when you're 6ft 4! Our friends Niall and Tini travelled with us on this route, and stayed with us for our time there.
Lucky Number 11 Guesthouse on the lake was our chosen home for our 4 day stay. The room was comfortable - and we were getting to like having cold showers all the time. The view from the pier was superb, especially for watching the sunset across the lake. And the food and people were wonderful and helpful in sorting everything out. One thing though, a lot of the guesthouses have bathrooms that feature showers and sinks that drain straight onto the floor - meaning if you not quite with it, you get wet feet or trousers when brushing your teeth or generally using the sink.
Phnom Penh was quite a contrast to Siem Reap, with everywhere being a lot more built up, and all the roads heaving with bikes and street sellers. I particularly enjoyed Central Market, a massive domed structure in the centre of town featuring stalls selling everything imaginable at knock-down prices.
We were also starting to learn that there's a few things you need to know about the road system in Phnom Penh in particular, but most of Southeast Asia appears to have variations on this theme:
You can drive both ways down one way streets, on either side of the road. It's your choice.
Roundabouts feature 2 way, no-one has right-of way traffic flows where pedestrians are expected to cross through the middle, not across the peripheral roads.
The bigger the vehicle, the more right of way it has - most people are on scooters.
When passing a vehicle, bib the horn as many times as humanly possible, often to the point the poor thing is giving up. And the bigger the vehicle the bigger the horn - ear damaging when riding on a open sided tuk-tuk!
You turn left by driving into the oncoming taffic till someone stops.
You cross the road by doing something akin to Marla Singer in Fight Club, by wandering into the traffic making everyone swerve round you. Large vehicles provide good cover for this dangerous manouevre!
Traffic lights are optional.
As are headlights at night!
Needless to say, we didn't attempt to drive on these roads!
In the south of the city, there's the S21 Genocide Museum, which is the original school where the Khmer Rouge tortured and murdered thousands of men, women and children wiping out whole families in the process. It was a very sobering and shocking site, made worse by not really knowing it had happened before we went there! More reading will be required to fully understand what went on.
Some 15km outside of town - about 40 minutes on the bumpy roads in a tuk-tuk - is the killing fields, where thousands of the victims were executed and buried. The site now features the open holes, and a memorial containing the skulls of around 8,000 of the victims.
I also took to my usual habit of wandering around the streets randomly. I find this a great way of seeing places, and finding things that you wouldn't otherwise find in the guidebook, such as the rollerink and fairground tucked away to the South. I don't think the locals were used to seeing a Westerner wandering the streets as I was, as most tourists seem to stick to certain areas. It was nice as people would say hello to you - including the slightly annoying scooter taxis that seemed baffled by me wanting to actually walk instead of riding a bike!
We also sampled the nightlife, starting off with some friends in the Guesthouse, and then moving onto Heart of Darkness - which, believe it or not, is not a goth club! It featured cheesy music, locals hustling the tourists on the pool table, and the seemingly obligatory dirty old men. But, we did have a good laugh, particularly when Niall did a cartwheel on the stage which involved him finishing off planted in the middle of a nearby table, and me trying to persuade the bouncers that despite his somewhat compromised position and inability to talk or walk, that he was infact, not drunk.
Phnom Penh was a wonderful place to and I'm glad we got the chance to meet the lovely people that live there. Our one regret on leaving for Vietnam was that we didn't spend longer there, or visit Sihanoukville (a beach resort to the South), which is a favourite with the locals!