Vagabonding Field Report: Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This tightly compacted city holds some of Cambodia’s best food and most tragic history. Without knowing its past of civil war and genocide, you would think Cambodians and Phnom Penhers in particular were just really friendly people. Once you learn their history and realize that everyone you see was affected by the notorious Khmer Rouge in the 1970s in one way or another, then you know they’re more than just friendly; they’re admirable. Visiting Phnom Penh is easy if you’re already in Southeast Asia. Cambodia can be overlooked and a lot of visitors only see Siem Reap in the north to visit the temples of Angkor Wat then move on, but Phnom Penh is the heart of the country and merits a visit all its own.

Cost per day:

Cambodians have the riel, however more widely used and accepted is the US dollar. When we came over from Thailand, we changed all of our Thai baht over to riel before we stepped outside, realizing pretty quickly that not many people wanted it. Generally, they use a standard of $1 = 4,000R and there are no coins. So when paying for something that’s $1.50, you could hand over a dollar bill and 2,000R. It’s bizarre at first, but it makes sense the more you use it. If you’re taking it slow and cheap, a decent hotel room can cost $11 per night if you opt to stay outside of the city center and more than doubles the closer you get. Take this into consideration when you need to take a tuk-tuk into town that costs $3 each way. We’re subletting an apartment just south of the main tourist areas that costs us no less than $4 to get into the city center. Restaurants can be a bit pricier if you eat out for every meal, so eating breakfast and lunch at home by cooking for yourself really helps keep costs down before splurging at dinner at one of the city’s amazing restaurants later on. Street food is also quite affordable, usually costing under $1 but is somewhat limited if you’re used to cities like Bangkok. Street coffee is plentiful and can also be had for $1 and enhanced with sweetened condensed milk.

What we like:

Phnom Penh hasn’t been hit by as much tourism as neighboring countries, so everything is a little more relaxed. With fewer tourists come fewer price hikes and fewer bland tourist restaurants. The food here is an incredible fusion of European and Cambodian and finding a fish amok ravioli isn’t a ridiculous pursuit. With a solid expat community, there are also a few breweries, distilleries, and bars to help you escape the monotony that is Asian lagers. More than anything else, we like the overall friendly demeanor of the people. Even after I’ve haggled for a price, I never feel swindled or taken advantage of.

The strangest things:

Sitting down at a restaurant and seeing tarantulas on the menu next to stir-fried fire ants. While not all restaurants have insects on the menu, a select few attract the brave of stomach to come and try. While having dinner with new friends, we opted to order a plate of fried tarantulas. I could barely get myself to touch it to pull a single leg off while someone else crunched through one in two bites. Adjacent tables were equally horrified and some even left at the sight of the spiders on the plate. If you’re open to eating insects, Cambodia is the place to give it a try.

A typical day:

We eat breakfast and lunch in our subletted apartment, making food with a full western-style kitchen while using our good wifi to get some work done. After lunch, we make a stop at the supermarket around the corner to pick up some more milk and cereal then head off to the Central Market to look for a new selfie stick for the GoPro. After wandering the market, we work up an appetite and head over to Friends Restaurant for fruit shakes and delicious tapas. After we eat, we go next door to Friends ‘N’ Stuff‘s nail bar for a pedicure before grabbing a tuk-tuk back home for a nice cold Angkor beer waiting for us in the fridge.

Where to next?

Next week, we leave Phnom Penh by bus and will travel to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam with plans to head north and see Hoi An and Hanoi. Check out our blog at Unknown Home to follow along and for more photos!


Posted by | Comments Off on Vagabonding Field Report: Phnom Penh, Cambodia  | March 4, 2015
Category: Asia, General, Vagabonding Field Reports

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