People ask me where am I headed, I have no idea and this is what I love about backpacking solo. It opens up a whole new dimension of traveling. I changed my plan about going to New Zealand this summer and here I am, sitting in a cafe in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I plan to travel around Southeast Asia for a bit, probably doing a border crossing into China from Lao Cai in Vietnam.
I got into Phnom Penh two days ago and I’m falling in love with the city. Being the capital of Cambodia, a lot of travelers transit at Phnom Penh, be it by land, sea or air. I recommend to spend a few days around this city because there are plenty of things to explore. Cambodia is a troubled country because of the Khmer Rouge period during the 1970s. But things has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. It has a mysterious charm around the palaces and the people.
Walking around Phnom Penh is relatively easy but you will be scouted as a potential customer every few minutes by Tuk Tuk or motorbike drivers. But don’t do it alone at night, especially in dark alleys. A 5 – 15 minute ride on a Tuk Tuk costs around USD 2-3 , and USD 1-2 on a motorbike. Always haggle because their ‘special’ prices are jacked up for you. It is recommended to travel around in a Tuk Tuk or motorbike at night. I would do motorbike if I am carrying minimal stuff because of common snatch thieves cases and it’s pretty fun being a pillion in the crazy traffic of Phnom Penh.
It is good to speak some Khmer, but I survived speaking not a word of Khmer. So do not worry if you are like me. Basically, most Cambodians that deal with foreigners know some basic English, at worst you can try hand gestures. I tried some local food and I thought they tasted pretty good. I would love to try more local food as I spend more time in Cambodia.
I had a visit to the Killing Fields located in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. I arranged a Tuk Tuk to take me there and back, the journey takes about 45 minutes each way and costs USD 15. The ride was pretty bumpy at some parts of the journey but it was bearable. It was a good experience to learn about the tragic past of the Khmer Rouge period. The entrance fee costs USD 3 and an additional USD 3 for the audio guide. It is advertised as foreigners having to pay USD 6 which comes with the entrance fee and the audio guide, but you have a choice to go with just the entrance fee, so don’t be afraid to ask.
At checkpoint number 12, it is a loop around the Killing Fields which brings you around the border of the area. The whole area is fenced up, I encountered children and the disabled asking for money outside the fence during my walk. Probably that’s what the fences are for. There are children all over Cambodia asking for money, whether to give them money is up to your discretion. But I have seen people attracting a whole group of children just because they gave out some change to a kid. Be warned that many of these children actually work for gangs.
For now, I’m headed for Siem Reap!