To get to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, we booked a bus with Capitol ($4) from Battambang. A similar service is available with GST though the Mekong Express service no longer covers this route. A minibus from the bus company collected us at the Royal Hotel where we said a fond farewell to the manager and headed off to Phnom Penh on the 8am service. Many more buses cover the route throughout the day. The journey was comfortable with plenty leg room and awful karaoke music.
Arriving in Phnom Penh
We arrived in Phnom Penh at 1-30pm where a mob of tuk-tuk drivers awaited the bus’s arrival. As the only foreigners on board we attracted excessive attention. An employee of the bus company got us a tuk-tuk driver who didn’t understand anything we said. He took us to the general area of Sisowath Quay which is the riverside boulevard where many hotels are located. We selected a room in the Paragon Hotel at $25 a night with great views over the river.
If you’re arriving by air it’s about a 30 minute taxi ride into the centre (under $10).
Out in the street there is far too much attention from tuk-tuk drivers who won’t leave you alone for a minute. There are simply too many people selling to too few. The walk along the riverside as far as the Royal palace is very pleasant with many bars and restaurants vying for your business and hundreds of locals strolling along the riverside.
If you really want to try something different visit the fried insect stall which sells fried scorpions amongst its repertoire of spiders and assorted bugs. Alternatively go to one of the many interesting restaurants along Sisowath Quay representing a fair selection of national and international food types (including British pubs).
Phnom Penh Attractions
The number one attraction is the impressive Royal Palace which was our first port of call. We then took a walking tour around town which was very pleasant for its wide boulevards where hassle from tuk-tuk drivers was far less than along the riverside.
In the afternoon we visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum which had once been a school before the Khmer Rouge turned it into the notorious Security Prison 21. A truly horrific place showing the barbarity of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The Russian Market on Street 155 is the place to go for shopping. It sells all kinds of stuff including branded clothes, CDs and DVDs, the latest James Bond film was on sale just two days after its premiere in London. The proper clothes shops along Sisowath Quay offered excellent deals what seem to be genuine branded clothes.
The tuk-tuk drivers will want to take you out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek which is about a 30 minute drive away. This is where prisoners from the Security Prison 21 were taken for execution. The memorial houses the remains of thousands of people murdered during the Pol Pot years and there are mass graves where an estimated 8,000 bodies still lie undisturbed.
A very pleasant excursion is a boat ride on the Tonlé and Mekong Rivers. Hire rates are around $8 an hour and boats carry up to 15 people.
You can take a ferry from Phnom Penh which takes you to Chau Doc in Vietnam. The service is well advertised at most agencies along Sisowath Quay.