Phnom Penh

Well I am now horribly behind in blogging! I was in Cambodia from March 1st to 13th, and have now arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. I know this is a cliche… but time seriously flies when you’re having fun with your friends!

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I was really excited to leave India and start the next chapter of my trip for two reasons. First, we had been in India for quite a while and I felt ready for a change. Second, and far more importantly, getting to Phnom Penh meant meeting up with Jacquie!!! Jacquie left Toronto to start her travels just two days before Beth and I, and we had planned to meet up in Cambodia in time for her birthday, March 2nd (check out her blog here.)

We arrived in Phnom Penh a few hours before Jacquie. We had been traveling all night, and arrived completely exhausted at the Natural Inn Backpacker Hostel. Lesson one from Southeast Asia: top floor dorm room + metal roof + no AC = a horrible place to nap at 10am. We, stupidly, stuck it out but decided to switch to an AC room about two hours later when we woke up and went in search of food.

After gorging ourselves on noodles and spring rolls we returned to the hostel to wait for Jacquie. The woman at the front desk, who was an incredibly sweet lady, came upstairs and poked her head in, saying “Your friend has arrived!” I think she was just as excited as we were. I felt like a kid on Christmas, barreling down the stairs (which were far too narrow for my Western ‘big size’ feet), tackling Jacquie in a hug, practically knocking her over, and squealing, “You’re here!!!” It was a great moment.

I’ve already written about our serious sightseeing day in Phnom Penh (see: The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum), so I will go over the other highlights in this post!

On the first day we took it easy, as the day was already half done. We shared some pizza and a jug of Angkor beer (beer is super cheap in Cambodia… I don’t think I will ever be able to drink out again in Canada). We strolled along the river, got the lay of the land, and enjoyed the bustling atmosphere of the waterfront at sunset.

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We then collapsed in our dorm beds, as none of us had had a proper sleep the night before. This was the first time staying in a dorm for Beth and I (India doesn’t really have them), but Jacquie was an old pro so we followed her lead.

For Jacquie’s birthday we sought out the famous “fish foot massage” and sat for half an hour while our feet were tickled and nipped at by tiny fish. The funniest part of this experience was either that they give you a free beer, or that the place we had it done was also a seafood restaurant. We kept joking that the lazy fish got pulled out of the tank and served up for dinner… but we hope that doesn’t actually happen.

After fruitlessly searching for a place called Seeing Hands Massage (where the blind are employed as masseurs), we settled for a regular body massage. At the cost of $6 each per hour, we were pretty impressed… but it did feel a bit like we paid someone to beat us up at times!

Once we were all limbered up, we took a tuk-tuk to the Russian Market, where we feasted on what we like to call “meat bun” (but I’m sure there is a more accurate name for it… We think it might have been bahn mi.) It is essentially a meat skewer, placed in a buttered baguette, and topped off with carrot, cucumber, and maybe something else, slaw! Very tasty. I could have eaten two.

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We washed them down with ice cold sweet lemon tea. After wandering around, we had figured out that the Russian Market was mostly about food, and less about stuff.

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Throughout the day we had taken ourselves on several impromptu walking tours, as nothing was where it said it would be online. I did get some nice pictures along the way though!

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That night we went out for some fancy drinks and shared carafes of fresh fruit daiquiris! We tried pineapple and mango, which were absolutely delicious. We shared food, caught up on all our adventures thus far, and had a great birthday evening for the birthday girl. There was a minor hiccup when we thought we were locked out of our hostel… But we knocked very loud and the sleepy night watchman let us in!

One of the great things about Phnom Penh was the change in food. We discovered a place for breakfast which was right around the corner from our hostel, and we liked it so much we ate there three mornings in a row. We all got full English breakfasts, with eggs, hashbrown (which in Cambodia is a lightly pan-fried patty of mashed potatoes), fried tomatoes, baguette, bacon, and sausage, with an iced coffee or tea included. The Aroma restaurant started our days off right!

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Now that I look at everything… It looks like most of our time in Phnom Penh revolved around food. Well, it kind of did.

On our last day we had a lunchbag letdown, as our planned activity – a visit to the Royal Palace – was made impossible by a special holiday that closed the entire compound. Major bummer!

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The bright side was that we had time to explore the Central Market (which we had realized was closing when we visited it the day before). So we did what we do best… And we ate! We did shop around for a bit, grabbing some typical backpacker pants and coin bracelets (I broke a ring I was trying on… Whoopsies, but really, you call that real jade? Don’t think so.) We also checked out the pretty flowers arrangements!

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Now, as someone who is usually pretty picky, I’ve been proud of my willingness to try new things on this trip. Grilled squid? No problem! It was the tastiest squid I’ve ever eaten in my life. Usually I find squid to be way too rubbery, but this was tender, and delicious! We had some grilled prawns as well. Phnom Penh was all about seafood!

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That afternoon we hopped on a bus to Siem Reap, and our driver from the day before kindly dropped us off at the station and said, “pay me whatever you want!” Nara was very sweet, and we asked to take a picture with him!

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