Cambodia Part 1 (Late Entry)

*Phonm Penh*

Straight from Jakarta, I flew to the capital of Cambodia Phnom Penh on October 27th 2013. I've been hearing about Phnom Penh since elementary school back in Indonesia -we used to learn a lot about our neighboring countries in geography class.

The city's population is about 2.2 million people, out of the overall Cambodia population of approximately 14.8 million. Being so familiar with the name, I had certain expectations of what it was going to be like. First off, Cambodia gained independence from France 1953 (Indonesia gaining its in 1945). That said, I expected the capital to be at least somewhat close to Jakarta in terms of its development -where you can spot malls or shopping centers every 2-3 miles, taxi cabs in every corner of town, skyscrapers and beautiful office buildings, decent infrastructures including public transports in various means.
Me at National Museum of Cambodia.

Reality check said no. Phnom Penh was far from looking like a megapolitan city. It's NOT Jakarta's contender at all by any means. What was wrong about my thinking was, I completely forgot the invasion of Khmer Rouge regime. When they took control Cambodia 1975-1979, these communists turned the country into a huge detention center, which later became a graveyard for 2 million people including their own members and senior leaders. Being ruled by communists, it makes a lot of sense why why private and foreign commerce in Cambodia just couldn't fare well. Commerce and trades (not to mention the people of Cambodia) were oppressed for quite a while, and I think the country has a lot of catching up to do now that it's been free.

Khmer Surin's cozy interior
I took a beat-up taxi cab from PNH to the hotel -literally beat-up, which I was blown away by. Hubby was already there waiting for me. He flew from Portland and arrived one day earlier in Phnom Penh. Nice thing about buying things and getting around there was that they took ANY US dollar bills -unlike in Indonesia where you have to convert to local currency and that your exchanged USD bills are expected to be crisp and preferably recent. In Cambodia, they took ANY USD bills, including the ones with creases and marks. It was cool we didn't have to bother exchanging US dollars to Cambodian Riel. We ended up with a lot of Riel anyway since almost all merchants gave us change in Riel.

Breakfast at Villa Langka
The hotel we stayed at was this boutique hotel called Villa Langka located on St 282, Phnom Penh. Guess what's the most attractive part of the location? I found out when I arrived that... there's a Gong Cha outlet (it's a bubble tea franchise) only about 50 meters from Villa Langka! This couldn't get any better than that. Rest assured, I had at least one boba drink each day in Phnom Penh :)
My first tuk-tuk ride
Warung Bali in Phnom Penh!
The first restaurant we went that evening was Khmer Surin, which was within walking distance from Villa Langka. Took us about 10 minutes on foot. The restaurant was recommended by Lonely Planet. Must say, it's very nicely decorated. The food was awesome and tab was reasonable. We spent a couple hours in the afternoon chilling at Gong Cha. They had buy one get one on their toffee milk tea, which was a pretty awesome deal.

We hit downtown the very same day. It was rather brief in late afternoon. The biggest shopping center called Sorya Mall is located right down town and I wanted to check it out. I imagined Sorya to be a mega mall with a lot of designer brand shops -which is very typical kind of mall in Jakarta. Boy was I wrong. Sorya Mall is more like a big department store except that it also has individually-owned kiosks on some of its floors. I notice some of the shops sold bootlegged stuff, which I think should be illegal. Nevertheless, it was an interested downtown trip.

Right from Sorya we hit the local traditional market called The Russian Market. I was a bit unsure about taking pics at that market since I didn't want to look like an obvious tourist. With that day being my first day in Cambodia, I chose to be more careful with my picture taking behavior. I ended up not having pics taken at that market, which I am regretting now :(
Face of Phnom Penh
Independence Monument, Phnom Penh
National Museum of Cambodia was first on our list the next day. The building was gorgeously painted in red. Another cool structure that we passed by on our way from and to won was the Independence Monument.

We took tuk-tuk (a motorized pedicab) to get around. Up till this day it remains the most popular/accessible public transport to get around in most towns and cities in Cambodia. A 15-minute ride from our hotel to town only cost us about 2-3 US dollars.

Beautiful pool at Villa Langka
Cambodians speak Khmer language, and made us wonder at first if getting around would be rather difficult. What we did was we carried the hotel's business card and all we had to do was showing them where we were heading. This strategy worked great. Going to town from hotel was a bit easier since the tuk tuk guy we met near the hotel spoke a bit of English.

Venturing the surrounding neighborhood nearby the National Museum was pretty fun too. You know what surprised me? We stumbled into an Indonesian restaurant called Warung Bali not too far from the museum. It was a lovely lunch and the bonus was.. their folks spoke Bahasa Indonesia!

After 2 nights in Phnom Penh, we left for Siem Reap 10/29/13. Our adventure at that point, I felt like, had just begun.


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