“From its ancient temples to its elegant capital and all the rich village life in between, Cambodia is a small country with a big soul.” – Lonely Planet
1 Ride in a spruced-up tuktuk. Many of them are visitor-friendly and drivers will even cover the seat with cloth you’d feel someone special. For at least a dollar or two you experience the royalty treatment in the Kingdom of Wonder! I wonder, though, if royals in this part of the world have taken a tuktuk ride even once. Oh, well, the simple things you miss when you are part of the family.
2 Find good buys at the Russian Market. Locally known as the Toul Tom Poung market, you can find all export-quality merchandise at a bargain. You can even negotiate for the prices if you have the patience. Give it time and come early. Come early, it can get really hot at mid-day and you start to jostle with the crowd. I find each visit stress-relieving. Just looking at the displays can take the heat off a heavy day at the office.
3Try the freshly-squeezed orange juice at the market. Right before your eyes, local oranges turn into a heat-busting healthy drink. Savor the thirst-quencher as you people-watch in the busy marketplace abuzz with locals and tourists up for good bargains. Strike up a conversation with the person next to you or the shopkeepers.
4 Try The Snacker right at the corner of the Russian market. The place sells delightful homemade ice cream free of artificial preservatives. Flavors are made of fresh-fruits that include taro, durian, longan, coconut and green tea. One plus of a treat is their homemade ice cream cones – scrumptious and truly compliments whatever ice cream choice you have. Sopheak Kong and his wife Channa run this inspiring business that is fast taking off as a crowd-drawer in Phnom Penh.
5 Go for that next-stop in Bistro Lorenzo and order a halo-halo For Filipinos missing home, this place is a real relief. The halo-halo (a Filipino dessert made of shaved ice, fruits cooked in syrup, milk and topped with ice cream. Bistro Lorenzo is in itself designed to be as cozy as the home one left in the Philippines. Heard you can even order the whole lechon (roasted pig) from the place for parties and special events. Wifi is free and staff are friendly.
6 Take time for a prayer or attend a Sunday mass at St. Joseph Church. For Catholics, the church is a must-visit. Fr. Bob Wayne, the American priest is an inspiring speaker I wished many priests are open-minded on issues like him. A bit far from the town proper at 1788-B, National Road 5 I paid $10 for my tuktuk ride but it was worth it. The day I went, my trip was spiced with a huge traffic jam due to the election campaign complete with cyclo-riding supporters.
7 Take an early-morning walk at the park overlooking Independence Monument. The monument, built in 1970, honors the alliance of Cambodia and Vietnam after the Khmer Rouge regime. The park is a relaxing walk with hawkers offering various traditional desserts and food. On some mornings, the elderly do their slow aerobics it is a relaxing sight – reminds us of the workouts we missed.
8 Eat pasta and salads at the Living Room Café. The ambience is welcoming – with outdoors umbrellas and comfortable chairs to lounge for the day. Wifi is free and efficient. The Khmer staff members are friendly and accommodating. Whether breakfast or lunch, the café rocks with their health salads, pasta and smoothies – throw in a latte after the meal. If you’re lucky, there is an art exhibit that would usually feature Khmer life and traditions. You often stay longer than planned.
There are a lot to explore in Phnom Penh! I have yet to try dinner while having a tour at the Mekong River. Cafes have mushroomed over the years I have been visiting the country, it is amazing how they kept up with competition. The streets are often jammed more frequently than you wish for but that is part of the fun (and stress) while on a tuktuk.
Just hop in, do more exploratory walks – that night market (said to be among the cheapest in Asia), the leisurely visit at the Sisowath Quay, the Royal Palace and more. Grab a shirt or two to celebrate your trip. The Starbucks shirts are a craze at $3 despite the absence of the popular coffee chain in the city. The people, on the overall, are super friendly. You always get a smile for a request. But careful with your valuables when in a crowded area – the city is not immune to rascals out to give you a bad-hair day. Better leave them locked in your hotel room if not necessary for you to bring them.
“Like all great travellers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli