What a pleasant surprise
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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So I wasn't expecting a great deal of Phnom Penh before reaching it - apart from the first impressions of the poster I'd had negative reports from other travellers and read some scary stories online and in magazines that painted a picture of a wild west danger town - seedy alleys filled with muggers, pollution, guns, touts and scams. While it has all this and more, I, along with other travellers visiting at the same time have enjoyed our stay here immensely.
Phnom Pehn has plenty to do and see, the food is absolutely fantastic and if you stay Lakeside, the atmosphere is relaxed (and the sunsets supreme) despite being smack-bang in the middle of a large city. So chalk this up as a very positive review and let's get into the action.
My first stop on the city tour was the Royal Palace and it set the scene and the benchmark. It is a beautiful and well maintained place that reeks of style and character, absolutely in harmony with Cambodian tradition and custom, and one of the most distinctively impressive royal palaces I've seen anywhere in the world.
The Throne Hall is the centrepiece (above left) and despite the hordes of tourists crawling all over it, manages to retain its grandeur with ease. Inside contains all the trappings you'd expect of a royal reception hall and despite the No Photography policy inside I managed to get a shot of the internals through a side window. Very classy indeed.
The rest of the grounds comprise of a collection of cute buildings and monuments that complement the main palace, as well as manicured lawns and gardens that contain a variety of vividly coloured flowers and shrubbery. All fits together very nicely and there is plenty to see, do and appreciate around the grounds. I particularly liked the Lotus Buddha, two of which sit amongst what are apparently Lotus buds near the exit of the complex. Branches tipped with the buds snake wildly around the stone statues, in Lotus position as you would expect, and the effect is unusual and serenely inspiring.
The Silver Pagoda was the only disappointment - I can't remember walking over some of the 5,000 silver tiles that comprise the floor within and again the 'No Photos' policy was in effect, although all it seemed to contain was a bunch of rather boring (but probably expensive) heirlooms and trinkets, so no great loss there. Apparently however, more than 60% of the treasures contained therein were destroyed by Pol Pot's cronies so it probably was pretty impressive in a bygone era.
Looping further around the centre of town saw stops at the Independence Monument which is modelled on the central tower of Angkor Wat and has a dual purpose of commemorating Combodia's independence from France in 1953, and their war dead on national holidays. Wat Phnom (centre pictures above) sits on top of one of the only hills in Cambodia (27 metres high) and pagodas on the site date back to 1373. Before leaving town we also stopped at the central market, a bizarrely designed Art Deco structure that sits like some domed monster in the bustle of traffic, waiting to rise up and destroy the surrounds as per a standard sci-fi script. It didn't that day, so after a wander I picked up a cheap guidebook from one of the stalls in the maze inside.
A long ride through the poorer outskirts of town brought us to one of the many Cambodian Army sponsored shooting ranges the country is known for. There is plenty of weaponry to choose from, from handguns like Colt 38s and 45s ($13 for 6 and 7 rounds respectively), through infantry automatics (AK-47s, M-16s, Uzis and a Tommy Gun - $30 for a 20 to 25 round magazine), to heavy machine guns such as the M-60 ($65 for 50 rounds).
I chose an M-16 as I had fired an AK-47 before. It was surprisingly accurate from 25 metres and even though I didn't quite hit the bullseye I managed to hit the target with 18 of my 19 rounds (one was a dud), so was pretty pleased with that. I also tried a Colt 45 handgun, but wasn't so sharp with that - hitting nothing out of seven shots. Oh well, in all it was an expensive half an hour but was good to do something out of the ordinary.
I might cut this here and complete Phnom Pehn in the next entry as its getting pretty long already and upcoming content is pretty graphic - not suitable for children, the squeamish or those eating dinner! It concerns the Khmer Rouge genocide of the late 1970s so if you would prefer not to read it, skip to the Angkor/Siem Reap entries.
Next entry -> the darker side of Phnom Pehn (the Killing Fields and Toul Sleng/S-21 Museum)
Confirmed Mozzie Kills (for entire journey)
The Boeng Kak lake in central Phnom Pehn is a rather polluted waterway that somehow pulls off being a pleasant and quiet place to stay whilst in the capital. Most guesthouses sit on stilts right over it. The only drawback to this is the rampant mosquito population - I hope they don't have an outbreak of Dengue here or a lot of people could be in trouble!