First week in Phnom Penh

Today marks my 6th day out of my comfort zone. I have been assigned to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for work and currently living alone in my unit. I’m used to traveling but this was my first time to travel alone out of the country, even my first time to live independently – without knowing anyone (aside from my boss), without someone there when I wake up (I miss my family!) and without people I can hang out with (I badly miss my friends!).

However, it’s kinda funny that the moment I step out of the airport, I didn’t feel different than I expect I would be. People are very friendly and despite the language barrier, they really try to spark up conversation. Most people usually thinks I’m a local (yes, I look like a Cambodian because of my complexion!).

The place looks a hell lot like Manila! Minus the temples and the gold structures – the buildings, the road, the stores (points of sale as I call them) are all lot like Manila. Cafe shops are very rampant and that’s where I am writing this blog. All varieties of food are available – from Thai, Japanese, American, Italian, Mexican, Chinese, Malay, Indian, Cambodian and even Filipino (though I only know of 1 restaurant). Main transportation is like a tricycle, named as tuktuk, only that it is allowed in highways or anywhere you would want to go. Tuktuk drivers does not have fixed rates, usually it is up to you how much you’ll give them. Other modes of transportation include buses and vans (usually used to travel from one province to another), motorcycles (Yes, someone will drive while you’re at the back seat. But beware, mostly are irresponsible drivers) and taxi (if you’re that rich. haha!).

Riding at the back of the Tuktuk while looking for a place to eat.

Riding at the back of the Tuktuk while looking for a place to eat.

The place where I am staying is nice and quite big, with two bedrooms (my officemate will go here after 2 weeks). It’s my first time to live independently in a residential condominium. Good thing both laundry and house cleaning services are included in the package that the only problem I face everyday is where to eat (or if I should prepare my own meal! Haha!). Also, I have the option to either swim or go to the gym, as the condominium have these services at the topmost floor. This is the best time for me to be fit!

The whole work week were mostly dedicated to knowing more about the place, with the staff bringing me from one place to another so I could get the grasp of the market. They even brought me to the market where locals usually eat. I really love their “Lot Chha”, their version of Fried Noodles. I am getting tired of eating at restaurants that I just want to have r-e-a-l food (yes, even if it’s Cambodian). It is quite challenging talking to our local staff because of the language differences that I sometimes feel alienated whenever they are talking in Khmer while I’m around (though I’m getting used to it now).

Typical market in Phnom Penh! Looks like Manila, huh?

Typical market in Phnom Penh! Looks like Manila, huh?

With the first weekend, I managed to have the time to go around the city and visit famous tourist spots. Among the places I visited include: Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21), Choeung Ek Genocide Museum (The Killing Fields), The National Museum of Cambodia, The Royal Palace and The Silver Pagoda. All of these are worth the visit as I learned a lot about the country’s history, especially how terrifying it is to live during the dark days of Pol Pot’s regime, known as the Year Zero. Look at some of the photos I took:

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

One of the rooms where Cambodians were tortured to crimes they were accused of.

One of the rooms where Cambodians were tortured to crimes they were accused of.

The creepy hallway!

The creepy hallway!

Photos of the victims. There were 5 rooms full of these bulletin boards. Thousands of Cambodians died during that time!

Photos of the victims. There are 5 rooms full of these bulletin boards. Thousands of Cambodians died during that time!

Choeung Ek Genocide Museum (The Killing Fields)

Pretty, you say? Look to the next photo to know what it contains.

Pretty, you say? Look at the next photo to know what it contains.

Yes, it contains piles and piles of skulls and bones of the victims killed in this field!

Yes, it contains piles and piles of skulls and bones of the people killed in this field!

This was where they pile all the dead bodies.

This was where they pile all the dead bodies.

This was where babies' heads were literally "smashed" while the guards were holding them upside down. I just can't describe what I felt when I saw this!

This was where babies’ heads were literally “smashed” while the guards were holding them upside down. I just can’t describe what I felt when I saw this!

While going around, you will get this handset / headset that will guide you around the area with each stop marked with numbers. I hope our museums will have something like this!

While going around, you will get this handset / headset that will guide you around the area with each stop marked with numbers. I hope our museums will have something like this!

The National Museum of Cambodia

Beautiful architecture! The inside is filled with all sorts of art, from the stone era, bronze, gold, etc. You're not allowed to take photos though.

Beautiful architecture! The inside is filled with all sorts of art, from the stone era, bronze, gold, etc. You’re not allowed to take photos though.

At the center of the museum is a garden. It is good to stay here for a while.

At the center of the museum is a garden. It is good to stay here for a while.

The Royal Palace and The Silver Pagoda

Define G-O-L-D!

Define G-O-L-D!

See how intricate the design of their doors!

See how intricate the design of their doors!

Stupa near the Silver Pagoda!

Stupa near the Silver Pagoda!

The Silver Pagoda! It may not be silver outside, but the place houses all sorts of silver and gold! Again, taking photos is not allowed.

The Silver Pagoda! It may not be silver outside, but the place houses all sorts of silver and gold! Again, taking photos is not allowed.

This was a very different experience for me. I am usually fond of taking photos of the group with the background, but now, all I have is the background (HAHA!). Taking self shots (or in layman’s term – “selfies”) is kind of  challenging, pathetic and embarrassing though I managed to take some just for souvenir purposes (HAHAHA!). I said to myself I will travel alone at 25, but hey, life has its way of making it 3 years earlier! Next time, I think I’ll be braver to do this again.

One of the few selfies. HAHA!

One of the few selfies. HAHA!

By the way, for your reference, here are the entrance fees for the places I visited:

  • Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) – $2/ person
  • Choeung Ek Genocide Museum (The Killing Fields) – $5/ person inclusive of the headset (which you need to return after)
  • The National Museum of Cambodia – $5 / person (If you want to take photos inside, you need to pay additional $2)
  • The Royal Palace and The Silver Pagoda – $6.25/ person

There’s more places to see in Phnom Penh like the known Wat Phnom and other Wats (or temples) and Pagodas scattered in the area. I hope you’ll find time to visit this country and see how rich their culture is.

Next stop, Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat!

That’s it for now! <3 lots, Irene

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5 responses to “First week in Phnom Penh

  1. Are you heading to BTB or PoiPet? I have been to Cambodia alot and love it! The Khmer people are very hospitable… I’ll look up on twitter and see if any one from the organizations I work with can help you out…:)

    • Right now I may not have the time to travel long since I have work on weekdays in Phnom Penh, but I’m planning to see Angkor Wat sometime August. I agree that Khmer people are really hospitable! It would be a pleasure to meet your friends! :)

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