Located centrally in the Kingdom of Cambodia lies a small nation’s capital teaming with history. Similarly to Laos, Cambodia has a history of French influence that is reflected in many of Phnom Penh’s older buildings and restaurants. Independence was achieved many decades ago yet croissants, French coffee, baguettes and Corden Bleau appear on almost every restaurant menu.
The city itself can be ‘done’ in 2 – 3 days depending on the pace at which you set. We stayed a block back from Sisowath Quay (the riverside), centrally located amongst most of the guest houses and markets. The first day began with $2.75 buffet breakfast on the riverside which included some of the best pastries and (French) coffee I’ve had so far on the trip! After that we hired the father of one of the guest house staff to be our tuk tuk driver for the day as we sought to learn about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge at the S.21 museum and killing fields. More information on that trip will be in the next post.
The second day was a much less cultural affair with a trip to the shooting range, located about 15km’s from the guest house. Arriving through a security gate and being ushered to a table, placed on the table in front of you is a menu. The difference being that this menu contains about 20 pages of guns, grenades and rocket launchers that anyone with enough money can shoot. On the back wall is an arms rack large enough to make any Call of Duty fan salivate. Myself having chosen the classic AK-47 as my weapon and Mitchy ordering three courses of pistol, AK-47 and a machine gun from the menu we were sent through the doors and into the range. Our guide for the day was nice enough to take about 50 photos of us as we sat, or lay prone to discharge the a magazine for each gun at either a paper target or coconut. I’d heard from other people and even in the tuk tuk we caught getting to town from the airport that you are able to shoot at chickens and cows, provided you pay for them. I presume however, that there might be a second shooting range as I didn’t see this at our one. And no, I wouldn’t have shot at a cow. Costs vary from $30 up to about $300 for an experience you are unlikely to get in Australia with the cheapest being the pistols and hand grenades. After that, we ventured into the Russian markets which are either a waste of time, or were half closed due to Chinese New Year, I can’t be sure which. Disappointed we headed back to the guest house for our last night before going to Sihanoukville for the weekend.
Sihanoukville lies about four or five hours drive south from Phnom Penh and is the major beach destination in Cambodia. As a change we decided to use the Lonely Planet’s advice and instead of winging it we actually asked our tuk tuk to take us to possibly the best guest house of the trip. Scoring the last room in the Monkey Republic we settled into the basic bungalow style rooms and went straight to the bar. Cheap $1.50 jugs of beer flowed from 3pm onwards until after dinner when we met some English girls and swapped to spirits and tequila shots. As the night wore on we eventually stumbled out of the Monkey Republic and into a club that was about as on the beach as it gets. The concrete steps from the sand were about 1m away from the water and led into a neon painted club that had well and truly kicked off by that stage of the night. Some more shots and dancing later we ventured back out into the beach where we thought it’d be a good idea to throw the English into the sea. Unfortunately, I had my iPod in my pocket and it drowned, and nothing brings an iPod back from a dip in salt water.
Our second day in Sihanoukville was spent at the beach recovering whilst the second night was spent in much the same way as the first. The only difference being that more care was spent in deciding what went into our pockets. This night at the beach however we mostly just chilled out in one of the many beach front bars and restaurants whilst beggars, mostly disabled constantly stopped by leaving you feeling like scum for waving them onwards. Another thing you’ll notice in Cambodia is that children are used a lot more in sales, whether it be kids selling books or others selling fireworks and jewelry on the beach. In Phnom Penh for example there was one kid who tried to sell us some books when we were eating lunch. After saying no about 100 times he walked outside whispering “you better be careful” and waited for us, touting us with rocks and a makeshift whip he found. When we left he kept following us, punching our legs and arms the entire three blocks back to the guest house.
After spending our third morning chilling out in the hammocks at Monkey Republic we got on the bus back to Phnom Penh where we would unknowingly be stuck for another five nights because of problems getting a Thai visa. As it turns out, getting a sticker in your passport can take up to six days, we got it down to three (offering to pay wouldn’t even make them budge) but had to wait out the weekend for our flight back to Bangkok. I’m not sure how they do it but we later saw agents and even embassy guards offering overnight visa services, for a fee. I’ve got a few more stories to come from the second stint in Cambodia but they will all be in their own articles so keep an eye out!