The capital of the former French colony has nice Buddhist temples and preserves the sites and materials of the violent Cambodian genocide.
Entry to Cambodia
After visiting Da Nang, I and the other 7 Brazilians picked up at 8 am a comfortable 15 dollars bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. There were even options for 9 dollars at other times.
Two hours later we arrived at the border of Bavet. Unlike Internet reports, my friends who did not have the visa just had to pay 36 dollars there, without having to wait for. By guarantee, I took the Cambodian visa through the internet, paying the same money. I passed quickly, and the rest took another 15 minutes to cross the border.
Soon after we exchanged the Vietnamese dong and US dollars for Cambodian riel, although we have used little, since the dollar is widely accepted.
To top it off, we stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant. A plate of rice, some meat and some salad came out for 2 bucks. The taste was not bad.
Phnom Penh downtown
Four hours later we were in the capital and most populous city of the country, Phnom Penh. This time we stayed in a real hotel, the Orussey One Hotel & Apartment ($14 per night).
We walked in the evening through the boulevard that contains government buildings and monuments, such as that of the independence of France and the statue of King Sihanouk, who achieved this feat in 1953. Unlike much of the city, it is a beautiful and preserved area, where the local people practice activities such as jogging, soccer and badminton.
Then we entered the colorful Wat Botum, one of the main Buddhist temples – the official religion of Cambodia.
The major building contains in its hall an impressive set of golden statues of the Buddha that deserve to be seen closely.
Opposite the entrance, we found street stalls with exotic foods, like snails, frogs and chicken feet. I and Andreia ate squids, mushrooms and prawns.
We met again with the Portuguese Gonçalo, who was with my group before I joined them. To end the day we went to the roof of the hotel, in its nice pool. There we had a few bottles of the reasonable Angkor beer and then had dinner, as the weather was rainy to get out.
While most of them asked for lok lak, one of the most typical carnivorous dishes in the country, I chose a more sustainable option: fried crickets! The time the insects arrived I almost gave up, but I still decided to try it. What if I tell you that seasoned they were delicious? So much that I asked them again the next night.
Next day was a sad one. For $4 per person, we got the classic tuk-tuks to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields, a remnant of the time of communist bloodthirsty dictator Pol Pot, whose followers of his party were called the Khmer Rouge.
We paid $6 for the entrance of this place. A former Chinese cemetery, it served for the torture, murder and littering of hundreds of thousands of Cambodian citizens during the utopian communist regime from 1975 to 1979, when they were finally expelled by the Vietnamese. Adding to the other death camps, nearly 3 million people were massacred. Wearing glasses was enough to have the death sentence decreed, since the rural regime was designed to abolish any intellect. Still, babies and women have not suffered any distinction in facing their sorrows.
The tour consists of an audio-guided way through the old field, where you learn about the sad history and see remnants of what has already been there. There is also a memorial with floors of shelves containing the bones of the victims. Lastly, a small museum with video display.
Before we continued the walking on the city, we got a ride to Tuol Tom Poung Market, for souvenirs and food. Unless you’re good at dealing it’s not very cheap, just like the restaurant we picked up around, called Park Cafe.
From there we went to the previous step in history, the former school that became a prison where the suspects were screened before being sent to the Killing Fields. Plus 6 dollars for the audio guided tour on the called S21 Tuol Sleng Museum. If you want to hear all the stories, let a good amount of free time.
In this place the buildings are still standing, and inside their rooms there are a series of portraits, texts and some objects.
What made me really angry was that Pol Pot, the soab responsible for everything, lived a quiet life until he was 82, never having been tried. On the other hand, Duch, the principal of this prison, will rot in prison forever.
As it was too late to go to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, whose admission cost 10 dollars, we took a transport to the temple erected on an artificial hill north of the city. We paid just 1 dollar to enter Wat Phnom, thinking that we would have a good view of the sunset. But it was a mistake; we looked at the construction briefly and went down to the waterfront in a southerly direction, stopping at the Gelatofix ice cream shop, which had a sale promotion. There we ate while looking at the Tonle Sap River, which later joins the famous Mekong.
On the way back, we broke our record of people on a tuk-tuk, 7+driver! And at night the guys went to the bars while I stayed by the hotel gym, since my next flight would be well before theirs.
Do not be fooled by the 10 km from downtown to the airport. Thanks to the rain and the heavy traffic, I took an hour on that early morning, arriving just at the moment the check-in was due to close. The tuk-tuk ride cost $8.
Purchased a few months earlier, the 45-minute flight to Siem Reap by Bassaka Air cost 24 dollars. There are several other means of transport there, which can be checked on the Move to Cambodia website, but I found the flight to be fair enough.