Phnom Penh, Cambodia ~ First Impressions

Sunday, March 6th ~ Phnom Penh, Cambodia


On the street, around the corner from our hotel

First Impressions – A combination of India and Guatemala all rolled into one – and not necessarily in a good way. Please know that we dearly love both of these countries, but they are not for the inexperienced traveler. 

After the spotless cleanliness of Singapore, where we did not see so much as a piece of paper on the ground, and zero graffiti, Phnom Penh offers up tremendous contrast. Garbage strewn in the gutters, sidewalks (where they exist) are blocked by cars and/or motor bikes parking on them, pungent odors, and a thriving underage sex market all are evidence of a society in need of a reformation.

Our hotel would be the equivalent of a two star hotel in the USA if I am being generous. Yet it appears to be clean and the staff friendly and helpful. We have a room comfortable in size, with a small but useable balcony with table and two chairs that overlooks the street.

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Warning #1: It is very noisy at night and if you are light sleepers, you might be happier with a room to the back of the hotel. But Tim and I enjoy soaking up the local sights and sounds and it adds to our experiences.

We walked around just one block after checking in to try to get our bearings. Motorbikes and Tuk Tuks seem to be the favored mode of transportation. It is normal to see entire families on one bike, helmets are not required. Moms hold onto infants, older children sandwich younger kids, nothing seems too large to strap or tie on.

Mom holds baby in one hand, no helmets

Mom holds baby in one hand, no helmets

Wiring very similar to what we have seen in several developing countries. It appears to be a pile of spaghetti, going in all directions.

This intersection of wires is neater than most...

This intersection of wires is neater than most…

And a few street shots from our walk and off of our balcony:

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Fresh coconuts are sold here at the hotel for $1.50. The US dollar is widely used.

Fresh coconut

Fresh coconut

Warning #2: Counterfeit US money is common and VERY hard to tell the difference. It feels a bit more “plastic” and does not tear as easily, but otherwise has the characteristics we would normally look for including the line and hologram outline. Our guide showed us examples and I was initially fooled by them.

We have a group of 14 plus our guide Boreth. Quite a diverse mix with people from Australia, England, Switzerland, Italy, Poland, and one other couple from the USA. Thankfully we are not the only ones over 40. I was concerned that this might be a group of all twenty-year-old, healthy, spry backpackers who would moan and groan having to wait for us “oldsters” to keep up with them.

After an hour and a half group meeting and introductions, we had dinner together at a restaurant across the street. It is a combination restaurant and school for training in the culinary arts. Our waiters wore shirts labeled “teacher” or “student”. Food was decent and reasonable priced.

I am looking forward to our optional two and a half hour city tour in the morning to see some other areas. We will be taking Tuk Tuks and the cost is $5 per person. Hoping to see a nicer side to this city…

Warning #3: The sex trade is rampant here. Many underage and young children are preyed upon, and even sold by their families into the business.

Warning #4: Pickpockets and “snatch and grab” are common. We have been warned to keep passports, credit cards, and most cash in our hotel safe. Carry only limited amount of money on us.

GRATITUDE MOMENT: Today I am grateful that Tim and I are experienced travelers and not easily discouraged by seeing what many would consider the underbelly of society. Cambodia has much to overcome from a recent violent history, and is fully in the throes of growing pains. I look forward to learning, experiencing and hopefully finding much to admire sprinkled along the way…

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About Tim and Joanne Joseph

Hi and welcome! We are Tim and Joanne Joseph and we have just embarked on our latest adventure. We hope you will join us!
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15 Responses to Phnom Penh, Cambodia ~ First Impressions

  1. Welcome to SE Asia. Be careful. You are not as experienced as you think you are.:)


  2. smrh88 says:

    Great post. Having spent time in Cambodia, I cannot necessarily disagree about we found the people to be lovely. India was far more challenging especially for women. Agreed that Cambodia has much to overcome. Maybe you have already ready but Hun Sen is a great read by Strangio and In the Shadow of the Banyon Tree.


  3. The Gratitude Moments in your blog are my favorite! Thank you for the great tips.


  4. Hi, I enjoy following your blog. While you are still in Phnom Penh, you may want to visit Tuol Sleng and the killing fields to put Cambodia’s recent traumatic history into perspective. My heart goes out to the Cambodian people and the challenges that lay ahead.


  5. I’ve never been to Cambodia, but it reminds me of Vietnam….


  6. mommermom says:

    Sounds like it will be an interesting experience. My old boss was from Vietnam and he and his wife traveled back there a couple of years ago. She actually did have her purse snatched from a passing motorcyclist!! I always enjoyed hearing their stories and looking at their pictures. They said there have been many changes since they had left there in the 1980s.


  7. Jeff Bell says:

    I have often heard of Phnom Phen described as the wild west. Some less experienced travelers who have been around Thailand find it wild and exciting and others hate it. I can imagine that after having done India you are prepared for whatever you see 🙂

    Overall, did you enjoy it?


    • I think it is too early in the trip to decide about Cambodia as a whole. I certainly did not enjoy all we saw and experienced on this day! I will try to keep my mind and heart open over the next two weeks before coming to any conclusions. I am still very much looking forward to seeing Angkor Wat.

      Liked by 1 person

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