In River of Time, Jon Swain writes beautifully of time spent in Cambodia in the most horrific of times, as the Khmer Rouge tighten their grip on the country. The stories of war are as horrific as the tales of the old Indo-China are captivating. A wonderful, haunting book.
A fantastic find but the taxi driver didn’t know where it was so we drove down Street 240 for some time. Look out for a red and white sign saying BOOKS and also a sign for Naturae which is the healthfood shop and café in the same building where you are served a lovely continental breakfast with freshly squeezed juice. We paid $50 which included a $5 per night discount at their suggestion as our room had suffered a leak from above so there was some discolouration on the ceiling. The design throughout the shop and rooms is funky and modern with bright accent colours. Our room was light and spacious with dark wooden furniture, flatscreen TV, free wifi, kettle and a big walk-in shower in the bathroom. We were delighted with the terrace area which was larger than expected especially the promised plunge pool which was a long deep trough easily big enough for two to stretch out and cool off. It felt like a real oasis after a hot day in the busy city. You can also use the pool in the sister hotel, The Pavilion which is just round the corner. This would be more suitable if you want a full hotel service and perhaps reception staff with better English but the 240 is ideal for a city break. The style of the property epitomises the street it is named after which is full of chic and contemporary boutiques and cafes with a real cosmopolitan feel which we were surprised to find existed in Cambodia.
We booked the Mekong Express bus to travel from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. It cost $11 each and was easy to sort out by taking a tuktuk to their office on the riverside. Buses do get booked up so don’t risk just turning up on the day. It was a fairly old coach but had aircon and a toilet and so we travelled in comfort. The journey takes six hours with a 30 minute stop at a nondescript town about halfway which is obviously where all the coaches stop based on the tourist restaurant full of Westerners which served basic local food at inflated prices but was still a better option than walking round a grotty looking town and being hassled by beggars including some with grubby-looking young children which was upsetting. We had been given a bakery box containing a couple of things we didn’t fancy eating and had already had breakfast at the hotel so like many other passengers we gave ours to the people who crowded the coach door asking for money. A cheap way to get from A to B if you want to save money by not paying for an internal flight and popular with all ages not just backpackers. You also pass through plenty of local villages with stilted houses so get a chance to see some Cambodian countryside away from the main tourist hubs and busy cities.
Psar Kandal Market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia:
narrow alleyways full of stalls crammed closely together, this is where the locals of Phnom Penh buy their food, rather than in shops and supermarkets. Cambodia is still a very poor country whose infrastructure has not yet recovered from the devastating Khmer rouge period, yet this open air market supplied food of a freshness and variety that surpasses Western food markets.
Banana flower, mini mangos, herb and spice stalls selling fresh galangal, ginger, chillies, turmeric; fish stalls with live fish in tanks and enormous aluminium basins full of squid and shellfish; egg stalls selling fresh and preserved eggs of all sizes and hues, meat and medicine and drink stalls. Everything was displayed beautifully in large baskets or on rattan mats.
As part of a small group attending a Cambodian cookery class, I was given a tour around and introduced to the ingredients I would be using later in the day, but you don’t have to be a foodie to appreciate the vitality of the place. Finish off by visiting one of the many cafes and small restaurants around the square.
Wonderful little hidden bar, filled with expats, locals and NGO volunteers. There is a lovely little vibe here and they have live music on most nights from an endearing French singer. On Saturdays there is a $20 all you can drink and eat offer. Lots of fun and not the generic bar that you'd encounter in this bustling city.
Just off Street 178, near the FCC by the Riverside
One of better buses going from Phnom Pehn to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is Mekong Express. Bus takes about seven hours and costs $12.
Bus Office is on corner of street #102 and Sisowath Quay on riverfront. No central bus station in the city - Mekong Express buses to Ho Chi Minh city leave from Orussey Market.
The riverfront area is one of the best places to have a drink as you watch people pass by.
Particularly recommend is the area of Sisowath Quay by Mekong River pub/restaurant at the corner of Sisowath Quay and Street #118.
Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh.
Google map: tinyurl.com/yfdqs27
Very nice restaurant.
Traditional Cambodian food, salads, crepes, BBQ and very good fish amok.
Also has some international dishes such as steak and guinness pie.
Situated on a nice street (street 240) with bars, cafes and boutiques.
Also do Cambodian cooking classes.
Look out for local free guides such as 'The Phnom Penh Visitors Guide' from Canby publications and 'Out and About (O&A)' and 'Drinking Dining (DD)' from Cambodiapocket guides.
You'll pick these up in bars and restaurants such as the Foreign Correspondent's Club. Huge amount of info on pubs, restaurants and things to see as well as invaluable maps.
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