MESSAGE from Cambodia

I didn’t expect to especially like Phnom Penh, but I loved it! Truly my favorite of all the Indochinese capitals. I’m not sure what it was about the city, but it had, how do you say it? Personality!

In particular, the capital’s Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and National Museum are all worth your time. Here’s the full list of my 7 insider tips from the mini — but mighty — country of Cambodia!

MEET (Cool Meet Ups) – My friend Miriam took me to “the place” to go in Phnom Penh: a fabulous restaurant called Titanic, located on Sisowath Quay and overlooking the Tonlé Sap River. The meal was the best I’d had in a while, but it was the traditional Aspara dancing that really took my breath away. Definitely as sight to behold!

A close second is the local chapter of the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club). From one of the three balconies, you can watch all the action taking a place on the streets below. For instance, while sipping a cold beer, I could check out the nightly disco dancing on the river boardwalk. Led by teenage youths (all men), locals would line up behind him, sort of like country western line dancing, and mimic his moves. I so wanted to jump in and boogie alongside…but the cold beer prevented me.

From my balcony perch, I also spied Sombo, the resident elephant of Phnom Penh. He was sauntering down the heavily trafficked main street to his night-time shelter. I felt particularly terrible seeing this majestic elephant dodging motorbikes, especially since I had just returned from several days at an elephant sanctuary.

My friend Miriam is also concerned about Sombo’s wellbeing and is raising money to fund a shelter at the local temple, Wat Phnom, where Sombo lives during the day. (A new abode would save her from making the nightly traffic trek). If you’re interested in helping build a new shelter for Sombo, contact me at and I’ll put you in touch with Miriam.

EAT (Tasty Eats) – Cambodia is all about “Amok”! I kept asking what amok is exactly, and I never got a straight answer (supposedly a Khmer personality trait). What I finally figured out is that it’s anything that is made with coconut milk – fish, chicken, vegetables – like a type of mild, sweet curry. Had it several times and it was always yummers.

SEE (Must-see Sights) – The Killing Fields & S-21. These sights are hard to see, but they are important to understand the psyche of the country of Cambodia and the Khmer people. See my article: Khmer Killing Nightmare

SHOP (Gotta Have) – Silver betel nut boxes. I have a collection, started long ago by a boyfriend who gave me two hand-etched silver boxes. At the night market in Siem Reap, I paid an exorbitant amount (US$30) and picked up one more for my menagerie. Nice to have the new addition.

ACTIVITY (Gotta Do) – Angkor Wat (of course!). Angkor Wat is the reason most people visit Cambodia. And it is truly amazing. My favorite part was comparing the difference between these unbelievably spectacular temples, with the Mayan temples and the Inca temple of Machu Pichu.

For more of my impressions, see my article published on about Angkor Wat Splendor.

GIVE (Greatest Need) – Street Kids. It is estimated that there are as many as 24,000 street children living and working on the street of Cambodia. These children are at great risk for being abused –sometimes unwittingly by travelers.

Here’re a couple of ways to help these kids:

  • Refrain from buying trinkets from children on the streets and don’t give money to begging children as this places them in danger.
  • Buy ChildSafe Certified Products – I did! I bought a cool pair of black karate-like cotton pants. These products are made by parents, providing them with an income and allowing the children to go back to school.
  • Be aware of the dangers of “orphan tourism.” For my thought on this hot topic, read: “Why I’m not volunteering at an orphanage, even though I really want to.”
  • Avoid places (bars, restaurants, hotels) that tolerate prostitution.
  • Support ChildSafe Network members. In larger cities, members –such as tuk tuks, internet cafes, tour operators, restaurants – sport the ChildSafe logo. If you’re booking a trip to Cambodia, first check that your hotel is a member:

ENJOY (Extra Fun) – Boat ride to Battambang. I had read about the boat ride from my trusty Lonely Planet guide book. The write up said it was an amazing 10-hour journey through the floating river villages of Cambodia. And it was!

The small wooden boat was nearly full to capacity, so I grabbed my life vest (hahahaha, there are no life vests!) and headed to the top of the boat, where I remained perched for more than 9 hours. By mid-day, the sun was scorching, so I used my umbrella for a bit of shade. I didn’t read, but listened to music and watched the Cambodia countryside drift by.

It was fascinating to get a glimpse of life on the Tonlé Sap River, with schools, houses and shops, all bobbing in our wake. Besides hauling cargo and passengers, the boat also served as the local mail delivery system and people would eagerly paddle out to our boat to collect packages and mail letters.

While the children were so engaging, yelling out greetings to the boat and waving, I have to admit, the further inland we motored, the poorer the region appeared. After a few hours, you could begin to see the poverty on the people’s faces. They were hungry and not particularly keen to see a boat full of tourists gawking at them (although there were also a lot of locals using the transport as well).

Finally in late afternoon, I climbed down only when there was a threat of rain. I ended up sitting next to a young man, who showed me his turtle peeking out of his bag. At first I thought it was a large snake and almost peed my pants, but then I noticed the shell. He was bringing it to his relatives as a gift – for dinner that night!

Cambodia Gets Under Your Skin

Cambodia is one of the most amazing places I’ve been. I so love the people and consider it one of the few places I would live in SE Asia. Do you have a favorite activity or memory of Cambodia?

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This entry was posted on Saturday, June 25th, 2011 and is filed under Asia Pacific, Messages by Country.

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