Siem Reap to Phnom Penh with Cambodia Angkor Air
The La Niche da Angkor Hotel was kind enough to give us a 1 pm check until our EXO Travel Guide and Driver arrived for our transfer to Seim Reap airport. We spent the morning by the pool as our flight to Phnom Penh wasn’t until 3.10 pm. The pool was so relaxing in the 35degC heat, and as happy hour started at 11 am, we decided to indulge with a final cocktail.
Our flight was delayed by 45mins; I think the first time on this trip. But rather than the turboprop plane we were expecting, it was a new Airbus A321 Cambodia Angkor Air. We had a very comfortable 30-minute flight that locals were surprised we were paying for rather than taking the 6-hour private bus on an average road. They missed the memo about the Laos roads already travelled.
Tip: When booking Cambodia Angkor Air, use their website, as flights can be cheaper due to fewer taxes payable in your own country.
To learn more about our story, click on this link TravelKiwis.
Phnom Penh with EXO Travel
Once again, we were met at the airport by another EXO Travel team of guide Samith and driver Sakon. Since we were travelling in the 5 pm rush hour traffic, the going was slow. However, it showed us how many people could be carried on the mopeds – five was the most we saw, but there were plenty with three.
Finding a Hotel in Phnom Penh
Whenever we book a hotel, a positive review or a recommendation helps in our decision-making process. Luckily for us, EXO Travel had organized where to stay for us.
We checked in to the Anik Boutique Hotel near Rainbow Bridge. Even though the hotel is only a year old, it was lovely to get a room upgrade. The room was large with the important items – air-con, a ceiling fan, lots of power points, a safe, a large comfy bed and a big shower.
The hotel is away from the bustling waterfront bars and restaurants, but a tuk-tuk is easier enough to hail for a trip in.
Settled in, we headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. The prices were reasonable for a hotel, but when we saw how well the food was presented and the wonderful flavours tasted, the best for quite some time! We were happy with our decision to eat here.
Phnom Penh The Killing Fields and Prison S-21
The Exo team picked us up at 8.30 am to take us to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (The Killing Fields), the Russian Market and the infamous S-21 Prison.
Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (The Killing Fields)
The drive took about 45mins through steady traffic, as we took some back roads to avoid some of the rush hour traffic. It gave us the opportunity to see some of the local living conditions, which weren’t all that great.
Samith, our guide, gave us the option of looking around ourselves or having him take us through. We chose to have Samith guide us, and we were pleased we did. Samith told us about the country’s history as he took us around the various parts of the site. He also spoke about his own experience. Samith was five years old when he was separated from his family and forced to work in the children’s labour camp.
He said having food was the ability to live, but if found even with a grain of rice in your pocket, you were killed. His family, although separated, headed to the hills to survive and reunite many years later.
Choeung Ek is the most famous of the more than 300 Killing Fields throughout Cambodia.
Once Pol Pot took control, he removed all 2 million people from Phnom Penh to put them to work in agriculture. This regime did its best to split up families to ensure no family groups could work together.
During the five year period 1975-1979, when the Khmer Rouge were in power, they took the lives of between 1.5-3 million people, up to 25% of the population.
For more information, you can visit this website.
We were in a reflective mood as we headed to the Russian Market back in Phnom Penh. The name of the market reflects the investment of Russia, one of the few countries that invested in Cambodia during Communism.
The market itself contained many of the usual market wares – clothes, trinkets, electronics, and food. But once we got inside, we found the heat overwhelming. We only stayed 15 minutes before finding our guide to move on to the next must-see in Phnom Penh.
Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum – S-21 Prison
The Tuoi Sleng Genocide Museum is housed at what is also known as S-21 Prison. The former high school building became a prison under Khmer Rouge. This prison was the first stop for many people identified by the regime as enemies of the state. They were tortured, forced to sign confessions and then transported to a killing field to be executed.
More than 14,000 people passed through S-21 Prison with only seven survivors. We met two of the remaining survivors signing books at the prison.
Although today wasn’t a joyful experience, it did give us some understanding of how the situation came to be. The Khmer Rouge was born out of dissatisfaction with how the ruling elite were lining their pockets to the detriment of the population.
Samith’s story of the struggles his family endured also provided a personal touch to the day, very sobering.
One New Zealander, Kerry Hamill, was included in the deaths; he is the brother of New Zealand Olympian Rob Hamill.
Khmer New Year
After chilling at the hotel late afternoon, we headed to the riverfront area to check out the bars and restaurants. We jumped in a tuk-tuk outside our hotel and flew along the road until we saw lots of activity and illuminated signs.
We told the driver to stop, and we realized we were outside the Royal Palace set up for the Khmer New Year next week, 13-16 April. There was lots of street activity, families having picnics or wandering by the river or through the palace’s outer grounds; it was alive with activity.
It was a vibrant atmosphere here on the waterfront as people enjoyed the cooler evening air.
Luckily, we found the Grand River bar for a happy hour cocktail. It made the perfect spot to people-watch. And yes, we were entertained by two drunk European men. One who was extremely large.
As we watched, these men, clearly under the influence, got on a moped and rode off. We hope they managed to negotiate the traffic, which is chaotic to navigate when completely sober!
We hailed another tuk-tuk and headed back to the hotel. After today, we were thankful that Cambodia has a much more settled situation.
Today we had a day without our guides, so we decided we would go to the Royal Palace. We hailed a tuk-tuk and were so pleased to be wearing sunglasses to stop the dust from getting into our eyes. Another hot and sunny day with the temperature again due to hit 38-40degC.
As we entered, we were approached by a guide offering to take us through for USD10 on top of our USD6.50 for each entrance fee. We had benefitted the day before by having a guide, so we took up his offer of a 45-minute tour.
Entering the grounds, we were shown the Buddha Tree (Canon Ball Tree). The flower of the tree is a symbol of the Buddha story, and the tree is considered sacred. It is said to resemble the tree under which Buddha was born.
The next stop was the Throne Room, where the King gets to sit on the main throne only once when he is crowned! Seems like a waste of a nice chair.
Colours of the Day – as shown in the picture above, reflects the colour worn by the staff each day and represents the colour for festivals falling on the day. Our guide was wearing a red shirt for Sunday.
The Silver Pagoda is named because the entire floor area is covered with silver tiles. Amazing. But then we discovered the 24kg gold Buddha within the shrine is adorned with diamonds, one being a large 24 carat.
During the war, this shrine was not raided out of respect for their King.
The tour was over, and the day only at 9.45 am, we set off to explore on foot. The French influence was apparent in many of the buildings, but more so along the large boulevards.
We walked down Preah Sihanouk Boulevard, marvelling at the huge monuments and statues. But feeling a tad hot and needing a drink, we walked to the newly developed river promenade with ferries, fishing boats and washing (body and clothes).
Cinderella’s Carriage and the Foreign Correspondents Club
We decided on a swim back at the hotel to cool off, but found the hotel pool almost too cold!
Feeling refreshed, we asked the hotel staff about the Cinderella Tuk Tuk we had seen parked nearby. And to our surprise, they told us it was owned by the hotel. So we organised a ride to the riverfront.
It was such a neat experience to ride in Cinderella’s carriage. As we drove by, we were getting big smiles from the locals as they passed by us on their mopeds. We did feel a little special.
We had heard about the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) and decided to check it out for a drink and perhaps a meal. The colonial building is beautiful and gives the feel of a bygone era. Unfortunately, the staff were a bit slow, and food prices were on the high side, so we left.
So we decided to walk across the street to another local bar. Here the staff welcomed us and asked us to follow them up some stairs, and more stairs, and more stairs (88 steps in all). When we finally got to the top level of the building, we were greeted with a great view across the Tonle Sap River. What a great choice to enjoy the evening.
Phnom Penh is often underrated as a travel destination. While the city is chaotic to navigate, there is so much history in the city to explore. Phnom Penh is only a 30-minute flight from Siem Reap and just under an hour from Sihanoukville Beach.
Where to stay – we recommend Anik Boutique Hotel.
How to Get to Phnom Penh – we recommend Cambodia Angkor Air
Why not make Cambodia one of your next travel destinations?
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