Chum Reap Sur Phnom Penh: 12 hours in the capital city

July 14, 2012 ASEAN Backpacking

This marks the beginning of the second part of our Mekong Adventure, with  Saigon being our first city visit.

We met in front of the Sinh Office early in the morning to catch our bus to Phnom Penh. Saigon Mini Hotel packed our breakfast, so we were ready for the long bus journey. We left at 6:30 AM with an estimated travel time of about 5 hours.

Our journey was made lively by our tour guide, Tam, who shared fascinating facts about Vietnam and Cambodia.

An hour and a half later, I woke up at the bus stop. I have a fondness for bus stops; they provide a welcome break for weary travelers, often serving good food. It's also a perfect time for more conversation with fellow wanderers.

We got two servings of these noodles for 15,000 Vietnamese dong each.    

After that satisfying pho meal, it was time to board the bus again and catch some more sleep.

At the border!

The next time I woke up, we were already at Moc Bai Border, situated in the province of Tay Ninh, Vietnam. The Moc Bai / Bavet crossing is the most popular border entry point to Cambodia.

Our tour guide informed us that it was a school holiday in Vietnam, resulting in a surge of Vietnamese tourists at the border. Although we anticipated longer queuing times, our tour agents efficiently managed our visa requirements. We disembarked from the bus and patiently waited outside the immigration office.

After about an hour, we were ushered to the immigration office. Fortunately, they allowed us to leave our bags on the bus, making the process more convenient.

When we entered the building, our tour guides handed us our passports, which already had immigration stamps and our arrival cards. This officially marked the completion of the process.

Welcome to Cambodia!

We walked to Bavet, the international border gate of Cambodia, which is part of the Svay Rieng province. This area is designated as a special economic zone and hosts textile and bicycle factories. However, what stands out more are the numerous casinos lining the streets, catering mostly to Vietnamese tourists.

I returned to dreamland after boarding our bus again, only to wake up as it crossed the Mekong River. This was actually my first glimpse of the great Mekong River.

There were interesting fruits being peddled at the stop, but with the intense heat and crowded conditions outside the bus, I opted to go back to sleep after taking some photos.

We arrived in Phnom Penh around 1:30 PM, and while the immigration process took longer, I didn't mind as I was able to catch up on sleep. I was now ready to explore Phnom Penh!

Our first order of business was lunch at The Sinh Tourist Hotel, where our bus dropped us off. Our friend Mervin, the organizer of our trip, had recommended the food here, and we were not disappointed. I had my usual fried rice and tried a bit of the spinach with garlic, which, as Mervin said, was quite good.

After lunch, we headed straight to our hotel, opting for a tuktuk ride, my first ever. Of course, a picture was in order.

Say hello to Kelly on her first tuktuk ride!

In Phnom Penh, we stayed at the Paragon Hotel (Sisowath Quay), which offers a splendid view of the Tonle Sap and Mekong River.  

After freshening up, we set out to explore the city on foot. 

Phnom Penh, once known as the 'pearl of Asia,' was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina. Our travel companion Drew, who lived in Phnom Penh five years ago, noticed how much the city has changed and improved.

Most of the city's landmarks are just a few minutes' walk from our hotel. Our first stop was the National Museum of Cambodia, the largest museum in the country. Boasting the world's largest collection of Khmer Art, the museum's building, inspired by Khmer temple architecture, was constructed between 1917 and 1924.

Next to the museum is the Royal Palace, the official residence of the King of Cambodia. While the splendid architecture was noteworthy, what truly captured our attention was the park filled with pigeons. For several minutes, we found ourselves attempting to capture the perfect shot amidst the fluttering pigeons.

After the Royal Palace, we hopped on the tuktuk again, heading to the market with hopes of sampling Cambodia's street food at a night market. However, it turned out to be a failed attempt. Undeterred, we decided to treat ourselves to fruit shakes instead.

I was glad I didn't eat much at the market because delicious and filling meals awaited us at Romdeng on Street 174. Beyond its creative cuisines, great artworks, and impressive interiors, the restaurant is run by former street children and their teachers. While this establishment deserves a separate blog post, for now, I can confidently say that it fills both the tummy and the heart.

Our trip concluded with a visit to a local bar, marking the end of our time in Phnom Penh.

Next is Siem Reap.

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