The Kingdom of Cambodia is a popular adventure destination, especially for western visitors. Before, the only thing I knew about the old Kampuchea is Pol Pot’s communist guerrilla force and the Khmer Rouge carnage. When I was in high school, the end of conflict in Cambodia drove them slowly out of isolation and into an eventual membership in the ASEAN in 1999. On top of that, who does not remember Angelina Jolie’s (popularizing Lara Croft the Tomb Raider) action sequences in striking locations in the country?
Today, Cambodia advances in its economic development process and encourages tourism in the kingdom of wonder. Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanouk are the top cities that showcase a treasure trove of Khmer culture and heritage.
With a limited schedule, my friends and I had time to visit only Phnom Penh. As the country’s capital, Phnom Penh is the economic and cultural center of Cambodia. As visualized by their French colonizers, the city looks like a scene straight from a provincial town in France (interestingly, I’ve read it used to be called the Paris of the East).
The city is very charming in its own way (albeit, dusty, hot and humid) with its old French-style structures and classic colonial village buildings dotting the main thoroughfare, the side streets and the riverfront. The lack of a McDonald’s or a Starbucks bears witness to their status as a fairly new urban center (they do have a KFC and a Gloria Jean’s). And like other third world cities, there are enterprising locals, speeding vehicles, and persistent touts. This rough change from the usual beach and green scenery might well be why western visitors troop to this Indochina destination ala-Lonely Planet style.
We did an overland crossing for this trip. We took the Paramount Angkor Express Bus Co. (US$10) from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh. On the trip back to Vietnam, we took the Mekong Express Bus (US$12). Both bus companies provide a guide onboard and a bottle of water. On top of these, Mekong distributes a snack and a pack of wet towelettes. Mekong was considerably faster than Paramount. Paramount ran at an insane speed of 40 kph (motos overtook us). They covered the 240 km trip in approximately 7.5 hours (with one hour for immigration points and a lunch stopover). Although it took us almost the same time on the way back, Mekong ran at 60 kph (we had a 1+ hour lull time at the Vietnam border). The roads to Cambodia are well-paved. At two hours away from Phnom Penh, all vehicles cross the Mekong River via a 5-minute Neak Loeung ferry ride.
We entered the country through Vietnam’s Moc Bai and Cambodia’s Bavet border crossing. The bus guides provide entry assistance to all passengers. As Filipinos (ASEAN), a visa is not required to enter Cambodia. The passports are collected within an hour of the start of the trip and are handed back after crossing the Cambodian (Vietnamese) border. For non-ASEAN passengers, the guide can facilitate visa processing at a premium.
Our group stayed at the California 2 Guesthouse for US$12.50 a night. It is situated at the northern end of the riverfront. The location is very convenient as it is very near the sightseeing spots in the city. The room has a queen bed, a cable TV, a fridge, and a safe. Wifi signal is available and the rate includes a modest breakfast. The only downside with the standard room is the small bathroom with a very misplaced toilet bowl.
My top must-go places are: