In May 2019, I took time off from flying to go on a Cambodian adventure! This beautiful country had been on my bucket list for ages, but this time around Emirates had finally added Phnom Penh to their flight network! One of my goals when joining Emirates was to visit every country on their flight network. Having been Cabin Crew for four years, I saw this as an opportunity for me to explore a new destination and do so on my own. My first ever solo trip!
Solo travel is not uncommon, but I had my doubts about traveling alone. You think this would have made me do a bit more research before my departure, but when I was planning my itinerary, I didn’t do much. I looked at reviews online, saw some positive comments, and a few clicks later everything was booked! With just a carry-on in tow, I hopped on the plane and that was that. I was ready to explore!
Upon arrival in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, I went straight to bed after checking into the Ohana Phnom Penh Palace Hotel. I managed to sleep until noon (oops!) and hopped into the first tuk-tuk I saw as soon as I got up. My first stop? Choeung EK.
It doesn’t rain much in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (where I’m based), but when the temperature dropped and the clouds got darker on route, I knew something bad was about to happen. The wind picked up, the roads became less crowded, and moments later, my tuk-tuk driver stopped on the side of the road to pull down the curtains. BOOM, a downpour hit. The roads became rivers and we began sailing along. I was drenched in rainwater from head to toe!
Laughing through the experience, I made it to the first stop. With my umbrella in hand, I began to tour the killing fields. This site was once a former orchard, now the mass grave of Khmer Rouge victims. Over 17,000 people were executed here, and over 8,000 skulls remain in a 17 story glass stupa as a tribute to them. If you are unfamiliar with the history around this site, I highly encourage you to read more about it. I won’t go into too much detail because it is quite morbid.
As the sun began to make itself visible from behind the clouds, I made my way by tuk-tuk again to Security Prison 21 (S21), now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. During the Khmer Rouge era, over 20,000 prisoners were held captive here, interrogated, tortured, and executed. Again, the history behind this place is vile, but I encourage you to read more.
Following this adventure, I grabbed some local eats at a small place my driver knew. I can’t remember the restaurant’s name, but I did enjoy a traditional Cambodian dish called “Lok-Lak.” It consisted of marinated beef, served on a bed of green salad with slices of tomatoes and cucumber with rice and black pepper sauce, though there are chicken, pork, and vegetarian options.
As my luck would have it, when I finally returned to my room, I realized I had forgotten my key inside. This is nothing new to me, but what made me laugh was the fact that the door had LATCHED ITSELF SHUT. The safety lock was fully engaged as if someone were in the room! It took two staff to pry the door open and break it off. When they did, no one was there. Freaky!
Day two was just fun. I woke up at noon to a clap of thunder and no rain. I decided to get moving to the National Museum of Cambodia down the street before the storm started. As my luck would have it again, I managed to get caught up in it when I was one minute away from my destination! I took refuge in a restaurant and waited for nearly an hour for the rains to die down. When they did, I made it to the museum and also the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. The best part? The Royal Palace was under construction and therefore closed! My life, I swear.
I walked around a bit more before opting to rest poolside for the remainder of the day. With it being a Saturday night, I couldn’t sit still for that long. I decided to hitch a tuk-tuk to my all-time favourite place to eat, the Hard Rock Cafe Phnom Penh for some live music.
My third day in Cambodia was even more entertaining than the rest. I had booked a driver with “Book Me Bus” and requested for an English speaker to take me to Siem Reap. I confirmed that I was a foreigner and had left a note with them that I wanted to stop along the way in Tonle Sap. My booking was processed successfully, and I confirmed this via email with their customer service team. Unfortunately for me, the driver didn’t speak English and refused to stop where I had requested. Not only that, but the poor guy was using a phone app to translate our conversation and told me the company hadn’t informed him of my requests. He also didn’t have money to make calls and did not know where my hostel was. This is why I should have taken a $12 US bus ticket over an $80 US taxi ride. Please learn from my mistake!
The hostel I stayed at, Onederz, exceeded my expectations. Normally, I play it safe and stay in hotels but I had to have the full Cambodian backpacker experience. I booked a private room and ended up meeting some pretty cool people while there.
On Day four, I got up early to try and catch the sunrise at Angkor Wat using the tour provided by my hostel. Due to the fog, I didn’t see much but the temple itself was incredible. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is Siem Reap’s most iconic temple. Constructed in the 12th century at the height of the Khmer Empire’s power, it is the world’s largest religious building, covering 162.6 hectares. I also stopped at a few others in the area, which included: Ba Yon Temple, Ta Prohm Temple, Angkor Thom, and Preah Khan. To enter all of these temples, you need a temple pass. It cost me about $40 US for one day, which is expensive for Cambodia.
After exploring, I met a friend who flew in from Dubai, United Arab Emirates for lunch. We ended up going out in the evening and checking out the night market. These are quite popular in Asia, but I loved seeing everyone out on the streets enjoying the food and entertainment.
Although my stay in Cambodia was short, it was just what I needed. From here, I continued off to neighbouring country, Laos. I’ll save that story for another day!
Disclaimer: My posts are my personal views and do not represent the views of my company.
* This was written in May 2019, but I forgot to publish it. Giving the current pandemic, please choose to travel wisely. *