Phnom Penh – We’re moving to Cambodia
I am going to start this blog post with a tiny admission – when Scott told me that he wanted to go to Cambodia, I was not thrilled. All people told me was that Cambodia was poor, corrupt and dirty. I hadn’t researched anything prior to my arrival so I didn’t know what to expect. In my few days there, I found so much more.
We left the ugly world of Bangkok and landed in Phnom Penh. After breezing through customs, I walked outside and immediately looked up at the clear blue sky and somehow already knew I was going to like this place.
Phnom Penh is the wonderful capital of Cambodia that consists of the many temples, public parks, a beautiful riverwalk and a stunning grand palace. In 2004, the king of Cambodia stepped down due to old age and he passed away in October of 2012. We arrived exactly 1 week after the 3-month mourning period ended for the entire country. The first night that we arrived, we stumbled upon a glittering structure just steps from our guesthouse. Turns out it was a memorial shrine built for the recently passed King. It took 1 million US dollars to build and was finished in 3 months. I cannot emphasize how gorgeous it was in person. Take a look:
We also visited the grand palace, which had just opened up again after being closing since the passing of the former King. The palace grounds were quite remarkable!
The palace also had a replica of Angkor Wat which was amazing to see from this perspective:
Phnom Penh is a very modern city. You can see the french influence in the architecture, food and general way of life. We came across a beautiful public park that spanned about 8 city blocks. From about 4pm to 6pm, this park is full of people playing badminton! Yes badminton. Across 8 city blocks. That is a LOT of people. Not something you see in the US. It was really great to see how fitness is a big part of their lives. At night, we stumbled upon 3 areas in the parks where teenagers participated in organized dance classes. There was a solid 75 teens in each group and I tried my very best to keep up with one class. I gotta say, it was fun and quite the workout! Plus I got to do the Gangnam Style dance in public and not be ashamed of it! I wish we had more things like that in the US – organized outdoor activities that are free and help promote fitness.
We also stumbled upon a piece of home – Dairy Queen!!! Being inside of a Dairy Queen feels like being in a club. There is a doorman, techno music is playing and you cannot escape the neon lighting:
The food in Cambodia was delicious. Cambodian cuisine focuses on fresh ingredients and not overpowering dishes with red chilis – something I really enjoyed! At our first night in Phnom Penh, we ate at a restaurant called “friends.” The concept was very cool – chefs come and volunteer from all over the world and teach young adults in Cambodia about the hospitality industry. Kids can learn everything from cooking/waiting tables to managing a restaurant. The restaurant profits went to helping kids stay off the street. The food was also DELICIOUS and reasonably priced.
It was great to see organizations like this that are trying to make a positive change in the lives of Cambodian youth. Here is their website: http://www.mithsamlanh.org/
In conclusion, I love Phnom Penh. We met a woman who had been living there for 20 years and she said “I can’t put my finger on what it is, but I just love Cambodia.” and I get what she means! Maybe it is being in a walking city, maybe it is the kind people and good food, maybe it was the ability to dance like a crazy person in the park and call it exercise…?
Either way, if you ever visit Cambodia, don’t just go to Siem Reap and see Angkor Wat. Give Phnom Penh a few days. Who knows maybe Scott and I will be living there! If we are not there yet and you see my favorite monkey below, be sure to get him a soda: