The highlights of Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Far from the gleaming skyscrapers of modern Southeast Asian capitals such as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh is a dusty and edgy yet somewhat enchanting city of crumbling colonial architecture, wide boulevards and chaotic markets.

Phnom Penh riverside at dusk Photo: judithbluepool of Flickr

Phnom Penh riverside at dusk

It is gradually modernising, with a few contemporary skyscrapers appearing on the skyline and the popular riverside promenade (Sisowath Quay) now lined with lively cafés, juice bars, hostels, hotels and restaurants – many of them filled with backpackers and other travellers. Despite that, however, Phnom Penh still has an edge and atmosphere found in few other Southeast Asian capitals. Some elements of the city are quite charming, such as the ramshackle market stalls and historic temples, while others can prove to be quite the opposite: tiny children gathering recycling from bins to make a few Riel for their family, and amputee beggars vying for tourists’ pockets.

While most visits to the city are trouble-free, always watch your pockets and bags as there is a great deal of poverty in Phnom Penh that gives rise to opportunist theft. At the same time, look after your health by following the usual travel health tips such as avoiding ice in drinks (unless it’s from a trusted source) and always using a good mosquito repellent , particularly from dusk onwards, to protect yourself against malaria and dengue fever.

Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh Photo: Kirk Siang on Flickr

Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

The main tourist sights of Phnom Penh

Dominating the city centre’s sightseeing attractions is the 19th century Royal Palace, including the fabulous Palace Grounds, Silver Pagoda and Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It’s open from 8am, and this is the best time to visit to avoid the heat. You’ll need to wear something decent to cover legs and shoulders, or you can hire a sarong and large t-shirt for a small fee at the entrance.

Another central sight is the National Museum of Cambodia, which features an interesting collection of art from Cambodia’s ‘Golden Age’ of Angkor, alongside statues of Hindu Gods, ancient inscribed tablets and prehistoric burial artefacts. At its centre there is a lovely courtyard with a statue of Yama, the Hindu god of death (or the ‘Leper King’) taken from the Terrace of the Leper King in Angkor Archaeological Park.

Garden at the National Museum of Cambodia Photo:  mookE on Flickr

Garden at the National Museum of Cambodia

A must-see sight for anyone who wants to better understand Cambodia’s horrific past during the Khmer Rouge’s  four-year campaign of terror is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This school, which was converted into the country’s most notorious prison (‘S21′) in 1975, housed more than 14,000 people who were tortured and then killed and buried at the Killing Fields just outside of the city. Only eight prisoners made it out of the prison alive.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Photo: timmarec of Flickr

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

You can hire a taxi or tuk-tuk for the 17km trip out of town to the tranquil yet moving Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. A glass-sided Buddhist stupa containing thousands of human skulls lies at the heart of the mass graves that were discovered in 1979.

Perhaps one of the city’s most bizarre attractions, which commission-earning tuk-tuk drivers will be quick to tell you about and encourage you to visit, is the Thunder Ranch Shooting Range. Situated near the Killing Fields, it is said to be run by a unit of the Royal Cambodian Army, and for a relatively high fee you can try shooting pistols or machine guns at paper targets. Many tuk-tuk drivers will try to include it in a ‘package’ with the Killing Fields, but if you don’t want to go there just make it clear that you’re not interested.

And relax…

After a hard day’s sightseeing, treat your aching limbs to a massage – there are plenty of spa places around the main tourist areas, prices are cheap, and the massage is generally very relaxing.

This post is brought to you by  Gap Year Travel Store – where you can find equipment for backpackers and independent travellers

Photo credits: Phnom Penh riverside by judithbluepool, Silver Pagoda by Kirk Siang, National Museum Garden by mookE, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum by timmarec.

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Passports with Purpose Thanks

The Passports with purpose travel blogger’s fund-raiser completed just before Christmas raising a fantastic $26,000, which was double the original target.  The money will be going to build a school in rural Cambodia through the charity American Assistance for Cambodia and should be built by this summer. Not only has enough money been raised to fund the school building, but the additional funds raised will mean that your donations have also provided water filters, a kitchen garden, books for the library and a school nurse.

Passports with Purpose builds a school in Cambodia

Passports with Purpose builds a school in Cambodia

So now it’s time to say some big thankyous to all those who contributed to this amazing effort, not least all of you out there who pledged donations in the Passports with purpose raffles for some amazing prizes, from camera equipment to holidays to hotel stays.

Flip Ultra Video Camera

Flip Ultra Video Camera

I’d like to thanks my sponsor, Flip UK who donated the Flip Ultra Video camera that I was able to offer as a prize. The Flip Video Camera was won by Rebecca Self of Xpat Adventures – hope you have fun making some cool videos Rebecca!

Thanks also to the sponsors of Passports with Purpose, supporting travellers with their services

  • Virtuoso is the industry’s leading leisure travel network. This by-invitation-only organization comprises more than 6,000 elite travel advisers associated with over 300 agencies in 22 countries, as well as over 1,000 of the world’s best travel providers and premier destinations.
  • BestTravelDeals.net is a site where you can share great deals you’ve found, join the community and save on your next trip.
  • BootsnAll travel is a network of travel sites to connect passionate travelers via expert written content and user generated travel blogs.
  • HostelBookers.com is a budget accommodation site, with descriptions, photos and videos of the properties online, customers can view hostels before they book, and HostelBookers is the only website in the industry not to charge a booking fee.
  • Uptake is a travel search and discovery site – the first step for travelers to decide where to go, where to stay or what to do. They help users make informed decisions about what best fits their travel preferences.
  • Got Passport, Will Travel, We’ll serve – Living Small, Giving Large. We are a family of three, with a passion for travel, seeking out new experiences, meeting new people, and living simply.
  • HomeAway, Inc. operates the world’s leading and most-established vacation rental websites around the world, including HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com.
  • Raveable.com is the fastest way to find the perfect hotel and is the first and only website that creates hotel review summaries based on the common rants and raves found in millions of online hotel reviews.
  • Travelfish.org produces original travel content for the independent traveller heading to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Recommended by Rough Guides, Footprint, Lonely Planet and others
  • TravellersPoint is a vibrant travel community dedicated to seriously passionate travellers. Upload photos, create a blog or travel map, share travel tips in the forums, and contribute to the wiki travel guide.
  • Last but not least, thanks to Debbie Dubrow, Pam Mandel, Michelle Duffy and Beth Whitman, the bloggers behind Delicious Baby, Nerd’s Eye View, WanderMom, and Wanderlust and Lipstick who worked so hard behind the scenes to organise Passports with Purpose.

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    Passports with Purpose and a Flip Video camera to giveaway

    Today sees the launch of Passports with Purpose, the fund-raiser by Travel Bloggers to support those in the developing world who need our help. Last year we raised $7,000 for Heifer International and this year the target is to raise $13,000 to build a school in Cambodia.

    Build a school in Cambodia

    Children study outside before their school is built

    Children study outside before their school is built

    All donations to this year’s Passports with Purpose Fundraiser will go to the charity American Assistance for Cambodia to build a school in rural Cambodia where the population experienced so much trauma during the Khmer Rouge regime. The project establishes schools in poor, rural areas where children have been deprived of any educational facilities or been forced to learn outdoors for lack of funds to construct schoolhouses.

    Children in front of their new school

    Children in front of their new school

    The AAfC uses matching funds World Bank and Asian Development Bank together with the $13,000 that Passports with Purpose hopes to raise, to cover the construction and start-up costs of the rural school. You can find out more about the AAfC’s Rural Schools Project here.

    Flip Video Camera Prize

    There are many Travel Bloggers offering travel related prizes as part of the Passports with Purpose draw. On the Passports With Purpose website you can find a list of all the prizes and the blogs where the details of the prize are posted.

    I’m thrilled that Flip in the UK have donated one of their Flip Ultra Video Camcorders as a Passports with Purpose prize, as it’s a neat and fun little camcorder to take you when traveling or to record special moments with your friends and family. If you’ve been wanting to start shooting video but were afraid of all those camera settings and wizardry, then this is the video camera for you.

    You shoot what you like and then upload directly through the USB port of your computer, with the option to email to your friends or upload to sites like Myspace and Youtube. Because it’s so small and self-contained, you don’t ever have to worry about missing that magic moment because you didn’t have the right gear – just pop it in your bag and go.

    How the Passports with Purpose Draw works

    From today, November 30th 2009, the Passports with Purpose website will show a list of all the prizes on offer, and each one will link back to a full description of the prizes on the blogger’s website. For each $10 in donations that you make to AAfC, you will will be entered to win a prize (or prizes) of your choice.

    The fundraiser begins on November 30th and closes on December 21. All proceeds go directly to AAfC. You can donate $10 for the prize of your choice, or multiples of $10 for a favourite prize if you want to increase your chances, or $10 or more for several different prizes that take your fancy. It’s a great thing to make a donation as a gift on behalf of someone and if they win the prize that’s a bonus.

    Next Steps

    By now I’m sure you’re convinced that this is a charity worth supporting, particularly if like me you’re aware how lucky you and your family are in their opportunities for education that we all take for granted in the West.

    So please go now to the Passports with Purpose website and make your donation for the Flip Video Camera or another prize of your choice. If you’re worried about what to buy for that person who has everything, go and buy them a $10 ticket and a chance to win a prize as a bonus. And if you feel you’d like to treat a child you’ve never met to a great Christmas present of a school and an education, then go to the Passports with Passport website and make your donation, or ask your loved ones to do so as your Christmas present.

    I’ll be making updates about Passports with Purpose throughout December until the fundraiser closes on 21 December, so keep and eye on this blog, on the Passports with Purpose Website and follow the tweets at #pwp.

    A Big Thankyou

    • Thankyou so much in advance for your support
    • Thanks to Flip in the UK who donated the Flip Video Camcorder as a prize
    • Thanks to the key sponsors of Passport with Purpose who have got the fundraiser off to a cracking start
    • Virtuoso is the industry’s leading leisure travel network. This by-invitation-only organization comprises more than 6,000 elite travel advisers associated with over 300 agencies in 22 countries, as well as over 1,000 of the world’s best travel providers and premier destinations.
    • Got Passport: Will Travel, We’ll Serve
      Living Small, Giving Large. We are a family of three, with a passion for travel, seeking out new experiences, meeting new people, and living simply.
    • HomeAway, Inc. operates the world’s leading and most-established vacation rental websites around the world, including HomeAway.com, VRBO.com and VacationRentals.com.
    • Raveable.com is the fastest way to find the perfect hotel and is the first and only website that creates hotel review summaries based on the common rants and raves found in millions of online hotel reviews.
    • Travelfish.org produces original travel content for the independent traveller heading to Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Recommended by Rough Guides, Footprint, Lonely Planet and others
    • TravellersPoint is a vibrant travel community dedicated to seriously passionate travellers. Upload photos, create a blog or travel map, share travel tips in the forums, and contribute to the wiki travel guide
    • Last but not least, thanks to Debbie Dubrow, Pam Mandel, Michelle Duffy and Beth Whitman, the bloggers behind Delicious Baby, Nerd’s Eye View, WanderMom, and Wanderlust and Lipstick who are working hard behind the scenes to organise Passports with Purpose.