Cambodia might not be everyone’s first choice for honeymoon destination. To be honest, it probably wouldn’t have been mine, if our wedding had taken place in completely different circumstances.
My new husband and I had booked our flights to Cambodia before we decided to get married. Then when we did decide to hitch ourselves together, there sitting a convenient 6 weeks after our wedding date was a three week trip through Cambodia; pre-organised honeymoon ready and waiting.
That is how we came to embark on a honeymoon that while not exactly full of the traditional romantic aspects that are so easy to achieve in Italy or the Maldives, we instead had one that brought us new levels of intimacy, showed us how well we could travel together under difficult circumstances and provided us with a lot of good stories and adventures.
We were both very excited to be seeing Cambodia, a country that hadn’t been on my to-visit radar. Husband in particular because this was his first visit to South East Asia. His face as we in our taxi pushed our way through Phnom Penh peak-hour, squeezed by buses and vans and swarmed by motorbikes and scooters was a mixture of horrified fascination and mild terror.
I wish I could say that our hotel was nice but it wasn’t. I had set a rough budget of $10p/person p/night, which in Vietnam was about perfect and when travelling there my friend and I didn’t have a single bad experience with accommodation. Unfortunately we spent our first three nights in Cambodia in a poorly air-conditioned, windowless room where the smell of sewerage the snuck out of the bathroom drains had nowhere to go but to fill the apartment and the EXIT light over our door made our room glow sickly green at all hours.
Fortunately, Phnom Penh had no sickly glow and didn’t smell. The city sits at the strategic intersection of the mighty Mekong and the Tonle Sap rivers. The combination of French Colonial architecture and traditional Cambodian palaces and temples in the main tourist areas along the river make it a charming and beautiful place to be, though like many cities, you don’t have to step too far off the well-worn streets to see a bit more dirt and poverty in the ‘real’ side of Phnom Penh.
Our plan for Phnom Penh was unfortunately quite vague as we had both been so distracted in the weeks leading up to the holiday. Must-do activities for any trip to Cambodia are S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields (separate post to come). So we started slow and visited the beautiful Royal Palace, Temples, Central Markets and walked the streets.
At the end of our first full day in Cambodia, we arrived at the Foreign Correspondents Club on the banks of the Mekong right on 4pm to take advantage of half priced cocktails for happy hour. Up on the third level overlooking the river traffic, it was a glorious place to watch dusk descend into night. Traffic below us provided all the entertainment you could need; we chatted with fellow tourists at the stools next to us (because there sure as hell weren’t any Cambodians around) and snacked on some fresh salt and pepper calamari and Ginger Rogers. Perfect.
For dining, we took a couple of recommendations from Lonely Planet and otherwise ate wherever looked good. The stand out meal was at Friends, a restaurant that serves traditional Cambodian fare in more of a fine-dining style than you might find at your average restaurant. It is also a training school for street children, teaching them how to be waiters and chefs and so give them an opportunity at a better life. It can be hard to find these places without a guide book and they are just the sort of enterprises I love to support when travelling. Set in a beautiful old yellow villa away from the centre of town, we ate on cushions by the outdoor pool. We chose tangy salads, traditional curry and fresh, perfectly cooked seafood. The couple next to us ordered a plate of deep fried spiders but we couldn’t bring ourselves to do it.
One morning for breakfast we ate at a tourist café on the main strip because I had been unwell and felt that toast and orange juice might be the best thing in the circumstances. At the table next to us, a portly white haired man was attempting to engage in conversation with a young Cambodian woman, translated through her sister, friend, or pimp, we weren’t entirely sure. Though there were attempts at small talk, it was mostly negotiations for how the man would spend the day with the non-English speaking woman. Of course one knows that sex tourism is particularly prevalent in South East Asia but it was a bit of a surprise to see it played out so obviously at 8am on the river front. I hope the man paid well for her time.
The most disgusting side of the sex-trade, that of child sex trafficking, is a huge problem in Cambodia and I believe there are major projects underway by several organisations to stamp it out. One place you see it acknowledged and disgraced the most is on tuk-tuks. Most of our drivers during the time we spent in the country had t-shirts and boards on their tuk tuks declaring their support to stamp out the trade, promoting organisations dedicated to that aim and information as to what to do if you see anyone engaging in such vile activities.
Where we stayed: Sary’s Guesthouse
Where we ate: Friends; Lucky Pho, random cafes and restaurants
See also the Friends International website.
Where we drank: Foreign Correspondents Club
If you’re travelling to Cambodia, check out the other places we visited: Kratie, the Elephant Valley Project, Kompong Cham, Siem Reap and the Temples of Angkor (check out our tips for visiting the Temples). We also bookended our trip with visits to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.