Since we only had a couple of days to explore Phnom Penh we were only able to visit a limited number of sites. We began our second day by visiting the National Museum, which itself is an incredibly beautiful building. The museum houses pottery, bronzes, weaponry, and the world’s best collection of Khmer sculpture which spans over more than a millennium. There were some absolutely stunning exhibits, even if I didn’t really understand the meaning or the context of any of it – I say this as someone who admittedly knows absolutely nothing about the history of Cambodia or the Khmer people! It’s a really interesting museum to have a look around even without truly understanding what it is that you’re seeing (and of course if you’re not cheap students like us you could always invest in one of the information booklets!) It was a beautiful place to spend an hour or two, and if you’re only going to visit one museum or historical sight I would definitely recommend this one.
Our next stop of the day was the Royal Palace. The palace complex was built in 1866 after the capital was moved to Phnom Penh and still to this day houses the King of Cambodia. Unfortunately it was closed when we went to visit and so we were only able to walk outside the palace walls. It was still a very pretty area though, with lots of grassy areas to sit and have a break. I suppose it just gives me one more reason to come back and visit Cambodia again!
Anybody visiting Phnom Penh must take the time to see Psar Thmei – also known as the Central Market (referring to its location and size). I simply cannot begin to describe the complexity of this market. You walk through what is essentially a huge rabbits warren, with stalls spreading out around you in every single direction. The shops seem to be organised roughly in theme, so one moment you’re walking through women’s clothing, then shoes, then men’s clothing, electronics, underwear etc. No matter what way you turn there are stalls, their owners calling out to you to come and buy their goods! It was a great place to buy more travel pants (although apparently it has a reputation amongst the locals for being overpriced). Be warned, as we soon found out it is incredibly easy to get lost within this maze, and if you loose a member of the group you’d better have a phone on you, since finding each other without one proved impossible!
I only had a very short period of time within Cambodia, and this is perhaps the only thing I regret of my entire summer travels. Even just a couple of days in Phnom Penh showed me how incredibly vibrant and friendly this country is, and it is definitely high on my list of countries I need to return to when I have the chance! But part of me was also incredibly excited to be leaving this city and to be travelling on to Siem Reap. Why? Because it was there that I would finally be able to see Angkor Wat, the site that has been number one on my travel bucket list since I first started the list!
“It is so hard to leave—until you leave. And then it is the easiest goddamned thing in the world.” John Green