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Ooaj Travel Guide, tourism, hotel reservation, residence, plane, cheap pension for you holidays in phnom penh
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For western visitors, even those who have visited other Asian cities, Phnom Penh can be a bit of a shock. It is very hot and (in the dry season) dusty, its infrastructure is undeveloped, and it is a very poor city - much poorer than, for example, Bangkok or Saigon. The visitor who cannot adjust to rubbish filled streets, fluctuating electricity supply, and large numbers of beggars, should probably give Phnom Penh a miss.
Those who find themselves struggling with Phnom Penh's current state should recall the terrible times the city has been through in recent decades. In 1975 it was choked with up to 2 million refugees from the war between the then U.S.-backed government and the Khmer Rouge. After its fall to the Khmer Rouge in April, it was completely emptied of civilians and allowed to crumble for the next four years. Most of the already small class of skilled professionals were murdered or driven into exile. The city fell to the Vietnamese Army in 1979, but the new Cambodian government had no money to spend on urban improvement until the peace settlement of 1992.
As Cambodia's economy has recovered a new rich class has arisen in Phnom Penh, and a crop of new hotels and restaurants has opened to accommodate them and the tourist trade. But there is as yet very little between the extremely rich and the extremely poor. Tourists often have little choice but to stay at expensive hotels and eat western food, since Phnom Penh has not yet developed the capacity to provide cheap but clean accommodation or cheap but safe local food. All the guide books warn the visitor against eating food bought from street stalls, and the visitor sees at once why.
Phnom Penh's Pochentong Airport (PNH) is Cambodia's largest international airport and most flights into the country pass through there. There are daily flights from all major regional airports (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Saigon, Singapore) as well as from Luang Prabang in Laos. Airlines include Bangkok Airways, Lao Aviation, Shanghai Airlines, Thai Airways, Silk Air, Dragon Air, among others. Malaysian low-cost carrier Air Asia (http://www.airasia.com) has also started flying daily flights from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, making Phnom Penh a cheap gateway into Cambodia.
Visas are available on arrival for many nationalities. The airport has a post office, bank, restaurants, Duty Free shop, news stand, tourist help desk, Business Center, as well as a Dairy Queen, the only western fast food franchise in the country.
Taxis from the airport run about $7 US. For visitors on a budget without a lot of luggage, it's worth walking out to the main road to catch a moto-taxi for $1-2.
There is extensive bus service to Phnom Penh from both Thailand and Vietnam, as well as Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) in the north. To the south there are regular services to Sihanoukville. Many buses and "mini-buses" (usually 10 person vans with 14 people in them) cater exclusively to western tourists. Buses are the most affordable option, but expect delays and close quarters. The main bus station is near the Central market where tickets can be bought (normally without any hassle).
A range of seasonal ferries ply the river between Phnom Penh, Siem Reap in the north, and the southern coast. These are usually much more scenic than the bus ride, but run in $20-$30 range. If taking the speedboat to or from Siem Reap (staging point for the Angkor temples), you have the choice of sitting inside or outside. If you sit inside you may get seasick. If you sit outside you will get both soaking wet and sunburned.
A general rule of thumb is to be sure to negotiate a price before one enters any of these vehicles.
Vehicles recognizable as taxis are non-existent in the city. There is a taxi service, but one must call and usually wait for a while before the driver shows up. Even then these "taxis" do not have meters and the visitor is advised to address the issue of fare before the trip begins.
By mototaxi, motorbike, and cyclo
The Cambodian version of the tuk-tuk consists of a motor-cycle with a cabin for the passenger hitched to the back. They are cheaper than taxis and offer a more realistic experience of the city.
There are also hordes of young men on motorcycles, motodups in local parlance, who will take you anywhere for a small fare. This is quickest way to get around, if your nerves can stand it.
The cyclo, also known as velotaxi or cycle-rickshaw, is another means of transport in the city, although considerably slower then the mototaxis. These three-wheeled vehicles are gradually becoming less common in the city, as mototaxis increasingly choke up the roads, but they are still popular among Cambodians and foreign tourists alike. The nature of the seat lends itself to a quick and easy way to transport a load of goods from one place to another, one should not be surprised to see all manner of items being transported in this way, even other cyclos and the occasional motorbike as well.
Phnom Penh's streets and footpaths are rutted and pot-holed, and are clogged with garbage, stagnant water, parked motos, sleeping people, livestock and building materials. This makes walking anywhere a challenge, as cars and motos will not stop for pedestrians. Phnom Penh has almost no street lighting off the major boulevards and walking at night is not recommended.
As of October 2005, there is a bigger push from the Cambodian government to use the Riel, the national currency, but most travellers are suprised to find that most transaction are done in U.S. dollars. Take lots of low denomination U.S. dollar notes, but leave your coins at home. In place of coins you will get back Riel, at an approximate exchange rate of 4000 to the dollar. The basic price for everything in Phnom Penh is "one dollar, one dollar."
Phnom Penh offers some interesting culinary treats you won't find elsewhere in the country. Many of these include French-influenced dining as well as Thai, Vietnamese, and modern takes on traditional Cambodian dishes. The standard pizza-banana pancake-fried rice backpacker fare is also always easy to find.
The best area to wander is along the riverfront where everything from stand-up stalls to fine French bistros can be found. Take great care eating from stalls, however. Peeled fruit and vegetables and anything uncooked should be regarded with suspicion.
Take the cross river ferry to sit on mats and eat cheap hawker food while watching the sunset over the city.
Places to hangout after dark include Street 104, which has about ten different style bars to visit. Choose from restaurant bars to girlie bars.
Most of Phnom Penh's budget accommodation is clustered either near the riverfront or at Boeung Kak Lake.
There are a surprising amount of 4 and 5 star hotels in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh has a partly deserved bad rep. While your odds of being robbed at gunpoint by cops or soldiers are much lower than in Cambodia's civil war days, your odds of being robbed at gunpoint by common hoodlums are correspondingly higher — official figures (almost certainly underestimates) report an average of 50 incidents per month (Cambodians and foreigners), leading to 5 deaths and 10 serious injuries. Avoid walking at night, try to find a dependable moto driver and don't carry more than necessary. Another serious problem is bag-snatching by thieves on bikes. If you must carry one, try to keep it on the side facing away from the street.