Weird and Wonderful Phnom Penh

by Ryan
(Sydney, Australia)

My partner, my best buddy and I traveled to Thailand last year, with a view to travel to Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam too.

Unfortunately, my girlfriend and I contracted a very nasty bacterial infection most from what was most likely the vile hostel that we stayed at in Koh Phangan.

(Our three-bed room cost $15 per night at New Years which coincided with Full Moon and was a 2 minute walk to Haad Rin beach - is it any wonder?).

After recovering in Bangkok (and forfeiting a flight to Laos because, well, simultaneously crapping oneself and vomiting does not marry with air travel), we booked our flight to Phnom Penh.

I'm not going to lie. I was, in fear this time, shitting myself. Being cooped up in a Thai hostel for a week made me extremely anxious to even explore Soi Rambuttri let alone what some people have described as a, well, friggin' dangerous place.

Nonetheless, I grew I spine, copped flak from my girlfriend and my mate, and very nervously boarded the plane. Rubbing shoulders with some very conspicuous sex tourists (who we deemed, with reference to South Park, the "Super Adventurers"), we cleared the shitestorm that was Phnom Penh Airport immigration and stepped out into a weird - and wonderful - world.

The contrast between Phnom Penh and Bangkok was stark. From the moment we landed, we were greeted with smiles. Girls on the back of motorbikes would wave to us simply by virtue of we being tourists.

The city itself is in some respects aesthetically rough - many roads and sidewalks look as though they are ready to crumble underfoot - but in great contrast, it is punctuated with beautiful French-colonial architecture and a picturesque riverfront.

Ultimately, my fear was completely and utterly unfounded. Sure, men will chase you down the road asking if you want 'boom boom', and will even ask if want a tuk-tuk when you're already riding one, but that is to be expected throughout Asia.

There are certainly some shady characters, but I've encountered shadier and more unpleasant people in my hometown. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of Khmers were falling over themselves to just have a chat to us.

So for any traveller that is nervous about travelling to Phnom Penh - don't be. All that is required is that you keep your wits about you - but most people will have a long history of doing just this in their home country.

My partner, my buddy and I are looking very much forward to returning in a few months. We're also going to finish what we started and see Vietnam and Laos, too - but we'll certainly be avoiding Koh Phangan. Indeed, that's the part of South East Asia that most people should be hesitant about visiting.

P.S. I'm entertaining the idea of taking a break from law school to teach and travel in this part of the world. Phil, this is an awesome and very informative website. Please keep up the good work!


Reply from

A bacterial infection on Koh Phangan? How odd. That never happens! (Facetious)

I think most people on their first or even 7th visit to Thailand or South-East Asia get an unfavorable reaction to the food.

I think almost everyone gets the sick when they first hit Thailand or begin any SouthEast Asia Travel. It's not so much that the food is unclean and full of any more bacteria than we find at home.

If you develop similar symptoms, just head to a pharmacy and get some Advil and lots of Bananas. And allow your friend to seek shelter from the reek.

Cambodia is as you say. It is a wonderful place that so many people carry a stigma about. It is a safer place than Bangkok by far; the people love to just smile and the warm greetings they always offer is almost weird.

Cambodia is a place that too many people miss because they have no idea what they are missing. I have tried to point that out through the website but people continue to avoid Cambodia because Insert Bizarre Reason Here.

Angkor Wat alone is worth the risk. That is because there is no risk but you won't see that until you get here. Crime against foreigners is rare. It seems to be a new popular fad in parts of Thailand, though.

Tourists are new to Cambodia. The people are aware of what your country has done for them. They will come up and say " Where are you from?"


"Oh, Canada. They helped us build a new Dam project up in Danang. Canada is very generous to Cambodia." It won't happen everyday but they are not yet sick of tourists.

We are still new and seen as a benefit to the country (Besides the damn Pedophiles) and its growth.

They have not been exposed to 50 years of tourism as Thailand has. Some of the people who show up at the full Moon Festival don't leave a good impression on someone who sees that from tourists on a regular basis.

Cambodia is a great place. Thanks for pointing it out.


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