All photos © Ruud Leeuw



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
We came to Cambodia's captial Phnom Penh to see the sights and record street life.
We walked many a mile with the camera in hand; you'll get the picture.


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
We flew with AirAsia from Bangkok's Don Muang Airport (a.k.a. Don Mueang) to Phnom Penh. AirAsia is a modern and very efficient airline; we enjoyed a smooth flight.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Map of Cambodia

Cambodia from above
Once upon a time Cambodia was covered by jungle and I had expected to see it much greener.
This was actually a good part.

After Cambodia became embroiled in the Vietnam conflict in the late 1960s, many forest areas were severely degraded
through bombing, burning, spraying of herbicides and illegal logging. Until recently many areas remained inaccessible
due to ongoing conflict and residual landmines. In the last 20 years, commercial logging, agricultural expansion,
and shifting cultivation for harvesting charcoal and fuelwood have resulted in the loss of a further 1.4 million ha of forest.
A lack of financial resources prevents the implementation of incentives for sustainable forest management in Cambodia.
It is alleged that corruption amongst the police, local government, the forest administration, the military and
at the highest levels of government allows illegal logging to continue unabated. []



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The view from our hotel in Phnom Penh.The immediate area is not very interesting (a number of surviving French colonial buildings are scattered here as well as along the grand boulevards), but the important sights such as the Royal Palace and Central Market are only a short (tuk-tuk) ride away.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The gasstation had a good supply of snacks, cold drinks including beer.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The frontdesk of the Cara Hotel (website)
From the lobby one enters a bar / restaurant, where the hotel has breakfast served to their guests. Dinner is very good, small portions served as tapas - but not cheap.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The Cara Hotel describes itself as a Boutique Hotel, but while the lobby is nicely decorated I found our room very spartan: not a decoration in sight! The bathroom looked cheap, the room itself was small with the airconditioning above the beds providing for an irritating airflow at times.
Television on the room featured many international channels and our room was located on the quiet side of the hotel (as requested).


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
I made the mistake of changing to local currency. The ATM at the airport gave out US dollars but next to it was a booth which changed the money to Cambodian Riel. I had brought some dollars myself so I changed USD 290,- and found myself a millionaire, counting KHR 1.073.000,00!
But all the bills and quotes I got during our stay in Cambodia were made in US dollars and had to be recalculated to Riel, so I could get rid of this currency. It often was very confusing.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Funny money.
Fred de Ruiter helped to clarify: 'At the funeral, the family will burn joss paper to ensure their loved one has a safe journey to the netherworld; fake paper money and miniature items like cars, houses, and televisions are burned.'

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
A good place to spend some money: Central Market. But an even better place may be the very modern shopping mall seen on the far left of the photo, that dome; that is where you'll find the Sorya Shopping Center.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Central Market is a peculiar building with only a ground floor.
The Phnom Penh Central Market is housed in a colonial-style building in the heart of the Cambodian capital. Its Khmer name Psar Thmay translates as 'new market', although it is more commonly referred in English as Central Market.

The Psar Thmay was built in 1937 during the French colonial period, in Art Deco style, and is painted bright ochre. It consists of four wings dominated by a central dome.
Within the four wings and around the compound outside are on sale almost anything you can think of, including electronic equipment, clothing, watches, bags, suitcases, dried and fresh foodstuff, jewellery, clothes from cheap t-shirts to krama (Khmer scarves), pseudo-antique, books including photocopied travel guides and lots of souvenirs. []



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The top floor of the Sorya Shopping Center has a modern cinema and we went to see a film (Bruce Willis, Die Hard 5). English spoken of course.
The exit at 22:15 was peculiar as the mall had closed and we were herded into a large elevator (during the day used for supply of goods I think) and emerged in a parking for bicycles; we had a little trouble finding transport in the deserted streets. Then again the centrally located Wat Phnom is only a stone throw away (if you go in the right direction).


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Our hotel, the Cara Hotel, at night. The Rue de France sees quite a bit of traffic and I was pleased our room faced the side street (Neary Klahan).
At the other side of the block was the National Highway 5 which you could walk down for the boulevard (Preah Sisowath Quay) and restaurants but a tuk-tuk ride was only 2 dollars so the tuk-tuk became our preferred option.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Passing in the night



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Through (link bottom page) I had booked the hotel as well as an excursion on the first day of our stay in Phnom Penh. This excursion included a visit to the Royal Palace.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
We obviously weren't the only people visiting here...
I have dedicated a seperate page on our visit to the Royal Palace & the Silver Pagoda.


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
We also visited the National Museum. The Museum buildings, inspired by Khmer temple architecture, were constructed between 1917 and 1924, the museum was officially inaugurated in 1920, and renovated in 1968.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The museum houses one of the world's largest collections of Khmer art, including sculptural, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The Museum’s collection includes over 14,000 items, from prehistoric times to periods before, during, and after the Khmer Empire, which at its height stretched from Thailand, across present-day Cambodia, to southern Vietnam.



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Traffic can be quite chaotic. Most unnerving was the fact that while turning left the drivers often did not wait until there was a gap in oncoming traffic but rather drove against the traffic on the wrong side of the road while gradually moving to the right side of the road!

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The cycle rickshaws or pedicabs are getting more rare in Phnom Penh. They are replaced by tuk-tuks; these are different from the ones in Bangkok: they attach a cabin (trailer) to a motorcycle. The motorcycle is not always powerful enough and two Western adults with a suitcase each can become quite a struggle.
But they all got the job done.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Probably more common in rural areas than in the city for I did not see this much.


Visit to Phnom Penh 3-2013
Near the nightmarket, which we did not visit, this was outside on Oknha Ing Bun Hoaw Avenue.
The heat was still oppressive.

Visit to Phnom Penh 3-2013




Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which I found very impressive and profoundly dramatic.
The site is a former high school, which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979.
Tuol Sleng was only one of at least 150 execution centers in the country and as many as 20,000 prisoners were killed at this prison and interrogation center.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, although the real number is unknown). At any one time, the prison held between 1,000–1,500 prisoners. They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured and killed.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Our guide suggested a nearby restaurant where we could enjoy a buffet for only 9 dollars. But we preferred a small family diner across the road from the museum, had fried rice with chicken and shrimp, cola and walked to the guy in the photo for some fresh fruit as a dessert.
Over this nice lunch we managed to recover from the atrocities we'd learned of in the Tuol Sleng Museum.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
During that terrible episode in the 1970s, under Pol Pot's regime, Cambodia was thrown back into Medieval times. Phnom Penh was in fact deserted, people had been driven out. A visitor on foot these days should be prepared for situations like this in Phnom Penh's back streets as well as unpaved pavements, shop stores and waste randomly stored outside.
At times it is hard to imagine that PP was known as the 'Pearl of Asia'; it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
One of the over 150 (300+ has been mentioned too) Killing Fields is just outside Phnom Penh.
This commemorative stupa is filled with the skulls of the victims at the Killing Field of Choeung Ek.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The memorial park here at Choeung Ek has been built around the mass graves of many thousands of victims, most of whom were executed after they had been transported from the S-21 Prison in Phnom Penh.



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The boulevard ('quay') is a fascinating place for an evening stroll.
People here are getting some exercise done and (photo below) a goal is being scored while playing football.
Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The Preah Sisowath Quay is a busy street and people sell food, snacks, soft drinks or souvenirs until late at night.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Kids stay with their mother even when she is working her foodstall or in some shop.

Life is mainly lived within the immediate family. A network of friends hardly exists. Men don't always take their responsibilty towards a family too serious and take to drink or have a girlfriend outside marriage; or disappear altogether. Abuse of women and children is widespread.
Life can be hard in Cambodia but the average standard of living has been on the rise.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Quite demanding: "one dollar!?!"


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Lizards. And the ubiquitous gecko!

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
This gecko fell on the ground next to us, from a tree, with a big thump.

The toes of the gecko have a special adaptation that allows them to adhere to most surfaces without the use of liquids or surface tension. They use chirping sounds in social interactions with other geckos.
Yanks during the Vietnam War mistakenly identified the sound the geckos make and called it the 'Fuck You Bird' for the sound the geckos make could be interpreted as such.

There is a joke about this:
Marines were on patrol, in the pitch black night, with orders NOT TO FIRE unless an enemy was spotted.
Out there in the jungle, in the pitch black night. They weren't about to wait until the VC were in their face and they looked around for a reason to open fire. And they found one.
In the distance, they heard a Vietnamese bird, nicknamed the 'fuck-you-bird' because of its 'unique cry.'
They got on the radio.
"This is ('..'), we have spotted a gook and request permission to open fire."
"Roger, open fire."
They then began shooting wherever the bird was heard. Of course, they couldn't just stop there...
"We requesting airstrike..."
Yup. They called in Willie Peter, Napalm, Airstrikes, 'Puff the Magic Dragon' (gunship with lots of machine guns).
In the morning, the bird was still there. But 30 Viet Cong were confirmed dead.



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Wat Ounalom (Ounalom Pagoda & Monastery).

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
This temple is the headquarters of Cambodian Buddhism.

Wat Ounalom was founded in 1443 and comprises 44 structures. It received a battering during the Pol Pot era, but today the temple has come back to life. Behind the main building is a stupa (seen on photo directly above) containing an eyebrow hair of Buddha with an inscription in Pali (an ancient Indian language) over the entrance.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
This is one of Phnom Penh's original and most important pagodas, dating from the 15th century and located close to the Royal Palace. It was once home to hundreds of monks and an extensive religious library, but suffered greatly at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Many of the religious artefacts were thrown into the river during the Khmer Rouge years, but a few were eventually retrieved.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013

More photos on my pages.



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Check that out!

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Did not dare to check this out, maybe next time.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Seems like a good slogan, but a weak government doesn't help.

After decades of civil war and political violence, corruption has pervaded almost every sectors of Cambodian public life, with a system of patronage well entrenched in society. Both petty and grand forms of corruption are widespread.
Law enforcement agencies are perceived as the most corrupt and inefficient sectors, lacking the independence, resources and capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute corruption cases. Weak systems of checks and balance, ineffective accountability mechanisms and scarce opportunities for public participation further contribute to the deteriorating situation.
The enactment of the long awaited anti-corruption law has been pending for years. []

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The Foreign Correspondents Club of Phnom Penh.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club in Phnom Penh is a public bar and restaurant along the Tonle Sap river, not far from the conjunction with the Mekong river. It is often referred to as 'the FCC,' or just simply 'the F.'
It is situated in a nice three-storey colonial-style building with wonderful views over the river.
The FCC in Phnom Penh is not a private club, like other Foreign Correspondents' Clubs around the world, but members from reciprocal clubs (like the FCC Hong Kong) get a 10% discount on food and drinks.

Its story began just 18 years ago, when a South-East Asia-based British lawyer named Steve Hayward talked his way across the Vietnamese border on New Year's Day, 1992, hungover and in search of adventure. A tentative ceasefire had just been declared in Cambodia after years of genocide, civil war and invasion; tanks rumbled through the streets of Phnom Penh and a military curfew was imposed after 10pm, enforced by soldiers bearing AK-47s.
The first bar to open in Cambodia since 1967, from the start the Gecko Bar became a hangout for UN officials, diplomats and of course, gin-swilling reporters; and before long it had become the de facto journalists' club.
But Hayward wanted something bigger; and he found it on the riverfront at Sisowath Quay in 1993, then a no-go zone of "thieves, vagabonds and worse".

And so the FCC was born; five individual units were bashed into one and gradually expanded into what it is today, consisting of nine guest rooms, a restaurant, bar, terrace and cafe.
Expats flocked to the place; and as Pol Pot took his final stand in the jungle, so journalists filed breaking stories from the "F", including Nate Thayer, the correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, who famously scored the last interview with the elusive Khmer Rouge dictator.
The FCC Phnom Penh is open 365 days a year, from 7am until whenever management chooses to close. Happy hour is from 5-7pm, when drinks are half price.
The restaurant serves awesome woodfired pizza and nine hotel rooms are available.
Read more:


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The stairway had impressive photos on display of the Vietnam War era.
In the bar and restaurant the FCC had a brilliant photo exhibition of portraits taken all over the world, but there was no reference to the photographer nor could the staff tell me more. Pity.

Al Rockoff was a war photographer, a Google Search will bring you many Vietnam War photos by him.



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Situated on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, the Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to about 2.2 million of Cambodia's population of over 14.8 million (up from about 1.9 million in 2008).


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The Preah Sisovath bends away from the river for the property along the river is taken by the imposing Hotel Cambodiana, clubs and other accommodations people from the street won't have access to. The Preah Sisovath has a royal dignity to it, broad and with grass and parks. And blossoming trees.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
A mother rocks her sleeping child; what I think are the remnants of a toy bear is seen hanging from the standard of the parasol.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
A game is being played during lunchtime. Only when I saw the photo I realised they played for money.



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Checking her out.. This is at the Russian Market.
We went to this place for my slightly outdated Lonely Planet guidebook stated that trinkets from Russian times could still be picked up here. We were disappointed to find it offered only the usual t-shirts, jeans, caps, phones, dvd's and other run-of-the-mill, mediocre souvenirs.
It was also cramped, hot and damp.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Business is slow, the days are long.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
The food department of Russian Market did provide for a few nice photos.

Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013



Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
An imposing gate around grim dwellings of the less fortunate.


Visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia 3-2013
Returning to the hotel in a tuk-tuk, we never tired of taking photos of the streetscenes (Note the mirror)



BANGKOK 3-2013, a start
BANGKOK 3-2013, the end



Helpful links:

Riksja Travel /
Phnom Penh on Wikipedia
World Travel Guide - Things to see in Phnom Penh





Page compiled/updated: 21-Apr-2013 / 08-Apr-2021