Published: July 28th 2011July 28th 2011
when we arrived in Phnom Penh we headed straight for Lakeside, a place that had been described in the Lonely Planet Becky'd lent us as a great backpacker district with cool decking and trailing flowers reaching out over the water. Yeah, the guide was a few yeares pout of dsat, but it had been really useful so far and not much can have changed in that short a space of time can it? It turns out the answer was yes, yes it could.
When we arrived we were greeted by what looked like a building site. Sadly the whole area has been purchased for re-development and only 3 guesthouses still stand. The decking stretching across the water is no more and many of the restaurants, bars and guesthouses have been torn down. A smell of sewage wafted through the air and rats and roaches scurried down the streets. Still, it was cheap as chips to stay here so we plumped for a room anyway – we'd be out most of the time.
We explored the streets on foot and visited monuments and museums. We took a sunset boat ride down the river, which was really lovely and romantic as
we were the only ones on the boat soi had peace and a completely unobstructed view. I didn't really understand why as the boat we got on was one of the cheapest and other boats crammed with tourists trundled past us as we went … we're just lucky I guess, the same thing had happened at the Floating village! we passed an even poorer version of a floating village .. a flotilla of small wooden boats, each home to a small family... I thought Ozzy was a little home, she's a condo compared to these!
We also bumped into Dani, Koko and Izzy again and had a great night out with them (they were staying in one of the other guesthouses still open on Lakeside) involving curry, beer, more beer, dancing to a band led by a James Brown lookalike and dicing with death in the tuk-tuk of a drunken Cambodian! Seriously, his driving was terrifying and we refused to let him drive us home at the end of the night! We were joined by another group of girls and T, a Cambodian guy they'd met at their hostel who was very funny, spoke excellent English and had very
western views on relationships … 'I don't like arranged marriage. I want to know a girl beforehand and see if I like her. You know ' try before you buy' but no cambodian girl will allow that. It is what it is here.' He was very funny and had us all in hysterics. When Mike jokingly called him a 'ladies man'... he frowned and said 'No! No way, I'm no ladyboy!!' When we'd finished laughing, we explained what a laides man was and he cracked up as well – glad he saw the funny side! We also met a Swedish couple in the bar with the james Brown-a-like who came back to lakeside with us and played drinking games. I went back to the room when they left at about 3am, but Mike stayed up until at least 6 playing cards with a german girl and 2 African lads.
Phnom Penh as a capital city is lively, bustling and vibrant … less claustrophobic and dirty than bangkok but more chaotic than London. The area around the river is filled with street vendors selling food on sticks, including deep fried tarantula – no we didn't sample it – dancers, football
games, volleyball, outdoor aerobics and families out for a walk. We even saw an elephant just casually strooling down the main road while we had a beer! It was by far my favourite area of the capital as it was such a fab place to people watch!
However, you don't have to scratch deep to get to Phnom Penh's seedy underbelly either – after dark it seems every tuk tuk driver becomes a drug dealer and pimp, offering all kinds of drugs, sex with men and women and even trips to a shooting range (they offer these in daylight hours too, but after dark some offered the chance to blow up livestock – sick) the people we met here were more jaded than the Cambodians we'd met elsewhere, but still made us feel welcome. Our hostel owner was friendly and sweet and offered lots of info and advice on where to go. It's just such a shame that the Lakeside area has slipped into such bad decline. If I went to Phnom Penh again, which isn't likely, I'd stay elsewhere.
There are more photos below