FIVE DO’S AND DON’TS IN PHNOM PENH
The Royal Palace dates back to the 1860s. It features classic Khmer architecture, eye-catching gilding, fairy tale spires and carvings of mythical creatures. Highlights are its lush French-style gardens that house life-size sculptures of Khmer warriors and Buddhas. The Silver Pagoda should be included in your visit list to view its many historic cultural and religious artefacts.
This is the venue to learn about Cambodian history and culture. The museum houses ceramics, sculptures, textiles, pottery and bronzes from as far back as the 12th century. The red sandstone building was built under the direction of King Sisowath whose objective was to preserve the rich Khmer culture.
A former orchard at Choeung Ek is a venue chosen by the Khmer Rouge to murder more than 20,000 Cambodians during the Pol Pot regime between 1975-79. A half hour drive from the capital is where the more professional and educated Cambodians were often bludgeoned to death and buried in shallow graves where the remains of almost 9000 were discovered and more remain underground. Bones protrude from the ground and skulls are stored in a macabre memorial tower. There were up to 300 killing fields in Cambodia but this is the most notorious.
This genocide museum, a former high school in the downtown area of Phnom Penh, was the scene of mass torture, interrogations and beatings during the terror reign of Pol Pot. Although the Khmer Rouge ruled for less than four years the unspeakable tortures had a marked effect on the world. Known as S21, the museum is confronting. It graphically shows the processes by which more than 17,000 Cambodians were tortured and humiliated.
Better known as cycle rickshaws, cyclos, are fast dying out in South-East Asia and being replaced by motorbikes and TukTuks. Ridden by cyclists from poor country families, cyclos have survived in Phnom Penh and are sponsored by a non-government organization. A cyclo ride (you just sit there) provides a close-up view of the city and its people without anything to obscure the sights, sounds and smells. A one-hour ride will cost you a few dollars and can cover many highlights, including Wat Phnom, the Central Post Office, palaces and museums.
Phnom Penh has some of the greatest street markets in Asia. The Central Markets in town, and the Russian markets a little out of town, are two of the best. Available are a treasure trove of souvenirs, ornaments, clothes – fake brands and local handicrafts – shoes, food, electrical goods, hardware, coloured check scarves known as kramas, Kampot pepper and silk purses. Spend some time leisurely going through the aisles and try your bargaining power. You will always pay a ‘foreigner’s price’, and leaving a dollar in it for a hard working market assistant means more to them than it will to you.
Respect a simple existence
Cambodian’s are a happy, smiling, helpful and courteous people but their’s is an emerging country without many of the facilities the western world takes for granted. Visiting Cambodia can be incredibly budget priced for tourists, but don’t expect huge modern shopping complexes and the typical conveniences you find at home.
The US dollar is the currency mostly used by locals and tourists alike and it goes a long way in Cambodia. While the local riel will make you a millionaire quickly, it is a nightmare to track. Use small denomination US dollar notes although you often get change in local currency…or sweets.
Loose fitting wash and wear clothing and comfortable walking shoes are a must in Cambodia, which is tropically hot and humid for much of the year, and paved roads and footpaths often being the exception rather than the rule. Most tourists find themselves a bit grimey after a days sightseeing, so best to accept it. A hat and sunglasses will always be useful.
Tourists are not used to the water in Cambodia so keep away from vendors selling drinks with crushed ice. All good hotels supply complimentary bottled water so make sure all the drinks you consume are properly sealed. Consider cleaning your teeth with bottled water especially if children are accompanying you. It can be very hot, but don’t use ice at all unless you know it has been made from filtered water.
Agree on a TukTuk price
Sometimes it is a bit tricky because of communication issues but never get into a TukTuk without agreeing on a price beforehand and making sure the driver knows your destination. Most rides cost between USD$2 and USD$3. An extra tip: always take a hotel card with you. It will have a location map on it. TukTuk drivers know most of the hotels but if they don’t recognise yours, their friends will.
BARGAINING IN CAMBODIA
Bargaining can be a lot of fun for tourists but at all times be aware that you are haggling with people less fortunate than yourself. So it is important that we don’t bargain them down to pennies. Some will say this doesn’t happen as market sales men and women are specialists at what they do, but an extra dollar in a transaction may make a big difference to their lives… and their families.
Buying clothes, shoes, jewellery, electronics, souvenirs, food and even a TukTuk ride in Cambodia is no different to any other South East Asian country but there are a number of tips to help you gain a win-win outcome as well as some bargains.
How keen are you to get the item?
We don’t always go to the markets to buy things. Often it is an enjoyable way to spend some time. So when in this frame of mind, and something takes our fancy, you are well positioned to negotiate prices because you don’t have that “must buy” attitude. Often we look at something at the markets and remain unconvinced that it’s what we really want, again a good bargaining platform.
Asking the price
Make sure you have made up your mind to purchase an item before you ask the price. Don’t ask “How much?” unless you are prepared to buy. When you do ask the price, the rule is to halve it and start bargaining from there.
The walk-on-by method always works if you are set on the item and your price and you want to improve your bargaining position. If keen to make a sale, the seller will pursue you and accept your price or perhaps do so with an extra 50 cents on top. When this happens you then know you have been successful with your bargaining.
Selling assistants in markets in Cambodia believe that the first sale of the day is LUCKY. If they haven’t done any business that day they may be more inclined to drop their prices in order to get that lucky sale, which will put them in a good position for the remainder of the day. This situation sets the scene for some great bargains.
Most Cambodian’s have memories like elephants. So if you promise you’ll come back or buy something later, they will expect you to fulfil your promise or send you on a guilt trip if you don’t follow through.
It can be a game for tourists but a much more serious endeavour for those trying to earn a living from a market stall. Don’t take it too seriously. When the game is on, Cambodian’s can appear to get serious about the whole thing or simply switch off. They will ask you, “What do you want”, tell you they have many colours and your special size. They may smile and engage you or show no concern at all or create a great show – all to entice you to buy…at their price. That’s the game! And no matter what price you settle on, once the sale is concluded the Cambodian salesperson will appreciate your custom and welcome your friendship. Remember… always be kind and courteous to sales people as most of them have a command of English and know what you are saying. All employees work from a commission basis so it is critical that they sell many lines through the day to make ends meet.
LONG-HAUL FLIGHTS – TIPS FOR SLEEPING
Envy is when the person next to you on a long-haul flight curls up before takeoff and is still sleeping when the captain asks the cabin crew to take their seats for the final approach. Lullabies don’t often work and there are various herbal and medical remedies available to help you lull your way to sleep. However, you may want to consider these tips to help you cope with long flights and get you to your destination without arriving exhausted and irritable.
Useful Tips If you undertake a daily fitness routine, running, swimming, walking, fitness classes or gym try and fit your normal schedule in on the day of your flight. This will help to tire you naturally and will go a long way towards getting a good sleep.
Seat selection is important if you like a window view and don’t want to be disturbed by other passengers climbing over you to get to the bathroom, then a window seat fits the bill. Aisle seats are popular as you have easy access and can move around the cabin without disturbing fellow passengers. After the drinks and meal service it is time for lights out. That’s when you get comfortable with loose fitting shirts and pants, a blanket, a neck pillow and your sound cancelling headphones to help you start counting (sheep or anything else will do).
Having a glass of wine with your meal can promote drowsiness but don’t over do it, as too much alcohol will dehydrate you and keep you awake.
A dark, quiet and peaceful environment is one of the keys to a good sleep. However, wide-bodied long haul aircraft are not known to have too many of these features. Eye masks and earplugs are usually available in Economy unless you are on a low cost carrier where they will incur an additional cost…but well worth it.
Watching or listening to sophisticated in-flight entertainment is also a good way to lull you to sleep. When you feel yourself dozing off hit the pause button and finish the movie when you wake up.