The Shanghai area is incredibly dreary in the winter, but it also can’t make up its mind about being cold or muggy. I hadn’t seen the sun in weeks, and every time I went outside I was either over or under dressed. Our original plan was to just stay home for the Christmas break, but we just couldn’t take it anymore. Humans needs sunshine and clean air!
We booked a stay at the Himawari Hotel in Phnom Penh for five nights. I chose this hotel because the rooms were big with full kitchens. I need a fridge, sink, and counter space when traveling with my little booger. Our room even had a separate small room that the baby slept in (we brought her Pack n’ Play) so sleeping was easy! Cambodia is super cheap but this “expensive” hotel will run you a hundred bucks a night. Worth every penny if you’ve got a baby or toddler though!
Getting a Visa for Cambodia
We originally intended to get our visas online which you can do for $37 each. But, because China has literally the worst internet in the world (everything is either blocked or it’s so slow it’s unusable), we didn’t get to it in time. I was nervous about how long it would take to get our visas at the airport after landing, but it was really quick and easy. At the airport, it’s $30 a person, so we saved a little. Some guy will tell you which line to get in and you fork your passport over. Then you hop into the next line and pay. You can only pay in US Dollars. The ATMs give USD, so it wasn’t a big deal. Then, we had time to go to the bathroom and then our visas were all ready to by the time we were done.
Transportation in Phnom Penh
We grabbed something to eat before trying to get a taxi to our hotel. The airport has really nice little food court with plenty of good options. I remember looking at it and thinking “Why doesn’t China have this?” There’s an obvious answer to that question, but that’s for another post on another day. We had pizza and then went to find a taxi. We talked up to a guy and showed him the hotel’s address. He asked a buddy for some directions and then motioned for us to follow him. We walked past a long line of taxis and then saw some tuk tuks. I jokingly told me husband it’d be funny to take a tuk tuk and then the driver started throwing our suitcases into the back of one! I wouldn’t have ever chosen to put my baby in a tuk tuk, but that’s because I’m still a little wrapped up in the hyper safety mode of American culture. China has been eating away at this though- my daughter’s butt hasn’t seen a car seat in six months! The open tuk tuk just took things to the next level. I was nervous the whole time, but of course it was completely fine and actually a lot of fun.
My almost two-year-old daughter LOVED the tuk tuks. When we mention them now, she excitedly nods her as though she could summon a tuk tuk if she nodded hard enough. I’m glad she’s getting to experience and love things that would just be impossible back in the States.
Really, the tuk tuk is the only way to get around in Phnom Penh! We took them everywhere. They run you about $2-$5 to see all the major sights. The tuk tuk drivers always quoted us in USD. It was actually a little tough to use our Cambodian Riels sometimes. I think it’s a good idea to have both when you travel to Phnom Penh. The one time we took an actual taxi in Phnom Penh was on our trip back to the airport. We sat in traffic jams watching tuk tuks and motorcycles squeeze around us. It was frustrating and we ending up cutting it close! You can’t judge travel time based on a tuk tuk if you decide to take a car.
Visiting the National Museum
It’s was in the 90s the whole time we were in Phnom Penh in late December. Our little girl has been living in the sunless world of smog and rain in Shanghai, so we needed to keep her from burning. Luckily, Phnom Penh is home to lots of small attractions that only require an hour or so- perfect for toting around a little one! I imagine if we were younger with no kids, we would’ve found it to be an underwhelming place in terms of “attractions.” But for those types, just get on a bus to Siem Reap!
The National Museum is an open air museum which seemed so odd to me. It’s not terribly big, but has lots of neat Cambodian artifacts. They even have a moon rock and some really out of place photos of the moon landing! It wasn’t crowded, so it was a nice little outing for us.
The Sisowath Quay River Walk
Our hotel was right on the river, so we could basically take the elevator to the river walk! It’s a bit hot in the middle of the day, but it’s a really lovely spot for a walk. There are stretches where you’ll only see people walking or riding bikes, and then there are sections filled with vendors selling food, toys, birds, and corn to feed the pigeons.
The Backyard Cafe
One thing we absolutely loved about Phnom Penh was the variety of excellent food. We stumbled up this place called the Backyard Cafe and it was amazing! We just can’t find food like this at home in China without traveling two hours into the center of Shanghai (and even then, I haven’t found anything as good as this in Shanghai). We ate at the Backyard Cafe every day we were in Phnom Penh.
They have breakfast and lunch. Everything is so delicious and fresh. This ranks as one of the best restaurants for fresh food I’ve ever been to. Find this place while you’re in Phnom Penh!
Wat Phnom Buddhist Temple
There is a small, but really neat Buddhist temple worth visiting in Phnom Penh called Wat Phnom. It costs one dollar to gain entry as a foreigner, and it’s well worth it.
The grounds and temple were not crowded at all when we went making for a lovely little afternoon trip!
Phnom Penh is Just a Great Place in General
The people are amazingly friendly and polite, everything is hyper affordable, and the weather is lovely! Even the “pushy” tour guides trying to make a buck off of tourists really only asked once or twice if you’d like use their services. They’re far less pushy than any other tourist spot I can remember. The people seem very gentle and trusting, too. Our tuk tuk driver took us to Wat Phnom and told us he’d wait while we looked around. We tried to pay him for the first half of the trip and he insisted we wait until the end. Payment was always made at the end of every transaction. It seemed rude to try and pay anyone upfront!
There are loads of Western restaurants around Phnom Penh, and even the expensive ones are cheaper than what I’ve found in Shanghai (and the food is far better)!
The weather is always warm, and at least for our trip, it was always sunny. The rainy season is during the summer months, so I’m sure that’s a different story. It was great to just spend time outside in the sun for a change!
Should We Move to Cambodia?
I think so! It had a relaxed vibe that I really enjoyed. Compared to China, it’s a dream. The air is fresher, the food is better, and it’s actually affordable. And you are allowed to ride motorcycles there! I think more time in Cambodia is definitely in our future!