Phnom Penh, Cambodia: 5 Top Travel Experiences

Monks on the Ferry in Phnom PenhPhnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, is a place re-coming into its own after the Khmer Rouge’s takeover in the 1970s. Often overshadowed by the backpacker haven of Siem Reap, Phnom Penh is worth a visit in its own right. Phnom Penh lacks the ‘city on acid’ feel that the other Asian capitals such as Bangkok and Tokyo are so famous for – the city possesses a much more laid back quality that allows travelers to experience several different aspects of Cambodian culture and history.

Here are my top 5 Phnom Penh experiences:

Ride a tuk tuk
You can’t go more than a couple of feet in Phnom Penh without being offered a ride on a Tuk Tuk. A two wheeled buggy attached to a motorcyle, Tuk Tuks are THE method of transportation. A trip across town shouldn’t cost more than a few dollars – keep in mind that all prices are open to negotiation.

Ride a Tuk Tuk in Phnom Penh

Eat the Local Food
Diverse and cheap, Cambodia’s food shouldn’t be missed. Although a lot of the menu’s are borrowed from neighboring Thailand, several of Cambodia’s own dishes are also worth trying. The most famous dish is Amok, which can be prepared with both fish or chicken.

Food in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s many markets are also filled with food for sale. Everything from fresh vegetables and exotic fruit to fried crickets (which are eaten like potato chips) can be found for sale in the stalls and in the carts lining the streets.

Local Food in Phnom Penh Market

Learn about the Past

During the rule of the Khmer Rouge millions of Cambodians were oppressed and killed. All the citizens of Phnom Penh were exiled from the city and sent to work back breaking hours in the rice fields. Anyone who opposed the regime was arrested and forced to confess their “crimes.” Afterwards most of these prisoners were killed and buried in mass graves.

Remains of the Khmer Rouge's victims on display at the Killing Fields

Visiting the Killing Fields, which are just outside the city, and the S21 prison provides great insight into this very recent tragedy. No visit to Phnom Penh is complete without the perspective gained from these experiences.

S21 Security Prison in Phnom Penh

Cross the Mekong
Phnom Penh is located on the banks of the Mekong River. Situated in the middle of the river are the Mekong Islands. A short ferry ride will bring you feeling like your miles away from the city. Renting a bike and exploring the area is a great way to see day to day Cambodian life up close.

Mekong River VillageRiverside Mekong River Village

Experience the Religion
In a country where a majority of the population is Buddhist, religion can easily be seen in everyday life. Wake up early enough and you will see monks making their daily alm collecting trips. Stroll through the market and you will see hundred of Buddha statues for sale. Visit the Royal Palace and you can enter the Silver Pagoda, home of the jade Buddha. It’s a wonderful insight into everyday life that isn’t always easily accessible to tourists.

One thing to remember, if you want to take photos of monks or other religious items you should always ask permission. Most monks are happy to oblige. One young monk was so eager to practice his English that he struck up a conversation about American Universities with us and then asked to see my pictures from my trip to Angkor Wat.

Temple in Phnom Penh

This is a guest post from Elizabeth Bird who recently started her own travel blog – L’Appel du Vide. Check it out or follow here on Twitter

For more insight into destinations in Asia check the Asia and Australasia page out here on TBD!

TranzPacific Train Ride from Picton to Christchurch – New Zealand’s Coastal Pacific is Back

Picton Train StationIn the old days you used to hear trains long before they actually came into sight, the sound of wheels chugging, the steam being released in a shrill whistle. But the arrival of the electric train means many modern trains simply roll up, almost taking the passenger by surprise.

So are the days of the classic train journey over? Far from it. In fact the comfort of modern trains simply allows the passenger to sit back and take in the view.

While many backpackers strive to get south as quickly as possible the small and charming port of Picton is worth a few days of anyone’s time, if you travelled into the Queen Charlotte Sound on the InterIslander Ferry you will be well aware of the abundance of wildlife which makes the region its home.

But after a few days exploring the delights Picton and the Sounds have to offer, why not jump aboard the Coastal Pacific and head south on one of the most picturesque train journeys in the world.

The TranzCoastal, now known as the Coastal Pacific, only reopened on 15 August after the Christchurch earthquake forced the service off-line.

It often plays second fiddle to its more illustrious sibling the TranzAlpine, but for train aficionados the Coastal Pacific is one of the top train journeys in New Zealand and the South Pacific.

Picton to Christchurch runs along beautiful beaches

The train itself is a fairly basic one-class setup with a buffet carriage and a number of passenger carriages. But where this train journey really comes into its own is the open-sided viewing carriage.

I highly recommend spending the majority, if not ALL, the journey outside in the viewing carriage, come rain or shine.

Rolling out of Picton the Coastal Pacific is a journey designed to excite the senses. The rich wine growing fields of Blenheim soon give way to the Kaikoura Mountain range on your right and the Pacific Ocean coastline on your left.

Picton to Christchurch train

Travelling through the heartland of New Zealand’s Canterbury Plains, while hugging the Pacific coast, travellers aboard the Coastal Pacific can spot the countless seals, penguins and dolphins as the train chugs its way south.

The Coastal Pacific crosses 175 bridges of varying sizes, including New Zealand’s only road-rail bridge, as well as travelling through 22 tunnels.

Train Picton to Christchurch5 Things Not to Miss on the TranzPacific:

  • Spend as much time as possible in the Coastal Pacific viewing carriage, trust me a little wind and rain never hurt anyone.
  • Explore Picton and the Queen Charlotte Sound for a day before departing on the Coastal Pacific.
  • Try and fit in both the TranzAlpine and the Coastal Pacific if possible.
  • Try and count the number of bridges and tunnels you go through.
  • Relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery as the Coastal Pacific train makes it weary way south.

This is a guest post from Mike at Nomads on the Road.
Mike is a writer and wannabe mountain man, if he could grow a big bushy beard he would, but he will settle for writing about all things adventure. A history buff and keen sportsman, Mike can be found at the local footy ground, shredding on the mountain, jamming at a gig or with his nose in a book at the bar, notepad always on hand.

For more info on destinations in Australasia click here and decide where to go after you’ve ridden that rail. If you’d like to conribute a guest post for Top Backpacking Destinations then please get in touch, I love to hear your stories and recommendations!