We had a free day in Phnom Penh and decided that we’d spend the morning visiting the local sights that hadn’t been incorporated into our planned itinerary with the tour company. So having spoken with our guide about what "was left to see" he came up with the suggestion that we could hire a Tuk-Tuk driver for the day and visit the Killing Fields 15 kilometres out of Phnom Penh as well as checking out some more of the sights in town.
To be honest the thought of a 10 mile ride in a Tuk-Tuk wasn’t overly exciting and to contemplate the journey on some of the poorly maintained Cambodian roads wasn’t something we fancied. So, having sussed out that the cost by Tuk-Tuk would be around $20 we asked our guide what he thought it would cost to hire a taxi for the same kind of trip. He said he thought we’d probably get that for $25 and then had a chat with our driver. It turned out that our driver was busy the next day but our guide was happy to try and negotiate for another driver to take us on the trip. "Leave it with me" he said "and I’ll tell you later if I’ve been able to sort anything". I was already thinking that I had seen a number of drivers near to our hotel and I was sure that I could sort one of those to help us on our trip the next day. Now I had a price in mind I was feeling confident of sorting something out.
By lunch time our guide had managed to arrange for another driver to take over the duties of our current driver. By doing this, he explained, we could stick with a driver who could speak a little English and would ensure that the proposed itinerary was complied with. However, he became apologetic when he said that the price was $30 and not as he’d first suggested $25. We looked at each other and all agreed that it would be good to get the next day confirmed and as it was only going to be£5 each it hardly seemed worth the hassle of re-negotiating at the hotel. We agreed the price and the time of 8.00am as a sensible pick up time.
The following day our driver arrived promptly (indeed he was waiting for us when we arrived in the hotel foyer at 7.50) and we were soon off on the road with the plan to arrive at the Killing Fields by 8.30. This way we would beat the crowds and our driver hoped that it would be a "quiet visit" for us.
The journey was interesting as we passed through small villages, with people already working hard: some working in small rice fields, harvesting the morning glory, manning small market stalls, transporting heavy loads on the backs of motorbikes, working in tiny garages repairing bikes. All manner of cottage industry seemed to exist in the villages.
At one point we saw a larger factory which turned out to be a bakery and we were reminded of the information given to by our guide that bread in Cambodia was a luxury that was taken on visits to family members. It was certainly not seen as a staple diet and of course a bakery this size would be pandering to the needs of visiting tourists rather than satisfying a local demand.
We were certainly pleased that we hadn’t opted for the Tuk-Tuk journey as we’d have been bounced all over the place. It was bumpy enough in this large people carrier and by the time we reached the killing fields we were pleased to be able to put our feet onto terra firma.
After our visit to the Killing Fields (see separate review) and Wat Phnom (see separate review) our driver took us to the Central Market. This has a totally different feel to the more informal "Russian Market" and is all housed in a large building in, believe it or not, the centre of town.
Along the front of the building was a colourful flower market with stallholders working hard at assembling bouquets. This is well worth a wander through as the colour and smells are just a delight and the blooms were in such good condition.
There was a huge area dedicated to jewellery and lovers of "Bling" would be well at home here. Unfortunately for the tens of traders that hold stalls here, there didn’t seem to be a lot of buyers so everyone we walked past was anxious to sell. Now I know little about gem stones so I’d be reluctant to buy here, but I’m sure if you have a good knowledge of precious and semi-precious stones you’d be able to strike a good bargain.
Around the "bling" section it seemed as if the market was divided in to trading areas: clothes, fresh vegetables, meat, a very small spice section, wooden goods (including masks, Buddha statues, boxes).
It like many of the markets we’d visited was a bit of a maze but there was plenty of space between the stalls and for me it lacked the excitement – the hustle and bustle – that we’d experienced in other markets.
We spent a good 45 minutes wandering the aisles but by this stage of our holiday we’d made all the purchases that we wanted to make.
Still it was an interesting experience.