Top 7 Highlights from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This trip to Phnom Penh was a significant one because it was my birthday trip that I booked myself — first time booking plane tickets on my own! It’s significant also because most people who know Phnom Penh wouldn’t choose the place for a birthday destination; I knew nothing about this capital city of Cambodia when I booked the tickets in a flash during sales.

Once I learned about the gloomy history of Phnom Penh, I made effort to ensure I don’t ruin my birthday trip — I was determined to get the best out of this accidental destination.

It has been a week since my trip. Here are the top 7 highlights:

#1 Blacking Out at Eclipse Sky Bar & Restaurant
eclipse rooftop bar restaurant phnom penh
Beer and apple cider while watching the night skyline of Phnom Penh at Eclipse Rooftop Bar & Restaurant.

My alcohol tolerance has never been tested because I usually drink very slowly and I stop once I get tipsy. Since Big-C diagnosis, I’ve only been drinking sips of alcohol once in a blue moon. No exception this round at Phnom Penh but I blacked out after a maximum of 5 sips of 3 types of alcohol over 2 hours — I tasted Angkor beer, Bruntys apple cider and Singha beer.

I believe Singha beer was the culprit because I got chocked by the gas the moment I took a sip. Shortly after, I started feeling very dizzy. My stomach started churning and I felt nauseated. I thought I need to go the hospital at one point because I was losing my vision. LOL.

RK walked me to the washroom and I felt my soul return after vomiting. Not exaggerating. I didn’t deliberately vomit. The gas was acting up in my stomach and I couldn’t even hold it back.

And that’s how I did not get any nice photos at arguably Phnom Penh’s most scenic 360-degree rooftop bar… Oh well. At least my story was interesting.

#2 Eating “Happy” Pizza at Happy Herbs Pizza
happy herb pizza phnom penh
1 Happy Pizza, 1 beer and 1 lassi.

The keywords here are “happy” and “herbs”. Happy Herbs Pizza serves pizzas with herbs that make people happy. Geddit? I got so intrigued when I first read about it on travel blogs about Phnom Penh. And I included that in my itinerary because I felt it was safe enough to try out since most bloggers didn’t even feel a thing after eating it.

RK and I asked for “just a little bit” of Happy Herb Chef Pizza in Small size. We didn’t think we’d feel anything eating just 3 slices of the pizza and we were quite right. RK didn’t feel anything. I felt slightly light headed but zero lift in happiness. My colleague told me she laughed non-stop for no reason after eating happy pizza so my light headedness may be caused by me sleeping for only 3-4 hours the night before. I ate this before my black out at Eclipse but we deduced the pizza didn’t play a role.

Even though we didn’t feel any happier after the pizza, it was still exciting knowing that we ate the happy herb. The process of discreetly ordering it was fun too.

#3 Riding Tuk Tuk in Phnom Penh Traffic
travel phnom penh cambodia tuk tuk
Selfie in a tuk tuk with a tuk tuk in the background. Wearing face masks because it’s dusty.

Tuk Tuk experience in Phnom Penh was vastly different from what I experienced in Bangkok. Yes, they look similar, they flock the streets, you need to haggle for price and you inhale lots of dust during the ride. But tuk tuk rides in Phnom Penh were so much more comfortable than in Bangkok!

Twice when I was in Bangkok, I encountered tuk tuk drivers who dangerously and aggressively maneuvered through the traffic in the city, as if they did it on purpose to thrill tourists. In Phnom Penh, however, the ride was so smooth despite the chaotic traffic because somehow everyone just knew how to advance and give away, inches away from each other.

I was startled when I first saw how chaotic the traffic was but quickly became in awe at how Phnom Penh has approached the chaotic traffic day in day out with such calmness and courtesy.

#4 Visiting Killing Fields and S-21
killing fields phnom penh
Can you believe this small space buried 450 bodies during the Khmer Rouge regime?

The existence of Choeung Ek Killing Fields and S-21 Prison is likely the main deterrent for travelers to not choose Phnom Penh as a birthday destination. I freaked out when I learned about these sites and contemplated if I should skip the top attractions. As much as I appreciate learning about history and culture of my travel destination, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be at the main scene where about 25% of the country’s population was murdered just 40 years ago, especially for my birthday.

But I’m glad I went and left the place knowing that I did enough homework to not ruin my trip. Firstly, I opted out of the “super good” audio tour because I heard it’s quite creepy and you end up having to spend a longer time at the site to listen through. I believe I got similar information reading at the museum and saved USD3 by doing that so I was happy. Secondly, I read quite a bit about this dark history of Cambodia and the horrible sights before visiting so I was mentally prepared.

#5 Enjoying Every Meal at Phnom Penh
phnom penh what to eat
What to eat in Phnom Penh? Lots of yummy food.

It wasn’t a food trip. We didn’t even think the food would be a highlight. But this came from the boy himself: every meal we had at Phnom Penh was good!

  • Day 1 Dinner at Happy Herb Pizza – Happy herbs aside, the Happy Herb Chef Pizza was delicious! I loved the egg at the center of the pizza.
  • Day 2 Breakfast at Balconitel Boutique Hotel – We stayed at this hotel and it came with breakfast at their restaurant/bar/jacuzzi. I ordered the potato pancake and it was yummy.
  • Day 2 Lunch at Sesame Noodle Bar – Living up to the purpose of the establishment, the cold sesame noodle in the hot Phnom Penh weather was the perfect match. So simple yet so good.
  • Day 2 Dinner at Kabbas and David’s Restaurant Homemade Noodles – Original plan was to eat at David’s but we went to the old location so ended up going to Kabbas, which I listed as alternative option. We tried the amok, which everyone recommended, and we liked the thick and rich aroma. When in Kabbas, we realized David’s new location was literally next to Kabbas so we also ordered a bowl of freshly made noodles at David’s. Simple yet great noodle-making “show” and noodles.
  • Day 3 Breakfast at Balconitel Boutique Hotel – Another breakfast at hotel and it was good again. It was so massive too. *burp*
  • Day 3 Lunch at Flavors of India – We ended up at this restaurant because we couldn’t make it to the restaurant we listed and couldn’t locate the other nearby restaurant we Googled. Our tuk tuk driver dropped us off randomly and we walked into this place based on Google recommendation. I liked the chicken curry and RK liked the biriyani.

Maybe I should write a separate post just on the food we ate in Phnom Penh…although we only tried 1 local cruisine: amok.

#6 Having Afternoon Tea in The Elephant Bar, Raffles Le Royal
afternoon tea elephant bar phnom penh
Afternoon tea at Elephant Bar, Phnom Penh.

I wouldn’t count this as a meal so it didn’t appear in the meal list above. Also because taste-wise, the afternoon tea wasn’t particularly impressive but I went ahead despite knowing it beforehand because…

What’s memorable during this Le Royal Afternoon Tea was continuing the tradition of having annual hi-tea for my birthday! We skipped the tradition last year because I was avoiding sugar during my Big-C treatment. The previous years, we went to Grand Hyatt Hotel, Majestic Hotel and Harrods.

I was excited about having hi-tea at The Elephant Bar also because it’s the most historical and iconic bar in Phnom Penh. It used to serve the Cambodian royal and high profile ambassadors. The French interior was beautiful and it was located in a 5-star hotel. RK should have tried their alcohol since they pride having one of the largest gin selections in Asia.

Coincidentally, it was raining during our afternoon tea so we spent a long afternoon chatting in the peaceful space.

#7 Chilling at Balconitel Rooftop Jacuzzi and Indoor Pool
rooftop jacuzzi balconitel phnom penh
Giggling at rooftop jacuzzi of Balconitel, Phnom Penh.

RK wanted this trip to be a staycation so he wanted to splurge on a really nice hotel or resort. I persuaded him to settle for this 4-star boutique hotel and explore the city instead. And I was happy with my choice!

I chose this hotel out of the lots I surveyed because I knew my decision would be based on how much I like the pool. But I couldn’t decide between a rooftop pool or a quaint indoor pool. Balconitel has both so I was sold!

Best of all, there was no one every time we went to the rooftop jacuzzi and indoor pool. #win. It definitely felt like a private jacuzzi and pool for just the two of us. Wee~! Did I mention that they upgraded our room for no reason too? Yay yay!

It sounded like a good trip, didn’t it? It was, in fact, a good trip. Even though Phnom Penh is known to be hot, dusty, unsafe and expensive for Southeast Asia standard, we made many good memories during our short 48 hours there. Malaysia felt as hot, if not hotter, so the weather didn’t matter. It was worrying at first when we were warned about the dust and the crime rate in the city but we didn’t feel much difference growing up in equally run-down small towns in Klang and Kuala Terengganu. We didn’t expect to pay so much for tuk tuk though; spent USD42 (approx. RM180) on ground transportation within the city in 48 hours.

Let’s see if I find time to write more about this travel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia =) …And I wonder if I’d like Siem Reap better when and if I visit it one day.

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