Going Full Backpacker in Phnom Penh

Sometimes you just have to go full-on backpacker. I spent my last few days in Cambodia in Phnom Penh, the capital city, which has a reputation for being a more dangerous place to be a foreigner than most other Southeast Asian cities. I’d just spent a week in Siem Reap, absorbing the beauty of the temples of Angkor, eating at the mostly-locals food shack down the street, and sitting very still in my air-conditioned bedroom during the worst heat of the day. I was about to go to Vietnam and dive into the history of that nation. Not to mention I was mainly in Phnom Penh to visit the Killing Fields and S-21, two sobering monuments to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. For a couple days here, I needed a place to retreat, reflect, and relax.

The 88 in Phnom Penh

The 88 in Phnom Penh

I stayed at The 88, a backpackers’ hostel not particularly close to the sites of the city, but just down the street from a fruit market. Also, it didn’t matter that you couldn’t walk to much, because it was entirely self-contained; the hostel had a full restaurant and bar, a pool, and a raft of tuk-tuk drivers willing to take you on any of the pre-set tours the hostel’s laminated sales sheets described. Of course I enjoy exploring neighborhoods on my own and meeting people along the way, but when you’re in need of a mental and physical break, there’s a lot to be said for a hostel that makes everything easy for you.

So when I wasn’t sightseeing, I was holed up behind the hostel walls, lounging in the pool, drinking cocktails with the girls from my dorm room, eating Western and Khmer dishes from the hostel restaurant, sending my laundry away to be done, and waiting for my Vietnam visa to be processed. I hung out with a Spanish couple, who felt like old friends by this point–we’d met on the slow boat to Laos, seen sights together in Luang Prabang, and had dinner in Siem Reap.

Beef loc lac--a delicious dish

Beef loc lac–a delicious dish

I say “going full backpacker” because I saw many a backpacker who spent all night partying and most of the next day recovering in the hostel common room, hardly leaving the hostel at all to explore the sights of the city they’d flown halfway around the world to visit. It was remarkably easy to be sucked into this lifestyle, and it’s important to recharge like this from time to time when you’re on long trips, but I wouldn’t recommend it for the long-term. Otherwise, why even bother leaving home?

When I got to Ho Chi Minh City a few days later, fresh visa in hand, I returned to more adventurous ways. I left my hostel to explore the area and interact with the people who lived there. But for a couple days in Phnom Penh, it was nice to remain isolated and regroup.

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