Spending three days in Phnom Penh

So many people wonder when the best time of the year is to come to Cambodia. While traditionally October and November are the lower seasons for tourists its my opinion that this is one of the best times to come. Fewer crowds and more fun holidays to partake in. We decided to spend a quick vacation in Phnom Penh for the water festival. If you’re looking for a place off the beaten track that is rich with culture Cambodia is the place for you.

This was my first time participating in the water festival. It was so crowded and crazy fun. We arrived in Phnom Penh on the second day of the festival. Just leaving Siem Reap took a while due to all the incoming traffic for those who came to the province to be with family during the holiday.

Once in Phnom Penh we went to our favorite hostel, Eighty-eight, to chill until we could check in to our Airbnb. While there we got to see a whole family of monkeys walking across the power lines in the city. It was so crazy how many of them kept coming. Wildlife roaming the city is one of the many charms of Cambodia.

We went and saw “Ralph Breaks the Internet” at Aeon mall. Aeon is a huge mall in Phnom Penh that has three levels of shops, a karaoke place, an arcade, bowling ally, ice-skating rink and movie theater. It’s definitely a nice place to go to if you need a break from dusty hot countryside. After meeting Chris there and eating some burger king (yay American food) we headed to the riverside to watch the boats race.

It is amazing how fast these long skinny boats can fly. With teams made up of 40 or more men each village and community have their own boats to cheer for. Flying down the river to the sound of drum beats or a caller each paddle moves in tandem to try and be the victor. They race in twos down the length of the river with the finishing line ending in front of the Royal Palace. Teams who had finished lined the shore laughing and cheering others on. Food and drinks were sold everywhere along with cool hats made from banana leaves to help keep the sun off your face. Everywhere we looked we were surrounded by happy Cambodians. After watching the races and getting nice and toasty we finally checked in to our Airbnb and took a much needed nap.

After our nap we headed to the local super market to find a chicken to take to The Outpost for a thanksgiving dinner in Cambodia. Getting across the river took 40min in a tuk tuk and we finally decided to jump out and walk the last bit due to the traffic. Everyone was heading to the riverside to enjoy the many concerts, stores and good food for the water festival. Bumping music and the smells of yummy treats surrounded us as we made our slow way winding through motos, cars, and pedestrians. Thanksgiving was a blast. Good food and meeting new friends always is fun. They were all so excited that we managed to find a chicken to make it a real thanksgiving dinner. We had a handful of Americans, two New Zealanders, one Japanese woman living in Myammar, and a Russian. After eating way too much we headed out back home early in hopes of beating the traffic leaving from the island.

The next day I got terribly sick and we sadly had to spend most of the day inside and thus missed the last of the boat races. But by night time I felt a little better, so we headed out to see the closing activities. All the floats had been docked by the riverside and we got to see them up close and personal. Lights glittered everywhere with people selling all different types of light covered balloons and toys. Snacks for sell included everything from full meals to crickets and spiders. The grounds of the Royal palace were covered in bamboo mats for people to sit down and enjoy their food surrounded by music and lights. My favorite part was buying a balloon the was covered in lights for $2.50 and carrying it around. There was a team of security guards there in full riot gear complete with the fire power. They were all very happy to have you take pictures with them. There was a line of people just coming up and taking selfies with them so I decided I had to take part. It was definitely one of the best photos of the whole trip.

This year Cambodia made the world’s longest dragon canoe and were officially recognized by Guinness World Records. They had the boat on display in a huge tent off to the side of the Royal Palace. This was definitely one of the biggest years for the water festival. Even though I got terribly sick it was amazing to be a part of this cultural event. Everywhere you looked there were smiling faces and laughing kids. It is always interesting to be able to totally immerse yourself into a culture and the water festival is the perfect opportunity for anyone looking for a new world to explore.

— Elizabeth