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Phnom Penh – The overlooked capital of Cambodia

Phnom Penh often gets overlooked by travelers who arrive and after 1-day sightseeing immediately head off to the more famous sites like Angkor Wat at Siem Reap further north or down to the islands in the south. It’s well worth taking a little more time if you can, there is a great ex-pat community from all over the world here and it’s a small city really so getting around is easy and cheap. The palace and a lot of the historical places to visit are in the centre near the river and it’s a good location to be based. There is a great food and café/bar culture and I always end up meeting interesting people when I’m here. Local markets and food vendors are everywhere you turn and the skyline is not too overwhelming unlike some other cities in the region.

Phnom Penh airport is a small affair and easy to pass through, all you will need is a couple of passport photos and normally around $30-40 US  for your 30-day visa on arrival which most nationalities will get. Customs is simple and fast and just outside you can pick up very cheap sim cards for around $12 which gives you a huge amount of data and calls for 1 month and good connection almost everywhere you are likely to travel. Next, is taxis which are cheap and clean and for around £10 you can get into the middle of town, just be warned that rush hour in Phnom Penh is like the worst traffic jam you will ever experience for 2 hours solid!!

I always stay near the Royal Palace as its central and the architecture in the area includes many old alleyways and beautiful pre 50’s buildings. It’s also close to the best smoking bars and pizza places. In this area, it is possible to get a room with a terrace and a view of the palace and river for around $25 but if your budget is tighter there are plenty of other options close by which still have rooftops to enjoy the views from.

After checking into to my favourite place as a little treat after all the tough times on the islands relaxing on beaches and in hammocks, I headed down the road the 300 meters to my favourite coffeeshop in town. Without naming it, let’s just say if you ask around for the bar that opens at 4.20pm and is on a street in the middle of the tourist area with pizza bars you will find it easily. Here at a place that feels like a home to unclean old seadogs and ex-pats and locals alike you can find the most incredible selection of weed and hash in Asia along with an old school Dutch coffeeshop feel and lots of interesting people to meet; a real subculture within the city!!!

As I pulled up at the bar and struck up a conversation with the lovely lady who runs this place and takes no trouble or hassle from anyone, I was informed that the usual system of ‘buy at the bar’ had changed to making an order and collecting it a little later after a huge increase in demand had happened recently and a little unwelcome pressure from the authorities. I was lucky however to pick up some samples that had not been collected from the previous evening so with those and having placed my order and a recommendation of where to go and buy a ‘Happy’ pizza I trotted of up the road.

In my pocket I had amassed within an hour of being in town, multiple American strains both imported and locally grown and a couple of imported hashes,  it all seems so easy and normal and I have to remind myself how incredible this is. Just over the border in Thailand, a country fast moving towards some form of legalisation they are still smoking brick weed from their neighbours. Here in Cambodia the market and supply is growing and impressive.

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This post is also available in: French

Andrew Bill

Andrew Bill is a 41-year-old cannabis activist, writer and businessman from the UK. He moved to Amsterdam at the age of 19 and has worked in numerous Dutch coffeeshops, including Barneys Breakfast Bar where he was part of the team that won multiple cannabis cups.
Travelling extensively throughout his adult life, his passion for cannabis culture and history has recently driven him to search out landrace genetics from around the world.