Our time in Cambodia had sadly come to an end. With only a few days left on our visas, we were back in Phnom Penh. Our main reason for coming was picking up some new visas, since you all voted to send us to Vietnam! But you know us, we had a few other interesting things on our agenda…

Water Festival

We had always planned to be in Phnom Penh on this specific weekend in order to attend Water Festival. The celebration caught the attention of the international community last year after a stampede on a bridge tragically claimed over 300 lives. So clearly, this year was already going to be a fairly subdued affair. Then, the recent horrific flooding prompted officials to cancel the water boat racing- the festival’s main event- in order to redistribute funds to aid programs.

None of the above stopped millions of Khmers from flowing to Phnom Penh from every corner of the country. The streets along the riverfront were in gridlock. Parks were packed seemingly shoulder to shoulder. An ornate traditional dancing show played in the background on a massive main stage, being filmed and broadcast to the rest of the country. Illegal gambling and found-object carnival games took place on street corners. The smell of grilling street food filled the air. Behind it all, the palace was lit up and so, so beautiful. After all the hardship that last year has brought on this country, I felt so lucky to be able to be able to attend what is the biggest and most important celebration of the year in Cambodia. It was a night I will never forget.

Unfortunately, locals advised that my camera would be whipped off me faster than I could read the Lonely Planet Cambodia’s Dangers and Annoyances section, so I’ll have only my words to remember this night by. Here are some photos from years past:

Water Festival Cambodiavia editorials.cambodia.org

Water Festival Cambodiavia BBC

Cambodia Water Festivalvia sulekha.com

A Taste of Home

While wandering the streets this particular weekend we stumbled upon two particularly personal landmarks- both a totally explainable Statue of Liberty replica (miss you NYC!) and a Montessori school. Montessori is a education system that, in terms of my childhood, meant calling teachers by their first names, not sitting in desks, and basically playing with blocks, which apparently teach kids way better than worksheets can. We also had this event called International Day each year where we all picked countries and prepared for months for the event, which was similar to a science fair in setup, only with more international baked goods. I credit my Montessori education with basically any academic success I manage to achieve, so I was pretty excited to know that one exists in my favorite city in South East Asia. We’ll just go ahead and blame my public school education for any typos you see here. (Just kidding, proud Shaker High alumni here!)

Anyway, it was great fun to see these two relics of my life back home, way across the world in Cambodia.

Phnom Penh New York Hoteljust like the real thing

Phnom Penh Montessorifuture geniuses inside

Roller Derby

One of my favorite “off the radar” things that I like to tell travelers heading to Phnom Penh about is Sorya Shopping Mall. The mall itself is pretty sub-par, lacking interesting stores or a decent food court. But those that soldier on to the top floor will find a hidden gem: the best views in the city from an open-air deck, and local kids breaking it down at a super popular roller rink.

View from Sorya Mall

This was the third time I found myself on that roof, listening to horrible covers of Western pop music while watching Khmer kids show off their impressive moves on the ramps.

Rollerblading at Sorya Mall Phnom Penh

But that just wasn’t cutting it anymore. I hadn’t been skating since Guptill’s Roller Rink was the spot for cool kid’s birthday parties, but I was feeling fairly inspired by the jumps and twirls and backwards skating I was seeing.

Rollerblading at Sorya Mall Phnom Penh

After paying our whopping 3,000 riel (75 cents) skate rental fee and hopping in the rink, Mark and I made quite a stir. We were two of very few falang even in the mall, and certainly the only two skating. A few times Mark came up behind me and tried to push me and was totally startled when he was  latched onto by several laughing kids forming a “skate chain.” Skating up on the roof of Sorya Mall, overlooking Phnom Penh, I felt like a kid again.

Rollerblading at Sorya Mall Phnom Penh

When we were out of breath from skating and laughing, we went straight to snack bar to drink soda out of glass bottles and watch the rest of the show. It was such a hilariously perfect afternoon.

Rollerblading at Sorya Mall Phnom Penh

It’s weekends like this that are my favorite parts of travel. We didn’t attend any major attractions, didn’t take in any great sights. But we had a lot of laughs, a healthy dose of local culture, and discovered things that no guide book could tell us about.

What happened next will have to wait for tomorrow, as it most certainly deserves a post of its own…

  • SO much fun!!!

  • m.j. (Troy)
    December 23 2011

    Hi Alex…..and I hope this reaches the whole family.

    Merry Christmas. I know you will all be having a great time.

    The big news is that the Brooklynites, as of yesterday,

    became the proud owners of 129 Second St. We are still

    without snow.

    L0ve to all…keep having a great time.


    • Alex
      December 25 2011

      Merry Christmas to you as well, MJ! I’ll pass along the message!

  • OrpingtonT
    December 24 2011

    Like all your posts, this one was very interesting and took me to a part of the world it is unlikely I will ever visit. Thank you for taking me there and please accept my (and my wife’s) best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

    • Alex
      December 25 2011

      Thank you for the warm wishes, and same to you!

  • Fidel
    December 24 2011

    Why was there such a stern warning about your camera in regards to this festival as opposed to just a normal day photographing around the capital?

    • Alex
      December 25 2011

      I think that with so many people flooding in from every corner of the country there is just a higher chance of “riff raff” being around. We were told that opportunists follow their marks when they head back to hotels out of the main tourist area and relieve them of their belongings at that time! Unfortunately, the tuk tuk drivers can sometimes be in on it as well, driving you to a location where they know someone is waiting.

  • Our Dear Lady Expatriate
    September 2 2012

    WOW! I definitely absolutely no-doubt will be bringing my buddies there as soon as humanly possible! Looks like an absolute riot 🙂

    So glad you posted about this… just in case I didn’t make it all the way through Sorya!

    • Alex
      September 2 2012

      Oh my gosh. Its amazing. The first time I went to Phnom Penh my Dad and I stood for ages looking at the view and watching the kids skate. And when I returned later with my then-boyfriend we could not wait to get out there ourselves, much to the amusement of the kiddos!

  • Jake
    September 26 2012

    Found your blog while looking up some tourist bits for Phnom Penh.

    Digging the pictures too, nice work!

    • Alex
      September 27 2012

      I love love love Phnom Penh, hope my posts have been helpful!

  • Gemma
    August 6 2014

    Hi Alex,

    We took you up on your advice when we visited PP as you can see here:


    I wasn’t very good at skating. I recommend Flicks cinema to anyone going to PP though, beds and free hand booze!

    • Alex
      August 8 2014

      Glad you had a good time 🙂 The Flicks is one of my favorite things about Phnom Penh. Wish they had one everywhere I went!

  • Anthony M
    May 23 2015

    What was the nightclub that the embassy warned about? Heart of darkness? I’ve been in PP for 10 days (intended on only a few days) and I’m honestly thinking about getting an apartment for a month, this city is rad! I’m blown away by the backpackers that are in and out of my hostel (one stop hostel on the waterfront, really recommended) like a revolving door, “doing” the killing fields and then moving on a day later. Maybe the city is dirty and smells funny, but there is so much charm that I haven’t really seen anywhere else!

    Think you’ll ever make it back to live here for a bit?

    • Alex
      May 26 2015

      Yup, Heart of Darkness. I’d love to live in Phnom Penh for a bit some day, and my love affair with the city continues. Have you read my more recent posts? You might enjoy!

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