Lest you think otherwise from the last post, Phnom Penh does have some lighter-hearted activities and entertainment, and overall provided a nice relaxing weekend.
One of the gems we stumbled upon - a hole-in-wall cafe located near the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The owner is Vietnamese and served us authentic Vietnamese iced coffee, which is iced coffee with lots of sweet condensed milk, a very rich drink. 3 large iced coffees, a pot of tea, and a quiet place to sit and relax out of the sun, only cost us $2.50 USD.
One afternoon we made a stop at Wat Phnom, one of the top-rated locations in Phnom Penh. It is an large and ancient Buddhist temple that sits a top a hill. Gorgeous artwork covers the walls and the ceiling of the interior of the temple. Tourists from many different places roam around the grounds of the temple, though there were also Buddhist monks dressed in bright orange robes.
Another fun night we spent at the Flicks 2 Movie House. Flicks Movie Houses are small cinemas that show a variety of films and only ask for $3.50 for a whole day of viewing. The screening room is really small and cozy, with big cushions and pillows to sprawl across. We showed up at the Riverside location for a 6:30pm showing of the indie movie Frances Ha, and basically had the whole room to ourselves. A great way to relax and get out of the sun or the hectic streets!
We also visited the beautiful red National Museum, which contains many varieties of sculptures and carvings in both the Buddhist and Hindu traditions. Unfortunately photography is not allowed in the interior of the museum. The museum could have been better curated, as little description accompanied each display, and I didn't feel as if I understood most of the context of the artwork.
On another night we went to the Sovanna Phum Arts Association, where we saw a performance of traditional shadow puppets. The talented young artists treated us to an hour-long story of the epic Ramayana, using traditional dance, live music, and beautifully designed puppets.
The Association promotes and preserves local art forms and provides opportunities for aspiring young people who want to work in art and dance. The performances are not only for the entertainment of foreigners, though. Traveling troupes also go around the country and hold shows with educational messages about health and domestic violence. What a great way to use art for the public good!
Besides these activities, we also found relaxation and fun in shopping in markets, sipping coffee at local cafes, and getting nice massages and spa treatments. I do think that Phnom Penh is a little underrated compared to Siem Reap. The capital city offers a variety of historical and artistic attractions, and isn't quite overrun with tourists yet. While the infrastructure needs a lot of work, Phnom Penh has undergone dramatic developments recently and I'm sure will continue to improve its sanitation and transport systems. It's an interesting, charming place in its own way, and is definitely worth a visit in my opinion.