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Phnom Penh

Travel Guide
  • If you're after a trip filled with bustling city scenes, disturbing history and aren't afraid of trying some interesting local cuisine or dealing with the not-so-clean vagabonds that plague the streets, look no further than Phnom Penh. It's a city with two sides - shabby but chic, horrifying but heavenly, rough round the edges but home to some of the most stylish shops and restaurants Asia has to offer. ...
    Rafal Cichawa / 123RF
  • The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is called Preah Barom Reachea Vaeng Chaktomuk in Khmer. It was built in 1886.
    Rafal Cichawa / 123RF
  • A walk along the banks of the Mekong offers access to many bars as well as a chance to see the history of the coffee press.
    Rafal Cichawa / 123RF
  • The traffic is very dense in Phnom Penh making the scooter the primary means of transport.
    Rafal Cichawa / 123RF
  • Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, is populated by about 2 milion inhabitants.
    Rafal Cichawa / 123RF
  • As the economic and cultural center, transport within Phnom Penh offers access to the various tourist attractions around the country.
    Rafal Cichawa / 123RF
  • The walk along the Mekong River is pleasant, especially at night when temperatures are cooler.
    Rafal Cichawa / 123RF
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Expert destination Cambodia

If you're after a trip filled with bustling city scenes, disturbing history and aren't afraid of trying some interesting local cuisine or dealing with the not-so-clean vagabonds that plague the streets, look no further than Phnom Penh. It's a city with two sides - shabby but chic, horrifying but heavenly, rough round the edges but home to some of the most stylish shops and restaurants Asia has to offer.

Though the city itself has slowly been improving since its liberation from the Khmer Rouge in 1979, be prepared for shortages of electricity, potholed roads and the kind of chaos only found in a city that has barely any traffic lights. Pick a place - any place - and take a tuk tuk (the city's own brand of taxi) to explore all four corners of the city. And this meant in the most literal way possible, as the intersection of rivers on which Phnom Penh is built forms an almost perfect 'X', giving the city four distinct districts.

It is nigh on impossible to get bored in a city so vibrant and full of flavours to try and sights to see. Stroll at your own pace around the city's copious markets, or journey out to see the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, a bone'chilling reminder of the country's violent past. However you decide to spend your time, one thing is guaranteed: an impression to last a lifetime.

Phnom Penh: what to do?

If there was one thing that Phnom Penh could sell in copious amounts, it would be massages. Though you have to be careful when choosing your massage parlour, you can't really go far wrong in terms of finding good prices. The parlours and spas are both hugely cheaper than what you would pay in the UK, but be careful when choosing which massage to go for - in this case, traditional may not be the best option as the 'traditional massages' are extremely painful. Bodia Spa is one of the top recommendations if you want the full works, or for a slightly different experience, head to the Seeing Hands Massage parlour - they employ blind masseurs and have a very good reputation as well as being an importance source of income for those who would otherwise be out of work.

Though it is now a city full of life and colour, Phnom Penh's recent past is a very different story. Gruelling at times, but very worth a visit are the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The first, though not particularly well laid out, gives you an introduction to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime which killed thousands during its four years in power. Skulls are stacked in cabinets, along with disturbing torture weapons and photographs. It might not be the most pleasant visit but it's one of the only ways to learn about the city's all-too-recent past. Be careful when purchasing souvenirs from the museums shop - most of the branded or 'vintage' items are fakes.

About 10 miles to the south of Phnom Penh, you can find the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, where the Khmer Rouge killed many of the regime's victims. The place is commemorated by a small Buddhist stupa, or religious monument, holding thousands of skulls, as well as the sites of the mass graves that were found in 1979. Again, it is a somber and shocking place and visitors are advised to wear long sleeves and trousers as a mark of respect.

 Cambodia  Cambodia
Phnom Penh: the key figures

Surface area : 181035.0 km2

Population : 13000000 inhabitants

  • The best massages you'll find world over
  • Extremely cheap living expenses
  • Colourful, vibrant, and always alive!
  • Slightly gruelling at times, especially its history
  • Prepare to be bothered by the many vagabonds that fill the streets

Reminders

Travellers can now obtain a Cambodian tourist visa on arrival at the airport or any border checkpoint, instead of having to obtain one in advance. The visa is valid for 30 days and costs about 15. You'll need your passport, a recent ID photo and payment for the visa. Tourist visas can be extended once for an additional 30 days, which costs roughly 10.

To avoid

Try to avoid travel in the summer months, as monsoon season falls between June and October and the city experiences heavy rains and strong winds. Temperatures are at their most bearable from November to January, making this the best time to see the city, rather than April and May when temperatures soar.

Phnom Penh: what to eat?

Traditional cooking in Phom Penh is far less spicy than other regions in Thailand. The curries are an absolute must, especially Amok - a gently spiced coconut curry with a distinct yellow colouring.

For the more adventurous, grilled crabs, lobsters and prawns can be found in the markets or for the truly mad, a variety of insects and animal innards can also be found on numerous stalls.

Phnom Penh: what to buy?

There is a never-ending list of appropriate souvenirs and memorabilia that you can bring back from Phnom Penh, but see if you can find the few charity shops which sell hand-made objects and textiles for Cambodians in need. NCDP Handicrafts and the Cambodia Handicraft Association sell a wealth of hand-crafted trinkets perfect for souvenirs and also ensure that the employees are well paid for their work.

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