Phnom Penh hotels
The Phnom Penh Rundown
At once old and new, woefully wounded and defiantly resilient, solemn and spiritual and shamelessly energetic, Phnom Penh is as seductive a city as you will find in Southeast Asia. The capital of Cambodia has over 2 million people but, occasional bursts of human and motor vehicle traffic aside, the city feels delightfully less fraught with urban congestian than a Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi.
Still, Phnom Penh is no hamlet. As the heart of Cambodia, the rich and proud Khmer cultural identity of the country radiates from this “Pearl of Asia”. You can feel it reverberate in singular points of interest like the National Museum, Royal Palace, Wat Phnom and Independence Monument and echo in restaurants, shops and markets along the banks of the mighty Mekong River.
Painful traces of a still-recent, morbid past also resonate in Phnom Penh. From the “Killing Fields” of Choeung Ek to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, reminders of what the Khmer Rouge wrought several decades ago are ever-present. Nevertheless, the Phnom Penh of today is a city where the whispers of history do not haunt or menace but inform a hopeful future.
Phnom Penh’s Top 10
10. The National Library of Cambodia is a beautiful landmark that, sadly, has had to rebuild a vast collection lost because of violent Khmer Rouge reprisals on intellectual activity.
5. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was once a secondary school and then, under the Khmer Rouge, a maximum security prison, torture and extermination facility.
9. Independence Monument has a touch of Angkor Wat and elegantly commemorates Cambodia’s independence from France.
4. Wat Ounalom is the headquarters of Buddhism in Cambodia and dates back to 1443.
8. Wat Moha Montrei is a new temple by Southeast Asia’s standards (the pagoda was built in 1970) but well worth a visit nonetheless.
3. National Museum of Cambodia is the foremost archive and museum in the country.
7. The Embassy of France in Phnom Penh was the site of some of the most dramatic events on the Khmer Rouge’s path to power.
2. The Royal Palace, or Preah Barom Reachea Veang Chaktomuk, is the most impressive landmark in the capital. The grand riverfront palace is a masterpiece of Khmer and Buddhist architecture.
6. Choeung Ek is 17 km south of Phnom Penh and the most notorious Khmer Rouge mass execution site in Cambodia.
1. Wat Phnom is a phenomenal shrine that dates back to 1373. The Buddhist temple is the most venerable landmark in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh History
- Killing Fields – A torture and detention centre of the Khmer Rouge.
- Royal Palace – Still the home of Cambodia’s king, it is famous for its silver agoda.
- Silver Pagoda – This attraction located in the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is made of silver tiles.
- Independence Monument – This monument in Phnom Penh commemorates Cambodia’s liberation from France.
- Sophea Nhep – Located just outside of Phnom Penh, these ruins are a highlight of a trip to Cambodia.
Phnom Penh Art & Culture
- National Museum of Cambodia – This museum houses a large and beautiful collection of Khmer art.
- Cambodian New Year – On April 13 to 15, Phnom Penh is the most popular spot to celebrate the New Year.
- November Water Festival – The most popular celebration in Phnom Penh.
- Visak Bochea – Phnom Penh hosts this traditional Buddhist celebration signifying the birth and death of Gautama Buddha.
- National Library – This building reflects the French influence on Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh Shopping
- Phsar Toul Thom Pong – The Russian market in Phnom Penh is a popular place to buy Cambodian silk.
- Street 240 – A popular shopping area in Phnom Penh.
- Phsar Thmey – Also called the Central Market, it is one of the best places to buy souvenirs.
- Boeung Keng Kang 1 – This area of Phnom Penh boasts a wide variety of boutiques and cafes.
- Street 178 – Located very close to the National Museum, it is the place to buy art.
Gay & Lesbian Phnom Penh
- Blue Chili Bar – A popular spot with the gay and lesbian community offering a weekend drag show.
- Empire – A popular spot in Phnom Penh friendly to gays and lesbians.
- Fly Lounge – Boasts an indoor swimming pool, making it a hot spot.
- Local 2 – A lesbian-owned bar in Phnom Penh offering smart cocktails and live music.
- Rainbow Bar Cambodia – One of Phnom Penh’s favourite gay and lesbian spots, with weekly drag shows.
Phnom Penh Outdoor
- Independence Monument – This attraction offers a great destination for a stroll.
- Wat Phnom – On top of a 27m-high hill, one of the most popular spots in Phnom Penh for pedestrians.
- Oudang – Many travelers take bicycle tours from Phnom Penh to this former capital.
- Koh Dach – This small island on the Mekong River is a popular spot for day trips from Phnom Penh.
- Phnom Tamoa Zoo – This rustic outdoor wildlife park offers visitors a chance to see local wildlife up close.
Phnom Penh Sport
- Watch a match at the Phnom Penh National Olympic Stadium.
- Stretch and sweat at Nataraj Yoga, a popular spot for Phnom Penh yogis.
- Work out at VIP Sports Club, Phnom Penh's oldest club.
- Shoot down your enemies in Phnom Penh at the Mezzanine Paintball Club.
- Race your friends and family at Phnom Penh's Kambol Kart Raceway.
Phnom Penh Local
Phnom Penh, as the only metropolis in Cambodia, is a considerable city of khans (districts, 7 in total), sangkats (communes, 76 in total) and kroms (neighbourhood groups, 637 in total). All told, the city has a population of just over 2 million people.
Chamkarmon District is a small, densely populated area in the south of Phnom Penh. Two notable points of interest include the Russian Market and Wat Toul Tom Pong.
Dangkao District contains Phnom Penh International Airport and Cambodia’s Royal University of Agriculture.
Daun Penh District is the commercial and social nerve centre of Phnom Penh. The district is home to Central Market, the Foreign Correspondents' Club, Wat Phnom, Hotel Le Royal and the Royal Palace.
Meanchey District is the site of a grim tourist attraction: the Steung Meanchey landfill. Scores of street children and adults subsist on the garbage dump to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence. If you visit, wear a face mask, ratty clothes and be sure to carry some basic staples (rice, soap, sandals et al.).
Russei Keo District is home to 180,000 Phnom Penh residents and the target of a new $2 billion urban development zone.
Phnom Penh Eat & Drink
Good food is plentiful and very affordable in Phnom Penh. The deep, fresh, fermented flavours of the native Cambodian diet figure prominently, of course, from fish pastes and pungent, complex spice blends to wholesome vegetables and honeyed tropical fruits.
Java Café (56 Sihanouk Blvd) is arguably the most popular casual coffeeshop/restaurant in Cambodia’s capital, thanks to a solid menu of sandwiches, burgers, salads and shakes.
The food stalls around Phsar Thom Thmei (Central Phnom Penh) market are a feast for the senses.
Van’s Restaurant (5 St 13) has heritage digs in the former Banque Indochine and a creative kitchen that cranks out artistic and delicate plates.
Oh My Buddha! (St 93, Boeung Lake) is a backpacker breakfast fave with a convivial vibe.
Mount Everest (98 Sihanouk Blvd) serves some of the best curry in Cambodia, with obvious Nepalese flair.
Friends (215 Ph 13, Central Phnom Penh) is a superb NGO-run restaurant where Phnom Penh street youths learn the ins and outs of the hospitality trade.
Green Pepper (Samdech Sothearos Blvd) is a riverfront spot that looks dodgy from the outside but, lo and behold, elicits return clientele with a lineup of awesome Khmer classics.
Man Han Lou Restaurant (456 Monivong Blvd) serves good pan-Southeast Asian cuisine and operates a terrific microbrewery.
La Patate 2 (128D Samdech Sothearos Blvd) is a solid Belgian joint and best frites fix in town.
Malis (136 Norodom Blvd) is as plush a restaurant as Phnom Penh has, with a beautiful garden for alfresco enjoyment and immaculate Khmer classics.
Phnom Penh Events
Phnom Penh has a modest calendar of events and festivals but enough on tap to please visitors in the dry season. Without question, as the commercial and political capital of Cambodia, the bulk of the country’s high-profile action takes place in the city.
Bon Om Thook, the Khmer Water Festival, is a wet and wild ride in the capital. Every town in Cambodia celebrates the national holiday in November but the scene in Phnom Penh is second to none. Tragically, the 2010 festival, which drew a record 4 million people, was marred by a stampede that took the lives of 353 people. The catastrophe, sadly too late, forced organizers, city authorities and the government to draw up better safeguards and crowd control measures for future events in the capital.
Chaul Chnam Thmey, which translates as “Enter New Year”, is Cambodia’s official New Year celebration. The national holiday follows the Buddhist calendar and, as such, takes place in April. Three days of ritual and revelry mark the occasion, with numerous events at temples throughout Phnom Penh and Cambodia.
Vesākh, or Visakha Bucha, is a Buddhist holiday that commemorates the birth, death and enlightenment of Gautama Buddha. A day of national observance in Cambodia in the month of May.
Pchum Ben is a religious festival in Cambodia that usually takes place in September but, more specifically, falls on the fifteenth day of the tenth month in the Khmer calendar. The somewhat solemn event is a time to pay respects to late relatives and venerate ancestors.
The National Sports Complex of Cambodia is a beacon of austere Khmer architecture and can hold up to 80,000 people. The multi-purpose venue is a potential future candidate to host the Asian Games, which would help ease the painful memory of Khmer Rouge executions on the stadium grounds in the late 1970s.
The Khmer martial arts of Bokator, Pradal Serey and traditional wrestling feature prominently on the Phnom Penh scene and provide no small amount of thrills as spectator sports.
When To Go
Phnom Penh’s wet and dry climate pummels the city with the bane of all travellers to Southeast Asia: tropical monsoons. The rains fall especially hard and fast in September and October, courtesy of reams of moisture swept in from the Gulf of Thailand and Indian Ocean. Significant precipitation in May, June, July, August and November ensures that for the vast majority of prospective visitors, the dry season from December to April is the prudent, desirable period of arrival.
No matter when you visit the capital of Cambodia, however, the daily forecast is hot. Reliably, predictably hot, in fact, with temperatures in the 72° to 95°F (22° to 35°C) range for the year. In April, it is not uncommon for the mercury to soar above 104°F (40°C). To escape the worst of the oppressive swelter in Phnom Penh, come in December or January.
It helps to be vigilant at all times in Cambodia with respect to weather conditions. The tropical climate can exert extreme weather patterns at a moment’s notice, even at the height of the dry season. Keep your eye on the forecast.
What To Miss
The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia is a macabre label that refers to numerous sites where heinous acts of genocide by the Khmer Rouge took place between 1975 and 1979. Choeung Ek is a particularly sombre memorial to Pol Pot’s reign of terror and not for the faint of heart. Sadly, some opportunistic taxi drivers in the capital try to take advantage of tourist naiveté to offer special tours of the area at dishonest prices.
If you rent a scooter or motorbike to zip around Phnom Penh at your leisure, you may fall victim to petty police theft and corruption. Officers have been known to stop foreigners (and locals) for non-egregious, innocent violations and insist on instant cash payments to look the other way. Be wary, skip the daredevil act and avoid eye contact with police in town.
The Phnom Penh riverfront is a bit of a beggar and pickpocket haven, though not so much to dissuade a visit. Likewise, the city’s nightlife is boisterous and first-rate but, on occasion, attracts some shady characters. Be careful who you drink with and if you do go out on the lash, do so in good, trustworthy company.
The skin trade in Phnom Penh and Cambodia is notorious, despite recent clampdown efforts to put underground brothels out of business for good. One obvious way to end the rampant exploitation of women and girls in the city is to end demand.
Phnom Penh International Airport is 7 km outside of Phnom Penh and with 1.5 million passenger arrivals per year, the dominant transport hub in Cambodia. The airport serves major destinations like Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Seoul-Incheon, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, Shanghai-Pudong, Singapore and Vientiane.
Coach bus service is more than decent in Cambodia and a reliable way to get to Phnom Penh from Battambang, Poipet, Siem Riep, Sihanoukville and Sisophon. Cambodia lacks a serviceable rail network. Express boats provide relatively expensive, overcrowded transport between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Within Phnom Penh proper, cheap, meter-less private taxis abound. Negotiate fares beforehand. Car and motorcycle hire is a popular, affordable option as well but, alas, vehicle theft is a problem in the city. For scenic, motor-less transport, rent a bicycle and brave the chaotic Phnom Penh traffic.
The capital city of Cambodia is without question, the cultural, spiritual and commercial heart of the country. One of the premier travel destinations in South East Asia, Phnom Penh is flush with tourist appeal. With a fusion of Khmer and French colonial architecture, the city of more than 1.3 million people is replete with superb landmarks and monuments that range from majestic to somber.
The Royal Palace Complex falls into the former category. As the domicile of the Kingdom of Cambodia, the complex lines the Mekong River and contains such magnificent attractions as the Silver Pagoda, Throne Hall and Chan Chhaya Pavillion. Grim reminders of the Khmer Rouge reign of terror in Cambodia includes the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and mass graves at Choeung Ek. For authentic local flavor in Phnom Penh, head to the Art Deco Central Market, where shops and food stalls overflow. The Phnom Penh Russian Market is a popular place to score deals on designer threads.
Attractions & Activities
- Royal Palace Complex
- Wat Phnom
- National Museum
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
- Sisowath Quay
- Mekong Cruise
- Central Market
- Water Festival
- Visual Arts Open
- International Music Festival
Restaurant & Nightlife
- Lazy Gecko
- Riverside Bistro
- The Shop
- Le Lotus Blanc
- Elephant Bar
- DV8 Bar
Phnom Penh - General information
Phnom Penh official guide
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