Visiting the capital city of a country is always exciting. And Phnom Penh is a very vibrant and bustling one. Cambodia wants to become an upper middle income country by 2030 and you can already see a lot of progress within Phnom Penh. So far the city still remains a lot of charme with its French colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards amidst monumental Angkorian architecture. The fact that the city is situated at the confluence of three rivers (the mighty Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Bassac) also adds up to its living quality.
How to get there?
You can reach Phnom Penh by bus or airplane (Phnom Penh International Airport). It is also possible to cross the border from Vietnam to Cambodia by boat and arrive via the Mekong.
For us it is always important to also learn about the history and culture of the countries we visit. In Phnom Penh you can learn about a quite horrible chapter of the Cambodian history when the Khmer Rouge ruled the country and killed almost 2.5 million innocent people. Make sure to visit the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Killing Fields) and the Tuol Sleng Prison Museum. You will see a lot of disturbing things during your visit, but we think it is an experience you should confront yourself with.
How long to stay?
We stayed in Phnom Penh twice for a total of 5 nights. During our first stay we did not visit a lot of touristic sites because the annual “Water Festival” was going on and offered lots of activities. That is why we would recommend a stay of 2-3 nights. This will give you enough time to explore the city itself as well as the most important tourist places and attractions.
Where to stay?
We were very pleased with our stay at the Precious House Guest House for 20 EUR per night/double room. The rooms have a good size, are clean and the staff is very friendly. Additionally the location of the guest house is perfect to go out and explore the city. Also by foot. It is almost next to the Royal Palace and only a few meters away from the Tonle Sap. In general you can notice that the further you get away from the river, the cheaper the accommodation will be.
Water Festival The 3-day Water Festival is one of the most important holidays in Cambodia. It usually takes place in November. A smaller festival is held in Siem Reap, but to get the proper experience you should visit Phnom Penh. The whole city is crowded with visitors and all streets close to the Royal Palace and along the riverside will be open for pedestrians only. The festival feels like a huge carnival including street food, boat races, fireworks, music acts and much more. During the festival the Cambodians give thanks to the rivers as they provide the region with fertile farming land and plenty of fish. The festival also marks a unique natural phenomenon – the Tonle Sap river reverses the flow of its current. It is probably the only waterway in the world which flows in opposite directions at different times of the year. Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda Gleaming in gold, the Royal Palace is one of Phnom Penh’s most splendid architectural achievements and well worth a visit (1-2 h, best in the morning to avoid the heat). It is home to His Majesty Preah Bat Smdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and Her Majesty Preah Reach Akka-Mohesey Norodom Monineath. In the southern part of the Royal Palace complex you will also find the Silver Pagoda (Keo Morakot). Entrance fee is around 6 EUR including the Silver Pagoda. Markets There are several markets which can be visited in Phnom Penh: The Old Market (fruits, vegetables, second hand clothes, hardware, motorcycle parts and religious items), the Orussey Market (food, fresh meat, poultry and seafood, house ware, hardware, electronics), the Central Market (jewelry, antiques, fake brands and other such items) and the Tuol Tompoung Market or Russian Market (CDs, fabrics, jewelry, handicrafts, ceramics, souvenirs, foods and drinks). Friends-International Since 1994 Friends-International has been building futures for children and young people who lack opportunities. The organization supports them and their families to become productive members of society through education and training for employment programs. Friends-International runs two restaurants in Phnom Penh: The Romdeng (local cuisine, including cooked tarantulas) and the Friends Restaurant (Asian and Western style tapas). Both restaurants are part of TREE – a global alliance of training restaurants offering its partners in the NGO world access to established high quality standards of practice in the field of social enterprise and extensive support in implementing those. Next to the Friends Restaurant you will also find a shop called Friends ‘N’ Stuff. The shop sells wonderful products, most of which are hand-made by local families using recycled materials.