• How to get there?
Being the capital, all routes lead to Phnom Penh whether you are arriving by air at the international airport or by bus or taxi from one of the many land border-crossings from Thailand and Vietnam.
Strictly speaking, Phnom Penh is a Municipality and not a Province, and is home to the bustling capital city of Cambodia. Situated at the intersection of the Mekong, the Bassac and the Tonle Sap Rivers, the city was, in the past, often referred to as the 'Gem of Indochina’. Unlike some of its modern SE Asian counterparts and their homogeneous cityscapes, Phnom Penh still maintains considerable charm with plenty to see.
• Where to go?
The Royal Palace is a complex of buildings, which serves as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. Royalty has occupied it since it was built in the 1860s, with a period of absence when the country came into turmoil during and after the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
The palace was constructed after King Norodom relocated the royal capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh in the mid-19th century. It was built on top of an old citadel called Banteay Kev. It faces towards the East and is situated at the Western bank of the cross division of the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River.
Most of the complex is open to the public with the exception of the royal living areas.
The Silver Pagoda is located on the South side of the royal palace complex. It features a royal temple officially called Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot but is commonly referred to as Wat Preah Keo. Its main building houses many national treasures such as gold and jeweled Buddha statues. Most notable is a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha (the "Emerald Buddha" of Cambodia) and a near-life-size, Maitreya Buddha encrusted with 9,584 diamonds dressed in royal regalia commissioned by King Sisowath.
During King Sihanouk's pre-Khmer Rouge reign, the Silver Pagoda was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles and some of its outer facade was remodeled with Italian marble.
National Museum: Built between 1917 and 1924 (inauguration was held in 1920), the museum is located next to the royal palace.
The National Museum of Cambodia houses one of the world's greatest collections of Khmer cultural material including sculpture, ceramics and ethnographic objects from the prehistoric, pre-Angkorian, Angkorian and post-Angkorian periods.
The museum promotes awareness, understanding and appreciation of Cambodia's heritage through the presentation, conservation, safekeeping, interpretation and acquisition of Cambodian cultural material. It aims to educate and inspire its visitors.
Wat Phnom translates as "Mountain Pagoda". It is a Buddhist temple (Wat) located in the city centre and was built in 1373. Standing 27 metres high It is the tallest religious structure in the city.
Wat Phnom is the center of celebration during the Buddhist holidays of Khmer New Year, and Pchum Ben.
Wat Ounalom is a temple located on Sisowath Quay by the riverside near the Royal Palace. As the seat of Cambodia's Mohanikay order, it is the most important Wat in Phnom Penh, and is the center of Cambodian Buddhism.
It was established in 1443 and consists of 44 structures. It was damaged during the Khmer Rouge period but has since been restored. The main complex houses a stupa that contains what is believed to be an eyebrow hair of Buddha.
Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Killing Fields)
Choeung Ek is the site of a former orchard and mass grave of victims of the Khmer Rouge - killed between 1975 and 1979 - about 17 kilometres south of the city. It is the best-known of the sites known as The Killing Fields, where the Khmer Rouge regime executed over one million people. Mass graves containing 8,895 bodies were discovered at Choeung Ek after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. Many of the dead were former political prisoners who were kept by the Khmer Rouge in their Tuol Sleng detention center.
Today, Choeung Ek is a memorial, marked by a Buddhist stupa. The stupa has acrylic glass sides and is filled with more than 5,000 human skulls. Some of the lower levels are opened during the day so that the skulls can be seen directly. Many have been shattered or smashed in.
Tourists are encouraged by the Cambodian government to visit Choeung Ek. Apart from the stupa, there are pits from which the bodies were exhumed. Human bones still litter the site.
Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21)
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is located in the city centre and chronicles the period of the genocide under Pol Pot. The site is a former high school, which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime from its rise to power in 1975 to its fall in 1979.
Tuol Sleng means "Hill of the Poisonous Trees" or "Strychnine Hill". Tuol Sleng was only one of at least 150 execution centers in the country and as many as 20,000 prisoners there were later killed.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center
PTWRC is a wildlife centre located roughly 25 miles by road south of the city. The centre was established in 1995 and with an area of over 6,000 acres of protected regenerating forest; this is the largest zoo in Cambodia.
Since 2001, PTWRC is run by the Cambodian Forestry Administration in partnership with an environmental non-profit organization called Wildlife Alliance. Wildlife Alliances animal husbandry specialists, veterinarians, and caretakers assist in the feeding and care of animals and operations.
PTWRC houses over 1,200 rescued animals from 102 species including endangered Asian elephants, tigers, gibbons, Siamese crocodiles and Malayan sun bears, among many others. Many of the species are listed as endangered or vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
One of the largest of the many markets in Phnom Penh, getting lost in here is very easy. Located in the south of the city off Monivong Boulevard and Mao Tse Tung, the market is about a 15-minute tuk tuk ride from the riverside.
It sells just about everything you can imagine and so is perfect for a one-stop-shop for souvenirs. It is surrounded by bigger shops as well as coffee shops; ideal to take a break from the market itself.
The Central Market is another large market in the city, specifically aimed at tourists. It was constructed in 1937 in a beautiful art deco style.
When it first opened in 1937, it was said to be the biggest market in Asia; today it still operates as a market. From 2009 to 2011, it underwent a US$4.2 million renovation.
The market opens from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Here you will find on sale, goods ranging from gold and silver, antique coins, money exchange, men's and women's clothing, clocks, books, flowers, food, fabrics, shoes, souvenirs, fish, seafood, luggage, and much more.
Sisowath Quay (Riverfront)
Sisowath Quay is the historic riverside area located in the city, parallel to the busy Sisowath Boulevard in the Chamkarmon district. The quay is situated along the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap River, close to the Royal Palace.
The stretch in front of the palace is a favourite spot for watching the boat races during the Water Festival held in November. The Foreign Correspondents' Club is also located in this district and is a great place to watch the river. The quay is a 3 km strip filled with vendors, locals, and tourists and is lined with hotels, restaurants, bars, cafes and shops.
The Aeon Mall is a particularly good place to spend a day if you are travelling with children. Not only does it have a deli, supermarket, and a massive department store selling every category of goods, it has many food and beverage outlets, an ice rink, a 10-pin bowling alley, an amusement centre, kids play area and a Cineplex.
Sunset boat cruise
Spend a romantic night on the river on a cruise, which can include drinks and varying menus to suit all budgets from basic Khmer food to gourmet offerings.
Leaving around 7 PM the cruises last from between 1 hour and 3 hours, depending on which company is booked.
A perfect and relaxing way to see the cityscape at night.
Cambodian Living Arts (CLA)
Now running for more than 15 years, this organisation was set up to try and reclaim some of the lost artists and culture including music, dance, drama and art, decimated as on of the prime targets for execution by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 to 1979.
Performances are held at 7 PM, daily (except Sundays) at the National Museum.
Tickets cost from around $15 for an adult, less for children and Cambodians.
Plae Pakaa Performance: One of the performances by the CLA (see above) covering drama, music and dance, performed regularly in the National Museum.
The Independence Monument was built in 1958 to commemorate Cambodia's independence from France in 1953. It is a popular visiting place from both locals and tourists. It stands on the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard in the centre of the city.
It takes the form of a lotus-shaped stupa, of the style seen at the great Khmer temple at Angkor Wat and other Khmer historical sites.
During national celebrations, The Independence Monument is the center of activity. A ceremonial flame on the interior pedestal is often lit by a royal or high official on these occasions, and floral tributes line the stairs.
Behind the monument is the newly constructed Statue of Norodom Sihanouk erected after his death on the 15th October 2012, now a designated public holiday.
Oudong is located in the northwestern part of Kampong Speu Province. Sitting at the foothill of Udong Mountain, it lies about 40 km northwest of the modern capital Phnom Penh. Oudong was royal residence and Cambodia's ancient capital for over 250 years until 1866. A monumental royal necropolis of sovereigns from several centuries is scattered on top the mountain.
Phnom Chisor temple
Phnom Chisor temple was built in the early 11th century by King Suryavarman I (AD 1002-1050), who practiced Brahmanism, a form of ancient Hinduism, which practiced sacrifice.
Constructed of sandstone and other stone, it is 60 meters long and 50 meters wide and sits atop the mountain. Two galleries surround the temple. The first gallery is 60 meters long on each side. The second, smaller gallery is in the middle, where there is the main worship place with two doors and a wooden statue. There are beautiful sculptures on the lintel and the pillars.
Phnom Chisor Pagoda was built in 1917, destroyed by the Khmer Rouge during the war in the1970s and rebuilt in 1979. You can climb the staircase on the west side of the mountain, which has 390 steps and descend by the south side staircase, which has 408 steps. Another set of stairs in front of the temple links the temple to Sen Chhmos temple, Sen Phou Vang temple and Tonle Om, a lake considered sacred by Brahmans and used for washing away sins. A large rock yard nearby about 100 meters long and 80 meters was once the site of several other temples, but only parts of these temples remain standing.
Tonle Bati is a popular lake and picnic area with bamboo shacks built out over the water that you can rent out for eating and whiling away the day in a hammock. It's generally a weekend get-away spot for local people, which means it can be nice and quiet during the week. Locals swim there, but the water does not look really inviting. There are all kinds of food and drink stands that sell everything you need for a picnic along the lake.
Note that there are sometimes vendors that follow you if you arrive on weekends and try to get you to go to their place. It’s best to pass by them and find a spot on your own.
Always check prices beforehand on everything as they have been known to hand you an outrageously high bill when you depart.
The Olympic Stadium
The National Olympic Stadium is a multi-purpose stadium with a pool and indoor arena. It has a capacity of 50,000. Despite its name, the stadium has never hosted an Olympic games.
It is a very popular place with the locals who come to exercise or watch football games. The home national team plays their games here and still attracts a large crowd.
The Empire Movie House
Cambodia’s only real Art House Cinema comes with it’s own award-winning bar/restaurant and shows the latest new releases, indie movies, foreign language cinema and classic titles on the big screen.
For tourists it also has a daily showing of The 80’s movie, The Killing Fields, the story of the Pol Pot regime.
At only $3.50 for a ticket, it’s great value as it also counts as a day-pass. Great on a wet day.
Located in Takeo province, south of Phnom Penh.
Angkor Borei is a small town in Takeo province in an area of several ruins and archaeological digs. The area has been continuously inhabited for at least 2500 years and has yielded artifacts dating from the Neolithic period, the Funan period (4th/5th century AD) and Chenla (8th century AD) as well as the later Angkorian period (9th-15th century AD.)
There are no significant temple ruins at Angkor Borei but there is a very interesting little museum displaying artifacts from the area and providing information on recent archaeological digs.
Nagaworld Hotel and Casino
Nagaworld is a luxurious, 5-star hotel and entertainment complex situated in the city centre close to the Royal Palace and just 30 minutes from Phnom Penh airport.
Boasting more than 8 restaurants, the casino, clubs and karaoke, there is no shortage of things to do here.
Phnom Penh Night Market
Located between streets 106 and 108, the stalls kick off around dusk.
This market is not aimed at tourists alone, but is very popular with locals, which means the goods on sale are more varied, which makes for a better all-round shopping experience.
Don’t miss the food court area as well as the regular live entertainment.
Sorya Shopping Centre
Located near the riverside at Sisowath Quay, this place is a cross between a market and a modern shopping mall. It is fully air-conditioned and is a great escape from the heat for a while.
It has a very large supermarket on the ground floor and a food court on the upper level.
On top is a reasonably priced cinema
Kambol Kart Race Way
Situated some 8 Km past the airport, this raceway is a fair way outside the city.
The cost per race of $12 includes hire of a crash helmet and race overalls.
Each race is 10 laps and at about a minute a lap, each race lasts just over 10 minutes.
Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument
The Cambodia–Vietnam Friendship Monument is a large monument commemorating the former alliance between Vietnam and Cambodia.
It was built in the late 1970s by the communist regime that took power after the Cambodian-Vietnamese War, which overthrew the Khmer Rouge regime. The monument is located at the Botum Park near the centre of Phnom Penh not far from the Royal Palace.
There are many places offering a Cambodian cookery class in Phnom Penh and most follow a similar format.
You start off in the market to learn about and buy your ingredients. You will get an insight into the different herbs and spices used in Cambodian dishes.
Your teacher then leads the class through your chosen dishes, making it a fun and friendly experience. It’s also a great way to make new friends out of your classmates.
Finally of course you get to eat the fruits of your labour. Prices vary from about $15 to $25 depending on whether you choose a half- or full-day cooking course.
Phsar Chas market
While in no way is this a tourist market, it is a must for any traveller who wants to get close to the real local marketplace.
Products on sale vary right across the board fro vegetables, live fish and chickens, to clothes, shoes and much more.
It’s not too far from the night market, so if you time it right you can kill 2 birds with 1 stone.
Blazing Trails: Quad / ATV (http://nature-cambodia.com/)
There is no better, more exciting way to discover the real Cambodia than on an all-terrain vehicle travelling through the stunning countryside through villages and past the paddy fields.
Trips can be a few hours to all day, and can include an overnight homestay with a local family in their traditional house.
Food & Accommodation
Phnom Penh has literally hundreds of restaurant ranging from cheap street food to 5-star dining. Travel Loops is well placed to recommend somewhere. Similarly as a major Cambodian tour operator we have many hotel partners in every budget.
While health services in Cambodia are far from great, Phnom Penh has some of the better facilities, however for anything serious we suggest a quick trip to a Thai, and Vietnamese or Singapore facility. It is vital you have good travel insurance including medical and repatriation/medevac cover. Travel Loops customers are obliged to let us know your insurance details in case we have to assist.
Your safety is our primary concern. Like all big cities, petty crime exists but common sense prevails. Don’t wander around in the early hours of the morning, especially if alcohol was involved as you could be inviting theft. Always arrange transport where possible. Take tuk tuks home; get the phone number of your hotel drivers. Even for a short stay, getting a $2 SIM card for an old Nokia phone could prove invaluable. More serious crimes involving assault seem contained to the local population. Don’t be tempted to buy drugs or any other ‘services’ offered by tuk tuk drivers or other individuals on the street.
Entertainment and shopping
As detailed above, there are many varied, exciting markets to keep shopaholics busy. Nowadays as Phnom Penh develops rapidly there are modern outlets such as Aeon Mall if you want more up-market goods.
Entertainment comes in many forms. There are many bars and clubs with varying live music and DJ’s. Try a Cambodian club to see how the locals party! For a real slice of Phnom Penh life, drop in to one of the many beer gardens.