Phnom Penh – Cambodia Tourism on Steroids!
Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia was once called the “Pearl of Asia,” and this city is one of great contrasts. From colonial French era architecture, to monks in long flowing saffron robes, to the thriving nightlife scene – there’s always something happening in Phnom Penh!
Phnom Penh is a city that is still picking up the pieces after being liberated in 1979, but has done well for itself. The city’s infrastructure is large and caters to tourism, and the city is considered to be one of the most welcoming capitals in all of Asia.
High rise buildings, Western style shopping malls, and traffic lights have slowly cropped up around Phnom Penh, this city that is behind its peers in so many structural ways. It has it’s own beauty hidden in the modern day Cambodia we see now – several French colonial buildings remain standing, a number of stunning Khmer temples and monuments dot the city, giving Phnom Penh a uniqueness and that particular Cambodian ambience.
How to get around Phnom Penh
The Phnom Penh street system makes it easy to find your way around the sprawling city. All of the city’s streets are numbered, and many major thoroughfares also have names. The system is very easy to learn: The odd-numbered streets run north and south, and even numbered streets run west and east. The only confusing problems are the house numbers – house numbering seems to be willy-nilly. Don’t travel up a street expecting the houses to be ordered sequentially, in fact, some houses may even have the same number.
Phnom Penh has main streets that are in reliably good shape, nevertheless watch out on some of the smaller side streets as they tend to be very pot-holed and full of ruts, strewn with garbage, dirty water puddles and quite often a sleeping person or two. The smaller streets themselves tend to offer very little signage or no signage at all (or sometimes even misleading signage) so pay more attention to the main streets for navigation as they are logically mapped out.
You can rent a motorbike for approximately $5 per day, however it’s advised not to try this if you aren’t
experienced. The traffic in Phnom Penh is congested and dangerous even by Southeast Asian standards, and it’s quite easy to get yourself into a potentially deadly accident. You can instead choose to travel around the city by motorbike taxi, which can take you anywhere you need to travel to in Phnom Penh. Keep in mind that fares are higher at night, and increase when there are more than one passenger and they do not carry helmets so bring one of your own if you want to travel by mototaxi a little safer. Tuk-Tuks are also a popular way of getting around and somewhat safer than the back of a motorbike. Negotiating with the Tuk Tuk drivers is an artform – and make sure to know the Pagodas near your location as that’s how many of of the Tuk Tuk drivers navigate.
Shopping in Phnom Penh
Changing money isn’t usually necessary if you’re traveling from the United States, as Phnom Penh accepts the US dollar, and will give change back in riel. Many of the popular tourist purchases consist of silk, silverware, handicrafts and curios such as Buddha figures, as well as made-to-order clothding which is usually of very good quality. If you are looking to support Cambodian businesses that are noted for their support of Cambodia’s culture and heritage, look for the Heritage Friendly Business Logo from Heritage Watch, which is an organization that helps to promote the preservation of Cambodia’s cultural legacy.
What are some of the amazing things to see and do in Phnom Penh?
Phnom Penh is definitely one of the forefront holiday destinations that are famous for their Royal Palaces. In the case of Phnom Penh, few examples are The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, and numerous monuments and temples. It’s also famous for it’s architecture and it has a great nightlife scene if you know where to look. Come take a look, there’s something educational, fun, or interesting for everyone:
The Royal Palace
Address: Sothearos Boulevard
Opening its doors between the hours of 8 am to 11 am, and 2pm to 5pm, the Royal Palace includes two spectacular pagodas on the Palace Grounds, as well as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. These Phnom Penh buildings are worth a trip to visit. They were constructed in the 19th century using French technology paired with Cambodian design. These structures have managed to survive the traumas of Phnom Penh’s 20th century surprisingly well intact. It’s best to visit the Royal Palace earlier in the day, as the midday and later parts of the day become very hot. Photography is not allowed inside of the Silver Pagoda nor in some of the Palace buildings. You will be expected to dress nicely with legs covered to knees, and shoulders covered. Sarongs can be rented, and t-shirts can be purchased at the entrance. The Napoleon III Pavilion has been under renovation since August 2014 and is covered with construction netting. Compared to Bangkok, The Royal Palace complex offers a more structural, formal and organized layout with clearly identified architectural design. It’s impressive, and less “touristy” than Bangkok’s Palace. When you hire a guide, you’ll pay about $5 – $10 USD and learn a lot more about the area than if you were walking by yourself. You can get to the Royal Palace by tuk tuk from anywhere in the city.
The National Museum of Cambodia
Street 13, Sangkat Chey Chumneas, Khan Daun, Phnom Penh
Open daily between the hours of 8 am and 5 pm, (they take their last admission at 4:30pm) you can view the largest museum of history in Cambodia. Housed inside are over 14,000 Khmer artifacts, including sculptures and objects that date back to prehistoric times. There is a phenomenal collection of art from Cambodia’s “Golden Age” of Angkor, and the main attraction is the statue of King Jayavarman VII (1181 – 1219) in the meditation pose. A beautiful courtyard exists at the center of the National Museum of Cambodia where photography is allowed, and it holds the statue of Yama, the Hindu god of death. Come see the elegant statues of the Hindu gods, the ancient tablets called stelae, inscribed in Sanskrit and Old Khmer. Witness the breathtaking artifacts from prehistoric burial sites. A beautiful park in front of the museum is the area where the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony where the success of the harvest is predicted each year. Photography is only allowed outdoors and in the courtyard. The structure of the museum itself is a sight to behold.
Wat Phnom can be located along Street 94, on a hill in the middle of a smaller sized park located near Sisowath Quay. The name Wat Phnom simply means “Hill Temple” and is popular due to its historic importance rather than any of its physical structure. It was built in 1373, and it rises up 27 meters or 88.5 feet tall. Wat Phnom is the tallest religious building in the city of Phnom Penh. It’s legend is that a wealthy widow came across a large koki tree
in the river, containing four bronze statues of the Buddha. She had the shrine built on a hill to protect the sacred Buddha statues, and eventually this became the site where locals would come to pray and make their blessings.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Many people who come to Cambodia seek to understand the circumstances under which more than one million were killed and buried by the communist Khmer Rouge regime after the Cambodian Civil War. The term “Killing fields” was coined by Cambodian journalist Dith Pran, after his escape from the regime. The killing fields of Choeung Ek are located about seventeen kilometres south of Phnom Penh, about a 40 minute ride by taxi or tuk tuk.
It’s important for people to visit the Killing Fields to fully understand the genocide that happened in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime. Having been a former Chinese cemetery, this is the place where the Khmer Rouge massacred thousands of victims. As of today, a Buddhist stupa filled with over eight thousand human skulls marks the site. The sides of the stupa are made of glass, giving visitors a view of how many lives were lost on this one spot. Pits are all around the area where the mass graves had been unearthed, and scraps of clothing are still found. The small museum regularly shows a documentary including some disturbing video images of human remains being unearthed when these mass graves were discovered in 1979. Many tourists to Phnom Penh visit the Killing Fields and bring money for flowers and incense which can be bought in front of the stupa, to place as a respect. Also remember to wear longer trousers and respectable clothing with sleeves. Admission costs approximately $6 USD, which includes an informative audio tour in a choice of several different languages.
Intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards
Come to the center of Phnom Penh and visit the Independence Monument. It certainly is one of the most impressive monuments that you can see in the city, and it’s a national symbol of pride. The Independence Monument was constructed in 1958 after Cambodia gained independence from France, and it’s the centre of activity for many celebrations and events that happen in the city all year long. The design closely resembles the architecture of Angkor Wat. Be cautious when visiting the Independence Monument, because it is located inside a roundabout at a very busy street intersection and the fast moving cars simply do not stop for pedestrians.
Phnom Penh nightlife and food vendors
Phnom Penh is home to some exciting nightlife, which can be more fun that some expect from the Cambodian city. There are a wide variety of discos, sports bars and dance clubs, as well as neighbourhood pubs and various bars scattered around the downtown area of the city. The riverfront area of town is the region with the largest selection of nightlife entertainment opportunities, with bars stretching all along Sisowath Quay. Street 104 and Street 136 are noted for their quality sports and hostess bars. Street 51 is home to all the late night craziness – it’s said to have a bizarre and fun mix of different themed bars, clubs, as well as many street food vendors that cater to your late night munchies all night long.
Where to stay when you’re visiting Phnom Penh
Angkor International Hotel
Address: #38-50, Street 148
Tel: +855 23 217 609(
Located 100m west of the Kandal market, 300m from the river and national museum
English and French are spoken at the Angkor International Hotel. A western-style cuisine and Asian restaurant is on the premises, complimentary Wi-Fi is included. The Angkor International Hotel provides easy reservation procedures and secure payment is available to be made online. This air conditioned hotel has 100 rooms renovated in 2012, which are very clean and display stylish Khmer furnishings.There is a non-smoking floor.
Address: #48, street 9
Tel: +855 23 215 964
Hotel Nine is a quaint relaxing hotel in the middle of the city, located next to the Independence Monument on street nine. All rooms have air conditioning, 22 inch LCD TV with international channels, and dvd players. An asian fusion kitchen and local chef prepare meals, breakfast is included with your stay.
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