The Cambodian capital city, Phnom Penh, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for travellers. I’ve seen many changes since I first visited in 2006. Over the years a large shopping centre (Aeon Mall) and a few modern skyscrapers have gradually appeared on the skyline.
Each time I return there seems to be more restaurants, hotels, cafes and bars. But, for all the new buildings the city still holds on to its old world charm.
The riverfront is one of my favourite places. Here you’ll find charming little cafes and bars where you can sit and watch the Tonle Sap merge into the Mekong river. Soak up elegant colonial architecture painted in faded pastel colours that glow warmly in the setting sun. In the evening tropical storms and lightning flashes rumble on the horizon.
It’s a place with an indistinct charm. There may not be a long list of tourist attractions, but I always enjoy my time in this city. A few days in Phnom Penh can make a pleasant break from the hustle of Bangkok, or the frenzied mayhem of Ho Chi Minh City.
- Royal Palace and pagodas. Situated by the river, an excellent place to spend an hour or two looking at the Palace and gardens.
- Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum. A harrowing place that will leave you with a heavy heart, but a greater understanding of Cambodia's recent history. Here you'll learn about the genocide that took place in the 1970's under the rule of the Khmer Rouge.
- Riverfront area, cafes, restaurants, bars. Enjoy a plate of Loc Lac, or spend an afternoon in the Foreign Correspondence Club sipping a G&T and watching the world roll by.
- National Museum. Full of interesting artefacts. The museum itself is a photogenic building with elaborate gables and salmon palette.
- Casino (Nagaworld hotel). Standard labyrinth of gambling. Many games have low minimum bets. It can be affordable fun.
- Nightlife. Phnom Penh has an ever-expanding nightlife scene. Rooftop bars, cocktail bars, hostess bars, and some very loud nightclubs.
- All prices are from 2017. Be aware, visa prices and policies can change without warning and vary depending on nationality. Check the government website for the latest info.
- Return flights from - Bangkok from $90, New York from $550, London from $480 (skyscanners.net).
- Visa $30-$35. Tourist visa $30, valid for thirty days. Ordinary visa $35, valid for thirty days, extendable up to one year.)
- Hotel rooms from $10 for a single room with private bathroom, $250+ for luxury rooms. Hostels can be as little as $2 per night.
- Street food is usually under $1. If you're feeling adventurous, try some fried insects.
- Meals in cafes or restaurants between $3-$10.
- Happy hour beers can be just 50 cents, regular prices around $1.50. Glasses of wine start at about $3.
Not so long ago Phnom Penh had a reputation as one of the more dangerous cities in Southeast Asia. As far as personal safety goes, things seem to be improving year on year. Though usual precautions, such as not walking alone at night are advisable, Phnom Penh is a relatively safe city.
I’ve had no problems myself, though I have witnessed bag snatching incidents from motorbikes. Be careful when carrying cameras or handbags. To put things in perspective, the biggest danger you're likely to face is getting run over by the crazy drivers.