Phnom Penh has an eccentric charm. Seen from the river, palm trees and the spires of Khmer royal buildings rise over French-era Phnom Penh shophouses and villas. This city really grows on you.
Take time to explore Phnom Penh!
Before civil war broke out it was one of the finest cities in the region, nicknamed ‘The Pearl of Asia’. Now, Phnom Penh is regaining this reputation: yellow-ocher buildings, squares and cafes, and tree-lined boulevards give it an appealing atmosphere.
The city is located at Chaktomuk (which means ‘Four Faces’), at the confluence of two arms of the Mekong, the Bassac and the Tonle Sap rivers.
Did you know CNNgo in January 2010 chose Phnom Penh as one of Indochina’s top must-see destinations? This is what they wrote: Cambodia’s booming capital is now a entrepreneur’s playground and a fashionable destination for boutique hotels, international cuisine and trendy shops selling some of the region’s best silk.
The horrible past is visible in Tuol Sleng, the Genocide Museum, a schoolhouse-turned-prison where up to 17,000 victims of Pol Pot’s excesses were tortured before being led to the , one of many killing fields in Cambodia. Grisly, but an absolute must if you want to try understand Cambodians today.
It has been a long road to the peaceful and growing Phnom Penh of today. With the country now stabilised, Phnom Penh is steadily being restored to former glories as the Cambodian economy recovers. Despite ongoing high unemployment, the streets are lively, and there is an unmistakable optimism in the air.
Today Phnom Penh is a charming, relaxing and harmonious city, offering visitors peaceful moments of a sunset at the riverside as well as its dusty, motorbike-choked labyrinthine alleys and busy markets.
Traces of the city’s former splendor are visible at the Royal Palace, a stone showpiece of classical Khmer architecture, enclosing the Silver Pagoda, a jewel-encrusted wonder.
The National Museum houses the world’s finest collection of Khmer artifacts. Throughout the city, you’ll see not only faded glory of aged French colonial architecture, but restored historical structures as well.
Phnom Penh has a pace of its own, and you’ll find a lot to catch your eye, whether it is the glut of luxury vehicles, the sprawling local markets, the interesting architecture or its friendly and open-minded citizens.
Colours & Sounds
So, apart from the obvious attractions, what else could you do in Phnom Penh?
Well, our first choice would be: just wander around and take in the sounds, the colours and the fragrances of Phnom Penh. See buddha statues made by skilled workers right on the street, smell coffee being grinded right before your nose, enjoy the colours of flower markets.
Also very colourful: a traditional wedding of which you can see many during ‘wedding season’ (basically, the dry season). In other words: explore and enjoy this city!
If you want to go on shopping after the Russian Market closes, visit the Night Market on Street 108. It’s only open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Almost all of the goods on offer are locally made.
For a taste of traditional Khmer culture, head to the Sovanna Phum Arts Association on #159B, Street 99 (corner of Street 484). Experience a unique performance at their theatre, every Friday and Saturday night at 7:30pm. Performances include shadow puppet theatre, classical apsara dancing, folklore and mask dance.
For current events (dance & music performances, movie showings, exhibitions and more), check the listings at Lady Penh.
An integral part of culture is the local cuisine. To get a better understanding of this, enjoy a day of cooking at the Cambodia Cooking Class.
See? Lots of things to do in Phnom Penh. Stay another day!
Livability surveys (e.g. by The Economist) regularly put Phnom Penh in the bottom 10 of "Livable Cities". Well, I say this: these survey guys are sitting overseas just collecting data, but have never actually been here, let alone live. This is for them: