Phnom Penh Travel Guide
The city of Phnom Penh used to be known as “The Pearl of Asia” and enjoyed rising popularity throughout the ’50s and ’60s. The Khmer “in”-crowd and artist would gather in Cambodia’s popular capital and a vibrant music-scene emerged from all parts of the country, mixing the western music with local, mesmerizing tunes.
Footage and music from those days radiate with love, and can only be topped with what was rising from the darkness. What took place afterward will forever be carved into the history of the city but now, almost 40 years later, saying “it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, it only matters where you’re going” seems more relevant than ever. Phnom Penh might not be what it used to be, but those vibrant tunes and the willingness to love is still as present as ever.
As a first-time visitor to Cambodia and its capital Phnom Penh I would recommend visiting the open wounds that are The Khmer Rouge heritage. This includes visiting The Killing Fields (also known as ChoeungEk Genocidal Center) and The ToulSleng Genocide Museum. Both of these are essential pieces of modern Khmer history and what I would call “must-visits” in Phnom Penh. Both of these places can be visited as part of a tour around the city and can be reached with a tuk-tuk, taxi or motorbike, depending on your preferred comfort level and budget. (I guess you can ride your bicycle there too but considering the road conditions, and traffic, I wouldn’t recommend it – at all!)
Even though these places can be somewhat traumatizing there is also an important point to be taken: Yes, this happened and in many ways, it continues to define and influence modern Cambodia BUT this country is so much more than this tragic event.
This brings me to the real reason why I live and enjoy this crazy city. There is a wide variety of places to explore and experience and I will do my best to cherry-pick them and serve them on a colorful plate – a la’ Cambodia.
Top 3 Things To Do in Phnom Penh
Catch a movie
(The Flicks, Aeon Mall)
Things get tend to get hot in Cambodia’s capital and I’m not only referring to the late nights at the clubs. The blasting Khmer sun can be ruthless and drains the energy out of anyone brave enough to walk under its kingdom. In Southeast Asia, Air Conditioning can feel like a gift from heaven and the cinema is a great place to worship it and catch a movie.
In Phnom Penh, you’ll find a wide variety of cinemas and movies depending on your budget, movie taste and comfort. For example; catching a 4D-movie at the modern Aeon Mall can put you back $15 for a ticket & snacks while screening at The Flicks usually goes for under $5 (without the 4D-experience, obviously). Both alternatives are great and I regularly visit them both.
Chill in the park
(Royal Palace Park, Wat Bottom Park)
When the sun starts to crawl behind the horizon, a park is usually where you want to be. The green patches of grass offer a great alternative to the busy city life and even though you’re just a stone throw away from crazy traffic the parks still keep your heartbeat on a healthy level. In the parks, you’ll find a crowd of people ranging from backpackers to Khmer families and lonely businessmen – all running their hands through the fresh grass or chewing on snacks being offered by the numerous vendors pushing their carts around the areas.
My favorite one is the Royal Palace Park. As the name implies, it’s the park outside of the Royal Palace and a great place to sit down and have a nice chat. What makes this place so refreshing is the amount of life, people and food. The park is also well lit by a huge homage to the reigning king NorodomSihamoni, throwing a pleasant light over its visitors. On some days you can also hear the chanting and prayers from the nearby pagoda by the Riverside, all while you enjoy a fresh coconut and cool down after a long day.
Eat and drink
A lot of the Khmer culture revolves around food and a quick look around will tell you why. The nature of Cambodia provides the people with basically everything they need – from the rice fields to fish from the Tonlé Sap to delicious fruits like mangoes, durians, coconuts and bananas. If you don’t like cooking there is no need to worry, the countless restaurants around Phnom Penh will be more then happy to cook you a meal. Be sure to check out the local restaurants for Khmer-specialties like Amok or Lok-Lak – usually around $2 per plate.