The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh is shifting at a rapid pace, making it an exhilarating place to visit.
TAKE A TUK-TUK
Tuk-tuks (two-wheeled carriages pulled by a motorcycle) are the main mode of transport and one is never far away, with “Tuk-tuk, Madam” and “Tuk-tuk, Sir” ringing heavily in the air. Negotiate the price first and triple-check the driver knows where he’s going.
GRAB A MOTODOP
Motodops – or motorbike taxis – can be found on pretty much every street corner, offering a cheaper alternative to tuk-tuks. This mode of transport is also great for weaving in and out of Phnom Penh’s ever-increasing traffic.
DOWNLOAD AN APP
The last year has seen an explosion in taxi apps, meaning tourists no longer need to fret about negotiating prices or reaching their final destination. PassApp and its growing fleet of tuk-tuks dominate the market, with Uber and Grab having recently launched.
VISIT THE FAIRGROUND
Join the hordes of Cambodian families who gather at the outdoor fairground on Koh Pich – a small manmade island – every evening. Sample local food, drive a bumper car or hop on the Ferris wheel. In true Cambodian style, expect loud music and flashing lights.
ATTEND A SHOW
Delve into Cambodia’s rich culture with an evening of entertainment, courtesy of Cambodian Living Arts. Each night, performers take to the stage behind the National Museum for a dazzling evening of traditional dance, music and retellings of age-old tales.
HIT THE STREETS
Discover the capital and its quirks on Khmer Heritage Tours’ jaunts. The walking tours are led by local students, and include a 1960s New Khmer Architecture option, taking in revered architect Vann Molyvann’s works, a history, culture and architecture tour, and exploring the city by cyclo.
Drink some of the best coffee in town at Java Café before enjoying local contemporary art in the upstairs gallery. Or take a stroll down the stretch of Street 178, adjacent to the National Museum, which is lined with studios and galleries.
STOCK UP ON SOUVENIRS
A trip to Phnom Penh isn’t complete without a trip to the market, and what better place to bag some bargains to take home? The Russian Market is a top spot to grab goodies, from locally produced art and handicraft to clothes, shoes and everything in between. Wear your haggling hat.
BUY A SILK SCARF
Cambodia was once world-famous for its golden silk production. However, the craft came close to extinction after decades of turmoil ravaged the country. One woman leading its resurrection is local designer Vannary San. Her range of ethically produced scarves and other items can be found at Lotus Silk on Street 240, which is home to a range of boutiques worth browsing.
TAKE TIME OUT
Phnom Penh is awash with spas, serving up a range of sumptuous treatments – all at affordable prices, so it seems rude not to indulge. Bodia Spa is a soothing haven, perfect for rejuvenating after a day of sight-seeing.
Dive Into The Culture
Learn a little about Cambodia’s recent history and get stuck in some books. Journalist Robert Carmichael’s poignant When Clouds Fell from the Sky follows a family’s decade-long search for what happened to a relative during the Khmer Rouge rule, while Haing Ngor’s account of life during the Pol Pot-led regime, Survival in the Killing Fields, is a compelling read.
Cambodia’s golden age of the 1950s and 60s presented Cambodian rock ‘n’ roll, which made a local tweak to the Western sounds that gripped the globe. To listen to original artists, download Ros Sereysothea and Sin Sisamuth. Cambodian Space Project offers a modern spin on the music.
Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Loung Ung’s moving biography, First They Killed My Father, follows the story of a five-year-old growing up under the Khmer Rouge. Oscar-winning 1984 film The Killing Fields is another worthwhile watch, telling the story of journalists Dith Pran and Sydney Schanberg during the Khmer Rouge reign.
Popular with tourists (and locals, who like to stroll along the Tonle Bassac River at dusk and dawn), riverside or Sisowath Quay is full of restaurants, bars, hotels and shops catering to all budgets, tastes and styles.
TOUL TOM POUNG
As a neighbourhood on the rise, Toul Tom Poung – home to Russian Market – is the city’s hippest place to hang out. Try Vibe for an organic, vegan lunch, Eleven One Kitchen for a local dinner, Long After Dark for evening drinks and Tini for a caffeine boost.
BOEUNG KENG KANG 1
Commonly referred to as BKK1, this elite area is packed with boutique hotels, restaurants and coffee shops. Farm to Table serves up fresh food in an open-air setting, complemented by friendly cats and chickens. Patio Hotel has a stunning rooftop infinity pool and Street 278 is teeming with places to eat and drink.
Sleep, Eat, Drink
BOUNTY OF BOUTIQUE BEDS
Phnom Penh is home to a delightful selection of well-priced boutique hotels. Villa Langka, The Plantation and iRoHa Garden Hotel and Resort all offer leafy reprieves from chaotic capital life.
For fine local dining, Malis is the best place in town. Run by Cambodian celebrity chef Luu Meng, who has worked with Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay, the restaurant serves a selection of traditional Cambodian cuisine given a modern twist.
BEAT THE THIRST
Step back in time to colonial Cambodia and enjoy happy hour at Raffles le Royal’s Elephant Bar (4 pm to 9 pm). Bassac Lane is always vibrant after dark, thanks to its boutique bars and eateries. Or kick back and enjoy sunset with a cocktail at Vehaa’s rooftop terrace.
Escape The City
VISIT THE OLD CAPITAL
Head out to the former royal capital of Oudong, which sits about 40 kilometres from Phnom Penh. Having served as the capital for more than 250 years until it relocated in 1866, the mountain is home to ancient temples, stupas and shrines, accessed by climbing 509 steps – the views make the effort worthwhile.
HEAD TO THE ISLANDS
Koh Dach, or Silk Island, sits a short tuk-tuk and ferry ride from Phnom Penh. Silk weaving is the main industry, with a Silk Centre showcasing the intricate process, with picnic spots on the Mekong and a swimming area.