Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital, demands more of your time than a stopover. It is a low cost, safe, bustling Asian destination of smiles and enterprise.
A visit to Phnom Penh begins with a tour of the glittering Royal Palace, a complex of golden domed buildings built in 1866 on the site of the old town. The nearby National Museum of Cambodia houses the world’s largest collection of Khmer artifacts.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21), is stark. Following interrogation and torture, 17,000 people held here were taken to the Choeung Ek Killing Field by the Khmer Rouge for extermination or buried in the prison grounds.
After this long day you will need a massage and perhaps a wine or cocktail at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC).
Street food around the weekend night market at Street 108 feature US$3 dishes and US$0.50c beers. Across the road, Rik Reay BBQ offers fried red ants, spiced pig and beef innards. The Blue Dolphin and Karma offer Khmer, western and vegetarian dishes as is Friends, managed by a charity teaching hospitality skills to young people. Quality restaurants like L’Orchidee, Le Saint Georges and wine bars including Bouchon are modern classics.
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The glorious art deco Central Market offers some of the best shopping in Southeast Asia: handicrafts, designer clothes, silk textiles, handbags, sunglasses and shoes – all bargain priced.
The nearby Sorya Mall features the upper floor, Sorya Food City. Prices are about US$4 per dish. A complimentary soup and spices are included.
The Space Salon offers quality hair and makeup during the day and from 9pm becomes a gay bar. For a man’s haircut try Mr Seng Hai on Street 13 who charges US$2 for a cut, any style. For hairdressing try Serge Comtesse Sensory Prestige, and Chan Thou Hair Cut, which also offers facial massage.
Watch the sun go down over a cocktail at one of Phnom Penh’s fabulous sky bars including the Eclipse Sky Bar, the rooftop bar atop the Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel. Then dine in style at Armand’s, Malis restaurant or the Est.Bar for a special night out.
Enjoy the views on offer at Wat Phnom. From here, it is south to the sprawling Russian Market where you can buy the famous Cambodian krama, the scarf with a 100 uses as well as designer jeans and shirts, scarves, children’s clothes and handicrafts at low, low prices.
Take time out at one of the Phnom Penh’s fabulous spas like Bodia. Share the experience over a wine or two at Bassac Lane,where Phnom Penh insiders mix at its unique ‘speakeasies’. You can eat here or around the corner in Street 308. Back on Sisowath Quay,you could sip a wine or cocktail before dining at the Metro Hassakan (Metro Cafe)or Rustic Lounge on Street 172.
Dance clubs like Pontoon stay open late. Bars range in style from the Sharky’s – Asia’s longest operating rock and roll venue – to sports bars like Paddy Rice, hostess bars like Mao’s and Oskar’s or the intimate Banana Republic. Elsewhere, Bar.Sito, and Hanger 44, “a bar in a custom-built motorcycle showroom” provide a ‘Manhattan’ experience. Chez Flo, which serves French cheese and charcuterie with wines or beers to match, and Garage bar are recommended.
To gain an appreciation of the rapid changes effecting Phnom Penh, visit the Aeon Mall, the city’s first western-style shopping mall.
Diamond Island (Koh Pich), a breathtaking development of thousands of high-rise apartments, condos, and commercial buildings. See two 26-floor towers and three 36-floor towers connected at the top by a 200-meter-long swimming pool.
Time permitting, take a river cruise, visit Friends-International, or take a half-day cycling tour.
The Empire movie house bar and restaurant, Cambodia’s only art-house cinema in Phnom Penh, plays new releases to cinema classics most nights.