With its dazzling Royal Palace, riverside terraces and colourful markets, Phnom Penh is very easy to fall in love with. Eat amazing street food, watch the world go by from the banks of the Mekong and steep yourself in the history of a once troubled city that’s truly found its feet.
Motorbike taxis are the order of the day if you’re in a hurry and want a cheap ride through Phnom Penh’s chaotic traffic. For a few dollars more, tuk–tuks are the best way to travel in relative safety and can take up to four passengers at a squeeze.
Phnom Penh suffered terribly under the brutal rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. And no trip to the Cambodian capital is complete without gaining an understanding of the affects this still has on the city today.
Tuol Sleng museum, a former school converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge, is an essential stop–off. While it can be harrowing, the stories of the few survivors and the memories of the locals make this Phnom Penh’s most enduring sight.
A short ride outside of town lie the Killing Fields, where thousands of Cambodians were brutalised during the 1970s. The stories of those who endured these horrifying conditions are difficult to hear, but as at Tuol Sleng, help explain why modern Phnom Penh is so welcoming to outsiders, with locals desperate to tell their own tales of suffering.
Back in the city centre, the glittering Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace, still home to Cambodia’s king, is a mecca for Khmer and foreign tourists, especially at weekends.
Cambodia’s Buddhist heart is easily found at Wat Phnom, the city’s main temple, which is home to four spectacular Buddhas, reached via an ornate staircase decorated with the likenesses of local deities.
The Russian Market is Phnom Penh’s retail heart, a seething spot where you can pick up bargain clothes, antiques and handicrafts. The locals love to haggle, so be sure to brush up on your bartering skills beforehand. You can also trawl the food stalls at the back of the market for snacks or a meal if you’re feeling adventurous.
If the bustle of the city gets too much, the ferry ride across the Mekong to Kandal Province takes just 20 minutes. Hire a bike and head into the rice paddies and villages for a much–needed breather from all that traffic.
Street food is abundant in Phnom Penh. There’s barely a corner without a stall and a few seats for hungry city dwellers. Breakfast tends to be bowls of steaming rice with pork, called bai sak chrouk. Cambodians also love sweet coffee, which can be easily found on the streets around the riverfront.
Spring rolls from the Central Market’s food court are a must if you want to eat like the locals. The riverside teems with stalls all day and is the best place to find stir–fried noodles. For something a touch fancier, Romdeng does an excellent fish amok, a local curry.