Phnom Penh

Tag: Cambodia, Destinations   
June 26, 2011   2 Comments

The capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is a modern thriving city geared up for tourists to spend money while retaining all its genuine, ‘local’ feel.

 Phnom Penh

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha at the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh. This particular Buddha crops up in many places across Thailand and Laos also


We arrived hot & sweaty to the usual furore of tuk-tuk drivers outside the coach looking for business. We negotiated our way down to the impressive river front, where all the main hotels and guesthouses are and perched ourselves & bags in a bar, while Ben did a recce of the surrounding places we’d picked out as potentials. As has become customary we opted for a hotel that was neither in the guidebook nor one we’d researched on the net, but the Indochine II suited us perfectly. Clean, wi-fi & breakfast for $22 a night.

 Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom sits on a hill and isn't particularly impressive itself but the surrounding gardens are nice

 Phnom Penh

A nice pair decorating the outside of Wat Phnom

The river front

The river front illustrates modern Phnom Penh perfectly: early evening as the air cools it’s the locals promenading opposite the western restaurants, the kids playing football and ladies joining in the group aerobics; just around the corner from the pizzas and pasta are bustling markets with locals picking up their food shop.

There is a good selection of Khmer and European cuisine to choose from along the main strip, as well as several bars providing happy hours – one of our favourites was the Foreign Correspondents Club, where you can get great views of the river & promenade from the roof-top bar, escaping the constant hassle of the hawker street children for a while.

 Phnom Penh

A small part of the pretty frescos at the Royal Palace

Street children

You have to definitely have your wits about you when tackling the street children – they speak very good English, with a well-practiced sad, zombie drone. You buy bracelet. You help me. Very cheap. You buy 1 I give 9 free. They know all the phrases and tricks in the book and it takes a firm ‘No’ three or four times and a smile to get rid of them (although 2 minutes later another appears).

 Phnom Penh

A lotus - bought off the street from a child hawker. You pop out the seeds which make for a tasty snack

The bet

Ben managed to make a bet with one child, who was selling books – if the child beats Ben at pool then Ben would buy a book from the kid. Ben takes it easy at first and lets the child pot a few balls but then decides it’s time to win. However when potting the black – disaster! – the white drops too. The child celebrates with dancing around the table and shouting and Ben has to now buy a book. Much negotiation ensues – the child not wanting to give up a book for $2 (the price paid the day before when purchasing another book elsewhere). After a heated debate Ben finally buys two (!) books for $6 – both bootleg copies with faded print but otherwise readable. A ‘new’ Lonely Planet for just $3 isn’t bad though.

As the kid leaves we see he has a mobile phone – not what you’d expect from a child working the streets. We were told by the waiter in the bar that 99% of the children aren’t orphans or homeless, they are sent out by their parents to sell books & jewellery because tourists are more inclined to give to children. After that Ben stuck to losing at pool to adults.

 Phnom Penh

One of the minor structures within the palace grounds

Things to do in Phnom Penh:

  • Phnom Penh’s biggest tourist ‘attractions’ are associated with the Khmer Rouge’s genocide 30 years previously – this is covered in a separate blog post about The Killing Fields and S21 Prison
  • The Royal Palace makes for a worthy visit – a collection of 19th century temples and buildings (many off-limits to tourists) that are not just pretty but really quite special. Highlights include gorgeous frescos, a silver-floored pagoda (err…covered by carpet) and a large courtyard with nice gardens to walk around. Some limited museums near the exit are tacked on to your visit here.
  • Wat Phnom – the temple on the hill that gave the city it’s name when it was founded by a lady called Penh! Monkeys play in the pretty gardens that surround the hill temple.
  • River front promenade, with all the western bars and restaurants opposite, but full of locals having fun and relaxing
  • Shopping at the central market – everything under the sun housed in an attractive and interesting 1930s art-deco building
 Phnom Penh

The central market is stuffed full of 'bargains' for brand new watches and jewellery...we just enjoyed the architecture of the building instead


We really liked Phnom Penh – apart from the constant hassle of the various hawkers and children. It has a good feel to it, some nice sights and is comfortable for a western visitor. The few remaining colonial buildings blend with the modernity of a buzzing city (successfully) finding its feet again after the Khmer Rouge atrocities.

Your views on Phnom Penh? Please add your tips, recommendations or general thoughts about Phnom Penh to help other round the world travelers:

2 Responses to “Phnom Penh”

July 20th, 2011 @ 11:49 am

Looks amazing. Lovely pictures. I want a lotus. It doesn’t surprise me that a child managed to beat you at pool though you silly.

July 20th, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

lol cheers Sam! the lotus was really nice, surprised you can’t get them in Tescos

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