Khmer Rouge memorials, Cambodian silk scarves and cheap liquor – everything Phnom Penh has to offer!
Cambodia, the South-east Asian kingdom, is bounded by land on three sides by Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and the Gulf of Thailand on the other. Kampuchea’s capital and biggest town is Phnom Penh, its political, economic, and cultural center. Siem Reap is renowned for the mighty Angkor Wat-the ancient and the biggest temple complex in the world, and Sihanoukville is known for its pristine beaches and virgin islands.
There are several international flights flying to Phnom Penh International Airport, including Thai Airways, Air Asia, Cathay Dragon and many more.
Direct Flights (From India only): There are no non-stop flights to Cambodia from India. Alternatively, Air Asia (with a layover at Kuala Lumpur or Don Mueang from Bangkok) can fly straight to Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. If you take a direct flight, you won’t need a Malay or Thai visa.
By Bus: From Bangkok
From Bangkok you can take a direct bus to the Aranyaprathet – Poipet border (Thailand – Cambodia border), cross over, complete immigration formalities and then board the same bus to Siem Reap again. Traveling time from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet is 4-5 hours (depending on the Bangkok traffic), while the formalities would take about 1-2 hours at the border and the onward trip would take another 2-2.5 hours.
Giant Ibis and Nattakan Transport are the most comfortable transportation carriers. These buses are air-conditioned with comfortable seats and would also provide refreshments. There are other local buses that would be much cheaper, but may not be very comfortable. The tickets for Giant Ibis or Nattakan would come for about $30-$35.
Avail the Visa-on-Arrival for a fee of $30. It is hassle-free and quick (it took us about 10 mins). Don’t forget to carry the exact change in USD and spare photographs.
A Cell Card SIM costs $7 with unlimited internet usage for 7 days (one thing to remember here is that even if you opt for a 4G sim, do not expect the speed to be faster than 2G/3G).
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s biggest and capital city. It is the country’s socio-economic centre and is located on the banks of the Mekong River and Tonle Sap. It’s known for its grand boulevards.
Things To See:
- Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) & S-21 Genocidal Museum:
Choeung Ek is one of the many killing fields in Cambodia. AT the field, innocent men, women and children were brutally butchered during the Khmer regime. One can still see the few of Choeung Ek’s many mass graves of men, women and children.
The admission fee for Choeung Ek is $6, including audio tour (accessible in different languages) and it would take about 1.5 hours to finish the tour.
From Choeung Ek to S-21 is another 30 mins ride.
2. S-21 Prison:
Under Pol Pot’s command, the political prisoners were held in the high-security S-21 prison. The prisoners were imprisoned in small prison cells and tortured in the torture chambers.
The entry fee for the S-21 is $5 and $3 more for the audio tour.
3. Royal Palace:
The Royal Palace is the King of Cambodia’s royal residence. It is a magnificent structure located on the Riverside and you can visit the inner court and the Throne Room. Do not forget to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees.
4. National Museum:
Cruise through Cambodia’s history at the National Museum, situated right next to the Royal Palace. The museum houses a range of Khmer art and sculpture. You can see sculptures of Garuda, King Sisowath, Jayavarman VII, Vishnu, Lakshmi, Ganesha and many others linked to Khmer history. An enormous bust of the reclining Vishnu and the Lepper King statue stands in the center of the internal courtyard.
Entry charges are $10 for foreigners (over 18 years of age) and $5 for foreigners (under 18 years of age).
5. Independence Monument:
The Independence Monument, a magnificent structure built in 1958, celebrate Cambodia’s win over France in the same year. It stands in the center of the town at the junction of the 2 most significant boulevards–Norodom and Sihanouk.
6. Wat Ounalom:
Ounalom is Phnom Penh’s most significant wat and the center of Cambodian Buddhism. Wat Ounalom was established in 1443 and is said to preserve Buddha’s eyebrow hair in one of the stupas.
7. Sisowath Quay:
Walk, relax or just enjoy the view-Sisowath Quay is a 3-km long stretch where the Tonle Sap intersects the Mekong River. This stretch is dotted with countless hotels, pubs and bars where beer is available at dirt cheap prices (for the beer lovers!). Try the delicacies of local meat from the street food sellers. This is a very vibrant neighborhood and one of Phnom Penh’s most popular locations.
Where To Stay:
Phnom penh has multiple lodging choices ranging from dorms in hostels to mid-range boutique hotels to luxury resorts. You won’t experience any issues finding a place that fits your budget. There are plenty of hostels (the most popular of them, Mad Monkey), mid-range hotels like One Up, G Mekong, H Hotel and luxury resorts like Sofitel, iRoha Garden, Raffles and more. We chose to stay at One Up Hotel and had a comfortable experience (Reviewed here)
Mode of Transport:
Tuktuks are the primary mode of transportation in Cambodia. Traveling anywhere in the town will cost you $3-4. Tuktuks reserved for the day journey to Choeung Ek and S-21 will cost you approximately. $18-20 (Contact the front desk of your hotel for a better price).
Local / luxury buses are available for long distance journeys. Mekong Express and Giant Ibis are the two biggest long distance carriers. Both operators operate luxury buses with comfortable seats (and wi-fi) to popular locations like Siem Reap, Sihanoukville. There are also mini-vans on this route. They’re smaller and faster, but not the safest choice around. Private vehicles and taxis can be hired, but are more expensive.
When in Cambodia, eat like a local! Try local Khmer delicacies such as Beef (or chicken) loklak, a stir-fried beef dish dipped in sauce (kaffir lemon, salt and Kampot pepper) and accompanied by rice and fried eggs. Fish Amok, a Khmer delicacy, is a fish curry made with coconut milk and is full of flavors. Do not miss the Sticky Rice with mango for dessert, which is an absolute favorite!
Must Try Restaurants:
Mok Mony is very famous among the tourists. The prices are affordable and the quantity sufficient. The host is a very nice and helpful man. Arrive early since this place can be quite full around dinner/lunch time. Try their Pandan drinks and fried noodles with chicken.
Friends and Romdeng are other famous joints. There are a few Indian restaurants, including New Delhi Indian Restaurant and Phnom Penh India. Che Culo is a nice choice for American cuisine. There are also a number of decent cafes, including Starbucks and Costa Coffee.
In Cambodia, liquor is quite inexpensive. Draft beer is available as low as $0.50. The riverside area is usually bustling with bars and pubs. Many of these locations provide excellent rates during happy hours.
Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC):
FCC is one of the popular joints among tourists and expats enjoying their drinks. The rooftop bar offers a wonderful view of the riverside on a breezy evening. Beer is available at $0.75, wine $5-6 (managed to grab a glass for $3 during their happy hours) and whisky is priced at $3-5. FCC charges additional taxes on the bill amount.
Eclipse Sky Bar:
Eclipse is a fine dining rooftop bar located at the posh locality of Monivong boulevard. Located on the Phnom Penh Tower’s 23rd floor, it provides a magnificent panorama of the skyline of Phnom Penh. Sip on a $2.5 beer, $5 Jack Daniels or $6 cocktails and take incredible sunset pics. Food is a bit expensive at Eclipse ($20 for the main course and $10 for the fried chicken wings), but the view is worth the price.
Water in Cambodia is expensive. Try to purchase the bigger 1/1.5l bottles for a good deal from the supermarkets or minimarts. A 1l Dasani bottle would cost 1500 Riel (2000 Riel = $0.50)
Scout for excellent deals at the Russian market and the Central Market. Clothes, souvenirs, coconut bowls and scented oils are quite inexpensive. Jewelries are abundant at the Central Market. Bargain!! You can also visit the local night market, but the rates are steep (excellent stock of women’s shoes, clothes and trinkets).
Safety & Precautions:
Beware of bag snatching in Phnom Penh. It is rampant while traveling in tuktuks or walking on the roads. Try to walk while facing the oncoming traffic and keep your bag in the middle of the tuktuk or hold it tightly. Carry your bags cross-bodied at all times. Leave your passport and valuables in your hotel’s security box.