Behind the faded Art Deco splendour of Phnom Penh is a welcoming city with a big heart, and some cultural and culinary surprises. Here are a few highlights.
The Royal Palace. Built in the 1860s, this is a stunning complex of buildings, which is still home to the royal family. It’s closed from 11am to 2pm every day, so plan your time accordingly.
- The rivers. The huge stretch of water alongside which Phnom Penh is built is where the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers converge. A great vantage point for watching the boats flow by is from the top floor of the FCC (see under “Eat”).
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A visit to this site, a former high school that was used as the notorious S-21 security prison under the Khmer Rouge regime, is chilling but ultimately worthwhile.
- Wat Phnom. Phnom Penh’s only hill is topped by a lovely temple and offers great views over the city
- There are several pretty boutiques in and around Street 240, in the expat-friendly enclave of Boeung Keng Kang.
- Central Market is an Art Deco gem filled with flowers, clothes, watches, and lots and lots of jewellery.
- Toul Tom Pong, or the Russian Market (named after the hordes of Eastern Bloc tourists who visited Phnom Penh in the 1980s), is great for handicrafts, fabrics and “antiques”.
- Friends Restaurant (tree-alliance.org) – expect gorgeous food, delicious daiquiris and smiling service at this must-visit restaurant set up to train and help build brighter futures for Phnom Penh’s street children.
- Khmer Surin (khmersurin.com.kh) for excellent Khmer fare in a particularly atmospheric setting.
- Boddhi Tree Umma (boddhitree.com), a pleasant restaurant with a shady garden courtyard, almost opposite Tuol Sleng Museum.
- For a meal of a different kind, walk up the stairs of the riverside FCC (Foreign Correspondents’ Club, fcccambodia.com) – clichéd, but it has to be done!
- Raffles Hotel Le Royal is highly recommended not just for its luxury rooms but for its happy hour cocktails.
- There are plenty of mid-range (and cheaper) options in Phnom Penh. One excellent choice is The Kabiki (thekabiki.com).
Singapore Airlines and Jetstar both fly daily to Phnom Penh (2 hours).