Phnom Penh is one of Cambodia’s oft missed treasures.
Regrettably, the capital city of Phnom Penh, tends to be overlooked when planning a trip to Cambodia. The magnificent temples of Angor Wat, in Siam Reap, rank number one for tourism in Cambodia. However, Phnom Penh holds some of Cambodia’s most significant history and is also an exciting, culinary hotspot.
It was the first stop on our four month tour of Southeast Asia and we couldn’t get enough of Phnom Penh. Right away after landing and heading out to our hotel, we were on sensory overload. Scooters and tuk-tuks (motorized rickshaws) weaved in and out amongst the cars and trucks. The lively hustle and bustle, the aromas, sounds and colors seemed to endlessly line the streets of the city.
We arrived at our beautiful hotel, “The Plantation Urban Resort”, which is a relaxing oasis from the chaotic city life.
We were greeted by their friendly staff, upon check in, offering us two delicious and extraordinary scoops of Kampot pepper ice cream and a cool drink. The Kampot pepper has been voted as the best pepper in the world and I personally think Cambodia is a worthy destination just for their famous pepper.
These are a few things you must do while in Phnom Penh:
1) Walk the streets of Phnom Penh and simply observe life in the city.
We took a walk from the hotel to a monastery and the Royal Palace. On the way we saw monks out and about receiving their daily alms. It is a lovely exchange to witness; a person gives the monk either money or food and then they pray together. The monks chant. It is a wonderful ritual and I love that the monks are treated with so much reverence and dignity.
2) Go on a Vespa Adventure Tour.
You can find them on Trip Advisor and this was one of the most exciting things we did on our travels. We selected the foodie tour at night. They picked us up at the hotel and provided us with helmets and a driver. We simply sat on the back and enjoyed the ride. Our first stop was the FCC aka (Federal Correspondence Club), a beautiful French colonial hotel that had a lovely view of the river where we all gathered and had local beer and peanuts. We then headed out to see the sights of the city. We saw the beautiful Wat Phnom Temple, lit up in all its glory. It is the tallest, religious structure in the city.
We enjoyed a local market where we got an education on the local foods available to us. We had grilled oysters and morning glory in oyster sauce; a staple in Cambodian cuisine, it was a totally authentic experience. We also made a stop and took pictures at the Independence Tower. We then went to the Elephant Bar, at the famous Raffles, where we enjoyed a drink called Femme Fatale, which was made especially for First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy when she visited Cambodia back in 1967. It was a lifelong dream of hers to visit Angor Wat. The drink was made to be “as red as her lips”, and was a combination of Champagne, Cognac and Crème de Fraise Sauvage. They even have the glass with her lipstick marks on the rim, proudly on display.
We also went to a karaoke bar and restaurant where we had an assortment of classical Cambodian cuisine. One of my favorite things was a dipping sauce for meats. It was made from salt, sugar, that amazing Kampot pepper and a squeeze of lime. Kampot pepper is expensive to buy but a luxury everyone should enjoy on occasion.
We ended our journey back at our hotel. It was a fabulous and educational way to get to see the city; a real highlight.
3) Take a trip to Silk Island
We went on a massive boat (that we had all to ourselves) to venture out to the island about an hour away. On the way, we saw a floating village that is made up of Muslim fisherman. The colorful boats were loaded up with all their worldly belongings. We saw families of six that were living together on one of these little boats. (Thankfully, the government now requires the children to start attending school.)
We arrived at Silk Island and were greeted by our horse drawn carriage.
Well, not exactly a carriage, but we toured the island and got a full lesson on how silk is made. It is a dying art that is well worth the education.
We also toured a historic royal house and met the lovely woman who resides there.
It was so much fun to trot down the dusty roads and simply view island life; kids on bicycles always offer a heartfelt wave and say hello as you pass.
We then ventured back to the boat where we headed back to the mainland, Phnom Penh.
4)Take a food tour and try a deep fried tarantula or scorpion.
I’m serious, they are surprisingly delectable treats. Make sure you go on a well rated tour that gets five stars on Trip Advisor.
We went on one with a woman named Ducky from Australia, who is a very passionate gal who simply fell in love Phnom Penh and especially the Cambodian people and decided to stay. She had us taste an array of unusual fruits, like longan, snake fruit, and the queen of fruits, mangosteen, which was my favorite. We took a walk through a local market and had the best pork belly and crispy skin I have ever had.
5)Visit the Cambodian Killing Fields (sites of mass graves of those killed by the Khmer Rouge regime) and S21.
S21, today known as The Tuol Slenge Museum of Genocide, was a high school that sat on the dusty outskirts of Phnom Penh. In 1976, the Khmer Rouge turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center.
The horrific leader of the brutal Khmer Rouge, named Pol Pot, committed atrocities of epic proportions. It was his belief that if he rid the country of the educated, he would then have total control. Some 17,000 people were have known to have entered and only seven survived. The Khmer Rouge not only transcribed the interrogations but photographed the inmates telling their story of shock, defiance and horror. In 2003, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, documentary retold this horror in film. This place is heart wrenching to witness, but in order to understand the Cambodian people it is an imperative visit. One in four Cambodians was affected by the Khmer Rouge and even today it is not really openly talked about or taught in schools.
We went to both places the same day and it was a lot to take in; very emotional and difficult. It is however, important, and brings a whole new understanding and respect of the Cambodian people. Despite the atrocities they endured, or perhaps because of them, they are a hopeful and resilient people, full of life and happy. It is palpable, you can feel it everywhere.
6) Make sure to also go to the top of the Phnom Penh Tower
On the 23rd floor there is a local hangout called the Eclipse Sky Bar. It is one of the tallest rooftop bars in the city. The view of the city at sunset is awesome and the perfect place to have a drink, unwind and reflect, after a long day of sightseeing.
So now you have a few good reasons why you should visit Phnom Penh. I am certain there are many more, so please share what you discover.
I leave you with a Khmer proverb
“Khoeng Koch, Khoeng Khat” translated means “Anger is damage; anger is waste”
Until next time,
Please note that this post may contain affiliate links in which I may earn a small commission if you book through them. Rest assured it does not affect the price you pay. Thank you for your support.