YOU CAN EDIT THIS PAGE! Just click any blue "Edit" link and start writing!

Difference between revisions of "Phnom Penh"

From Wikitravel
Jump to: navigation, search
Phnom Penh

Default Banner.jpg

(tweaks / {{guidecity}} -> {{guidecity}})
(Budget: tweak)
Line 194: Line 194:
Low-cost backpacker accommodation is becoming more abundant by the week. Most is clustered either near the riverfront or at Boeung Kak Lake.
Low-cost backpacker accommodation is becoming more abundant by the week. Most is clustered either near the riverfront or at Boeung Kak Lake.
* '''[ DV8 Guesthouse & Bar]''', #7 Street 148; tel. 012 620 441/012 776 885  is a small boutique guesthouse located just off the riverfront; ground floor bar, second floor pool table. Rooms USD5-25.  
* '''DV8 Guesthouse & Bar''', #7 Street 148; tel. 012 620 441/012 776 885  [[] is a small boutique guesthouse located just off the riverfront; ground floor bar, second floor pool table. Rooms USD5-25.  
* '''King Guesthouse''', 141th Street, off Sihanouk Avenue; tel. 220512; has ample rooms available to suit your budget. Provides own daily bus service to and from [[Ho Chi Minh City]].
* '''King Guesthouse''', 141th Street, off Sihanouk Avenue; tel. 220512; has ample rooms available to suit your budget. Provides own daily bus service to and from [[Ho Chi Minh City]].

Revision as of 23:22, 31 October 2006

The Royal Palace

Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Despite its reputation as a 'rough' city, Phnom Penh is easy to get around and is a great introduction to Cambodia.


For western visitors, even those who have visited other Asian cities, Phnom Penh can be a bit of a shock. It can be very hot and (in the dry season) dusty, its infrastructure is lacking, and it is a very poor city - much poorer than, for example, Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). In the past the visitor who could not adjust to rubbish filled streets and large numbers of beggars could give Phnom Penh a miss.

But things are changing. The infrastructure is improving rapidly - no more power outages, the streets are paved, the rubbish is collected more frequently - and the city retains much of the beauty that made it a Paris of the east before 1970. Beautiful wide boulevards, fine colonial architecture and a parklike riverfront with cafes and restaurants aplenty help make Phnom Penh a worthwhile destination. Not necessarily for its standard tourist sights, which are few. But as a place to relax, watch the streetlife and absorb local color Phnom Penh rates very high among Asian cities. The beggars are still there, along with a great number of street kids and kids selling tourist paraphernalia, but this is most visible in heavily touristed areas. And generally the touts and kids are less aggressive and persistent than say their Indian or Vietnamese counterparts.

Those who find themselves struggling with Phnom Penh's current state should recall the terrible times the city has been through in recent decades. In 1975 it was choked with up to 2 million refugees from the war between the then U.S.-backed government and the Khmer Rouge. After its fall to the Khmer Rouge in April, it was completely emptied of civilians and allowed to crumble for the next four years. Most of the already small class of skilled professionals were murdered or driven into exile. The city fell to the Vietnamese Army in 1979, but the new Cambodian government had no money to spend on urban improvement until the peace settlement of 1992.

As Cambodia's economy has recovered a new rich class has arisen in Phnom Penh, and a crop of new hotels and restaurants has opened to accommodate them and the tourist trade; as yet however there's very little in between the extremely rich and the extremely poor. But here too there are changes in the wind. A trip to the green-domed Sorya mall and you're transported to the consumerist world to which the emerging middle and upper classes aspire.

The free Phnom Penh Visitors Guide (available from hotels/guesthouses) contains lots of good info on Phnom Penh, including hotel/bar/restaurant/shop details, travel & transport options, maps, etc.


All of Phnom Penh's streets are numbered, although some major thoroughfares have names as well. The scheme is simple: odd-numbered streets run north-south, the numbers increasing as you head west from the river, and even numbers run west-east, increasing as you head south (with some exceptions, eg. the west side of the Boeung Kak lake). House numbers, however, are quite haphazard. Don't expect houses to be numbered sequentially in a street; you might even find two completely unrelated houses with the same number in the same street.

Get in

See Cambodia for more information on getting into Cambodia.

By plane

Phnom Penh's Pochentong Airport (PNH) is Cambodia's largest international airport and most flights into the country pass through there. There are daily flights from all major regional airports (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Taipei) as well as from Luang Prabang in Laos. Airlines include Bangkok Airways, Lao Aviation, Shanghai Airlines, Thai Airways, Silk Air, Dragon Air, among others. Malaysian low-cost carrier Air Asia has daily flights from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. The airport has a post office, bank (including ATMs), restaurants, duty-free shop, newsstand, tourist help desk, and business center.

Visas are available on arrival, and the fee is USD20 - which must be paid in USD. Bring a passport-sized photo to avoid an additional USD1 charge. Business visas are USD25 and are the best option for stays longer than 60 days.

The airport is about 11 km from the city centre (Sisowath Quay). Taxis from the public taxi stand at the airport cost a flat USD7. Pay the fare at the taxi desk inside the door exiting the terminal, at which point you will be allocated a driver. Alternatively, you will find plenty of drivers immediately outside the exit from the terminal building. For visitors on a budget without a lot of luggage, it's worth catching an official moto for USD2, or walking out to the main road to save even more.

By bus

There are bus services to Phnom Penh from Poipet (on the border with Thailand) and from Ho Chi Minh City Vietnam. Travellers arriving from Thailand will probably want to break their journey in Siem Reap, site of the ruins of Angkor.

  • Siem Reap - various services are available from basic aircon bus, to double-decker with comfy seats, toilets, drink, food and bus-hostess. It takes about 5 hours from 6AM, 6:30AM, 7AM, 7:30AM and later times. USD4-9.

By boat

Ferries connect Phnom Penh to Siem Reap in the northwest and Vietnam to the east. These are much more scenic than the bus ride, but run in USD20-30 range. Many, but not all, of these ferries offer the choice of sitting inside or on the roof. Inside you might get seasick; outside you might get sunburnt or wet, depending on the conditions and exactly where you sit. Once you have chosen a spot to sit, you may not be able to move, so take a sunblock and hat if you plan to sit on the roof.

Get around

Motorbikes (but not self-drive cars) are available for rent, but traffic is chaotic and casual vistors will be safer taking public transport.

By taxi

Taxis are available at a few locations - notably outside the Foreign Correspondents Club on Sisowath Quay. Most guesthouses and hotels will be able to organise taxis on request. Taxis do not have meters, and fares must be agreed in advance. Given the fluctuating price of petrol it is not possible to give guidelines on reasonable prices, but staff at hotels/guesthouses will be able to give some assistance.

By tuk-tuk, motorbike-taxi (motodop), and cyclo

The Cambodian version of the tuk-tuk consists of a motor-cycle with a cabin for the passenger hitched to the back. They are cheaper than taxis and offer a scenic experience of the city. Their clientele is exclusively tourists, and drivers should be able to speak English.

There are also hordes of young men on motorcycles, motodups in local parlance, who will take you anywhere for a small fare. As of August 2006 the fare for a trip from Sisowath Quay to Central Market is about 2,000 riel (equivalent to 50 US cents). Fares are higher at night and with more than one passenger (but be aware that the stability of the bike decreases as the number of passengers increases).

The cyclo, or cycle-rickshaw, is considerably slower then the motodops. These three-wheeled vehicles are gradually becoming less common in the city, but they are still popular among Cambodians and foreign tourists alike. The nature of the seat lends itself to a quick and easy way to transport a load of goods from one place to another, one should not be surprised to see all manner of items being transported in this way, even other cyclos and the occasional motorbike as well.

On foot

Phnom Penh's main streets are in good shape; however other streets and footpaths are often rutted and pot-holed, clogged with garbage, stagnant water, parked motos, sleeping people, livestock and building materials. There is almost no street lighting off the major boulevards, and walking at night is not recommended.

Many smaller streets either lack signage or bear misleading signs, however, Phnom Penh is logically laid out (see orientation) with numbered streets predominating, and navigating the city is not difficult if you know where you are going.

Walking anywhere a challenge, as cars and motos will not stop for pedestrians. To cross safely, judge gaps in the traffic and proceed carefully - give oncoming vehicles ample time to see and avoid you, or try to cross with the brightly coloured and revered monks.


Tuol Sleng Prison
  • Tuol Sleng (S-21) was a school converted into Cambodia's most important prison in 1975. More than 10,000 people were tortured here before being killed at the Killing Fields south of Phnom Penh. The museum is easily accessible and a must-see for everyone interested in Cambodia's horrific recent past. For a introduction and further reading, try David Chandler's "voices from S 21".
  • Sisowath Quay is an attractive boulevarde running along the Mekong and Tonle Sap waterfronts, and is fronted by a pleasant park. The built-up side of the street is home to cafes and shops and the better class of bar, and is extremely popular with tourists and expat Westerners. The esplanade along the river is equally popular with Cambodians, who come here in the cool of the evening to enjoy the quasi-carnival atmosphere. It begins at the Royal Palace (or rather, at the river-front park opposite the Palace), and is perhaps best experienced in the early evening.
  • Royal Palace and the two magnificent pagodas in the Palace Grounds, the Silver Pagoda and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, are among the few public buildings in Phnom Penh really worth seeing. They were built in the 19th century with French technology and Cambodian designs, and have survived the traumas of the 20th century amazingly intact. See them early before it gets too hot. They are in any case closed from 11am to 2pm, when all sensible Cambodians have a nap. Entrance fee is USD3 for both, plus USD2 for a camera or USD5 for a video camera. No photography is allowed inside the Silver Pagoda and some of the Palace buildings.
  • Independence and Liberation memorials - impressive Buddhist-style Independence Memorial, commemorating the departure of the French in 1953, dominates the centre of the city. Nearby is the very ugly Stalin-style Liberation Memorial, marking the Vietnamese capture of the city in 1979. Although the Cambodians were glad to see the back of the Khmer Rouge, they don't like the Vietnamese much either, and have demonstrated this by neglecting the memorial for 20 years. It seems to be used mainly as a convenient urinal.
The Killing Fields
  • The Killing Fields at Cheoung Ek, about 17km south of Phnom Penh, is where the Khmer Rouge killed many thousands of their victims during their four-year reign of terror. Today the site is marked by a Buddhist stupa packed full of human skulls - the sides are made of glass so the visitors can see them up close. There are also pits in the area where mass graves were unearthed. It is a serene yet somber place. The road is bad even by Cambodian standards, so take a taxi and not a moto.
  • Thunder Ranch is a shooting range near Cheoung Ek. Rumors abound that cows and other farm animals used to serve as targets, but this is probably no longer the case. Prices range from USD30 for an AK-47 to USD200 for a rocket launcher.
  • Stung Meanchey Garbage Dump is where hundreds of the poorest of the poor, including many small children, swarm over the refuse hoping to find anything of value. A certain type of tourist visits this place - if it's you, make sure you stop by the NGO "Pour sourire un enfant", which helps the children of this place, and make a donation.
  • The National Museum (opposite the Royal Palace) contains an excellent collection of art from Cambodia's "golden age" of Angkor. The pleasant little park in front of the Museum is the site of the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony, at which the success or otherwise of the coming harvest is determined.



Transactions are made in US dollars and in Cambodian riel. Take lots of low denomination US notes - notes above USD20 can be difficult to change. In place of coins you will get back riel, at a set exchange rate of 4000 to the dollar. There are a number of international ATM machines dispensing US currency around the city, including the Sisowath Quay tourist strip and in Sorya Market.

Popular tourist buys include Cambodian silk, local silverware, traditional handicrafts and curios (including Buddha figures), and made-to-order clothes. Look for a copy of the small (pocket-size) magazine "Phnom Penh Out and About" for a complete guide.

  • Central Market (in Cambodian called Psar Thei - "New Market") is a 1930s Art Deco covered market near the Riverfront (Sisowath Quay) district. The market is well set out, and sells everything from flowers to videogames. Sorya market, currently Phnom Penh's main Western-style mall, is nearby - less colourful that the traditional markets, but it is air-conditioned and contains a range of cheap fast-food outlets as well as a well-stocked supermarket.
  • Russian Market (Cambodian "Psar Toul Tom Poung" - it gained the name "Russian Market" following the Vietnamese occupation of the city in the 1980s, but many motodops are not familiar with the name) offers the opportunity to buy fake designer clothing, fake swiss watches and pirated software at low prices. It also has the best ice coffee in the city. Russian Market is located away from normal tourist areas, but motodop drivers who cater to tourists will know it.
  • Hidden Treasures, #9 Street 148, has antiques, art and curios from Cambodia's past and nearby South-East Asian cultures.
  • Stef Happy Painting [1] has a boutique directly beneath the Foreign Correspondent's Club (FCC) and features fun and funky paintings of Cambodian life - a welcome relief after visiting some of Cambodia's more heart-breaking attractions.


Phnom Penh offers some interesting culinary treats you won't find elsewhere in the country. Many of these include French-influenced dining as well as Thai, Vietnamese, and modern takes on traditional Cambodian dishes. The standard pizza-banana pancake-fried rice backpacker fare is also always easy to find.

The best area to wander is along the riverfront where everything from stand-up stalls to fine French bistros can be found. Take great care eating from stalls, however. Peeled fruit and vegetables and anything uncooked should be regarded with suspicion.


Take the cross river ferry to sit on mats and eat cheap hawker food while watching the sunset over the city.

  • La Croisette, corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 144, is a French sidewalk cafe that's open all day.
  • Setsara Thai Restaurant, #3D Street 278, is a very nice little Thai restaurant with a really good Thai chef, good music, reasonable prices and good service though a bit slow sometimes. They have some good French specialities as well.
  • Jungle Bar and Grill [2], 273B Sisowath Quay, next to Riverside Bistro, has a varied international menu at very reasonable prices and a great happy hour. Free internet and a great music selection.


  • Bali Cafe, 379 Sisowath Quay, has pretty good Indonesian food. Try the Tahu Telur (Fried Tofu with Eggs). Be careful ordering water or you'll get the small plastic bottle of Evian - at USD3!
  • Metro Cafe, on the corner of Sisowath Quay and Street 148 (opposite Riverside Bistro), is a stylish fusion of Asian and Western culture. Air-con. Good selection of small Tapas style dishes from USD1 and a great steak (about USD12).
  • Friends Restaurant, #215 Street 13 (50m north of the National Museum) is run by and for a non-profit that rehabilitates Cambodia's street children, and does delicious international tapas and main dishes.
  • Frizz restaurant, #335, Sisowath Quay [3] has traditional Cambodian cuisine, and also operates the Cambodia Cooking Class [4].
  • Garden Center Café, #23 Street 57 [5] is a garden setting cafe/restaurant that's popular with local ex-pats.
  • Khmer Surin, #11 Street 57 (south of Sihanouk Boulevard) is a rather romantic restaurant that serves delicious Khmer and Thai food. The traditional Khmer seafood dish, amok, stands out.
  • Lazy Gecko, #23B Street 93, Boeung Kak Lake, does a REALLY good hamburger, and a percentage of their profits go to Janine's Childrens orphanage.
  • Le Duo, Street 322 (between Monivong and Street 63) has excellent Italian food. Sicilian-born Luigi makes great pastas and pizzas.
  • Paris Bubble Tea, 285-287 Preah Monivong (not far from the New York Hotel) tel 023 990 373; is pleasant and has fun and refreshing Bubble Tea. Try the classic Pearl Milk Tea.
  • Riverside Bistro, #273a Sisowath Quay [6] occupies an old colonial style building and features comfortable outdoor dining with brilliant views of the Tonle Sap. Popular with local expats, tourists and local affluent Khmers.


  • FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club), 363 Sisowath Quay, has superb views of the river and is a favourite expat hang-out that does particularly good desserts.
  • Le Bistrot, #4D, Street 29 - French and Italian in an old villa.
  • Xiang Palace (Hotel Intercontinental) Chinese - expensive fine dining, dim sum.


Superficial security
Most of the time, Phnom Penh bars and clubs are safe enough and a lot of fun - however, some of the more "hip" places are popular with the notorious local "elite" youth (and their minders) who carry firearms and other weapons, and who are allowed to pass through so-called "security" checks without being searched.

Places to hang out after dark include Street 104, Street 278, and Street 108 around the Street 51 corner, which all feature restaurant bars, hostess bars, and guesthouses.

  • Barbados, south of Street 104 near the river, is a hostess bar. Buy 5 beers and get 1 free.
  • DV8 Bar & Guesthouse [7] on Street 148 (near the riverfront) is a popular hostess bar with a good selection of spirits and a pool table on the 2nd floor - great if you're a single guy. Good accommodation on the premises.
  • Elsewhere on Street 51 is an ex-pat hang-out with platform seating surrounding a small pool, in a French colonial villa. Big party first Friday of every month, when the place is packed.
  • Equinox [8] on Street 278 (near Street 51) is a cocktail bar featuring paintings and photo exhibits, gaming room, cool tunes, good food.
  • Golden Vine on street 108 next to VooDoo Lounge. Hostess bar with pole dancing and good food. Sunday roast recommended.
  • Heart of Darkness has long been the most infamous nightclub in Phnom Penh, closed in August 2005 after a patron was shot to death but is now back in business. Some seating is reserved for well-heeled (gangster elite) Phnom Penh local youth, so move if you are asked, or better yet, give this place a miss entirely. Most expats avoid it now. Saturday nights are always packed.
  • Martini Pub & Disco on Street 95 (one block off Monivong Blvd, across from the Total Gas Station) is an infamous girlie bar. Two full bars, food USD2-6, burgers & fries, pizza, asian dishes, gaming room, disco, outdoor big-screen showing movies or sports. There some copycat Martini bars in other places like Sihanoukeville and Siem Reap, but this is the original. A place for single men and loose ladies.
  • Monsoon Wine Bar on Steet 104 is an intimate, cosy wine bar. Try a glass of wine from the well-chosen international wine list or nibble on something from the small but excellent Pakistani menu. Chilled vibe, cool tunes, friendly service.
  • OneZeroFour Bar [9] on Street 104 is a popular low-key hostess bar, one of the few bars in Phnom Penh with a foosball table.
  • Pit Stop on Street 51 is a popular hostess bar.
  • Rubies on Street 240 is a wine bar favoured by young ex-pats working for local NGOs. Busy with a cliquey atmosphere on a weekend night.
  • Sugar Shack [10] on Sothearos (the street in front of the National Museum and Palace) is a classy little hostess bar featuring a nice wine selection.
  • VooDoo Lounge on Street 51 near stret 108 is a new bar with a great range of drinks, nice decor, air-con, happy hostesses, and a pool table. Two other hostess bars nearby.
  • Walkabout on Street 51 has food and good pool tables. Many freelance girls congregate here. Popular after hours bar, also has rooms available. Open 24 hours.
  • Zanzibar on Street 104. High energy hostess bar. Full bar with reasonable prices. Very popular among expats. Pool table upstairs
  • Zapata Bar on Street 108 next to VooDoo Lounge. Stylish hostess bar with a good range of drinks. Airconditioned. No pool table or food to distract you from the lovely ladies.


Phnom Penh has a wide range of accomodations, ranging from budget guesthouses (about USD5-20), to good quality mid-range hotels (USD20-50), to extravagant palaces (with extravagant prices to match).


Boeung Kak Lake, Phnom Penh

Low-cost backpacker accommodation is becoming more abundant by the week. Most is clustered either near the riverfront or at Boeung Kak Lake.

  • DV8 Guesthouse & Bar, #7 Street 148; tel. 012 620 441/012 776 885 [[11] is a small boutique guesthouse located just off the riverfront; ground floor bar, second floor pool table. Rooms USD5-25.
  • King Guesthouse, 141th Street, off Sihanouk Avenue; tel. 220512; has ample rooms available to suit your budget. Provides own daily bus service to and from Ho Chi Minh City.
  • Number Nine Guesthouse, #9 Street 93 Boeung Kak Lake; tel. 012 766 225, 012 935 813 - well known and popular.
  • Number Nine Sister Guesthouse, 012 424 240 - just around the corner from, but not as nice as, the original.
  • Rory's Guesthouse, #33 Street 178 (facing the Royal Palace and National Museum and 100 meters from the riverfront) tel 012425702 [12] - rooms USD10-30.
  • Simon's Guesthouse, #11 Street 93 Boeung Kak Lake, 012 884 650. Tricky to find but the layout of the rooms (with bathrooms or shared) allows for a nice, cool breeze. Rooms USD2-3.
  • Top Banana Guesthouse, #2 Street 278 [13] - very nice guesthouse, real travellers athmosphere, great food!


  • Golden Gate Hotel, #9 Street 278, Sangkat Beng Keng Kang 1, Khan Chamkarmorn (near the Independence Monument) tel. +855 23 427618, [14] is a reliable place to stay with a range of hotel rooms, from USD15 for a single in the older block to USD40 or more for a suite in the new block. Clean, safe and comfortable. Great place for long-term stays, with discounted rates. Restaurants, shops and Internet cafes within walking distance.
  • California 2 Guesthouse, 317 Sisowath Quay [15]. On the riverfront, close to Wat Ounalom. Nice clean rooms with bathroom, a/c, fridge, tv. Laundry service. Breakfast included. USD15-25.
  • Paragon Hotel, 219B Sisowath Quay. Riverfront, near lots of good cafes. Rooms have bathroom, a/c, tv, fridge. No breakfast, but close to restaurants that serve breakfast. USD15-30.


There are a surprising number of 4 and 5 star hotels in Phnom Penh.

  • Intercontinental Hotel is a favourite among visiting dignitaries.
  • Phnom Penh Hotel on Monivong, just south of the French Embassy, is newly renovated with very nicely appointed rooms and suites.
  • Raffles Le Royal (near Wat Phnom) [16] is a Singapore-owned 5 star hotel.




There is no lack of internet cafes in Phnom Penh. Most are in the 1,500 riel/hour bracket (a little under 50 cents US), but provide slow service. Sunny Internet (two outlets, one in 178 Street opposite the Foreign Correspondents Club, the other on Sisowath Quay next to the Riverstreet restaurant) provides a faster service at USD1/hour and is popular with tourists and expats. Wireless and wired connections for laptops are available at a number of outlets - most five starhotels, and a number of cafes along Sisowath Quai including the Foreign Correspondents Club, Fresco Cafe (under the FCC), K-West Cafe (at the Amanjaya Hotel), the Jungle Bar and Grill, and Phnom Penh Cafe (near Paragon Hotel). Five-star hotels provide high-speeed broadband and wireless access, but at a premuim.


Stay healthy

Stay safe

Phnom Penh has a partly deserved bad reputation. In the old days Phnom Penh was a rather dangerous place. Things have changed a lot but there are still more bad guys with guns than you might find in some other Asian cities. Official figures (almost certainly underestimates) report an average of 50 incidents per month (Cambodians and foreigners), leading to 5 deaths and 10 serious injuries. Most commonly Cambodians are vicitimized for their cell phones or motorbikes. Violent interactions with tourists are rare. Still, avoid walking at night, try to find a dependable moto driver and don't carry more than necessary. Bag-snatching by thieves on bikes is common so if you must carry a bag, try to keep it on the side facing away from the street. This is a particular problem outside popular ex-pat hang-outs (e.g. Elsewhere) on a weekend night. Some moto-dop drivers may be in league with the thieves. Moto drivers who work the riverside are generally quite reliable. In terms of personal safety the greatest danger in Phnom Penh is not getting robbed by hoods at gunpoint, but rather getting whacked by a motorbike in the chaotic traffic. Exercise common sense in your travels around the city and you should be alright.


Get out

This is a guide article. It has a variety of good, quality information including hotels, restaurants, attractions, arrival and departure info. Plunge forward and help us make it a star!