Lying on the banks of three important rivers, Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac, Phnom Penh is the southernmost capital of the ‘Mekong 4’ countries. The city that has suffered the loss of more than 90% of its population in the seventies is still recovering, and is one of the fastest growing in the region. Since its relatively recent history was everything but nice, we were asking us this question: is Phnom Penh worth visiting? It turns out the people of this pleasant city are one of the nicest, and warmest in the whole region. Its relaxed atmosphere, with a great choice of hotels, bars and restaurants make it a great destination for a holiday escape from the fuss of its neighboring counterparts.
What is Phnom Penh Like
The urbanism of Phnom Penh is the most complete in the whole region. The orthogonal urban grid is combined with several circle roads that go around the city center starting from the Riverfront. Most of the city lies on one side of the Tonlé Sap river, while the rest lies on a peninsula between the rivers (T. S. and Mekong), a small artificial island on the south, and on the other side of the river Bassac. The center point of the city and the beginning of several axial roads is the Central Market, which lies a few minutes away from the defunct Train Station. The City center is marked by Freedom Park to the north, Monivong Boulevard on the west, Sihanouk Boulevard on the south and the riverfront on the east. The other popular area is south of the Sihanouk Boulevard, where numerous guesthouses, cafes and restaurants are located.
There are few important landmarks, most of them conveniently located in the city center. Those who want to learn a little bit about Cambodian history should visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, southwest from the center, and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, outside of the city. The stories told there are quite disturbing, just like the history of Cambodia. North of Sihanouk Boulevard, near the riverfront, the beautiful Royal Palace, that includes two pagodas is the main highlight. Just north of it the National Museum houses an impressive collection of sculptures from different periods of Cambodian history. Further north don’t miss the Wat Ounalom, with the one eyebrow Buddha behind the main temple. A little bit north from the center Wat Phnom is a historically important temple lying on the only hill in the city. On the other side of the center, in the middle of Sihanouk Boulevard on the intersection with Norodom Boulevard lies the grand Independence Monument, built as a resemblance of the central tower of Angkor Wat to commemorate the independence from France.
Most hotels are within Phnom Penh’s central area. Another very popular area is just south of Sihanouk Boulevard, for those who prefer a quiet surrounding. In the central area there are several options: between Norodom Boulevard and the Riverfront for most expensive ones, and between Norodom and Monivong boulevards for a more budget friendly option. The latter being near the party zone, around the Golden Sorya Mall.
Although Phnom Penh is a big city of some 2 million people, its traffic cannot be compared to that of Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh or Bangkok. In general, people tend to be more careful than in Vietnam, where the chaos is unbelievable. There are several good options for moving around the city. Walking is one of them, since most of the important tourist spots are centrally located. The other good option is hiring a tuc tuc driver, that can take you anywhere around the city for around 3 USD. Taxis are more expensive, and not so popular inside the city.
Is Phnom Penh Worth Visiting?
Phnom Penh is a relaxed nice city on the banks of the mighty Mekong that has just started to flourish. It does not possess some incredible Buddhist architecture like Bangkok or the charming neighborhoods of old Hanoi, but is a pleasant place for a holiday with a great choice of restaurants and nightlife. Shopping opportunities are growing every year, and the massage offer is excellent. Just like in Vientiane, the highlights of Phnom Penh are its inhabitants, friendly, smiling, warm and open. So if you are looking for a place to enjoy and relax, Phnom Penh is definitely worth visiting!
Phnom Penh Travel Guide
- Stay near the city centre. Happy Frog recommends The Pavilion.
- The Royal Palace and National Museum;
- The Wat Ounalom and the Wat Phnom temples;
- The Tuol Sleng Genocide museum and the killing fields;
- The few remaining French villas.
- Go for a dinner at FCC or some other elegant restaurant.
- On foot, by bicycle or taxi.
DO NOT MISS:
- Take a stroll around the Riverfront;
- Have a massage in one of the spa centers south of Sihanouk blvd;
- Shop at the Central Market;
- Watch the sunset from a boat cruise on the Mekong.