At times beautiful and charming, at times chaotic and overwhelming – Phnom Penh is a city of contradictions. Extreme poverty and traces of the shocking past tragedy are not unnoticeable. On the other hand, the downtown presents striking architecture; Phnom Penh`s ancient temples, golden pagodas and tree-lined boulevards with French colonial buildings manifest that this place was once known as the “Pearl of Indochina.”
These days, Phnom Penh is a funny mix of the ancient Khmer culture, Buddhist tradition, and fast-growing modernity, which gives the city a unique atmosphere and plenty of interesting sights. The capital of Cambodia is known for the Khmer hospitality which is pleasantly blended with the French colonial legacy – friendly taverns, cafes and patisseries await the visitors.
1.SIGHTSEEING ON FOOT
Phnom Penh is has a small and compact city centre, and it is easy to walk around with a map in your hand. A self-guided city tour will allow you to notice those little details that could be otherwise left overlooked.
Begin your day with an early morning walk along the Tonle Sap River starting at the legendary Wat Phnom temple and heading down to the south, towards the Royal Palace.
Enjoy the laid-back ambience along the river promenade before you stop for breakfast at one of the numerous cafes on the way.
Visit the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda which is an awe-inspiring temple with jewelled Buddhas.
These two attractions are not to be missed. If you are not too tired pop in the National Museum and learn more about the Khmer culture and history.
Remember to wear appropriate clothes that cover your arms and legs when visiting temples and pagodas. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter (scarfs and sarongs are not accepted).
2.LEARN ABOUT THE GENOCIDE
Once you have feasted your eyes on the ‘royal splendour’ the historical path leads to the downside of Phnom Penh. Visiting the Toul Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields is a grim but an essential experience for understanding how far Cambodia has come in the intervening years.
The Genocide Museum – a school converted into a prison camp – is a savage reminder of Cambodian tragic past and if one does not burst into tears, the place definitely gives them at least goosebumps.
The Killing Fields is a place where prisoners were taken to be drastically executed and buried in mass graves during the Khmer Rouge era.
You can easily see both places in an afternoon. The Killing Fields are outside the town so you will need to hire a tuk-tuk. The driver will wait for you until you are finished and bring you to the Genocide Museum afterwards. The museum is centrally located, so tell the driver not to wait and walk back to your hotel (you will need a map to do that, of course).
NOTE It is advisable to read a little about the Cambodian Genocide before you go – see What you totally need to know about Cambodia
3.CRUISE THE MEKONG AT SUNSET
Spoil yourself with a delightful sunset cruise along the legendary Mekong River. You will get a chance to see the city from a different angle and try the fabulous Khmer cuisine. Taste the national curry dish ‘amok’ and local ‘Angkor’ beer, and enjoy the sunset (well-recommended).
4.CYCLO TOUR BY NIGHT
Flag down a ‘cyclo’ to see the night face of Phnom Penh. In this way, you will get a chance to discover the city-backstreets from a safe place for little money. Whenever you wish to stop for a bit or take a picture just ask the driver to pull over, and he will wait for you as long as you like. If you are lucky and he speaks English, you might get a free commentary on the features and history of the city. Ask him to drop you off at the night markets on the way.
5.BAGGING BARGAINS AT THE MARKETS
Markets are the best spots where to hunt for some souvenirs and practice your bargaining skills. There is surely no lack of markets in Phnom Penh, and the most popular ones are the Nigh Market, the Central Market, and the often visited Russian Market. It is the place where (mainly Russian) tourists like to shop for souvenirs, handicrafts, woodcarvings, silk, and jewellery.
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Most travellers visit Cambodia between November and March, during the dry season. However, if you want to avoid the crowds and enjoy lower prices, the best time is from May to early October. You might catch some more rain in these months, but the temperatures will be quite pleasant.
HOW TO GET THERE
For all international flights go to www.skyscanner.com or www.momondo.com
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