Quick disclaimer: I was not paid to write about any of the places that I've introduced in this post. I'm purely sharing places that I enjoyed while I was in Phnom Penh!
Phnom Penh - the bustling capital city of Cambodia. After spending some time in the more laid-back Siem Reap, arriving in Phnom Penh can be a bit of a shock to the system. The differences between the two are apparent the moment I get onto a tuk-tuk and find myself amongst the throngs of scooters, each one racing against the next to get to their destination faster. The skyline is starting to get built up, with new buildings in construction aiming to reach higher still, thanks to the relatively recent demand from foreign investors.
My initial reaction was that I missed the relaxed atmosphere of Siem Reap and its surrounding countryside. But the more I explored Phnom Penh, the more I learned to appreciate this lively city that seems to be finding its footing while undergoing rapid growth.
Here's a quick guide to places where you can eat, shop, learn, and stay in Phnom Penh!
Hotels in Phnom Penh
Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort
While there are many hotels to choose from in Phnom Penh, I can only really comment on the one that I stayed at - Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort. Being a newer hotel, I found that it was very clean. The hotel was in a good location, not too far from the Royal Palace and the Independence Monument. The staff were helpful as well which is always a bonus. But where it really stands out is the rooftop pool, bar, and restaurant.
The rooftop pool at the Aquarius is popular, and it's easy to see why. It has amazing, sweeping views of the city. If you're hoping for some quiet time pool-side, I'd recommend going early in the morning, perhaps before you grab breakfast at the restaurant. It'll be pretty difficult to get a spot by the pool by the afternoon.
If you don't have many plans for the evening, the Slla Sky Restaurant and Bar at the Aquarius is a great place to have a meal or a drink in the evening as well, while you enjoy the bright lights of Phnom Penh.
The Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort is located at No 5, St 240, Sangkat Chakto Mukh, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Shopping in Phnom Penh
Being a bustling capital, you'll find many of the big-name stores that you can find all over the world here in Phnom Penh. But if you're like me and prefer exploring markets or unique boutiques instead, Phnom Penh is not lacking in those either.
Built in 1937 and designed by a French architect, this Art Deco style building was at one point the largest market in Asia.
Today you will find a mish mash of things being sold here, ranging from your average tourist souvenirs, to make-up, jewellery and gemstones (of questionable authenticity), and household items.
My favourite section of the Central Market has got to be the food section. The trays upon trays of colourful skewered seafood and the smoky aroma of grilled meats lured me in almost instantly, enticing me to sit myself down on a plastic stool and order some for myself. The meal ended up being a little more pricey than I expected for market street food - I learned afterwards that the food hawkers there tend to bump up the prices for tourists - but I can't say that I regret it at all!
The Central Market (or Phsar Thmei) is open 7AM-6PM daily.
I ended up at the Russian Market by way of a happy accident. Our tuk-tuk driver misheard us when he asked us where we wanted to go and ended up dropping us off here.
Named the Russian Market thanks to its popularity amongst Russian expats in the 80's, this market crams a lot of stalls into a tight space. Unlike the Central Market, the market is dimly lit with very narrow walkways, making it feel like you're tunneling through a maze of tourist trinkets, clothing, and household goods stores. There is also a food section here where you can enjoy a cheap bowl of noodles while watching ladies get haircuts at the barbershop behind you.
The Russian Market (or Tuol Tom Poung Market) is open daily from 6:30AM - 5PM.
Street 240 is lined with boutiques selling unique bags, clothes, and home decor. You won't find anything here as cheap as in the markets, but many of the boutiques here do aim to give back to Cambodia via fair trade and ethical goods. If you get tired from shopping, there are a number of cafes along this street where you can stop for an iced coffee break as well!
You might like: Eat, Drink, Learn, Relax, and Stay in Siem Reap
Learning in Phnom Penh
To me, no trip is complete without learning about the local history or culture, and Phnom Penh is home to a number of historical places which will allow you to do just that.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields
I've written about these two important sites in detail already, but I will reiterate again that I think that the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields are must-visit sites in Phnom Penh. Yes, they are dark places and are difficult to visit, but they're important sites nonetheless to learn from the horrors of the Cambodian genocide. Click here for my detailed post on these two sites.
Built in the 1860s, the Royal Palace is a complex of buildings that is the residence of the King of Cambodia. The photogenic buildings you'll see in the complex are striking and beautifully showcases Khmer-style architecture. Parts of the complex are off-limits as the current King does still live there, but you will have access to a few of the buildings where you'll find royal artifacts on display.
I don't recall seeing any signs on-site, so if you're looking to learn more about the history of the Royal Palace, you might want to hire one of the many guides that gather near the entrance. Also, there is a dress code in place that you will have to follow. Be sure to wear a top that covers your shoulders (t-shirts are fine) and bottoms that cover your knees. Shawls and scarves covering tank-tops won't pass the dress code test!
The Royal Palace is located at Samdach Sothearos Blvd (3), Phnom Penh and is open daily from 8AM - 10:30 AM and then again from 2PM - 5PM. Entry is $10 for adults.
National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Cambodia is where many of the original sculptures that were found in the Angkor Archaeological Park are being displayed. For that reason, it's helpful to have visited the temples first before visiting the museum so that you can connect the sculptures that you'll see here to the actual sites. The museum itself is not very large (you can likely finish perusing it in less than an hour) and there aren't many descriptions describing what you are seeing. Perhaps that is where the audio guide would have come in handy, but I can't comment on the quality of it since I didn't purchase one.
While it's a relaxing way to spend an hour, especially if you have an appreciation for ancient sculptures, if I was short on time I would visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields before the National Museum. I personally found the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields more impactful than my visit to the National Museum.
The National Museum of Cambodia is located at Preah Ang Eng St. (13), Phnom Penh and is open from 8AM - 5PM daily. Entry is $10 USD (for adults), plus $5 USD for an audio guide.
Food in Phnom Penh
If eating in the markets isn't really your thing, don't despair, there are many great sit-down restaurants in Phnom Penh as well. Here are a few that I tried and really enjoyed!
Mok Mony Restaurant
If I had to pick my favourite meal in Phnom Penh, it would have to be the meal I had at Mok Mony. This modestly sized restaurant is highly rated, so arrive early to beat the dinner rush or try to reserve a table in advance. Their signature dish is the Grilled Betel Leaf with Marinated Beef. The marinated beef is wrapped in a slightly charred betel leaf, which can then all be dipped into a peppery sauce which perfectly complements the flavours. I also tried their Cambodian Lime Fish Soup. While the soup is served hot, the clear broth packs a tangy punch making it very refreshing. I would recommend both dishes!
Mok Mony is located at 63c, Street 294, Sangkat Boeng Keng Kang 1, Khan Chamkamon, Phnom Penh and is open daily from 10AM - 10PM.
Friends the Restaurant
Friends the Restaurant, is a TREE restaurant. TREE is a program that supports former street youth, giving them the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and on-the-job training in the hospitality industry. All the profits earned are reinvested back into the program, so you are eating delicious food for a good cause! The stand-out menu item that I had there was the Strawberry Milkshake with Green Kampot Peppercorns. It's a refreshing drink, with every mouthful starting with a strong strawberry flavour and ending with kick of spice. If you don't get around to eating there while you're in Phnom Penh, don't fret! There are TREE restaurants in Siem Reap and Sihanoukville as well.
Friends the Restaurant is located at #215 St 13, Phnom Penh and is open daily from 11AM - 11PM.
Maison Eric Kayser
You may be familiar with the Eric Kayser bakeries that originated in Paris in 1996, with locations now around the world. Phnom Penh has nine locations, serving up delicious pastries, bread, and coffee. I ended up at the Eric Kayser - Royal Palace location a few times during my visit since it wasn't far from where we stayed. It's a great place to get some respite from the mid-day heat, with a coffee and croissant, and magazine in hand!
This post is linked up on Our World Tuesday, and...