About Phnom Penh
Whenever I travel to a new place, I like to steep myself deep in their culture, of which food is an extremely integral part. Cambodia was no different, especially since I had heard great things about the food here. So, it seemed but natural to enrol for a cooking class while I was in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. Khmer food includes a lot of fish, fish sauce (which I fund a bit too strong fro my liking), chicken and pork. They also feast on many insects, which we were not adventurous enough to try.After referring to trip advisor about various cooking schools, we chose Veasna's Cooking class (Veasnainthekitchen.com) as we could customise the menu and have a private class for ourselves. Veasna came at 8:30 am to our Hotel on Sisowath Quay and off we were to shop for our ingredients.Just after a few minutes' walk, we reached the market where every fish, meat and vegetable imaginable were being sold. The sights were very fascinating; women filleting fish with the same skill of a starred chef, milk being extracted from coconuts with specialised equipment, mounds of the famous kampot pepper filling the sir with their aroma, fresh lemongrass and kafir lime leaves made into a ready-to-use paste and new vegetables that I had never encountered amongst others. WE spent a goof 45 minutes walking around and buying produce for our meal. On our way to the cooking class, we picked up a huge tender coconut inside which we were to cook fish amok - Cambodia's most popular dish (and my favourite).
Best Time To Visit
Best time to visit Phnom Penh is from December to February
How To Reach
Book a Package Tour
The Khmer Rouge -- led by Pol Pot -- executed nearly one million intellectuals, professionals and foreigners between 1975 and 1979 at various sites around the country that have come to be called killing fields. Choeung Ek, the killing field near Phnom Penh, is the best known of the lot and houses a recently built memorial that stores the skeletal remains of nearly 5000 victims. Several floors of skulls laid side by side may be a chilling sight, but it comes at the end of a nearly hour long audio tour that attempts to bring to life the chilling atrocities that were committed on the very same grounds that now seem so shadowy and tranquil. For the best experience, come early in the morning before the crowds start to flood the place, and drown yourself in the evocative tone of the audio guide as it relates accounts of victims, and spares you no graphic details of what might have occurred where you stand. Through a bringing together of music, poetry and story-telling, it is an experience that will move the most emotionless to tears. Allow the emotion to take over you. There is no time you are more alive than when your heart is breaking.
The central spot of Phnom Penh, the Wat Phnom Temple is a Buddhist temple situated on top of an artificial hill and the tallest in the city, which means that there are a lot of stairs for one to climb. The temple was apparently built by a widow by the name of Penh, affectionately known as Grandmother Penh. Having spent a good amount of time on the hill and observing everything around me, I supposed that the adorable ginger cat continuously circling the shrine had some part of the deceased lady's soul latched onto her. The paintings inside are worth a sight and the entrance fee is 1 USD.
The Royal Palace
True to its name, The Royal Palace serves as the residence of the King of Cambodia, his family and foreign dignitaries. The place is a venue for the performance of court ceremony and ritual, and has been a symbol of the Kingdom ever since. The striking structure stands near the riverfront and boasts classic Khmer roofs and ornate gilding. The famous SIlver Pagoda, where the King worshiped, prayed and practiced every Buddhist Silas Day, is also located inside The Royal Palace.
If you are looking for a cure to the overwhelming loss of faith in humanity that you are sure to feel after a visit to Choeung Ek, the nearest one is at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Located in a graceful red building that whips up all sorts of Oriental dreams, it houses a vast collection of art, sculpture and handicrafts from all periods of Cambodian history. All sorts of Hindu and Buddhist images present themselves in different forms throughout, making us constantly exclaim about the parallels with the heroes in the mythological epics we lapped up in our childhood. The airy, breezy museum is located around a central courtyard with tiny lotus-fringed ponds, pebbled paths and lush greenery, making for a great place to unwind between marathon museum-ing.
The Independence Monument was built to symbolize Cambodia's independence from France. Standing on the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard, the monument comes in the form of a lotus-shaped stupa - a style evident in the great Khmer temple in Angkor Wat and other Khmer historical sites.
Just outside Phnom Penh lies one of the largest mass grave sites in Cambodia, where it is estimated over one million Cambodians were executed during the Khmer Rouge regime. The scale of the site, coupled with the detailed narration over the audio guide, is deeply moving and provides real insight into the country's violent past.
After we had brunch at Sisters, we wandered down the road to the Russian Market which basically sells just about anything and everything! I was most fascinated by the people in the market, those working, those napping, those gossiping....Loads of meat on offer. A friend says it looked very fresh (and she would know) but I was a bit freaked out by all the flies! Lots of hammocks hanging around as you might get a bit tired during your shift...
You must have heard or have seen the Angkor Wat temple right? If not I’ll let you know some stuff about it. Seam Reap is a popular destination to visit where you can find the ruins of the Angkor Watt temple, which was once a Hindu Temple turned Buddhist over Cambodia’s changing pasts. The temple was built somewhere around 1125 and still stands today attracting visitors from all corners of the globe with it’s marvellous architecture. The five towers symbolizes the centre of the universe, surrounded by walls and a moat that was once full of crocodiles. The best time to see this spectacular temple is during the late afternoon at sunset where a large statue of the Hindu God illuminates over the entrance to the temple. Another amazing natural and picturesque architecture is a giant tree with enormous roots surrounding the ancient temple. Almost all visitors stop in Sean Reap to stay, so if you are planning on visiting you won’t be short of any accommodations, do book early though as they can get full!
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
A ticket to the Royal Palace also grants you entry to the Silver Pagoda. Named after the floor, which is plated in silver and specks of which you can see under the rugs that cover it. It is home to many Buddhist treasures that include an Emerald Buddha. On the Palace grounds is a structure made by the French out of the cast iron used in the construction of the Suez Canal and it stands awkwardly among the steep tile roofs and stupa shaped cupolas. The temple also houses a Buddha statue made out of gold and dotted with around 10,000 diamonds. The Khmer royalty love their bling almost as much as us Indians.
49 Phnom Penh
SIEM REAP We boarded our Air Asia flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap(as there is no direct flight from India). It costs about 2k one way. Siem Reap is home to one of the most majestic structures in the world, the Angkor Wat! Angkor Wat is spread over 200-300 acres. It is one of the oldest Buddhist temples in the world. Primarily, it is a Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Vishnu. Exploring the ruins will take an entire day. Ensure that you have a guide with you to explain everything. Without a guide you will not be able to fully appreciate the Angkor experience! While in Siem Reap, do go for an Apsara dance. One of the finest dance performances I've seen till date! If you love to experience the local Khmer traditions, this is your best bet. Cambodia brews one of finest beers! I JUST LOVED THE BEER! Priced at a dollar for 2 pints, you can't ask for more! Drink drink drink! We stayed at this B&B called Rosy Guest house. Really nice rooms for just 30$ a night was a steal! Tip: Don't shop at Siem Reap as things are expensive. Shop in Pnohm Penn instead. Pnohm Penh:You will need around 2 days here. Finish your sightseeing on the first day and keep the second day just for shopping. There is not much to see here. The city palace is a must see! Built in the traditional Khmer style of architecture, this Palace is one of the iconic buildings of Cambodia. Later you could visit a few temples and take a sunset cruise or just stroll along the Riverside. When in Pnohm Penh, shop. Just shop! Things here are at throw away prices. You get unbelievable deals. I bought t-shirts for a dollar each. Yes you read it right. 1 DOLLAR! The quality? Top notch. There are 2 markets namely the Central Market and Russian Market. Go to the central market if you want variety. You will need at least 2 days to cover this market. From clothes, bags, jewelry to cutlery, you can find everything here! People generally say Bangkok is a shopper's paradise. Trust me, we found Bangkok to be way more expensive than Cambodia. So happy shopping :) Food is never a problem in Cambodia. Vegetarian food is easily available. There are plenty of Indian restaurants too. Personally I would rather try the unique Khmer cuisine. So what are you waiting for? Don't think. Just pack and leave. Go have an Adventure of a Lifetime xD
Tuol Sleng Prison Museum
After having an early breakfast, I left the hotel at 8am and hired a tuktuk to take me to Tuol Sleng Museum and Killing Fields. Killing Fields are located 15km from city centre. Tuktuks charge around USD15 for taking you from central Phnom Penh to Killing Fields, waiting there and coming back. The tuktuk driver agreed to include Tuol Sleng Museum, which is on the way, for the same price.Museum entry fee is USD 2, and another USD 6 for a guide. I decided to do the museum on my own and was able to manage well based on the narrations provided. Tuol Sleng was originally a school converted into Pol Pot's secret prison during his rule from 1975-1979. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge after taking control of Cambodia in 1975, emptied all cities (including Phnom Penh) within four days and forced the entire population to work in labour camps in countryside. People from nearby camps were brought to Tuol Sleng to be tortured, confess to their supposed crimes and finally sent to Killing Fields to be executed. It is estimated that around 11000-14000 people including 2000 children imprisoned in Tuol Sleng were executed. Inside different rooms of the building, you will see gruesome pictures and outside a few graves of the people who were imprisoned there.Interestingly there is an account of how a Swedish Delegation, in 1978, had visited Cambodia during Pol Pot's rule and basis the doctored version of what they were shown, the delegation gave a glowing account of Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea. They rubbished the horrific tales being told by Cambodian refugees. When Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 (Cambodians refer to it is 'liberation day'), 7 adult and 4 child survivors were found in Tuol Sleng.
On our last night, we heading to Romdeng. We had tried to go the night before but it was fully booked, so we headed on over on the Saturday night. It is owned by the same people that own Friends Restaurant, part of the Tree Alliance / Friends International . They have the same ethos, helping ex street kids and the underprivileged get trained and have a chance at a career. Whereas Friends is more "World Tapas", Romdeng is more traditionally Khmer / Cambodian food and it was lovely! I was reminded yet again that Cambodia is between Vietnam and Thailand, and the food reflects that location. Their speciality is a bit freaky..... Deep fried tarantulas with pepper sauce! Yikes!!! I didn't go anywhere near them. One of my friends is super hardcore and just grabbed a whole one and chowed down on it. Yikes! She said it is food, you can't waste food... her Vietnamese origins came through strongly :) This incited N to have to eat a whole one too of course as the title of most hardcore is hers! Some of the others had a few bits / legs etc. But I couldn't! I would totally go back, actually I hope I will! I would love to go back to Phnom Penh and keep exploring this menu. So many more dishes I want to try! And a cocktail, they were out of the one I wanted to try, the frozen lime and black pepper daiquiri, sounds intriguing. I would wholeheartedly recommend going there, just make sure to call ahead and book a table. And don't forget the shop upstairs where the proceeds go to charity also.
Digby's Grocer & Cafe
BKK1 Street 306 This gourmet grocery store has some great foreign favorites for stocking up on. If you have access to a kitchen they sell organic produce and other cooking supplies and travelers can pick up Coco Khmer coconut oil and healthy snacks here. They also have a full deli and restaurant that could easy fit into an international city like New York.
La Maison d Ambre
Possibly the prettiest and the most comfortable boutique hotel one can stay in, La Maison d'Ambre is a class apart because it offers only ten luxury suites, each with a unique theme. It is the most conspicuous, pristine white establishment on an otherwise crammed street. The interiors are absolutely posh and are very evidently done by someone who has a taste for fashion. If you are a bookworm, the humongous book-case lined with titles on art, architecture and popular designers in the reception will be the first thing that catches your eye. The manager is one of the most cordial people you will ever meet. A little pricey, but this place deserves every bit of the money.
Khmer Boran Noodle Restaurant
After the Royal Palace we met with the girls who had been to the Killing Fields. There was a bit of confusion when trying to meet up, their tuktuk driver took them all around town after the first place was closed. Thank goodness for Whatsapp and local SIMs and the ability to share location on there. We ended up close to FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) at Khmer Borane where we had some lovely local Cambodian / Khmer food.
we also heard about the shops on 240 Street which is becoming the boutique shop street and NGO shop area also in Phnom Penh. They have local Cambodian designers and many shoppers which are run for charity which made us very interested so we jumped into a tuktuk and wandered along the street, trying things on an buying things all the way down! I mostly bought things in Daisy, Subtyl and Spicy Green Mango. I bought 4 dresses in Subtyl! Oops ;) Three were the same shape but in different colours as it fit really well which is hard to find, and they cost about 50USD each which was cheap so I couldn't resist. This turquoise striped one is one of them, I wore it the other day. Me being me, and being obsessed with food, I couldn't resist when I spotted little spice jars. I really should have bought these in town for a fraction of the price but I didn't so I just ignored the cost (5 USD a small bottle!) and bought everything :) They had recipes there too so I took them for guidance, though we do have some Cambodian recipes in the Rick Stein Far Eastern Odyssey cookbook.We all loved the amok dishes we had, so I got that spice mix. I bought some lemongrass we have already used. And Cambodia is famous for their Kampot pepper corns so I bought three different colours (black, red and white). I also bought a curry mix and the Lok Lak mix of pepper and salt which we used to store fry some chicken with chillies and onions, very nice.
Me Mates Villa
Street 184 near the Royal Palace $6-$10 for a dorm At the end of a quiet alley in my favorite neighborhood, Me Mate’s Villa is my super budget sanctuary in Phnom Penh. It’s just a block away from the Royal Palace and the riverside on a quiet street. The rooms are clean, the shower is scalding hot with strong pressure, the lockers can fit your entire bag, and the beds are massive and very comfortable. They even make your bed every day. What I particularly love about this hostel is the kind, attentive staff. Charlie who works at reception has the biggest, most genuine smile and infectious laugh and plays the best reggae mixes. If you’re traveling on a budge and looking for a hostel where you can meet other travelers but still get a good night’s sleep, this place is perfect.
The Vegetarian Restaurant
Street 19 off Sihanouk Blvd. $1.50-3 for entrees This is my favorite all around restaurant in Phnom Penh. The menu consists mainly of healthy Khmer food without sugar or MSG and is made with brown rice, a rare treat in Southeast Asia. It’s also considerably cheaper than the other healthy vegetarian restaurants I tried in Phnom Penh. My favorite dish is the Khmer curry with brown rice and the fresh spring rolls are the perfect take away for a long bus ride.
Street 95 at 348 $5 for entrees This beautiful Khmer restaurant is in the top floor of an old building with high ceilings, and big windows overlooking the trees and flower covered terrace. The open space feels cozy and chic all at once, with delicious Khmer specialties, all with vegan options. The vegetarian amok here was the best I’ve had, steamed perfectly in a banana leaf, and I loved the vegan chocolate orange ice cream.
Java Café & Gallery
56 Sihanouk Blvd. $2-6 for drinks and meals Overlooking Hun Sen Park, this two story cafe is a hub for expats fueling up on coffee. Most of the food on the menu is homemade including bakery goods, yogurt, and fresh pasta. They have rotating visual contemporary art exhibitions, and across the street they own an entire workspace that supports local artists. Check out the event calendar for occasional stage poetry and other performances.
Yoga Phnom Penh
In hectic cities like Phnom Penh it’s important to find quiet spaces to recharge. Yoga has always been this space for me, and Phnom Penh has two yoga studios. Yoga Phnom Penh has a variety of class styles offered several times per day including Vinyasa Flow, Ashtanga, Hatha, and even Fly Yoga where you practice postures from swings. Krama Yoga is the first nonprofit yoga studio in Cambodia, sharing the healing practice of yoga with underprivileged locals. Class fees fund their programs which teach children physical health, compassion, and self respect, teaches young adults self confidence and leadership skills, and works through trauma with victims of sex slavery. They have three locations and a wide variety of classes including Restorative, Yin, Ashtanga, and Flow.
Along with teachers and monks, most artists were killed during the Khmer Rouge takeover in the 70s. Phnom Penh has done a tremendous job reviving the arts scene in this country and the city has many modern, inspiring galleries featuring local artists. Meta House has three floors of exhibitions from local and international artists, supports local artists in international exhibitions, and works to foster the art community in Cambodia. They host many events including live music and movie screenings. Java Arts is another popular gallery that supports and funds local Cambodian artists through grants and proceeds from Java Café. Read about more contemporary art galleries in Phnom Penh.
The Flicks Community Movie Houses
Watch the documentary The Killing Fields or The Breakfast Club while lying down next to fellow backpackers on the mattresses placed on the floor. The Flicks Community Movie House is different from the swanky multiplexes or the crumbling old theatres, it is a communal space for a cinephile. Under 200 rupess you get a tub of homemade popcorn, a drink, sleepy stories of a traveller and a good ol’ movie night. Call to make reservations and arrive 15 minutes before screening to make payments.
Sovanna Phum Art Association & Art Gallery
You are ushered into the dimly lit seating area and you realise that your punctuality has interrupted the rehearsals of the artists. The artists will smile gently and let you watch them as they prepare for another shadow puppet show or a contemporary dance performance. The association supports local artists and the performances are in English. While you’re backpacker pocket might complaint about the show prices, the performance, setting and close interaction with artists make it worth every penny.
The night market is located along the river front and get rather crowded during the weekends and towards dinner time. The market offers a wide variety of shopping ranging from cheap clothes to handicrafts to souvenirs. There are even food stalls there where you can have your dinner and even mini performances. There is also a large area with carpets placed for people to have their meals purchased from the food stalls.
The Central Market
This market is constructed in a shape of a dome with four arms branching out into vast hallways with countless stalls of goods. The four wings of this gigantic yellow dome are teeming with stalls that sell goods ranging from gold and silver, antique coins, money exchange, men's and women's apparel, clocks, books, flowers, food, fabrics, shoes, souvenirs, fish, seafood, dessert, luggage, and countless other products. It is very prominent and easy to locate with its yellow colour exterior. Put your bargaining skills to the test here!
The Frangipani Living Arts Hotel & Spa
Street 19 near the Royal Palace $50 for garden room, $100 for room with private pool A stone’s throw from the Royal Palace, this hotel has classic Khmer and French architecture and allegedly was built by King Sihanouk’s mother in the 1920s. The rooms include luxuries like a mini bar, a seating area, and even a computer and a full breakfast in the morning. Some rooms even have their own private jacuzzi or pool. All rooms have access to the main swimming pool, gym, and adjoining spa. They strive to operate sustainably, using solar water heating, employing locals, and operating with a no tolerance policy for prostitution.
Street 71 in BKK1 $50 for standard rooms, $110 for the penthouse A sister hotel to the Golden Banana in Siem Reap, Rambutan is a chic and tranquil hideaway in the city with a lovely saltwater pool with a waterfall, restaurant, and spa in a tropical garden. Like the Golden Banana it’s well known for being a gay friendly, progressive establishment. The style is modern meets Indochina with handmade local furnishings and textiles. Rooms have garden and pool views, private gardens, mini fridges, flat screens, and all come with breakfast in the morning.
Dara Reang Sey Hotel Phnom Penh
We stayed at Dara Reang Sey for our one night in Phnom Penh. It's a budget hotel accommodation that's conveniently located near The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, the Psar Chas Old Market, National Museum and Wat Phnom. Our room was spacious for two and has a queen-sized bed, aircon, TV, hot & cold shower and free Wi-Fi.
I also had the opportunity to visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and witness mass graves and real human skulls, bones and shreds of cloth which were the result of the extermination. While there are audio tours available and photography was allowed, I was personally heavily distressed to click any pictures. The fields are a little outside of Phnom Penh and Tuk Tuks can get you there for a decent price. Admission charges are around 6 USD which include the audio guides.