Country: Cambodia
Currency: Riel (KHR)
Peak Season: December-January
Shoulder Season: November, February-April
Median Temperature: 27.70 C / 81.86 F
Main Languages: Khmer, English
Primary Modes of Transportation: Bus, taxi, tuk-tuk, motorcycle rental, car rental
Recommended Duration of Stay: 3 days
Recommended Pocket Money: $60.00/day
Tourist Passes: n/a
Show your love by linking to us

Visiting Phnom Penh is slightly not any different from visiting neighboring Hanoi: markets cramped with shoppers, motorcycles ruling the narrow roads and alleys, and all types of rackets being thrown here and there. Yet the beauty of Phnom Penh cannot be viewed in the least superficial. No, you’ll see when you go here that most locals (the older generations, that is) aren’t as consumed with how the world has turned to materialism and consumerism. Phnom Penh’s cultural side—temples, palaces, historic venues—and all, account for the image of Cambodia. Phnom Penh will humble you, inspire you, and make you delve: “Where is home, really?”

Cambodians (or the Khmer people, as they wish to be called) have always held preferred lives, but a string of unfortunate events in the 20th century have hindered greener pasture not only for Phnom Penh, but the entirety of Cambodia too. The gap left by the both the infamous Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam War are now being bridged by the Phnom Penh’s emergence in the international markets as a leading exporter of fine garments and trades, fueled by its revitalized diplomacy with booming financial powerhouses in both Asia and Europe. And what makes Phnom Penh such an inviting place to visit for tourists, is that it’s a mixture of culture, countryside and city living all sprawled into 145 square miles of pasture and concrete. Cambodian identity is heavily inspired by Theravada Buddhism, all richly evoked by iconic wats (temples), which draw the most attention because of unique aesthetics.

Packing List

  • Local currency and spacious backpacks for shopping handicraft and textiles; it’s never the best idea to bring a purse or duffel bag or a suite case, as these attract attention
  • Loose, cottony (and more importantly, simple) clothing and extra underwear—expect profuse sweating; pack a wide-brimmed hat to protect your face from getting toasted
  • Essential medication and toiletries, including insect repellants and sunscreen for the hot weather; bring your own medication, as counterfeit drugs are prevalent in Asia these days
  • A decent (disposable) camera, plenty of film and batteries; to get peace of mind, don’t bring expensive electronics to places like Cambodia and bring only the ones you need
  • Good reading materials: a phrasebook, an etiquette manual, and a guide of attractions, where hotels to stay in and what food to sample; absorb as much culture as possible

Things to Do

  • Recounting the gruesome Khmer Rouge by visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum; a high school turned security prison, its most disturbing sights are skull-filled cabinets
  • Visiting the horrific Killing Fields—20,000 mass grave sites that contain over a million bodies, which account approximately for half of the casualties during the Khmer Rouge
  • Getting a grasp of the city’s founding by visiting Wat Phnom, the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh; its shrine was built by Lady Penh, the city’s purported founder
  • Touring the Royal Palace, a lovely riverside manor commissioned in the 1860’s by King Norodom I; key sections include the Silver Pagoda, Khemarin Palace and the Throne Hall
  • Strolling around Sisowath Quay, a promenade on the west bank of the Tonle Sap River; hotels, restaurants, shops and attractions flourish along here, making it an ideal itinerary

DON'T

  • Get taken advantage of by locals—safety is never fully assured this part of Asia because of the high rates of poverty; if you can secure a tour guide, do so—it’s for your own good
  • Venture the alleys and main roads without street smarts—and avoid places without police authorities; for added security, pay the premium of staying in four- to five-star hotels
  • Touch the head of people—women shouldn’t force direct contact with monks; though considered “lawless,” Cambodia shares some idiosyncrasies both Bangkok and Vietnam have
  • Visit the temples and mosques wearing a Sunday dress, and don’t wave at the monks—there’s a proper bow called the “sompiah/sampeah” which is also anticipated by locals
  • Be too casual and disrespectful of customs and traditions; do not photograph people without first asking for permission (although most are willing), especially the military