Discover Phnom Phen
A rich yet somewhat tragic history colours this sensory overload of a city – once known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’, it is now entering a much brighter future as the city is brought further into the modern world. Expect broad boulevards, temples, palaces, and hints of French colonialism mixed in with more and more upscale developments; take in the atmosphere of a city that’s only just stepping out of an age long gone.
Formerly (on-and-off) a royal capital of the Khmer Empire, Phnom Penh only permanently took its place as the Cambodian capital in 1866 under King Norodom I. Soon afterwards, the city began to grow with the help of the French who built the beginnings of a metropolis filled with hotels, schools, banks, law courts and other facilities. However, with the Vietnam War and the rise of the Khmer Rouge, the city was home to horrific scenes of devastation, war, and torture—a slow period of reconstruction and development has only begun after the 1979 drive-out of the Khmer Rouge.
Most people in Phnom Penh practice the state religion of Theravada Buddhism, however there are religious influences that can be observed from other large minorities in the city such as the Chinese and Vietnamese. Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple around which all of the city is centred, and is a majestic and enduring icon of the area, having been built in 1373.
Culture is making a big resurgence in Phnom Penh, and this is most evident in some of the festivals that occur throughout the year: the massive, raucous three-day Water Festival (in November), and the Chaul Chnam Thmey (Cambodian New Year, in April), another three-day celebration marking the next year according to the ancient Khmer calendar.
- Believes in concept of face
- Women should wear modest clothing
- Greet Cambodians with a short bow
The city is in the south-central region of Cambodia, centred within Kandal Province. Phnom Penh has a tropical wet and dry climate, and is hot year round with average temperatures of about 22 to 35 degrees Celsius. Rain is most common from September to October while the driest times are in January and February.
Nestled on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong, and Bassac rivers, the whole area is set flat on a flood plain and occasional flooding does occur during monsoon seasons.
The magnificent Mekong River is one of the major natural highlights of visiting this city. Those who want to experience Cambodian wildlife at its finest should pay a visit to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center, which is home to over 12,000 animals endemic to the area—such as elephants, sun bears, gibbons… and of course, huge, intimidating pythons.
Before you go
- Language: Khmer
- Currency: Cambodian riel (khr)
- Time Zone: Indochina Time, gmt+7
- Voltage: 220
- Electric Socket: Type A/C/G
Mobile SIM can be purchased for a few U.S. dollars at any phone shop as well as at yhe airport
Cambodian riels and U.S. dollars are used interchangeably, with riel usually used only for small transactions.
atms are quite prevalent in bigger cities, charging a fee of around $5 per withdrawal, and are compatible with Cirrus, Plus, Maestro and Visa cards
some atms may only dispense U.S. dollars and no riels at all.
If you receive banknotes in poor condition, exchange them for others as soon as possible as many businesses will not accept these banknotes.
- Pong tia koon: it is a classic Cambodian street food not meant for the faint-hearted. Get ready to munch on the fertilized embryo of a duck, with just a bit of garnish on the side.
- Bai sach chrouk: Juicy pork marinated with palm sugar, soy sauce, and coconut milk, crisp grains of broken rice, and a variety of side dishes including broth, mango, carrots and cucumbers.
- Amoe trei: fish curry steam cooked in banana leaves. Many vendors make their own varieties, but common ingredients are coconut cream, lemongrass, turmeric, ginger, shallots and many spices.
There is no tipping culture in Cambodia
Taxis: If a taxi driver went out of his way to help you, then feel free to leave a few U.S. dollars on top of the fare. It may also be kind to simply let the driver keep the change after rounding up the fare to the nearest dollar.
Restaurants: 10% on top of the bill is already a good tip
Hotels: Try to give the bellman about $1 per bag that he helps you carry to your room, and leave a dollar, daily, as well for the maid who helps clean up your room.
Suggested vaccinations: Hepatitis A and Typhoid
Avoid untreated water or ice made from it, as well as any fruits or vegetables that might have been washed in it.
Cambodia’s health system is still developing, as such if you encounter serious medical situations it may be a better option to be treated in Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City, or Singapore.
- Emergency Line: 117
- Calmette Hospital (public): No. 3, Preah Monivong (St. 93), Sangkat Srah Chork, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh; Tel: (+855) 0 23 724 891 / 23 426 948 / 23 723 848
- International SOS Medical and Dental Clinic (private): Address: House 161, Street 51, Phnom Penh; Tel: (+855) 12 816 911/ 23 216 911
- Tourism Board: Address 262 Monivong Blvd, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh; Tel: (+855) 23 218 585
- Hello (in general): Soos-da-ee
- Excuse me. / Sorry: Sohmd-toh
- Thank you: ឣរគុណ / Aw kohn
- You’re welcome: Moon ay-teh
- Good morning/ Good evening: Ah-roon soos da-ee / Sah-yan soos da-ee
- Goodbye: Leah sihn hao-wy
- How much is this?: Tlay bon-mah-n?
- Cheers! (Toasts when drinking): Jul mwoy!
- Bon appetit!: Ahnjoe-in pisah ao-y bahn ch'nga-in
- Where’s the toilet?: Boung-kohn nuh-ee ai naa?
- Help!: Chewy kh'nyohm pawng!
- I understand: You-l dta-ee
- I don’t understand: Mihn you-l dta-ee
How to get into this area, and how to get around it!
Phnom Penh International Airport is the biggest and busiest in the country, and now contains a new terminal that is very modern and has many amenities such as a bank with atms, a post office and a duty-free shop. Get to the city on a public, air-conditioned bus (Line C of the City Bus line) for just 1,500 riel (or around 36¢). Alternatively, take a taxi for a flat fee of $12 or try catch a tuk-tuk into town just outside the airport—haggle hard for a price of $5-6
There are now better roads and highways are improving, but be warned that accidents are still quite common when taking buses to and from Phnom Penh. There are two main bus stations providing services in and out of the city—one is at the southwest of Central Market, while the other is next to the night market, at the North end of Sisowath Quay. It is safer to buy all tickets for bus trips within Cambodia in advance at the station, as the timetable on the day of travel might vary.
There are ferries going to and from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, expect the trip to take around 6 hours and cost about $35 for foreigners.
Taxis are now quite common in Phnom Penh, however not all of them are metered (metered taxis start with a flagfall of 4,000 riel with an additional 400 riel for every kilometre thereafter). If you get in an unmetered cab, remember to agree on the fare in advance.
Renting motorbikes is not the safest option in Phnom Penh due to the chaotic traffic situation, but it is possible to rent them for $5-6 per day. A better option would be to rent a bicycle for $1-3 per day, as it’s much easier as long as you ride slowly, stay visible, and avoid sharp turns.
There are three main bus routes running across the city—A, B, and C. The fare is fixed at 1,500 riel (or 35 US cents) per trip, make sure to have the correct amount on you as no change is provided. Public transport only runs between 5:30 am to 8:30 pm so be sure to familiarize yourself with other modes of transport outside these hours.
These are motorcycles with passenger cabins hitched to the back, and are a cheap and fun option within this city—going anywhere inside Phnom Penh shouldn’t cost more than $1-3. However, note that a lot of drivers aren’t too familiar with the city—negotiate the price ahead of time and get out of the tuk-tuk if the driver seems too lost.
Things to see
The top locations to visit in this destination.