Phonm Penh, Cambodia is one of my favorite cities in the world! I had the pleasure or living there for a couple of years, and here are my top things to do and see for any visitor:
The Foreign Correspondence Club is a four-story structure right on the riverside where reporters, journalists, ambassadors, and other shady characters met every afternoon during the Vietnam War, tying up their stories while drinking heavily to beat the heat. The FCC still stands and is an awesome place to get coffee, food, or those same drinks. It still has a great view but also is lined with old amazing old photographs and other mementos of history – including bullet holes in the walls!
About a half hour drive outside of central Phnom Penh, the Killing Fields is the site of one of the worst mass graves from the Cambodian genocide, perpetrated during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1978 that killed about ¼ of the country’s population. While this piece of history is dark and disturbing, the site is outdoors amid beautiful fields and scenery now, and the self-guided audio tour is tasteful and well thought out.
The center of Phnom Peng community life is the vast stretch of riverfront pedestrian plaza, called the Sisowath Quay. It’s awesome to just walk around and see people eat, drink, lounge in the shade, exercise, hang out with family, play sports, and do just about everything else. On the other side of the Quay, across the street, you’ll find a dizzying array of funky bars, restaurants, night clubs, cafes, bakeries, and just about everything else you can want.
There are many night markets and public markets in Phnom Penh to explore. They’re all incredibly densely packed, hot, chaotic, and super fun. They’re also very safe – except for pick pockets, so keep your phone and wallet locked in a pocket. You can also visit the Soviet era Central Market, and remember to negotiate for everything!
Tucked back on 178 street only a few enjoyable blocks from the Royal Palace, the Plantation Hotel was one of my favorite hidden treasures in “PP.” Walking in, you’ll come to a grand courtyard in this French colonial pavilion architecture, with an intricate koi pond and water garden with fountains and a sculpture in the middle. The four open-air hallways around the water garden serve as an art gallery, displaying new cool local artists every month. You can also sit in the shade or indoors at their café or restaurant, or pay to use their epic swimming pool surrounded by greenery – all without staying there!
Built back in 1866, the Royal Palace is a marvel of decorative design and traditional Khmer culture. Half of its charm is that it’s so accessible, as anyone can walk right up on the street and look up at its monolithic stature. Even better, there’s a gorgeous and well-manicured park right out front of the palace where locals and foreigners congregate every afternoon to relax, play, eat, and celebrate another sunset.
From Silver Pagoda, Wat Ounalam, Wat Phnom and others, you’re welcome to visit Phnom Penh’s many religious sites. There, you can witness their Buddhist religious traditions and practices first-hand, as well as how the pagoda is also a community bastion. Just remember to dress appropriately, show respect, and leave a little donation.