10 reasons to visit Phnom Penh

Don’t miss one of Southeast Asia’s most underrated capitals – get Phnom Penh’s on your Cambodia itinerary.

Sisowath Quay
Phnom Penh’s riverfront always surprises – you might impromptu exercise classes, skateboarders, monks in orange robes. Maybe you’ll book a Mekong sunset cruise, stop for a beer or browse the weekend Phsar Reatrey night market. Souvenirs are limited but food isn’t - chicken kebabs, waffles, fresh juices and even fried bugs.

National Museum
Interesting relics and Khmer sculptures which escaped the clutches of the Khmer Rouge, this is an exemplary national museum, being both compact and comprehensive. Tip from a local: don’t assume the one in Siem Reap is just as good.

S-21/Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
One of about 150 Khmer Rouge security prisons, this former high school has been left mainly intact. Rule six on an original billboard reads, ‘While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all.’ Additions include information boards, video room and photographs of former prisoners. It’s not easy, but it is essential.

Choeung Ek/Killing Fields
Outside Phnom Penh is one of 20,000 mass grave sites from the Khmer Rouge regime. An audio tour informatively and poignantly guides you through this otherwise gentle landscape. It’s difficult hearing how national anthems were played at deafening volumes to drown out screams, how the killing tree got its name and seeing piles of skills, but it’s an important visit.

The markets
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s best place to shop. Under the yellow dome of Central Market (Phsar Thmey), stalls sell everything from silver and Khmer scarves to electronics and fruit while along the narrow aisles of the Russian Market (Psah Toul Tom Pong), you’ll find everything from clothes and handicrafts to meat innards and a hairdresssing salon.

Foreign Correspondents’ Club
There are several (perhaps better) riverfront rooftop bars, but there’s something so evocative about sipping a sunset G&T under the whirring fans of the FCO. Perhaps that’s down to reading one Indochina war novel too many.

Ethical eating
Training formerly disadvantaged people in all things culinary is big in Cambodia. PP favourites include Friends the Restaurant, Romdeng and Le Café Mith Samlanh, run by Friends International, Cafe Yejj near the Russian Market and Sugar 'n Spice Café at Daughters.

Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Inside the Royal Palace are Khmer murals, colourful wats and shady landscaped gardens. The Silver Pagoda houses a Baccarat crystal Buddha, which resembles the Emerald Buddha inside Bangkok’s Grand Palace.

The old French quarter
Said to be Phnom Penh’s only coherent historic neighbourhood, the colonial architecture along its boulevards includes the Manolis Hotel, the disused police commissariat and the former Banque de l’Indochine. End at the 27-metre-high Wat Phnom, the hill after which Phnom Penh was named.

Koh Dach
Hop on the ferry to Koh Dach, an island on the Mekong about 15 kilometres away. It has a white sand beach and is famous for its handicrafts so you can buy direct from the weavers and potters.

By Meera Dattani

You can get Cambodia included as a stopover on your RTW here

Published by Stuart Lodge