PHNOM PENH is home to about two million people (about 14 percent of Cambodia's population) and is the largest city on the Mekong River. Once a charming and quiet French-Khmer city, with wide tree- lined boulevards, colonial buildings and cordial, gentle people, it is now a dusty place dominated by dilapidated buildings, slums, motorbike-choked alleys, a few new developments, pot-holed streets, litter-strewn sidewalks, and guarded, somewhat suspicious people.
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. Situated at the confluence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap, it was once considered the 'Gem' of Indochina. Hints of its old provincial charm and tranquillity— French colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards amidst monumental Angkorian architecture—still remain and the pace of life of slower and less hectic and crowded than in other Asian capitals.
Phnom Penh is still recovering from the Khmer Rouge period, even though it has been more than 40 years since Pol Pot emptied the city. Only a handful of roads are paved and many look they were just hit by rocket-propelled grenades. Drunks and begging amputees stake out the tourist hotels; and shady characters, and lawless soldiers and police prowl the streets at night. The crime and the murder rates are high. Until fairly recently only the brave and foolish ventured out after 9:00pm.
The city takes its name from the re-known Wat Phnom Daun Penh (nowadays: Wat Phnom or Hill Temple), which was built in 1373 to house five statues of Buddha on a man made hill 27 meters high. These five statues were floating down the Mekong in a Koki tree and an old wealthy widow named Daun Penh (Grandma Penh) saved them and set them up on this very hill for worshiping. Phnom Penh was also previously known as Krong Chaktomuk (Chaturmukha) meaning "City of Four Faces". This name refers to the confluence where the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonle Sap rivers cross to form an "X" where the capital is situated.
Among Phnom Penh’s charms are neighborhoods with ocher villas, bougainvillea trees and old stone fences; temples with barefoot, umbrella-carrying monks and flower-laden altars; and palm-lined waterways filled with one-man fishing boats and floating organic debris. If sleaze is you thing, there lots of gambling halls, wooden-shack brothels, and bars where backpackers openly smoke marijuana. The city also has its share of karaokes, Chinese restaurants, pizza joints and high-rise hotels.
Every year Phnom Penh gets closer to pre-war normalcy. The markets are now lively and full of customers and goods. People smile and express hope more than they used to. The National Dance Company has reassembled and performs regularly. And, festivals and holidays that were illegal during the Khmer Rouge years are now celebrated with recklessness and cheer. Susan Spano wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Phnom Penh has a jerry-built air, as if it materialized overnight. In recent years stylish cafes, restaurants and hotels have begun to return to the city center, including the Quay, where I stayed in a room high over a boulevard along the Tonle Sap River.”
Two full days in Phnom Penh is usually enough: 1) one day for visiting the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum and other temples, museums and markets around the city and 2) a second day to visit the Khmer Rouge sights: Tuol Sleng Prison and the Choeng Ek Killing Field. There are several market places selling carvings, paintings, silk, silver, gems, antiques and other stuff. Phnom Penh is also the Cambodia as a whole: the temples of Angkor in the west, the beaches of the southern coast and the ethnic minorities of the northeastern provinces. There are also a wide variety of services including five star hotels and budget guest houses, fine international dining, sidewalk noodle shops, neighbourhood pubs international discos and more.
Population of Phnom Penh: The current population in this municipality is about 2,009,264 people or 14 percent of the country’s total population (14,363,519 person in Cambodia, 2007, provincial government data), with 621,948 male and 658,833 female. The population density is therefore 5,343.8 people per square kilometer. The population is Original Khmer 60 percent, Chinese 15 percent, Vietnamese 20 percent and 5 percent other. The population growth in the cit
History of Phnom Penh: Phnom Penh was founded where it was because of its access to the Mekong River. Large vessels can navigate to the city up stream from the ocean. After Phnom Penh only shallow-draft boat can continues up river.
According to legend Phnom Penh was founded in the 14th century after a huge koki tree was washed by the flood-swollen Mekong river to the top of a hill where a lady named Penh lived. Inside the tree were four bronze Buddhas, believed to have been sent by the gods as a sign that Angkor was doomed and a new capital should be set up here. The lady built a shrine on the hill for the Buddhas and the shrine grew into Wat Phnom temple which now lies at the heart of Phnom Penh. (Wat Phnom means "Hill Temple" and "Phnom Penh" means "the Hill of Penh").
Much of Phnom Penh that you see today was laid by the French after they claimed Cambodia in the 1860s. The French built some fine colonial villas and hotels along neatly organized streets. In the 1950s and early 60s when playboy-king Norodom Sihanou was the dominant political figure, Phnom Penh was regarded as a fun place to be. It has its own film industry and nightlife scene often directed by Sihanouk. Susan Sapon wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “A surprisingly canny politician, Sihanouk led his country to independence from the French in 1953 and sought to maintain its neutrality while war raged in Vietnam, winking at the use of border regions by communist guerrillas and the dispatch of American B-52s to eradicate them. The U.S. bombing campaign, begun in secret in 1969 by President Nixon, ultimately spilled a half-million tons of munitions over Cambodia and drove peasants into the open arms of the Khmer Rouge. [Source: Susan Spano, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2011]
Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most revered living architect, but his stamp on the city the 1960s. Matt Steinglass wrote in the New York Times: “It is hard to imagine a crueler fate for an urban planner than seeing his country taken over by a regime with a murderous hatred of cities. As Cambodia's pre-eminent architect and chief urban planner during the 1960's, Vann Molyvann laid out significant portions of Phnom Penh and designed dozens of landmark structures fusing High Modernist design with classical Khmer elements, including the Corbusier-influenced Independence Monument, the stacked-block minimalist Front du Bassac housing development and the National Sports Complex.”
Before the American bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970s, Phnom Penh was home to about 600,000 people. After the bombing and during the Cambodian civil war refugees from the countryside poured in and its population swelled to two million.
In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh after a prolonged rocket attack and forced all the city's inhabitants to move out into the countryside. The city was emptied within days; schools, post offices, telephone services, pagodas and businesses were closed; colonial buildings like the French-built Catholic cathedral was destroyed; and banks were dynamited, raining worthless currency on the city streets. See History
After that Phnom Penh was a ghost town with a few Khmer Rouge officials—for four years. The National Museum was left to gather bat guano. Buildings decayed and crumbled. Schools were turned into torture and execution centers. The first ordinary Cambodians to return to Phnom Penh were political prisoners brought to the city to be interrogated, tortured and eventually killed.
When the Khmer Rouge was finally driven out by the Vietnamese in 1979, there were maybe 100,000 living people in Phnom Penh. An East German journalist who visited Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge left told National Geographic there were so many corpses lying around that helicopters flew overhead spraying disinfectants. In 1980 a Soviet diplomat said he couldn't walk in the side streets, the smell was so awful. Even so, people slowly trickled back.
By the late 1980s, Phnom Penh was a quiet place in the day but dangerous at night. Monivong Boulevard was the only real busy street. The primary motored vehicles were 1960s-era Honda motorscooters, and there were few of those. The only hotels that welcomed visitors were the Samakhi and Manorim. A room with a Russian air conditioner and Vietnamese mosquito netting went for $35 night. At night the city was almost absolute black. You could hear occasional gun fire, sometimes from the Khmer Rouge but more often than not from drunk soldiers.
Most people who visited Phnom Penh at this time arrived from Saigon. There were no flights form Thailand and the border between Thailand and Cambodia was closed. Long distance calls were routed through Moscow. A bridge blasted apart in 1972 was still blasted apart in the 1980s. Ships sat rusting in the docks with no goods to carry. Squatter communities established themselves in various parts of the city.
DEVELOPMENT AND ECONOMICS IN PHNOM PENH
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times: “There’s another revolution going on in Phnom Penh. Once home to the Communist Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, now has its own KFC and other capitalist trappings. Skyscrapers are rising, and foreign money is pouring in. This may be your last chance to see Phnom Penh before this former village at the mouth of three mighty rivers, once called the Pearl of Asia, turns into a booming metropolis. Even today, the city seems to shimmer with the sense that its low-slung buildings, ambling cows and smiling monks are not long for this world. [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
Over the past few years, Phnom Penh has undergone tremendous changes. Numerous businesses have sprung up and tourism is booming. Cambodia introduced liberal investment laws to attract foreign investors. The number of restaurants and hotels have grown considerably and there had been a huge increase in the number of visitors.
Much of the development that has taken places has been rather haphazard and shoddy. In recent years an effort has been made to control development and preserve the character of historical central area. In the late 1990s, $5 million was spent on improving the storm drains, sewers and street lighting.
To relieve traffic congestion and make the roads safer, city officials in the early 2000s: 1) re-engineered the roads to make them traffic flow more smoothly; 2) embarked on an aggressive campaign to crack down on illegal driving; 3) encouraged more people to take public transportation; urged rickshaw drivers to use the side streets so they didn’t disrupt traffic; and introduced separate lanes for buses, motorbikes, cars and pedestrians so they didn’t interfere with one another. The impact of the effort however was unable to keep pace with influx of vehicles that descended on the city.
Additionally in the early 2000s, Phnom Penh was given a serious sprucing up when it hosted a major ASEAN meeting that was attended by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Streets were paved and cleaned up. New Chinese-made traffic lights were installed that had meters that indicated how seconds were left before the light changed.
Today the city is filled with motorscooters and luxury cars. High rise apartments are being built in the suburbs. Double-digit economic growth rates in the late 2000s and early 2010s have triggered an economic boom, with new hotels, restaurants, bars, and residential buildings springing up around the city. The Chinese community has grown considerably in recent years. There are now lots of Chinese restaurants and signs in Chinese almost outnumber those in Thai.
Economy of Phnom Penh: The main economy is based on commercial activities such as garments, trading, small and medium enterprises. The property business has been booming in the past few years. Real estate is now getting very expensive. Two new sub-cities are under construction, where investors from Korea and Indonesia join with Cambodian investors. About $200 million will be sunk into investment project of Camko-city, which is expected to be finished in 2018.
Kandal province around Phnom Penh serves as an economic belt of the capital. Cambodia become the sixth largest garment exporter in the world in 2007 and most of these factories are in Kandal Province. The industry created job opportunities for about a half million Cambodians and generated some $300 million in monthly wages for the employees. Also agricultural exports flourished in 2007, as palm oil, peanuts, rice, pepper and other rural products became ever more popular in the international markets.
Finally, luxury real estate project like the Longing Resort in Kandal province was demolished on July 31, as it expanded its land illegally and in effect constituted menace to the safety of the capital.
TOURIST INFORMATION AND TRANSPORTATION IN PHNOM PENH
Tourist Information in Phnom Penh: The main government tourism office is located at ???. It usually doesn't have much stuff. Travel agencies in the downtown area are better sources of tourist information. There is also a small tourist information office at the international airport.
Orientation in Phnom Penh: Phnom Penh has been described as a city of water. It is located at the confluence of three rivers - the Mekong, the Bassac and Tonle Sap. Some of its main streets were once canals. The city is divided into three sections - the north, an attractive residential area; the south or the French part of the city with its ministries, banks and colonial houses; and the center or the heart with its narrow lanes, markets, foods stalls and shops. The whole area including the outskirts of Phnom Penh covers about 376 square kilometers. There are currently 2,009,264 people living in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh is not the easiest place for getting around on foot. The city is sometimes dangerous; the streets and sidewalks are beat up; and places tourists want to visit are scattered around the city. Most tourists get around in taxis or minibuses arranged by tour agencies; many backpackers opt for cheaper motorcycle taxis.
The street names and numbers are a little confusing. Names have been changed suddenly and without notice and many maps have not kept pace with the changes. Most of tourist sights are located on the west side of the Tonle Spa. The Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, Wat Ounalom, the National Museum of Fine Arts and Wat Phnom are all near Tonle Sap. The Tuol Sleng Prison (the Museum of Genocide) and the markets are in other parts of the city. Monivong Boulevard is the main thoroughfare.
Phnom Penh is located in the southern heart of the country and fully surrounded by the Kandal Province. The municipality embraces typical wet plain environment area of Cambodia: rice fields and other agricultural plantations. The Tonle Bassac, the Tonle Sap and the mighty Mekong are the three biggest rivers in Cambodia. They provide fresh water and other resources for the city. Phnom Penh is located at 11.55 degrees North and 104.91667 degrees East. The 375 square kilometer (145 square mile) area of greater Phnom Penh embraces some 11,401 hectares (28,172 acres) in the municipality and 26,106 hectares (64,509 acres) of roads. The agricultural land in the municipality amounts to 34.685 square kilometers (13 sq mi) with some 1.476 square kilometers (365 acres) under irrigation.
Transportation in Phnom Penh: Taxis are fairly cheap and they are the easiest way to get around. Motorcycle taxis and cyclos are also available. Don't bother with the buses. For more information see the "Getting Around Within Cities" section earlier in the text.
Phom Penh can be reached by either domestic flights, international flights or overland and speedboat from neighbouring provinces. Phnom Penh is a fairly easy city to get around. Though traffic is getting more congested these days, you can still travel the length of the city in less than 40 minutes. Regarding the economical boom these days, the traffic increases significantly.
Phnom Penh International Airport: On arrival, taxis and motorcycle taxis (motodups) can be hired just outside the arrival lobby. There are no meter taxis (just developing this service). Taxis cost $7.00 for the 20-30 minute ride into the city centre. Cheaper, slower and less comfortable, motorcycle taxis can be hired for $2.00 into town. A usual taxi to the airport from town costs about $5-$7. Allow a minimum of 30-40 minutes to get to the airport, as you might get into some traffic jams during the rush hour.
Port of Phnom Penh: The ferry port in Phnom Penh is on Sisowath Quay (the riverfront road) at Street 104, just north of the main riverfront park/restaurant area. If you are arriving in Phnom Penh, there are always motor taxis and car taxis waiting for fares. Motorcycle taxis run about R1500-R3000 and car taxis about $3-$5 to downtown hotels.
Cars and Taxis in Phnom Penh: More common are un-metered, unmarked taxis, which can be arranged through your hotel or travel agent, and can also be found outside hotels along the Monivong Blvd. near Kampuchea Krom. A car plus driver costs you $20-$30/day. Shorter jaunts, for a minimum of $2-$3. 4WD vehicles will give you a ride for $60/day and up. Short and long term rental of a wide variety of vehicles.
Motorcycle Taxis (Motodup) in Phnom Penh: The omnipresent motos are the most common and fastest form of public transportation but are certainly not the safest. They are more prone to accidents and robberies than cars. Motos cost from 1000R-4000R for a trip in town and $6-$10 per day. Prices go surely up at night.
Bicycle Rental in Phnom Penh: A few guesthouses, (e.g. Capitol Guesthouse) have bicycles for rent for around $1-1.5/day. Bicycle stores are clustered near the intersection of Streets 182 and 107. They do not rent bikes, but a used bike can be bought for about $30-40 and resold for around $20. Motorcycle Rental in Phnom Penh: Motorcycles (100cc - 125cc) can be rented for $3 - $5/day. Tourists often rent 250cc dirt bikes, even if it's a bit too much power and weight for the slow city traffic (250cc for $10-13). For in-city driving, a 100cc is recommended. A 250cc is perfect for the poor roads outside Phnom Penh. Chaotic traffic makes cycling in the city challenging in the extreme. Roads outside the city vary dramatically in condition. If you do decide to ride, drive slowly, stay right, wear a helmet and remember that medical services are quite limited. You can rent motorcycles at Lucky Lucky Motorcycle on Monivong, near Street 184 in Phnom Penh or at Angkor Motorcycles on street 51 near the famous Walkabout Bar.
Buses in Phnom Penh: Ho Wah Genting offers bus service to nearby destinations using modern air-conditioned buses. Get off or on at any point along the line. Buses depart every 15 minutes to one hour, daily from 6:00am-6:00pm. 1200R-12000R. The station is at the corner of the Central Market. Route #1: Koki, Kien Svay, Neak Luong, And Route #2: Takhmao, Takeo, And Route #4: Kampong Speu, Sihanoukville, And Route #5: Oudong, Kampong Chhnang, Route #6: Raw Kakong, Kampong Cham. Also near the central market (Southwest corner) you may find the biggest bus station in town. Sorya Bus Company takes you almost everywhere in the country where a paved road is available. The buses are a little bit older than from some other companies, but still featuring air-con and usual seats. The prices are reasonable (approx. $1 for 70-80 kilometers).
Cyclos in Phnom Penh: The humble cyclo can be a romantic and practical form of transport though not as safe as a car or fast as a motor. Cyclos are easier than motors and during a rain they offer a drier ride. They often charge twice as much as a motos and are notorious for overcharging tourists, but keep in mind that’s physical work.
Tour and Travel Agencies: There are a number of list tour operators in Phnom Penh that offer various kinds of trips and excursions. Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “One of the best ways to disentangle the city’s torturous — and tortured — history is to study its old buildings. Settle into a cyclo, a kind of bicycle-powered rickshaw, for a three-hour tour of the city’s architecture with Khmer Architecture Tours (855-92-870-005; www.ka-tours.org; the tours meet at the Phnom Penh Post Office, at Streets 13 and 102), a nonprofit group with very informative guides. Although the city has been shaped by waves of French and Chinese, you’d never find that old Chinese temple (now inhabited by squatters) or that defunct Citroën factory without help. Also, don’t miss the work of Cambodia’s most celebrated modern architect, Vann Molyvann, whose midcentury modern buildings are disappearing fast. Two have been torn down this year alone. Group tours ($5 to $12) are given every other Sunday; private tours are also available (about $40 for three hours). [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
For Other Kinds of Information such as lists of hotels, restaurants, tour agencies, post offices, telephone offices, shops, bookstores, night clubs, sports places, theaters, swimming pools, embassies, churches, and airline agents, maps, hospitals, pharmacies, car rentals and bike rentals, consult the Lonely Planet Guides.
ENTERTAINMENT IN PHNOM PENH
Phnom Penh offers a number of cultural sites and place to relax and enjoy oneself. They include Chaktomuk Hall, south of the Royal Palace and along the riverfront, where dancers perform traditional Cambodian dance. Independence Monument, near down town, is the site of many ceremonial events. It adjoints a long mall that streches east toward the riverfront, where it meets Hun Sen Park, near the Naga Casino Resort Complex. There are also numerous popular bars and nightclubs.
Some discos, karaokes and nightclubs are found in the large hotels. The National Dance Company has reassembled and performs periodically. Backpackers like to hang out at the bars, cafes and guest houses that are geared for them. There are gambling halls and brothels around. More than 1,000 prostitutes work in Phnom Penh ‘s Tuol Kork red-light district. As of the late 1990s Phnom Penh had two 24-hour casinos. One was gaudy red-carpeted monstrosity built on a converted oil tanker. Some places offer elephant rides. See the shooting ranges outside Phnom Penh. Many of the movies shown in Phnom Penh are Hong Kong action films shown at video rooms. A calendar of events may be obtained from the tourist offices. Also check out the Phnom Penh newspapers, the Lonely Planet Books, notices set up at travel agencies and guest houses, and posters put up around town. Keep in mind Phnom Penh can be dangerous at night. Many tourists stick close to their hotel or take a taxi to and from a specific place.
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “The respectable side of Phnom Penh’s night life consists of drinking, drinking, and then drinking some more. Tourists flock to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (363 Sisowath Quay, 855-23-724-014; www.fcccambodia.com). Actual journalists tend to drown themselves in the strong margaritas at Cantina (347 Sisowath Quay; 855-23-222-502), a grungy Mexican joint on the river. For martinis, go to Metro (Sisowath Quay at Street 148; 855-23-222-275), a sleek, modern place with some of the best drinks in town. If you must dance, Riverhouse (6 Street 110; 855-23- 220-180) offers throbbing bass and a slightly ghetto vibe. [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
“And there’s no better way to honor Phnom Penh’s riparian soul than with a sundowner at Maxine’s (71 Tonle Sap Road, Chruoy Changva Peninsula; 855-12-200-617). In an old wooden house that is slouching into the river, Maxine’s has a ramshackle authenticity that, at least for now, seems immune to the city’s rapid modernization. Afterward, if you happen to be in Phnom Penh on the first Friday of the month, follow the surreal swirl of drunken expatriates to Elsewhere (175 Street 51; 855-23-211-348), which has tables tucked into the trees around a small swimming pool.
“For a pampering facial, try the spa at Bliss (29 Street 240; 855-23-215-754; facials, $38 to $45), but if you want a massage, head to Health Care Center Master Kang (456 Monivong Boulevard; 85523-721-765), which has a utilitarian ambience but some of the best-trained masseuses in town. Start by sticking your feet in a pool of hot herbal water that looks like mud. The aromatherapy oil massage ($15 for one hour) involves piles of hot towels, up to 20, stacked on your aching back. The forceful foot massage ($10 for an hour) can’t be beat.
Chaktomuk Conference Hall (at Preah Sisowath Quay, Sangkat Chaktomuk, Khan Daun Penh) is designed by renowned architect Vann Molyvann, this venue was originally opened in 1961 as La Salle de Conference Chaktomuk. Earmarked for redevelopment as a restaurant in 1991, it was brought back into use as a theatre in 1994 following the devastating fire at the National Theatre. The Chaktomuk Conference Hall was completely refurbished in 2000, primarily to provide international-standard facilities for conferences. Subject to programming it is still utilised from time to time as a theatre venue, but only for special programmes organised directly by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
The fan-shaped Chaktomuk Conference Hall in Phnom Penh is one of the mainstays of Phnom Penh's public architecture. It is the architectural beauty and its relation with the tradition that attracts numerous tourists to visit the place. It has now become one of the important and major sightseeing in Phnom Penh. The conference hall-theater is used for conferences, lectures and occasional performing arts activites; The auditorium has a total of 592 seats with retractable writing pallets. The performing area has an irregular-shaped stage with overhead pipe grid for suspension of masking, lighting and soft hangings and a spacious backstage area.
SHOPPING IN PHNOM PENH
Most of Phnom Penh's largest shops, galleries and the stores with English-language books are found in the downtown area around the higher end hotels. The best places to shop for souvenirs, gifts, and interesting items are the markets. The selection of goods as you might guess is not as good in Phnom Penh as it is Bangkok and other Southeast Asian cities but still alright.
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “Bargains abound in Phnom Penh. Looking for affordable gems? Go to the backroom of Mr. Sit Down (116 CEO Sihanouk Boulevard; 855-12-805-4-28), where Hoeu Sareth’s solid workmanship, simple designs and shiny Pailin rubies have enticed expatriates for years. For women’s clothes, go to L’Armoire (126 Street 19; 855-23722-310), a sweet boutique that sells well-cut dresses from the designer and owner, Alexandra Barter. Ambre (37 Street 178; 855-23-722-310), housed in an old colonial mansion, carries men’s suits and fancy dresses. And before lugging your bags back to the hotel, pick up at least one all-cotton krama, a traditional checkered scarf used for everything from holding babies to bathing. You’ll find a great assortment (about $1.50) at Psar Tuol Tom Pong, a k a Russian Market, at the corner of Streets 440 and 163. [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
Tuol Tum Pong Market (Mao Tse Dong Boulevard) is also known as the Russian market. Covering several city blocks and so-named because of the prevalence of items from the Eastern Bloc in past times, it has a good selection of Cambodian silk items as well as stalls that sell vegetables, antiques, CDs, fabrics, jewelry, carved handicrafts, ceramics, marijuana, Vietnamese-style clothes, shoes, tools and other items. A word of caution though: you need to sharpen your bargaining skills as the prices here can be outrageously high. Don't confuse it with the O'Russei Market.
Tuol Tom Pong Market is located at the corner of St. 440 and st.163, south of Mao Tse Tung Blvd. It is the best place in town for souvenir shopping, having a large range of real and fake antiquities. Items for sale include miniature Buddha's, silk, silver jewelry, gems, video, and a host of other goodies. Clothes such as T-shirts, trousers, jackets or shoes are very reasonable. There are also a large number of clothing outlets and on site tailors and seamstresses can make alteration quickly. The food and drinks stalls are a good place to take a refreshment break between the bargaining.
Psar O Russei is not to be confused with the Russian Market. This market is located in a huge yellow-bleached house looking like a shopping mall from outside next to Capitol Tours, east from the Olympic Stadium and closed to the Monivong Blvd. It features all kinds of products focusing on luxury foodstuffs, costume jewellery, imported toiletries, second-hand and new clothes, and some electrical devises. Once you enter it you'll find a kind of labyrinth with hundreds of small overloaded stalls. It's worth popping in if you want to experience an older Khmer-style market.
Central Market (Phsar Thmei, on Monivong Blvd in central Phnom Penh) is said to be the best Phnom Penh market for browsing and is known for its gem and gold stalls, used clothing and openly-sold ganja. Housed in an old colonial building with circular buildings and yellow domes, it is the cleanest and has the widest range of products for sale. Opening hours are from early morning until early evening. It is located in an area that was previously a swamp that was used to accumulate runoff rainwaters. The market building is a beautiful one, a spectacular instance of Cambodian architecture.
The dark-yellow Phsa Thmei (New Market) is also referred to as the Central Market, a reference to its location and size. It was constructed from 1935 to 1937. The Art deco building is shaped in the form of a cross with a nice central dome. And has four wings filled with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, antique coins, fake name-brand watches and other such items. It also offers electronic items and there is also plenty of secondhand stuff that you can buy here at an affordable rate. The gateway to the market is lined with hawkers who sell different kinds of tidbits.
Around the main buildings are stalls offering Krama (checked scarves), stationery, household items, cloth for sarongs, flowers and second hand clothes, usually from Europe and the US. For photographers, the fresh food section affords a lot of opportunities. There are a host of good value food stalls on the structure's western side, which faces Monivong Blvd.
Whoever loves to browse endlessly through small yet enticing shops, will find the Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh an enchanting place. The jewelry found in the interior of the market and some of the gold ornament that you will find here are really unsurpassable in design and style. Getting to Central Market (Phsar Thmei) and then going back to your hotel is easy as there are plenty of transportation facilities near the marketplace. A taxi stand can be found at the northwest corner of the market and the southwest exit will take you to a bus stand.
The name "Phsar Thmei" means "New Market" but in English, it is commonly called "Central Market". This may cause some come confusion because Phnom Penh also has a "Phsar Kandal" close to Wat Unalaum and the Riverside. That name would translate in English to "Central Market"In the northwest corner of the market is a taxi station for cars direction Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Kratie etc. The bus station is in the southwest corner.
The four wings of the yellow coloured Central Market are teeming with numerous stalls selling gold and silver jewellery, antique coins, clothing, clocks, flowers, food, fabrics, shoes and luggage. Around the main buildings are stalls offering Kramas (red and white checked scarves), stationery, household items, clothes for sarongs, flowers and second hand clothes, usually from Europe and the US. For photographers, the fresh food section affords a lot of opportunities. There are a host of good value food stalls on the structure's western side, which faces Monivong Blvd.
Phsar Kandal (close to Wat Unalaum and the Riverside) is the newer Central Market near Tonle Sap. It name translates in English to "Central Market" but it should not be confused with the older, more popular French-era market, New Central Market.
Old Market (Phsar Chas) is a local market that is not geared to tourists. It carries such items as fruits and vegetable, second hand cloths, hardware, motorcycle parts and religious items. In the late afternoon food vendors and fruit sellers set up mats along Street 13 in preparation for the evening market. The dinner rush hour makes for a confusing, dirty potentially photogenic scene. Located on the river at the south end of the Old French Quarter, Old Market is a popular market for local people but attracts some tourists as well. It is one of the most crowded markets in the city.
The northern end of the market is mainly geared to the the locals selling vegetables, fruit, meats, clothes, home appliance stuffs, etc. The shopping streets in the surrounding area house a number of galleries and boutiques, each with its own style, collection and specialty. These boutiques and galleries are more comfortable air-conditioned shopping venues with quality items to sell. For food buffs, Old Market is an ideal place to try some local cuisine. There are several small food stalls offering tasty but sometimes unhygienically prepared food. To stay fit you should try the dishes at the street side restaurants and pubs at the Old Market area. Though the Old Market closes after the sunset officially you will find many of the souvenir vendors at the south section of the market till 8 PM.
Starting from morning till early evening, the south side of the market near the river becomes alive with hawkers and vendors selling souvenir, silk and a wide variety of Cambodian handicrafts, textiles, statues and curios. If you wish to plunge in to the heady excitement of shopping in Phnom Penh and feel the pulse of the city, you should definitely visit the Old Market! It offers a glimpse in to the rich cultural traditions of the region, It is easy to spot this bustling market area along the river bank in Phnom Penh. You only have to get near the south end of the Old French Quarter and you'll be greeted by the sights and sounds of this popular market! For the best experience, visit the market when it opens in the morning. The place begins shutting down at sunset, but the souvenir vendors at the south end of the market are open way in to the evening, beyond 8:00pm. The market area is choc-a-bloc with art galleries, bars, mssage parlors, inexpensive eateries selling delicious local fare.
Orussey Market (centrally located block away from Monivong Boulevard) is also much more geared towards locals than tourists; hence you will not find as much in the way of souvenirs as the other markets mentioned. A huge array of foodstuffs is on offer including the wet market with fresh meat, poultry and seafood. Other items in abundance include house ware, hardware and electronic goods. The shops in the market generally sell essential items rather than souvenirs. That is why, tourists do not take much interest in visiting this market. Still, it is a good place to interact with local people and get an idea of their food habits and daily life.
The shops at Orussey Market generally sell foodstuffs, household items, electronic goods and hardware. It is located at the heart of the city just one block away from one block away from Monivong Boulevard, one of the main avenues and shopping centers in the city. The market is housed at a closed, big square. The structure, painted with white and blue feature many colorful knickknacks.
A huge array of foodstuffs is sold including the wet market with vegetables, fresh meat, poultry and a wide variety of seafood. The range of household items include utensil, cutlery, crockery, dinner set, bed sheets and soft furnishing. At Orussey Market you can shop for electronics goods at a surprisingly cheaper rate than other places. The range include video games, calculators, electronic watches, torch, radio and toys. Bargaining is allowed at the market.
One traveler wrote: “The streets around Orussey teem with life. The whole area comes across as one massive bazaar as the market spills out to the adjacent buildings and beyond. Rubbish, potholes and chaotic traffic are de rigueur while goods are packed and unpacked everywhere. This is a place of business, not a tourist market. That said, some of Phnom Penh’s oldest guesthouses are also to be found in the area, catering to some very seasoned budget travellers. In true local style, vendors of the same goods have monopolised sectors around the market. The northern end of Street 113 is lined with shop after shop selling similar textiles —most also offer basic tailoring services. The stock includes a large amount of patterned synthetic fabrics as well as heavier cotton materials.
RESTAURANTS IN PHNOM PENH
Restaurants in Phnom Penh: The best restaurants are generally located in the large hotels, and hygiene is something to consider when choosing a place to eat. Cambodian food, French food, French-Cambodian food, Chinese food, Vietnamese food, Thai food, Japanese food, Indian food, Korean food and other international cuisines are all available in Phnom Penh. Kentucky Fried Chicken—the first Western-style fast food— didn’t arrive until the late 2000s. As of 2012 there no McDonald’s in Cambodia. There are pizza places that deliver however. The markets and the numerous small restaurants and food stalls around them offer soups, meals and snacks. The food is good but risky healthwise.
According to Philip Shenon of the New York Times, many of the good restaurants are a holdover from early 1990s when new restaurants sprung to feed the U.N. Peacekeepers. Shenon recommends Swiss-owned La Pailote (opposite the central market at 130-53 234th street). The Sofitel Cambodiana Hotel provide suggestion of restaurant that are good, hygienic and safe. Also check lists of restaurants in the Phnom Penh newspapers, the Lonely Planet books and other guidebooks.
Phnom Penh has a vast range of restaurants to suit all pockets and tastes, from noodle shops and market stalls to sophisticated, pricey Western places; even guesthouses often have small restaurants offering Western style fare, including American breakfasts, and Khmer and Chinese dishes. Many of the restaurants catering to tourists and visitors line the riverfront dining and shopping area near the Royal Palace. Street 278 (near Independence Monument) and Boeng Keng Kang 1 is dotted with local and foreign restaurants. Budget restaurants and relaxing bars can be found along Street 93 next to the Boeung Kak Lake, an area popular with backpackers.
The Corner Restaurant and Bar serves mainly local Khmer Food. Fresh fruit shake and juices specialties for this hot month from Oct to May. It is located at the first floor of Mittapheap Hotel, corner street 174 next to Wat Koh high school and Pagoda.
Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia (FCC): This famous international bar and restaurant is still as much a journalist’s meeting. It is located on the second floor of a beautiful old Colonial era building with open balcony providing a spectacular, sweeping view of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. The FCC kitchen offers a good selection of nicely prepared contemporary, modern, and mainstream western dishes as well as some of the best wood-fired oven pizza in town. Also displaying photo shows and exhibitions. Fresco Delicatessen on the ground floor. Upper price limit. St. 363 on the riverside.
Garden Center Caf 2: This international restaurant is the Street 278 area annex of the very popular Garden Center Caf, offering the same excellent western meals like steaks, baked ham, baked salmon, burgers, sloppy joes, Asian dishes and a great selection of salads and vegetarian dishes. All home cooking and generous portions. Relaxed, clean, green and family atmosphere. Conveniently located on Street 57 just around the corner from the Boeng Keng Kang 1 Street 278 hotel area.
Java Caf and Gallery : This international caf and restaurant is genially set in a nice gallery ambiance. They offer a brilliant selection of coffees, teas and muffins. Nice selections of salads, sandwiches made to order on homemade bread, fajitas, lots of veggie dishes and all-day breakfasts including omelettes, pancakes, French toast, muesli and more. Indoor gallery seating and airy balcony seating overlooking the green park and the Independence Monument. Changing art and photo exhibitions. WiFi Hotspot. St. 56, Sihanouk Blvd. (Near to the Independence Monument).
Lemongrass: This is an authentic classical Thai and Khmer food restaurant with dishes at reasonable prices. Shop house sized restaurant with pleasant indoor seating. Fairly large selection of dishes. Very good preparation. Good selection of vegetarian offerings. Good reviews from patrons. Located on Street 130 just off the riverfront.
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “Khmer cuisine is not for the squeamish: garlicky crickets, black beetles, crispy tarantula and chopped chicken bits with bone. Fear not: there’s barbecue. At a curbside plastic chair at Sovanna Restaurant (2 Street 21; 855-12-840-055) order dishes, like fresh-grilled squid, shrimp, beef or pork (small plates, 8,000 riels, or $1.96 at 4,168 riels to the dollar; big plates, 16,000 riels). [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
“For solace, find your way to Friends (215 Street 13; 855-12 802-072; www.streetfriends.org) , where you can take comfort that your lunch is being served to you by rehabilitated street children. Despite the nation’s galloping economy, about a third of Cambodians still live on under a dollar a day, the United Nations Development Program has said. The fruit shakes ($2.50 to $3.50) are fantastic, as are the tapas-style entrees, like grilled fish fillet with salsa verde ($3).
“The French ruled Cambodia from 1864 until 1953, and whatever else you have to say about that legacy, they did leave behind good cheese. If you are in the mood to live large, go for the foie gras ($17) at the elegant La Résidence (22-24 Street 214; 85523-224-582; www.la-residence-restaurant.com). Otherwise, head to La Marmite (80 Street 108; 855-12-391-746; entrees $7 to $13), a scruffy bistro that offers better food than most of its more expensive cousins.
“Cambodia was once famous for its peppercorns, which look innocuous enough but pack significant heat. Kampot, a sleepy river town about three hours south of Phnom Penh, was once the center of Cambodia’s peppercorn farms. Today, nonprofit groups are working to revive the trade. The sweetest way to savor this history is at the Chocolate Shop, the city’s first and only chocolate boutique (35, Street 240; 855-23-998 6-38). Order a palm-sized slab of dark chocolate encrusted with crushed Kampot pepper ($5). It is as sweet and as hot as the tropics themselves.”
HOTELS IN PHNOM PENH
Phnom Penh currently has only a handful of deluxe hotels. The most expensive one is the Singapore-owned Le Hotel Royal. Rooms there cost between $290 and $2,000 a night, while employees only earn around $100 or so a month and even then they sometimes have go on strike to win meager benefits that have been promised them. Raffles Hotel Le Royal was ranked as one of the 50 best hotels by Travel & Leisure. Traditionally the best hotel in town has been the Sofitel Cambodiana. One of the few hotels in Phnom Penh with a river view, it contains 276 air-conditioned rooms, tennis courts, a swimming pool and two restaurants.
There are several dozens of standard tourist hotels and guest houses scattered around town. Many are located the downtown area and around the markets. The tour agencies in Phnom Penh and the hotel information desk at the airport can help you find a luxury or standard hotel. The Lonely Planet books and have good lists of cheap accommodation options. Hotel touts wait outside the airport for new arrivals.
Erika Kinetz wrote in the New York Times, “The Raffles Hotel Le Royal (92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh;, 855-23-981-888; www.phnompenh.raffles.com) is where journalists camped out in 1975 on the eve of the Khmer Rouge’s takeover. Today, the historic hotel still draws dignitaries and foreigners, with stately rooms starting at $300.The year-old Villa Langka (14 Street 282; 855-23-726-771; www.villalangka.com) is a welcome addition to the city’s small but growing list of boutique hotels. There’s a dark-tiled pool, a peaceful garden and tastefully designed rooms from $35 to $100. [Source: Erika Kinetz, New York Times, September 19, 2008]
There is an increasing number of guesthouses and hotels across the city catering for all pockets and tastes, from basic rooms with fans to opulent colonial suites with every luxury. No matter when you arrive, you should have no difficulty finding a room, although it's no surprise that the very cheapest room fill up quickly. Arriving in the morning stands you have a better chance of getting really inexpensive accommodation, as many people check out early to catch onward transport. If you intent to stay for more than a couple of nights it's worth asking about getting a discount at guesthouses and mid-range places. For hotel reservation, please visit: http://www.tourismcambodia.com/hotels/:
If you're looking for a cheap accommodation the Lake Side next to the only lake of Phnom Penh will be the place to pop in. There is plenty of very basic budget and mid-range guesthouses from US$1.5-10 per room and night. The sunsets from one of the wooden platforms over the Boeng Kak Lake are pretty famous in town.
On one of the most well-known guest houses in Phnom Penh, one traveler wrote: “T“Capitol Guesthouse, at the corner of bike street and Orussey Market is a famed old-timer. Opened in 1991, the guesthouse seems a relic from the era when Phnom Penh was still “Off the Rails”. Rooms start at US$3. Despite the bargain basement price they are relatively clean on the backpacker scale, while the restaurant serves basic, if unremarkable, Khmer fare. Capitol also organises a variety of day trips that are good value for lone travellers. All trips require a minimum amount of participants and the sign-up sheets at the guesthouse are empty most of the time. Groups are generally better off organising trips for themselves. The “sunset on the Tonle Sap” cruise costs US$6 per person for a minimum of six. Capitol also operates reasonably priced buses to several destinations in Cambodia and beyond.”
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated May 2014