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Phnom Penh

Photo © Renno

Travel Guide Asia Cambodia Phnom Penh

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Introduction

Phnom Penh - Monks on their way to the temple

Phnom Penh - Monks on their way to the temple

© All Rights Reserved Gelli

Phnom Penh is the capital, largest city and most wealthy city in Cambodia. The city was first settled in 1372. It did not become very important until Angkor fell to Siam & the King of Cambodia moved the capital close to current day Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh itself was not officially the capital of Cambodia until 1865. By the 1920s the city was considered the “Pearl of Asia” because of heavy French colonialism. Its wealth only grew once the canals to the countryside and the railroad to Sihanoukville were completed.

The city suffered greatly during the Vietnam War. The North Vietnamese used Cambodia as a base to launch attacks and only helped to fuel the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge took over Phnom Penh on April 17th 1975. Immediately Pol Pot emptied the city of people and placed many of the wealthier and more educated people in labor camps. He shortly thereafter create the S-21 Prison Camp in the Tuol Svay Prey High School. There is only 12 known survivors of this detention center, thousands of people were processed then executed in nearby killing fields. In 1979 the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge out of Phnom Penh.

Today Phnom Penh is turning back into a major economic center for Asia and has a population of over 1 million. Tourism is still a big thing but industry and food production are growing parts of the economy. Phnom Penh is a great place to spend a few days. Just remember that the ghosts of the past are still very present, as with the rest of Cambodia.

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Sights and Activities

  • Killing Fields are located just outside of town and are quite stunning. The best way to reach them is to hire a Tuk-Tuk for the day.
  • The Royal Palace is a very nice palace and worth a visit. The main hall has amazing statues and paintings.
Pictures of the dead at S.21 - Phnom Penh

Pictures of the dead at S.21 - Phnom Penh

© All Rights Reserved BramRamaut

  • Tuol Svay Prey High School Museum (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) is the old home to S-21 and is an excellent museum although a big shocking. There are movies shown every afternoon.
  • Shooting Ranges are available for people that are interested. You can fire anything from a handgun to an AK-47 to a rocket launcher. Just ask yourself “How often in life do you get to throw a hand grenade?”

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Events and Festivals

  • Chinese New Year -Thanks to the large Chinese population in Cambodia, Chinese New Year is an important holiday even outside the Chinese community. It will fall some time between late January and late February every year following the lunar calendar. Many consider it the one day in Cambodia that everyone goes to bed with a full stomach.
  • Chaul Cham or the Khmer New Year, is held in mid-April, this is a massive party that lasts for 7 days. People visit wats with offerings and prayers.
  • P'chum Ben or The Spirit Festival, is a celebration to honour ancestors in September or October, people make offerings to spirits at Buddhist Pagodas across the whole country.
  • Chat Preah Nengkal (Royal Ploughing Ceremony) - One of the kingdom’s more unusual dates on the calendar, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony is an annual agricultural celebration held in early May to discover how fruitful the year’s crop will be. Led by the royal family on a lawn outside of Phnom Penh’s National Museum, the royal oxen auspiciously lets the gathered crowd know the fate of their crop. A bizarre, but must-see ceremony!

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Weather

Phnom Penh has a hot and humid tropical climate. The city has a wet southwest monsoon from May to October and a dry northeast monsoon from November to April. Temperatures are between 22 °C (December to February) and 25 °C (April to October) at night, and 30 °C (November and December) to 35 °C (April) during the day most of the year, but April sees temperatures of 40 °C occasionally. September and October are the wettest months, with 225 and 250 mm of rain respectively. December to March is the driest time of the year, with January and February sometimes seeing hardly a drop of rain (around 5-10 mm on average a month).

JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Avg Max31.5 °C32.8 °C34.9 °C34.9 °C34.3 °C33.5 °C32.5 °C32.5 °C32.3 °C31.1 °C29.9 °C30.1 °C
Avg Min21.9 °C23 °C24.1 °C25 °C25.3 °C25 °C24.7 °C24.6 °C24.3 °C23.8 °C22.7 °C21.7 °C
Rainfall25.5 mm11.5 mm58 mm101 mm111.6 mm177.1 mm195.9 mm172 mm248.8 mm318.9 mm135 mm80.3 mm
Rain Days2.82.45.28.616.416.619.621.419.82411.84.8

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Getting There

By Plane

Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH) is located 7 kilometres from Phnom Penh.
Airlines serving the Phnom Penh are Asiana Airlines and Korean Air from Seoul, Malaysia Airlines from Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia Angkor Air from Ho Chi Minh City and Siem Reap, Air Asia from Kuala Lumpur]], Bangkok Airways, Thai Air Asia and Thai Airways from Bangkok, China Airlines and EVA Air from Taipei, China Eastern Airlines from Kunming and Nanning, China Southern Airlines from Beijing and Guangzhou, Dragonair from Hong Kong, Jetstar Asia Airways and Silk Air from Singapore, Shanghai Airlines from Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Tri-MG Intra Asia Airlines from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Singapore, and Vietnam Airlines from Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Vientiane.

By Train

There is a limited freight service running from Kampot to Phnom Penh on the Southern Line.
"Bamboo trains" operate in various towns along the line, though the one most pushed to tourists is just outside Battambang.

By Car

Private cars with a driver are easy to hire in Phnom Penh and will take travellers to most places in the country.

By Bus

Bus is the main form of transport to and from Phnom Penh. It is best to arrange bus tickets at a guesthouse because bus stations do not really exist and also tend to move often. There are always several buses daily to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. There are daily buses to all other major towns in Cambodia to and from Phnom Penh. There is a few morning buses to Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok every day, including on holidays.

Boat

It is still possible to take boats to Siem Reap and Battambang still but with the new highways in buses are much cheaper and quicker. Most locals take the bus instead now unless they have a lot of cargo.
Fast boats leave every morning around 08:00am from Chau Doc in Vietnam's Mekong Delta and take 5 hours to reach Phnom Penh. The boats make the return journey the same day and leave Phnom Penh around 1:00pm, arriving in Chau Doc in the early evening.

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Getting Around

Phnom Penh's main streets are in good shape. Some smaller streets and footpaths are rutted and potholed, clogged with garbage, stagnant water, parked motorbikes, sleeping people, and building materials. Many smaller streets bear either no or misleading signage, however Phnom Penh is logically laid out and navigating is not too difficult.

By Car

Phnom Penh is notorious for its massive traffic jams, and rightly so. In addition, traffic is chaotic and motorcyclists seemingly suicidal. Therefore, most tourists consider driving in Phnom Penh a nightmare, and it is highly recommended that you stick to public transport and not try to drive yourself around.

By Public Transport

The two main types of transportation services visitors use in Phnom Penh are motodops and tuktuks. Motodops are informal motorcycle taxis that can be found waiting at most corners of the city. Tell the driver where you want to go and hop on the back. Prices vary between 2,000 riel (US$.50) and US$1 for trips within central Phnom Penh, depending on the distance travelled. Trips at night are usually more expensive, up to double the price.

Tuk Tuks, motorcycles with attached cabins, can take up to, well, lots of people depending on their size and willingness to be close to each other. Prices are slightly higher than for motodops and increase as the number of customers increase. They make for a comfortable, though slow, way of getting places.

By Foot

Phnom Penh is not a good city for walking. Sidewalks are primarily used to do business or to park vehicles. You are then forced to walk in the street and avoid the vehicular madness. There's a reason why you only see foreigners walking!

By Bike

Bicycle rental is available in town. Phnom Penh is not a very bike friendly city, though, so therefore it's usually only school children, tourists, and Mormons (I don't know why) you see on bicycles. Motorcycle rental is more popular and convenient, but don't let Phnom Penh be where you learn to ride. The traffic is madness and you are asking for trouble.

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Eat

Phnom Penh offers some interesting culinary treats not found elsewhere in the country. These include French-influenced dining and Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian dishes. Pizzas, banana pancakes, and fried rice are always easy to find.

The river front hosts everything from stand-up stalls to fine French bistros. Stalls likely lack hygienic practices: eating peeled fruit and vegetables and anything uncooked may have undesirable consequences.

Duck embryo eggs are sold at the southwest corner of Sokun Mean Bun St (St 178) and Norodum Blvd (in front of the green SSN Bldg) inside a big high school compound, together with days old hatched chicks to frogs (everything is eaten, not just the legs) dipped in batter and deep fried. Skewered and grilled pigs ears, chicken claws, and gizzards are sold in the Central Market. Pig intestines are sold at USD1 per 100 g, cut into pieces and splattered with sauce. Grilled small crabs, lobsters, prawns are also sold in the market. Chicken feet are sold in the open-air restaurants as you turn to the right at St 154 as you go northbound from Monivong Blvd. Bugs and other insects, especially the grasshopper, spider/crab, and grubs and pupae stage are sold along Sothearos Blvd from 184 St to 178 St.

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Drink

Places to hang out after dark include St 136 near riverside, St 104 and St 108 near the St 51 corner, which all feature restaurant bars, hostess bars, and guesthouses. For a more upmarket bar and restaurant scene, visit an area called BKK1 that includes St 278 and St 282, near St 51 or St 308.

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Sleep

Budget

Most of the budget guesthouses are located around the lake. Representatives will meet most tourists at the different bus stations. Lake Side #9 is a nice guesthouse with a great view of the lake. The rooms over the water can get a little buggy. The cheaper rooms are very basic.

More budget options include:

Upscale

View our map of accommodation in Phnom Penh or use the form below to search for availability (Travellerspoint receives a commission for bookings made through the form)

Booking.com

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Work

Most foreigners working in Phnom Penh are either English teachers or foreign aid workers. More business people are starting to show and the occasional Christian missionary can be spotted around town also. There is also a large population associated with the embassies in the city.

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Keep Connected

Internet

There are internet cafes throughout the city, but they are grouped more tightly in places where there are more tourists, such as the riverside. Your guesthouse or hotel might also have internet available.

Phone

See also: International Telephone Calls

The country code of Cambodia is 855. To call out of Cambodia, dial 001 followed by the country code and telephone number of the other party. Many of the internet bars also have international calling options and you can also arrange calls at post offices. Services are usually run by the governmental telecommunication network Camintel. You can find telephone cards in many shops, starting from several US dollars to around US$50. Samart, Mobitel and Shinawrata are the main mobile phone providers, with Mobitel offering the best and most widespread services, although calling from outside towns (countryside) is still tricky.

Post

Cambodia's national postal service offers a wide range of services, though in general things go slowly and are not always very reliable. That said, things have been getting better over the years, and you can expect for your postcard or letter to finally arrive after 5-10, depending from where you send it (avoid small towns) and to where you send it. Prices are around 2000-2,500 Riel to countries in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America, and it's slightly more expensive sending it from more remote places in the provinces. Post offices in Cambodia generally are open from around 8:00am to 5:00pm, with some regional variations. Sendings parcels is only possible from the capital Phnom Penh and it's very expensive as well. You might be better to send it from Thailand, or otherwise check private companies like DHL, TNT or UPS, which are more reliable and might even be cheaper!
The main post office is located near the train station and can send international mail. There are also a post office on Sihanouk just to the west of the Sihanouk-Monivong intersection. There are rarely any customers here and therefore service is very quick.

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Accommodation in Phnom Penh

We have a comprehensive list of accommodation in Phnom Penh searchable right here on Travellerspoint. You can use our map to quickly compare budget, mid-range or top of the range accommodation in Phnom Penh and areas nearby.

Phnom Penh Travel Helpers

This is version 47. Last edited at 3:15 on Aug 2, 17 by sleepBot. 22 articles link to this page.

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