An exhilarating criss-cross of sights, smells, food, cultures, people, and eras, Phnom Penh will tickle your senses like no other city could.
Though partially stuck in the past, the riverside city of Phnom Penh is eagerly marching forward into a bright future. Modern shopping malls and luxury hotels are emerging amongst remnants of the past made up of classic Buddhist temples and vibrant street life.
Prepare to be awed by the majestic Royal Palace or get up close and personal with one of the many thriving temple communities in the city. Venture into a bustling street market and discover the local way of life or simply relax in one of the hip cafés popping up all over the riverside. For travelers, young or old, seeking the “real Asia”, Phnom Penh will surely not disappoint.
The biggest airport in the country, the Phnom Penh International Airport is just a mere 7 kilometres outside of the city centre, and most major Asian airlines serve it. Phnom Penh is also connected by well-paved highways to Siem Riep, Battambang, and Poipet, the main border crossing from Thailand. You can also travel via buses to get to the capital city from the Vietnam and Laos borders, although note that the borders are not open 24 hours. If you fancy a ride on the Mekong River, you can also get to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap on a 6-hour boat ride.
Do not bother with exchanging for the local currency as US Dollars are accepted everywhere and is the preferred currency. ATMs that accept major banks and dispensing US Dollars can be found all over the city. If you really need to exchange money, you can do that at a bank or any of the money changers near the central market. Bear in mind that local establishments do not always accept credit cards so you should always carry some cash with you.
Tourist peak season for Phnom Penh falls from November to May, which is also the dry season, with the most popular at November to February when the temperature is cooler. The wet season runs from June to October and downpours are common in the afternoons. To dodge the crowd and take advantage of low prices, you should visit between June to September. Although traveling around might be somewhat trickier when the roads turn muddy, it is still quite manageable and you will see the city at its lushest.
As buses are almost non-existent, be prepared to use local modes of transport like tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis (moto) to get around. Pedicabs are also available for short distances. You can hire a driver for a day but make sure you only pay at the end of the trip or you might find yourself stranded mid-trip with the driver nowhere to be found!
Phnom Penh offers some unique eats that cannot be found elsewhere in the country, such as French-influenced cuisines. You can easily find local Khmer food all over the city that are very filling and cheap. For the adventurous, exotic treats are available at the central market and Sothearos Boulevard. Restaurants serving a wide variety of food can be found along the riverside from pop-up stalls to upscale dining options.
Even with the inevitable modernisation of the city, Phnom Penh still carries an air of being a frontier destination with its controlled chaos and bustling streets. Not an easy place to travel in, you can love or hate this buzzing capital city, but you will surely never be bored.