Sitting on the banks of the wide and languid Mekong River, a bustling trading port and capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is a beguiling and intense addition to a South East Asia exploration. Stroll along the riverside promenade at sunset with the people of the city, call in to the profusion of small cafes and restaurants serving delicate flavours of Cambodia and Indochina as well as international cuisine. See the ornate palace, explore the central market and visit the fascinating museums and monuments detailing Cambodia’s turbulent ancient and recent history.
Phnom Penh is a fascinating city to visit for a few days, a bustling South East Asian hub. Being connected to Ho Chi Minh City via the Mekong and with links to Angor and the beach resorts of the south, Phnom Penh is a beguiling addition to any trip in Indochina. As a first taste of Phnom Penh, a stroll along the promenade which follows the curer of the wide Mekong reveals locals trading, families gathering at the end of the day and a view of this busy waterway.
Call into a café or bar and watch the world pass bay, especially in late afternoon as the sun casts and orange glow on the river. Here by the river you can see the ornate Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda and some of the remaining French colonial architecture of the city. In the bustling centre, locals and tourists alike haggle for food and souvenirs in the central market, with some wonderful local artisan stalls.
On a guided tour of the city, appreciate the ancient history of the city and experience some of the remains of the turbulent twentieth century years of war and upheaval, including the haunting Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng prison museum – a former school standing as a sober yet important testament to dark times. Phnom Penh defies conventions and creates and impression on all who visit.
Phnom Penh experiences warm temperatures year-round, peaking in April and May where temperatures hit the high thirties Celsius, with the dry season lasting usually from November to April.
From May to September the rainy season brings intense afternoon showers, although the city is usually less crowded. Weather patterns are never entirely the same year on year, so the season aren’t always clearly defined.
Phnom Penh is the best place to try authentic Khmer cuisine, influenced by but distinct from the cuisine of neighbouring Thailand and Vietnam. On a guided street food tour of the capital you can explore areas busy with street food vendors and ad hoc pavement cafes with the freshest food – pork skewers, spicy Khmer curries, noodle and pho stalls and more. Amok is a national dish – fish steamed with coconut milk and spices serves ion banana leaves.
The restaurant scene in Phnom Penh is well developed: in luxury hotels you can find local and international flavours, and there’s a collection of excellent restaurants dotted around some of the old French buildings and villas, the river front and al fresco places, it’s worth staying a little longer to have a varied foodies experience. Local Angkor beer is ubiquitous, a perfect accompaniment to sunset by the river, or head to a bar for sunset cocktails. Coffee is also popular, a legacy of French rule, but is very different here than in the west, but a cappuccino or a late is equally easy to come by.
As with any holiday, it's a good idea to carry some identification with you at all times. You need a visa to enter Cambodia, which is available on arrival. You can also purchase an e-visa beforehand. Visit GOV.UK for more advice.