Whether driving a hard bargain at an outdoor market or sampling the unique flavours of French-influenced local cuisine, Phnom Penh has all the charm of a city largely untouched by mass tourism.
Your cultural journey begins at the iconic Royal Palace.Built in 1866, the palace showcases traditional Khmer architecture and bears a touch of French influence, most noticeable in the details found on its murals.
Walk through the golden sculptures of Cambodian royalty in the Throne Hall and also be sure to check out Moonlight Pavilion, a performance space within the Royal Dancers and the Silver Pagoda; a temple that also houses Buddha Maitreya, a Buddhist statue encrusted with over 2000 diamonds.
Do note that Sundays get crowded as locals flock to the palace to pay their respects. Since you’re there, be sure to take a stroll by the riverfront outside the palace, where locals gather in the evenings to unwind over a cold brew.
With all the beautiful architecture on show, It’s easy to forget that Phnom Penh was once the grounds of mass genocide. Should you want to find out more about the bloodshed and the history of the infamous Khmer Rouge regime, the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes is a great (and thought provoking) place to start. Travel south of the city to visit the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, built on the site of killing fields that serve as harrowing reminders of the atrocities committed by the regime in the 1970’s.
On a less somber note, the colour and vibrancy of Phnom Penh’s outdoor markets make for a unique shopping and dining experience amongst the locals. The Russian Market offers a maze of stores with everything from silk scarves, antiques, ceramics to paintings, along with plenty of food and beverage options to suit almost any craving you seek.
The weekend Night Market offers a good alternative for those seeking to scour for good deals away from the sweltering heat. Most vendors are open to haggling so be sure to exercise your bargaining skills should something catch your eye.
Elsewhere in the capital, Street 178 (also known as ‘Art Street’) is home to a host of local sculpture shops and art galleries. Browse some of Cambodia’s most exciting contemporary artists and pick up a handcrafted souvenir from one of the many boutiques dotting the pavements of the city’s shopping/arts hub.
Founded in 2007 by German filmmaker Nico Mesterharm, Meta House boasts over 200 square meters of art exhibition space showcasing both the output of established names and promising students. The venue also serves as a hang-out for local and international artists and regularly hosts art workshops and film screenings.
K-Bach Art Gallery proves that not all art in Cambodia needs to be traditional. With a focus on new urban art, this hip gallery houses both local and international artists that display a myriad of styles including graffiti, impressionism and modern art.
French cuisine is commonly available all throughout Phnom Penh. For those seeking a bite on the go, head to La Patisserie by Christophe for your baguette and pastry fix. For a more formal dining experience, how about the ever-popular Bistrot Langka? The restaurant serves up French classics such as Beef Bourguignon alongside their fusion cuts such as Tuna Tataki with wasabi mayonnaise. Do make sure you have a reservation to avoid disappointment though!
Central Market is also a good place to entice your taste buds. Romdeng whips up delectable local fare like beef cheek curry and duck spring rolls. If you’re up for it, why not try their local delicacy: tarantulas with black pepper lime.
You can also enjoy a light meal in aid of a good cause at
Evenings bring out a different side of Phnom Penh. Be sure to roam the alleys of Bassac Lane - from the motorcycle themed Hangar 44 to the casual dining chic of Meat & Drink. Hidden behind a bookshelf somewhere on Street 240 Bar Sito is also well worth a diversion for. Expect fine cocktails, champagne and a beguiling blend of French and Cambodian influence.
Rock & roll aficionados would also appreciate Zeppelin Café, named after the iconic Led Zeppelin, which washes down a bevy of local/interntional beers/spirits with generous amounts of live music.
Long After Dark in Russian Market serves up a fine menu high quality comfort food with over 60 types of whisky on splayed across multiple shelves. The wooden interior and furnishings of this speakeasy were fashioned from old houses and boats.
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