Phnom Penh, a city less travelled

 

Two weeks ago, Audrey and I travelled to Phnom Penh for the first time. Visiting a country we knew so little of was exciting and exhilarating – when we booked our flights, we hadn’t even heard of anyone we knew who had been to Phnom Penh!

Cambodia is famous for being home to Angkor Wat, but there’s so much more to this country that yearns to be explored. In the short 40 years since its independence, Phnom Penh has grown a long way. Naturally, we were drawn to the mystery this city holds.

Armed with the new Panasonic LUMIX GX8 camera, we took on the streets of Phnom Penh, prepared for what was to come. After a few days of adventure in Cambodia, here’s the ultimate list of what to do, see, and eat in this gorgeous city!

 

Things To Do

 

1. Explore the city on a tuktuk

 

Phnom Penh tuk tuk

There were barely any cabs on the road as most locals travel around either on foot, bicycles, tuktuks or motorcycles. The best way to navigate around the city is on a tuktuk. It is small, quick to weave through travel at peak hour and CHEAP. Tuktuks are as common as motorcycles in Phnom Penh – but 10 times safer. And at least there will be a roof over your heads if it rains!

Phnom Penh tuk tuk

A word of caution: keep your hands (and valuables) in the tuktuk itself. Be careful not to draw attention to yourself when capturing sights and sounds of Phnom Penh on the road – we’ve heard stories of robbers grabbing phones and cameras from travellers!

Immerse yourself in the sights and sounds and enjoy your ride. You’re in for a real treat. Tuktuks are available for hire anywhere along the roadside in the city centre, and are a budget-friendly way to get to your destination. Tuktuks do not run by the meter, so always agree on a set price prior to the ride.

 

2. Shop at the Russian Market

 

Phnom Penh Russian Market

Phnom Penh Russian Market

Cambodia Phnom Penh Russian Market

Cambodia Phnom Penh Russian Market

You can’t give the Russian Market a miss. No two markets are the same in Phnom Penh. If you wondered why it’s called Russian Market, think of it this way: Russian Market is to Cambodia what Little India is to Singapore.

A popular hotspot for Russian foreigners back in the 1980s, this market is a fantastic platform for visitors to catch a glimpse of how things have changed from its former heyday as a Russian hideout. Plus you can’t forget the main point of visiting any market: shopping!

Be prepared to haggle your way through your shopping spree to reduce prices by more than 1 USD a piece, especially if you purchase items in bulk. One sure-win trick we picked up? The shop owners might be strangers to you, but the best approach you can take is to act like their best friend! GET YOUR AUNTY GAME ON.

Cambodia Phnom Penh Russian Market

Cambodia Phnom Penh Russian Market

Cambodia Phnom Penh Russian Market

Cambodia Phnom Penh Russian Market

Unlike Chatuchak market in Thailand that’s impossible to navigate, the Russian Market is structured in a simple square, making it easy to understand. Regardless of which path you take, always remember that there will be one that leads to the road. No worries about getting lost here!

Russian Market has everything from fabric, knockoffs, local delights, and handicraft to preserved crocodiles (yes, actual crocodiles). Weird, but memorable. AND affordable.

Address: Corner of Street 163 and Street 444, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 06:00 – 17:00

 

3. Do taichi with the locals

 

Cambodia Phnom Penh Taichi

Cambodia Phnom Penh Tai Chi

Cambodians start their day really early. At 06:00, half of Phnom Penh was already in full swing. While it’s a stark contrast to the way of life back home, it was refreshing to live like a local. If you’re up for some Tai Chi by the river, don’t miss the chance to drop by Riverfront Park. Whether you’ll be people watching or joining in the fun, it’s going to be a unique experience.

Address: Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

 

4. Visit Phnom Penh’s only outlet store!

 

 

Cambodia Phnom Penh, Factory Outlet Stall

Factory Outlet Store (FOS) is a chain widely seen in Malaysia – it caught us by surprise when we chanced upon this on our walk towards Central Market. The official currency accepted in Cambodia is US Dollars. Upon conversion to Singapore Dollars, a pair of Vans sneakers only costs around S$43, a huge difference from the S$80 retail price in stores!

Address: No. 22-25, Kampuchea Krom Blvd (128), 12209 Phnom Penh
Opening Hours: 10:00 – 22:00
Contact Number: 023 219 102

 

5. Explore Phnom Penh’s nightlife

 

Cambodia Phnom Penh Factory Outlet Store

Phnom Penh Cambodia nightlife

If you’re bored after nightfall and in need for some ice cold beer, Phnom Penh has it all. With a vibrant night scene, there are many night spots for the party animal in you. Compared to clubs in Singapore, the ones in Phnom Penh are more chill and casual, while retaining the level of energy of the dance floors here.

One of the more atas clubs in town, Nova, caters to Phnom Penh’s tasteful party-goers. Attracting clientele from all over the world, this is the place to be for a night to remember. It also doesn’t matter which day you’re in town – it’s open 7 days a week.

Address: #19 Street 214, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 21:00 – 04:00
Contact Number: 097 716 5000

 

6. Go bar hopping

 

Bars and happy hour in Phnom Penh

Bars and happy hour in Phnom Penh

Source

Phnom Penh is one of the places on earth with the best happy hour deals. Not only is it a daily affair, it is also one city with best price offers. Iconic in Cambodia, Angkor Beer is easily found across the country, loved by many. Light on the palate, you’ll nonetheless get a kick out of a whole night of knocking pints back. We had 6 beers for US$3 at Khmeroyal Hotel Restaurant. US$1 for each pint, AND a 1-for-1 promotion.

TAKE OUR MONEY.

Recommended bars:

Oskar:
Address: 159 Street Sisowath Quay, Sangkat Phsar Kandal 1, Khan Daunpenh, Phnom Penh 12204, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 17:00 – 2:00
Contact Number: +855 23 215 179

Khmeroyal Hotel:
Address: Building 383-385 Sisowath Blvd., on riverside, Sangkat Chay Chomneas, Khan Dounpenh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Contact Number: +855 10 816 418

 

Things To See

 

7. Watch the sunrise by the riverfront

 

Sunrise in Cambodia Phnom Penh

Sunrise in Cambodia Phnom Penh

No trip to Phnom Penh is complete without watching the sun rise by the riverside. In fact, this is one of the first few things you should do: drag yourself out of bed at 5am to catch the sun rise. Waking up at 5am sounds horrible, but your eyes (and your Instagram feed) will thank you for it. We watched as the sky turned from a deep shade of blue to a sparkly golden sheen.

The river was empty and serene, with only 1 boat in sight, providing a beautiful panoramic view.

 

8. Experience a traditional wet market: Kandal Market

 

wet market in Cambodia Phnom Penh

wet market in Cambodia Phnom Penh

wet market in Cambodia Phnom Penh

wet market in Cambodia Phnom Penh

You haven’t really experienced the Cambodian way of life if you haven’t visited a local wet market. Disregard all prior perceptions you have of a wet market – Kandal Market was out of this world. Unlike having actual stores with proper structure in a compound, the stall owners set up their stalls made out of styrofoam boxes and wooden trays at Kanda; Market. Some, more fortunate than others, had a standing space with tables.

There were women butchering crazy amounts of meat at each store. Here, there’s no point gauging the freshness by the brightness of a fish’s eye – it doesn’t matter when you’re looking at a fish that’s still moving!

wet market in Cambodia Phnom Penh

wet market in Cambodia Phnom Penh

wet market in Cambodia Phnom Penh

Drive your soles through the sloshy mud that paved way of the market. A piece of advice we wished we had: leave your fancy shoes behind when you visit Kandal Market – you don’t want to get them dirty!

Address: Street 13 | Ang Eng Blvd, Phnom Penh,Cambodia

 

9. Hang out at The Royal Palace and watch the sunset.

 

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

With the sun rising before 06:00 every morning, one would expect it to set early in the evening. We were already camping by the Royal Palace at 17:30, waiting for the sun to go down. Do what the locals do: take a seat anywhere on the grass patches all over the compound. Close your eyes and take in the atmosphere, but be vigilant of snatch thieves, .

Forget the time of day. Listen to endless chatter coming from left. right, centre. Take a bite off the street snack you’ve just bought. Play with the kids running around. Watch the sun go down. Embrace it all.

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace in Cambodia Phnom Penh

Set against the dark night sky, you will find a spectacular sight in front of you. It’s a gradual process, but also a distinct one. With the Royal Palace illuminating brightly, we were surprised to realise that it was only 19:00.

Visiting the Royal Palace between 17:30 and 19:00 is highly recommended. It’s killing two birds with one stone, with 2 distinct gorgeous sights to take in.

Address: Sothearos, between Street 240 & 184, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:00
Contact Number: 85517692736

 

10. Visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

 

Cambodia, Phnom Pehn, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Cambodia, Phnom Pehn, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Cambodia, Phnom Pehn, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

For travellers with a thirst for history, this is the right place to quench that. Originally a school, this place turned into a torture, interrogation and execution site during wartime. Preserved since the 1970s, it stands strong as a reminder of the horrors the nation had gone through.

A visit to this museum is priceless and an unforgettable experience. For an authentic Cambodian experience, spare an afternoon to visit this place.

Address: Corner of Street 113 & St 350, Phnom Penh,Cambodia
Opening Hours: 07:00 – 17:30
Contact Number: +855-9-33-88988

 

11. Visit a local monastery: Wat Ounalom

 

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Wat Ounalom

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Wat Ounalom

Wat Ounalom isn’t just one of the many temples located throughout Phnom Penh. A monastery with years of history, this place is the headquarters for Cambodian Buddhism in the city.

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Wat Ounalom

We found residential houses located around the area, serving as places of rest for the monks of Wat Ounalom. These provide an ideal environment for them to meditate peacefully every day.

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Wat Ounalom

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Wat Ounalom

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Wat Ounalom

It was interesting to spend a good hour strolling around the Monastery. Monks aren’t difficult to differentiate from other locals – their traditional monk robes give them away instantly. We found young children running around gleefully, enjoying the carefree life they had. In hindsight, it was really heartwarming to observe their way of life. Modest, and peaceful.

Address: Ly Yoak Lay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 06:00 – 18:00
Contact Number: 855 23 72 3949

 

Things To Eat

 

12. Visit the super vibrant Central Market for kickass grilled food

 

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Located a short 10 minute walk from our hotel, we stopped here for a mid-day recharge.  Even at 4 in the afternoon, Central Market was busy and full of life. Needless to say, the smoky notes from grilled squid and prawns wafted through the air and delightfully found a place in our noses. Who doesn’t love the smell of fresh barbecued seafood?

The prawns served were extremely fresh. The shells came off the moment we pulled the prawn shells from the succulent, glistening meat perfectly even before we had a taste.

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Central Market

Craving for Khmer snacks, grilled meat, or  sugared donuts? Take your pick here. You’ll be completely spoilt for choice.

Address:  Between streets 126 and 136, Phnom Penh,Cambodia
Opening Hours: 07:00 – 18:00

 

13. Indulge in a homely cup of bean curd by Tonle Sap River

 

Phnom Penh Cambodia, bean curd at Tonle Sap River

Phnom Penh Cambodia, bean curd at Tonle Sap River

We found an unassuming street vendor at a corner of the riverside behind a group of elderly doing Tai Chi and the bean curd turned out to be amazing.The soft slippery beancurd was soaked in sweet honey-like liquid, hot enough to warm our bellies in an early morning chill.

One difference we noticed between this and the beancurd we’re used to: Cambodian beancurd has a lingering taste of ginger resting at the back of our tongues with each spoonful.

Phnom Penh Cambodia, bean curd at Tonle Sap River

Phnom Penh Cambodia, bean curd at Tonle Sap River

 

14. Dare to try fried insects at Aeon Mall!

 

Aeon Mall is the first and only mall to be built in the capital of Cambodia. In stark contrast to how the locals live, this mall is fully air conditioned and could be the key to advancement of the country’s development. Call it a culture shock, but we were surprised to find big brands such as Pedro and G2000 here.

But the highlight of Aeon Mall for us? Fried insects.

Cambodia Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall, fried insects

Cambodia Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall, fried insects

Cambodia Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall, fried insects

Cambodia Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall, fried insects

Cambodia Phnom Penh, Aeon Mall, fried insects

‘Revolting’ might be the word we used to describe these plates, but they are a greatly loved staple for locals. Watching the locals consume these creatures like they were small grains of rice was… interesting. But we decided that insects weren’t for us.

Address:  Aeon Mall #132, Street Samdach Sothearos, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Khan Chamkarmon, Phnom Penh,Cambodia
Opening Hours: 09:00 – 22:00
Contact Number:: 023 901 091

 

15. Savour excellent Khmer Thai food at Khmer Surin Restaurant

 

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Khmer Thai food

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Khmer Thai food

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Khmer Thai food

For those without the guts (or the stomach) to try Khmer food off the streets, fear not. Khmer Thai food is commonly found around the region, but we recommend going to Khmer Surin for the ultimate treat.

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Khmer Thai food

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Khmer Thai food

For the first time this trip, we had the chance to try Cambodian coffee from an authentic Khmer eatery. We had no idea how Cambodians drink their coffee. Flat? Latte? Espresso shots? We could only try it for ourselves.

Surprisingly, they are made quite similar to Vietnamese iced coffee, served over ice, with large (read: insane) quantities of sweetened condensed milk. The first sip felt like a huge punch in the mouth, with strong caffeine accompanied by a burst of sugar. The condensed milk took up a good 1/5 of the glass, unlike the two teaspoonfuls we usually add at home.

If it wasn’t for the saccharine sweetness contained in a single glass, we’d rate Cambodian coffee a straight 10/10.

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Khmer Thai food

Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Khmer Thai food

As obviously as these cuisines had a Thai influence, there were distinct differences between Khmer Thai food and Thai food.

For one, the Mango Sticky Rice served had a big contrast in the type of rice being used, and how it was cooked. I’m sure you’re more than familiar with the Thai Mango Sticky Rice. Soft, chewy and sticky rice with fresh mango, topped with coconut cream drizzle. In Cambodia, the rice that was used was a little tougher, tasting more homegrown than not.

Address:  House #9, Street 57, Sangkat Boeung Keng Kang I, Khan Chamkarmon, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 11:00 – 22:00
Contact Number: +855 (0) 12 887 320, +855 (0) 12 797 539, and +855 (0) 23 993 163

 

16. Enjoy the best steak in Cambodia

 

best steak in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

best steak in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

best steak in Phnom Pehn, Cambodia

Steak lovers, you need to visit FCC Restaurant. For one, the sear on these pieces of meat were just right. As the steak melted in our mouths with each bite, we knew we had found a real gem here

Of course, one meal will not be complete without an accompanying drink. Make full use of the happy hour specials here – they’re certainly worth it.

Address:  FCC Restaurants, 363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 07:00 – 00:00
Contact Number:  855 23 724 014

 

17. Enjoy Cambodian Breakfast at Riverside Bistro

 

Cambodian Breakfast at Riverside Bistro

Cambodian Breakfast at Riverside Bistro

What better to kickstart the day… than indulging in good Cambodian breakfast? Enjoy a warm cup of coffee while feeling the cold morning wind brush against your skin. As we ate to our heart’s content, time seemed to stop for us.

Cambodian Breakfast at Riverside Bistro

Cambodian Breakfast at Riverside Bistro

Cambodian Breakfast at Riverside Bistro

A hearty meal mostly consisted of the same few ingredients: eggs, tomatoes, bacon, and bread. We’re not complaining though – they were absolutely delicious. A simple getup, yet it felt so much like home.

Address: Sisowat Quay 273A | Coner 148, Phnom Penh,Cambodia
Opening Hours:  07:00 – 00:00
Contact Number: +855 23 213 898

 

18. Experience a touch of class in Phnom Penh

 

Oskar, high class restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Oskar, high class restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Oskar was highly recommended by most people we met here. Although Singapore is filled with atas restaurants, it felt strange to be dining in a place like this in Phnom Penh.

Oskar, high class restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Oskar, high class restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Oskar, high class restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Oskar, high class restaurant in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The food lived up to its reputation. It was phenomenal, far exceeding expectations. You know how you can judge salmon based on how crispy the skin on your salmon is? The one I had crackled into crisps with each bite. Amazing.

Address: 159 Street Sisowath Quay, Sangkat Phsar Kandal 1, Khan Daunpenh, Phnom Penh 12204, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 17:00 – 02:00
Contact Number: +855 23 215 179

 

19. Street Food at The Royal Palace

 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Street Food at The Royal Palace

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Street Food at The Royal Palace

All around the Royal Palace, there are locals minding their daily businesses. Some take the time to relax, while an enterprising few take the opportunity to make a living. From small snacks to fresh fruits, the bites you can have here are endless.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Street Food at The Royal Palace

When we ventured around the royal compound, we found peddlers of all ages making their keep. A little boy in particular caught our attention, going around selling peanuts and garlic. He did not speak a single word of English, but we broke the language barrier through simple hand gestures.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Street Food at The Royal Palace

Address:  Sothearos, between Street 240 & 184, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours: 08:00 – 17:00
Contact Number: 85517692736

 

20. Last but not least, a taste of home: Geylang frog leg porridge!

 

Geylang Frog Porridge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Source 

Geylang Frog Porridge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Geylang Frog Porridge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Geylang Frog Porridge in Phnom Penh?! We kid you not. If you’re missing home already, this slice of Singapore will bring you right back. Some reviews online say that it’s even better than the original stall in Singapore!

We tried it for ourselves and it was as legit as any we’ve ever had. And if you want to know if it’s better than the one in Singapore, you gotta try it for yourself to judge!

Address: #187C Street 63, (Corner of Street 288) | Boeung Keng Kang 1, Chamkarmon, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Opening Hours:  Monday to Sunday 11:00 – 14:30 and 17:00 – 03:00
Contact Number: +855 89 757 517

 

Reflecting on Phnom Penh

 

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Saying Phnom Penh blew our minds would be an understatement. Having never visited Cambodia before, we had close to zero expectations prior to the trip. An eye opener to the world that surrounds us – we couldn’t say no.

Phnom Penh

Life in Phnom Penh was the simplest I’ve ever experienced. Get to know the locals. Most of them are conversant in basic English, and you would never predict the friendships that will form there. We had the opportunity to teach a waitress how to speak basic Mandarin. Simple words such as ‘thank you’, and ‘see you again’, had the ability to bring two nationalities together.

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Suspend your disbelief of Phnom Penh being a worthwhile travel destination. However, as with all trips, remember to bring your camera along! Better capture every corner of this hidden gem before it’s fully populated by tourists, right?

 

The perfect photographic companion

 

photography in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

As a professional camera designed for photography enthusiasts and professional shooters, the Panasonic LUMIX GX8 was a dream companion during our trip. Forget your worries about photos taken in fast-paced and shaky conditions – our GX8 ensured we took stable and clear shots even when on bumpy rides in the tuktuk.

photography in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Also, the GX8 takes 4K quality videos. If you’re not into technical talk, this means is that the videos taken are so sharp that you could freeze it at any frame and extract a crisp looking photo from there. This was incredibly useful for fast-moving subjects, and we imagine it will be a charm to use during the firework demonstration during National Day Parade.

Needless to say, we were impressed. The GX8 with standard lens kit retails at $1,699 at authorised dealers. Find out more about it here.


This post was brought to you by Panasonic Singapore.