Because I’m late to the party with this ‘travel blog’ concept, I thought I’d share some of my highlights and tips for Cambodia as the quasi-expert I’ve become after five visits!
Where to stay – PP
Phnom Penh is a great city; a crazy bustling melting pot of Asian and European influences. Yes it has loads of tuk tuks, bikes and motorbikes, and yes the electrical wiring system resembles that of my neuro pathways, but I feel it’s distinctively different to other Asian cities.
The best hotel I’ve stayed in so far is Skyline Boutique Hotel. It’s location is perfect – walking distance to Preah Sihanouk Boulevard (kind of like ‘the main drag’) where you’ll find the Independence Monument and the Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk. There is also a large park and children’s playground within walking distance as well which we visited almost every day.
The hotel has Wifi and an onsite bar/restaurant. If you’re staying a while, the menu will get a bit boring. There is a large shaded pool and a smaller splash pool for the little ones. I loved sitting by the pool and watching the colours of the nearby buildings change as the sun moved across the sky:
What to do
Depending on what interests you, there’s a lot or there isn’t. You may want to learn more about Cambodia’s shocking and sad past by visiting The Killing Fields and Tol Sleng (genocide museum). For other less horrifying cultural experiences, there’s the Royal Palace (be sure to check opening times before going!) and the Silver Pagoda, Wot Phnom (wot means temple FYI) and it’s beautiful grounds (look for monkeys!). In our most recent visit we also checked out the national museum which has an incredible array of artifacts from Cambodia’s very rich history. Bit boring for kids but Hardy liked the fish..
If that’s not up your alley, you can shop. Central Markets (pictured below) is only a short tuk tuk ride away and is the easiest of the local markets to navigate. Just be sure you know exactly where you came in or where you’ll meet your driver (more on that below), because all the entries/exits look the same.
The Russian Market often has cheaper products but the tiny paths can be confusing to navigate and leave you feeling a bit claustrophobic. Always haggle as well.
The other must-do for shopping is Street 240. It has a few bespoke/designer boutiques in a little strip (it’s actually just near the museum and if you don’t mind walking, you could walk there from Skyline). My favourite shop is actually called The 240 – they have beautiful ceramics, jewellery and some clothes as well as unique souvenirs. I never leave empty-handed.
If you want something more upmarket you can head to Aeon Mall or Aeon Mall 2 (but the second is quite far away). The mall is like a Westfield but the supermarket is interesting in terms of what they sell. But the specialty food outlets can be expensive – such as the “French bakery” where I paid $18USD for a fucking birthday cake. I almost died. HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARDY EAT EVERY GODDAMN PIECE OF THIS CAKE. Anyway, I digress.
You can walk to (or catch a tuk tuk) to Riverside – which if you can believe is next to the river. Sure, it’s dirty and brown but if you perch yourself up at one of the bars you can watch the world go by (I can’t remember the name of this one but it’s opposite Foreign Correspondent’s Club or FCC, above River Crown on Street 178). Also don’t go to FCC if you’re not a douche or under 60.
One thing to watch for are the sand barges – it is unbelievable how much sand they load them up with. They look as if they’ll sink at any moment. And also fun fact: the large tower complex on the other side of the river is sinking!
You can also approach the boat owners by the river and negotiate a cruise up the Mekong which can include a stop at a silkworm farm. Best part is you can BYO food and drinks so you can just sit back and again; watch the world go by, but from a boat!
There is also a place called Koh Pich (I think) which is a man-made island and some kind of theme park at night. And there are night markets near Riverside. We haven’t been to either but I’m keen to check them out next time!
Where to eat / drink
The other great thing about Skyline is that it’s close to three awesome restaurants:
- Botanico – a hidden oasis of a bar/restaurant. Try the cheese platter (the kampot pepper pate has some bite!) or the sliders. They have nice craft beers on tap and a great international wine list. Just don’t go when trivia is on – the obnoxious American host is a total buzzkill and the questions are too hard and it goes for too long!
- Luna – an Italian restaurant virtually next door to Skyline. I loved dining out under the fairy lights while you watch the chefs work the wood-fired pizza oven.
- Sovanna II – in the street parallel to the hotel is Sovanna I and II. Not sure what the difference is but we always end up at Sovanna II. Sovanna is all about the meat! Different types and different cuts all barbecued to perfection. You can make your own sauce of sorts by combining the condiments on the table – salt, pepper, garlic, chilli and lime. Not something we do here in Aus but it’s super yummy. You can eat frog here by the way 🙂 (tastes like chicken). They also have awesome beer kegs/taps as you can see below:
My other tips for cuisine:
- Titanic / Bopha Restaurant – located at Riverside it’s an upmarket restaurant with Khmer (Cambodian) cuisine. They also have traditional Khmer dancers and music which is really beautiful, particularly in this setting (think romantic fairy lights, foliage everywhere and the glistening river floating by). If you’re going to be awesome and sample a local dish, I absolutely love beef lok lak (marinated beef) and fish amok (mild curry). The fish is typically served wrapped in a banana leaf and is seriously delicious. I finally convinced my godmother Robyn to try it and she proceeded to eat it every day after that!
- Rom Deng – a wonderful restaurant that is helping youth and disadvantaged locals to learn the hospitality trade. Their specialty? Fried tarantula! It’s a Cambodian delicacy. But be prepared – they will bring it out to show you before it’s cooked! BOO! (side note: our waiter actually threw it on Hardy last time which was actually pretty mean. I comforted him briefly before bolting. #motheroftheyear)
I’ve never had a problem with food over there for Hardy – restaurants will always offer ‘American’ style meals like nuggets, burgers etc so don’t be worried about that. Or you can just order rice.
In terms of buying food, there are lots of mini marts around the place, but I recommend Super Duper which is also within walking distance from Skyline. Aside from its awesome name they stock lots of Australian products like Shapes (very important) as well as cheese, meat and fruit. And alcohol.
An absolute must as well while you’re here is drinking fresh coconuts – we did it every day and they’re so delicious, particularly when chilled or mixed with gin!
In terms of bars, I haven’t really experienced much of the nightlife in PP. I will always head to Zeppelin Cafe (street 278) which plays old tunes (70s, 80s rock) and has a relaxed / dingy / grunge vibe. There is also a stunning rooftop bar at ‘the penguin building’ (it probably has an official name) – Sora Sky Bar. During my last visit (March 2019) I was lucky to be able to check out Samai Distillery which was awesome (thanks Reesy and Troy).
We have used babysitters in PP twice, both of whom were recommended by the hotel and (as far as we can tell) everything was fine. I think we paid $20 for about five hours at night.
- Cambodia has a dual currency system – local currency (rial) and US dollars. I think it’s 40,000 rial to the dollar. Smaller places like roadside stalls may only take rial because they won’t have the change on hand for US currency.
- Tuk tuks – depending on where you’re going you shouldn’t be paying more than a few US dollars, and you can negotiate the price before you get in. Take a map so you can show them where you want to go. Sometimes they pretend to understand and will drive around aimlessly or ask other drivers as it’s customary to ‘save face’. Some speak excellent English though. I know a driver (Mr Lee) and would be happy to recommend him to anyone. But if you find a driver you like, ask for their number so you can call them up when you want to head out. You might find they’ll hang around outside your hotel anyway!
- Cambodia has a tipping culture – so always add a bit extra to the bill.
- Wipe the top of a can before drinking out of it.
- The water is cleaner than most Asian nations but I still drink bottled water, even to brush my teeth.
- Safety – I wouldn’t call Cambodia unsafe, but there are instances of bag snatching, particularly when you’re in a tuk tuk. Drivers will also warn you to hold onto your camera or phone and not to lean out to take pictures. My brother’s friend had his phone whipped out of his hands while using it standing on the footpath! I also had someone attempt to grab my bag from inside the tuk tuk but it was so heavy they couldn’t get it.
- The political and justice systems are incredibly corrupt, so stay out of trouble!
It’s honestly a beautiful place that will always have a special place in my heart. After writing this I can’t wait to go back again! Please email me if you’d like to know more. I’ve also been to other parts of Cambodia which I’ll write about soon.