Phnom Penh Travel Guide
History of Phnom Penh
At the end of the 14th century, Phnom Penh was found by a local woman named Penh, it was a fairy tale but it seemed like a lucky thing for Cambodian. So this place was named as the name of the founder and Phnom Penh means “Penh’s Hill”. Cambodian also calls this place as “king Chektomuk” which means “four faces” because it is in the border of four rivers. And people think that it brings them luckiness, happiness, and success.
However, Phnom Penh was not being capital in that time, only after King Ponhea Yat ascended the throne in the 15th century. The ancient capital was in Angkor and was occupied by French.
Phnom Penh culture is basically influenced by the New Khmer and very developed at sacred culture and worship. More than 90% of the population are Buddhist so most of the activities and festivals are related to Buddha’s spirit. Once coming to Phnom Penh visitors can admire and engage traditional dance in Buddha festivals. None the less, Hindu festivals seem more varied at dace and classical music. Travelers can also learn to use a traditional music instrument. One of the most places where keeps the value of national culture is Silver Pagoda, where worships five emerald Buddha statues, they call that is Cambodia’s value.
Phnom Penh is warm year-round, and most people prefer to visit from November to February when the temperatures are milder and humidity isn’t very extreme. Even then, it’s warm and lovely — temperatures rarely go below 68°F (20°C). Rainfall is heaviest from September to October, but usually this just means short blasts of rainfall in the afternoons.
Temperatures are also hottest from May to October, ranging from 71°F (22°C) to as high as 100°F (38°C), especially in April and May. The humidity during this time is also incredibly high, and the days can be very uncomfortable. Tourism traffic is lower during this time, however, and the heat isn’t unbearable as long as you’re prepared. Along the coast, you’ll at least catch the ocean breeze.
How to get around Phnom Penh
- Tuk-tuks – Tuk-tuks are cheap cabs, and really they’re all you need to use to get around the city. They’re everywhere and you’ll never have to wait long for a ride. Trips should cost between $2-5.50 USD within the city (just make sure you negotiate your price upfront). A tuk-tuk to the Killing Fields and back should cost around $15 USD.
- Taxis – If you’re taking a taxi around the city or to the Killing Fields, make sure or it’s metered or negotiates the fare upfront. They’re more expensive than tuk-tuks, however, and are mostly unnecessary. A 2-mile (3-kilometer) journey will cost about $3.25 USD. The only time it’s really necessary to take a taxi is to and from the airport. The airport to the Riverside area is about $12 USD.
- Hire a driver – If you want to do a big day of sightseeing, you can rent a car and driver for about $32 USD per day. The driver will take you everywhere you need to go and will wait for you between stops. It’s convenient and a good way to see the city on limited time.
Attractions in Phnom Penh
- Independence Monument: Every Cambodian capital has one, but the monument in Phnom Penh is the finest. Designed by famed architect Vann Molyvann, it was inaugurated in 1958 to mark Cambodia’s independence from French rule and now also serves as a de facto war memorial. Located at the intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk boulevards, it is a major city landmark and is lit up at night.
- The Central Market: Built-in 1937, this art-deco ziggurat seems very out of place in Phnom Penh. A huge dome with four wings (it’s duper ugly), it’s a wonderful place to seek refuge from the midday sun. Save your shopping for elsewhere because even when you bargain them down, you’re still paying a hugely inflated price but wander around, stop for a drink, and watch out for pickpockets!
- The Russian Market: Popular with ex-pats and tourists for buying pirated DVDs, fake designer clothing, handicrafts, and anything else you could ever think of, this place got its name from the Russians who shopped here in the 1980s. If you’re looking to buy something in the city, this is the place to do it.
- The Cambodian Performing Arts Center: This is a small traditional dance school where visitors are welcome to watch students in training or, if set up in advance, a fully costumed performance can be seen. Performances include traditional dances like the Apsara as well as the Moni Mekala ritual dance, or folk pieces with upbeat, happy music inspired by Cambodia’s daily life. Tickets start from about $20 USD. Sometimes there is a dinner show as well!
- Phnom Chisor Temple: It may be a 26-mile (42-kilometer) drive out of the city, but this temple located atop a large hill is worth a visit both for the historical ruins and the view of the countryside. Expect to pay at least $30 USD for a tuk-tuk for the journey.
- Wat Ounalom: If you aren’t sick of temples yet, check out Wat Ounalom which is located on the Sisowath Quay. It is considered Phnom Penh’s most important wat and is home to many monks. Large parts of it were damaged during the Khmer Rouge regime but it remains the center of the Cambodian Buddhist religion. From the third floor, there are really nice views over the Mekong River. Entry is free.
- Negotiate with tuk-tuk drivers – Make sure you negotiate the price ahead of time. Moreover, don’t take the first number they give you — it’s inflated. If you’re not sure what price you should be aiming for, ask your hostel/hotel staff in advance. They can usually help you book a trusted driver, as well.
- Because of the tropical climate in Phnom Penh, you should bring cool, loose-fliting clothes, shoes
- Medicine, belongings and formal clothes to visit sacred places.
- VISA/Passport and different currencies because VND/USD/RIEL are available in Cambodia.
- If you have time, visit Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum to discover a part of Cambodia history.