Things to Do in Phnom Penh
There aren’t really that many things to do in Phnom Penh, well especially not in the center but if you’re traveling around Cambodia you will probably go through it and you should, if literally only just to see the killing fields. As I mentioned in the intro to Cambodia.
I was really embarrassingly, at the age of 26, when I first went to Cambodia had no idea about the genocide that had taken place there. Genuinely I’d never heard a thing about it. And I’m a well educated adult so I’d guess I’m most likely not the only one. Even if you know nothing or a lot about the genocide if you do one thing while you’re in Cambodia make sure you go to The Killing Fields.
The Killing Fields
Since I knew nothing about the genocide in Cambodia I only ended up at The Killing Fields because our tuk-tuk driver recommended it as the one thing we should do for the afternoon we had there the first time I went.
The place you walk around at The Killing Fields is essentially mostly an empty field but I have never been somewhere where they’ve managed to capture the horror of what happened there so well. The audio guide is excellent and it provides a really important insight into the abhorrent things that took place and happened to the Cambodian people.
It is probably the most significant thing I’ve seen on my travels and people should be aware of the terror that was inflicted.
Just maybe don’t go on boxing day though like I did. That was an error.
I didn’t take any photos at The Killing Fields themselves. That would have been inappropriate. Yeah taking selfies at genocide sites is inapprops people.
Absorb what happened. Really listen to the audio guide and FEEL IT.
We’ll only stop these atrocities from happening again in the future if we actually, all of us even those whose family has never been effected by such an event, internalise and really feel how incredibly fucking horrible the events that took place were and so flinch at the first sign of them happening again.
The Independence Monument and Grounds of The Royal Palace
It’s fun to go look at these and I really enjoy exploring a new place by walking so seeing the two was a great excuse to walk round the city and get to know it better. There isn’t anything to see inside at the Independence Monument since it is a monument but you can go inside The Royal Palace, although I seem to have a habit of consistently missing its opening times.
Exploring Phnom Penh
Walking around a city is one of my favourite ways to explore it so I did a lot of this both times I was in Phnom Penh; with a friend the first time I visited and on my own the second time. Be careful though. As I mentioned in the Cambodia Itinerary there is a LOT of bag theft in Phnom Penh with people slashing straps on bags and even grabbing them off people in tuk-tuks. If you’re going to use a backpack while walking around, make sure it’s a theft proof backpack so the material can’t be slashed through. Even better still, be super cool like me and wear a bumbag.
Be hyper vigilant at all times.
Make sure you have people to get back to your accommodation with if you go for a late night out too. It’s not unheard of if someone gets a tuk-tuk late at night on their own from a club for them to end up in a completely different location, stranded with all their money stolen. As always I don’t say this to scare you but you can be prepared and not fall foul to the same fate.
The traffic is bat shit crazy in Phnom Penh. The only time I’ve see worse traffic is in Vietnam, and I’m pretty sure that’s the worst there is. If in doubt as to how to cross a road wait for a local who is looking to do the same, then follow them. If you can’t find a local the general rule is to wait for it to be a bit quieter then walk across with your hand out in a stop sign and the cars and bikes will swerve around you. Don’t keep jumping back and forward though that will only really confuse the traffic.
If you want a laugh check out this video on road crossing the road in India which isn’t too dissimilar.
Since there aren’t that many sites to see there’s no reason also not to just spend your time eating all the Khmer food once you’ve done the essentials. Or run around finding all the street art in Phnom Penh.
Where to Stay in Phonm Penh
The Mad Monkey Hostel, hands down. This chain of hostels, that they have in a number of cities in Cambodia, kicks ass. Some of the bunk beds are so wide you actually feel like you’re sleeping in a double bed. They all have their own plug sockets and lamps and there is ample storage space in the lockers. The one in Phnom Penh also has a really good roof top bar that organises nights out for guests and a restaurant downstairs in case you can’t be bothered to leave the comfort of the hostel.
Getting to Phnom Penh
The first time I went into Phnom Penh I arrived by bus from Vietnam. It’s a long bus ride but you can find companies that take you all the way through the border crossing so it’s relatively hassle free. We’d sorted our visas in advance for Cambodia but actually most people just got them on the border when we stopped.
The second time I went to Phnom Penh I came in from Thailand. I had been in the south of Thailand in Koh Tao so looked to get a ferry and bus ticket all the way to Phnom Penh. This was not the best route planning on my part since that is a LONG journey but I hadn’t planned to go back to Cambodia on this trip and it was the only affordable way to do it.
(You know what, it wasn’t actually, I was being a tight arse. It probably would have cost me an additional $50-100 to save myself from about 36 hours of overland travel. I should just have flown. Sometimes trying to do everything literally as cheaply as is possible isn’t worth it.)
There are no longer direct busses that go all the way through to Phnom Penh from Koh Tao. There used to be but the furthest you can get them direct is to Siem Reap now. I therefore had to book a boat and bus ticket to Bangkok then when I arrived in Bangkok that night booked another bus ticket to Phnom Penh for early the next morning. The travel agent sold me a ticket to go all the way to Phnom Penh from Bangkok but the journey is always with more than one bus company. That means you stop at the border, have to sort out your visa then go through customs and walk across the border to Cambodia. It’s actually quite a long walk to get from the Thai to the Cambodian side of the border. My next bus was supposed to leave shortly after that, I paid extra so that it would, but as with a lot of things when travelling that wasn’t how it panned out.
The next bus wasn’t for a few hours, which was the same one as the cheaper ticket would have been and the border area of Cambodia isn’t exactly the most fun place to hangout but the journey was fine once we got going.
If you’ve followed my advice on making sure you always have some back up money in USD on you, when you arrive in Phnom Penh you can then easily get a tuk-tuk to your accommodation without having to stop at an ATM, leaving all your belongings with a total stranger in the tuk-tuk, since they accept dollars almost everywhere in Cambodia (you will get change in the local currency more often than not though which can make it really hard to work out if you’ve been given the right amount back!).
How Long to Stay in Phnom Penh
One or two nights. As long as you have one full day to look round the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort you have allowed plenty of time there.
Getting from Phnom Penh to Kampot
We booked the bus for this through our hostel, but the busses fill up quick so book as much in advance as you can to ensure you manage to get a seat on the day you would like to leave. The bus takes about 3 hours. Word of warning, they really pack the busses in with fold down seats that fill up the aisle.
Getting from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap
You can also go directly form Phnom Penh to Siem Reap as I did my first time in Cambodia. Have a look at my post on Siem Reap for more info on the options for this journey as it can be done by bus or boat.