If you have been reading our recent articles or following us on social media, you might already know that we recently did an Indochina trip that covers three countries; Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. In this article, we’ll provide details on how we explored Cambodia, specifically in its capital Phnom Penh.
I won’t tell you flowery words about how awesome Cambodia is and this article will not contain amazing photos that will make you want to go here. Sorry for being so serious at the start of this article but this part of our Indochina adventure REALLY changed me. It changed my perception about life as a human being and as a Filipino. We’ll talk about this more later!
But before I bore you to death, we’ll also discuss the tourist destinations you can visit in Phnom Penh, food to eat, and where to stay. We’ll also give you options on how to get your sim card as well as other travel tips that will make your stay in Cambodia worthwhile.
Let’s get started!
According to a legend (which we overheard from a tour guide who belonged to a different group lol), Phnom Penh was named after Lady Penh who found a tree floating down the river. Inside, they found four bronze Buddha statues and a statue of Vishnu. She ordered the locals to raise the height of the hill nearby her house and use the tree and build a temple with the statues inside. Now, this temple is called Wat Phnom. Fun fact, Phnom Penh is literally translated as Penh’s Hill.
Same with Ho Chi Minh City, Phnom Penh was also heavily influenced by the French. Around the 1920s, the capital rapidly grew its economy with the construction of railways and airport. But during the Vietnam War and the start of the Khmer Rouge around the 70’s, Phnom Penh started to fall.
More about the Khmer Rouge...
I am not a historian but here’s what I learned about the Khmer Rouge during our stay in Phnom Penh. I think this is something worth sharing because I was heavily affected with what I learned from this horrific event.
Cambodia became a puppet government of the French and one man wanted to put a stop to it. He worked during the day as a regular employee and a revolutionist during the night. He gathered people to fight for his cause and when the opportunity to strike came, he did not fret and the group won the Cambodian Civil War and took control of Phnom Penh in 1975. They were called the Communist Party of Kampuchea and their army is called the Khmer Rouge.
The man behind the revolution was Pol Pot and he ordered the civilians to move out from the cities and work as peasants in farms. Families were torn apart and almost 2 million Cambodians were tortured and killed. Even those who were professionals; doctors, engineers, pilots, were even killed. Wearing eyeglasses are prohibited too because it makes the person look intelligent. The Khmer Rouge did not want any intellectuals and they almost wiped out the Khmer culture during their reign because they wanted a fresh start.
On 1979, Vietnam entered Cambodia and destroyed almost all of the Khmer Rouge Army. The survivors fled to Thailand for refuge. Now, the leaders of the Khmer Rouge surrendered in 1999 after the death of Pol Pot in 1998. The rest were sentenced to lifetime imprisonment by the United Nations.
Okay, now that was a lot. On the lighter side, let’s go back to the other things that you should know about Phnom Penh before your visit.
1. Climate – Same with the Philippines and Vietnam, Phnom Penh (or let’s say the whole of Cambodia) has two seasons; the wet and dry seasons. It’s recommended to visit Cambodia during the dry season which runs from December through April.
2. Language – The official language of Cambodia is Khmer and is spoken by almost 90% of the population. English is spoken in most of the tourist destinations and based on my experience, I had an easier time communicating with Cambodians compared to Vietnamese. (I have no intention to insult anyone with this comment. Just sharing my experience which may be different to yours.)
3. Currency – The currency used in Cambodia is the Riel or KHR. They also use US Dollars anywhere and 4,000 Riel is pegged at 1 US Dollar. You can use both currencies in one transaction. Let’s say you need to pay 6,000 KHR. You can give 1 USD and 2,000 KHR. No need to exchange your money from USD to KHR because again, USD is accepted anywhere.
Where To Stay in Phnom Penh
Accommodation in Phnom Penh is cheap because there are lots of options to choose from. If you don’t want to spend too much, you can opt to stay in a hostel. Here’s where we stayed in Phnom Penh:
1. Onederz Hostel Phnom Penh
Address: No 151E0, Sisowath Quay, River Front, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
One thing I didn’t like about this hostel is that they offer very limited breakfast options. There’s no rice! Lol! They offer American breakfast which consists of bread, bacon, egg, sausage, tomatoes, and orange juice. There’s another option but I forgot lol. Overall, I’ll be staying here again when I get back.
You can also check the other options here for accommodation:
2. Billabong Hostel – great location, with swimming pool, free WiFi, dorm beds available (check rates here)
3. Coolwrong Hostel – located near Onederz, free WiFi (check rates here)
4. Base Villa – 24 hour reception, free WiFi, dorm beds available (check rates here)
5. Maya Papaya Cafe & Hostel – free WiFi, restaurant, dorm beds (check rates here)
How To Get To Phnom Penh
Upon checking our major airlines in the Philippines, here’s what I found:
1. Cebu Pacific – no flights to Phnom Penh, only to Siem Reap
2. AirAsia – have flights to Phnom Penh but there’s a layover (Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok)
3. Philippine Airlines – offers direct flights to Phnom Penh
Looks like the best option here is to fly with Philippine Airlines. But if you are eyeing to visit Siem Reap as well (which is the case most of the time), you can opt for Cebu Pacific and travel by bus to Phnom Penh.
If you’re planning to have an Indochina trip which covers Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, this is going to be easy. You can book a flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam) or Bangkok (Thailand), depending on where you want to start your adventure. Then you can book your bus tickets to Phnom Penh.
No worries because the bus attendant will help you all throughout the immigration process and there’s nothing extra to pay for Filipinos because we are Visa-free. I will highly recommend the bus company Giant Ibis because they will not rip you off and will help you along the way. Here’s how you can book your bus tickets via Klook, hassle-free:
Aside from Giant Ibis, you can also check out other bus companies here that cater tourists from Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Sim Card, Data & WiFi
As much as possible, I try to get my sim card from Klook because they offer hotel delivery like what we did in Ho Chi Minh City. But this time for Cambodia, I was not able to find a sim card that can be picked up in Phnom Penh. The available options in Klook offer pick-up in Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila.
We have a friend in Cambodia and she instructed us on how to easily buy a sim card in Phnom Penh. She told us to visit a Smart Booth anywhere in the city, show our passports, and claim the sim card. Good news is that they have booths as well in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports. If you are staying in Onederz or Cool Wrong Hostel, you can find a Smart Shop along the road if you are going to the Night Market.
Here are the options you can avail. Based on our experience, we got the 5 USD sim card and we just shared the internet connection by using a personal hotspot. The speed was decent and we’re able to use Google Maps and Grab without any problems.
Things To Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
1. Phnom Penh City Tour
There are several tourist destinations that you can visit when you are in Phom Penh. It’s just around the city as well so traveling from one point to another is not difficult especially that Grab Tuktuk is always available.
- Wat Phnom – Buddhist temple and the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh. Located in Street 96, Norodom Blvd. Entrance fee of $1 for tourists, open from 8am-6pm.
- Royal Palace of Cambodia – Royal residence of the King of Cambodia which features Khmer architecture. Located in Samdach Sothearos Blvd with an entrance fee of $10. Open everyday from 8am-10:30am, 2pm-5pm.
- Silver Pagoda – Located on the south side of the Royal Palace, also called Wat Preah Keo. It houses many gold Buddha statues. The entrance fee is included in the $10.
- Independence Monument – Built to memorialize Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. Its design is based on Angkor Wat’s towers. There’s no exact address but you can find it here, https://goo.gl/maps/t63eh5cu5QbmfXEf9
- Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk – Also called as Norodom Sihanouk Memorial, it was built to commemorate the King’s efforts in liberating Cambodia from France. This is located near the Independence Monument.
- Wat Ounalom – Considered as center of Cambodian Buddhism. Located in Ly Yoat Lay St, open from 6am-6pm. No entrance fee.
- Sisowath Quay – A boulevard that is located along the intersection of Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. Take a stroll here and dine with the locals.
- National Museum of Cambodia – Home to the finest Khmer art. Located in Street 13, Sangkat Chey Chumneas, Khan Daun Penh and is open everyday from 8am-5pm. Entrance fee for foreigners aged 18 and above is $10.
2. Eat & Shop at Phnom Penh Night Market
During your stay in Phnom Penh, do not miss going to the night market to experience dining like a local. There are lots of stalls that offer street foods and Khmer food and eating there once would not be enough. Try their beef fried rice, papaya salad, and sugar cane juice. After that, you can visit other stalls where you can buy pasalubong like ref magnets, key chain, shirts, and many more.
There’s also a stage inside where the locals perform every night. We were lucky to witness them in their traditional Aspara dance when we visited Phnom Penh.
Address: Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Operating Hours: Opens 5pm everyday
Entrance Fee: None
3. Visit S-21 & Killing Fields
Remember our little history tour about the Khmer Rouge? This is where I got really affected the most. S21 was a school but it became a holding cell for prisoners before they are executed in the Killing Fields. You can hire a private tuktuk to take you here but in our case, we booked a hop-on, hop-off service from Klook and they picked us up from the hotel. There’s a separate entrance fee that you need to pay.
Both the S21 and Killing Fields are MUST VISIT DESTINATIONS and you should not miss these to learn about Cambodia’s dark past. We recommend getting the audio tour. There are more than 20 stops that you can listen to while exploring both S21 and Killing Fields.
Information About S21 (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)
Address: Street 113, Sangkat Boeung Keng Kang 3, Khan Chamkarmon
Operating Hours: 8am-5pm everyday
Entrance Fee: $5 per person, another $3 for an audio or tour guide (optional)
Information About Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center)
Address: Phlauv Cheungek, Phnom Penh
Operating Hours: 7:30am-5:30pm everyday
Entrance Fee: $3 per person, another $3 for an audio or tour guide (optional)
4. Taste Khmer Food
Khmer food is the traditional cuisine of Cambodia. It shares many similarities with Thai and Indian food but is less spicy. They often use coconut cream, curry, and ginger in their dishes.
During our stay in Phnom Penh, we were able to try some authentic Khmer food like the Chicken Amok, Stir Fry Chiken in Ginger and Beef Lok Lak. You can also try their Curry, Bai Sach Chrouk (Grilled pork and rice), Nom Banh Chok (rice noodles), and more. You can try eating at Kabbas Restaurant in #48Eo, Street 172, Chey Chom Neas, Daun Penh. There are other restaurants in the area but Kabbas is one of the highest rated of them all.
5. Ride a Tuktuk
The most local and affordable way of moving around Phnom Penh is by riding a tuk tuk. In the Philippines, we have our own version of this which is the “tricycle” but the difference is that the passengers inside the tuk tuk are seated behind the driver. There are lots of tuk tuk drivers offering their services anywhere but if you want to avoid being scammed, using Grab is the best way to go. I prefer this because the location is already in the app and I don’t have to explain where we’ll be going anymore. This is to avoid miscommunication.
If you’re wondering if you need to download a different Grab app to use in Cambodia, well, you don’t have to. Your app will automatically update with the local options. Aside from tuk tuk, they also have the usual GrabCar, GrabBike, and GrabRemorque, which is a bigger version of a tuk tuk. It’s also not expensive and usually our fare is just P50 per ride.
Here’s a quick video of our tuk tuk ride in Phnom Penh at night.
Budget & Sample Itinerary
Overall, it’s cheap to travel in Cambodia. You can find great food and accommodations according to your budget. When it comes to the tourist destinations like National Museum, Royal Palace of Cambodia, S21 and the Killing Fields, you’ll spend roughly around $30-$40 for the entrance fees in total. Other than that, your $100 would go a long way with some pasalubong from the Night Market. If you wish to buy Cambodian snacks, candies, and chips to bring home, you can spend another $10-$20 for those.
For the itinerary, you can spend 2 days in exploring Phnom Penh. You can do the city tour on the first day then S21 and Killing Fields the next day. Those tourist spots you were not able to visit on the first day can be done on the second day after S21. If you are going to Siem Reap or Ho Chi Minh City, you can book your bus tickets on the third day.
But before you go, do not forget to taste Cambodia’s local beer! The brands to try are Cambodia, Angkor, and ABC. These are also available for sure in Siem Reap.
Other Travel tips in Phnom Penh
Here are some tips that we found useful during our stay in Phnom Penh. These tips would work as well in Siem Reap!
What I Learned in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is full of potential. After the Khmer Rouge happened in the 70’s, Cambodia is gradually bouncing back from the major setbacks they experienced. Khmer culture was almost wiped out with its people and they are striving to recover and rebuild their identity again.
After visiting S21 and the Killing Fields, I truly felt bad for Cambodia and I told myself that even though my country, the Philippines, has a lot of ongoing issues in politics, transportation, economy, etc., I am still lucky because we have the resources that Cambodia does not have. We have high-rise buildings that look over the Manila skyline, massive malls that are full of luxury stores, and decent to high-paying office jobs that keep our families well-fed. But you know what I realized? We don’t appreciate the things that we have until we see what other people don’t have.
I felt bad for myself for complaining too much as a Filipino without offering any solution to solve the problem. I was one of those who always think that the world revolves around me and if something does not go my way, I tell myself how bad my life is or how incompetent the government is. While we are complaining here, we don’t realize that there are other people who have bigger problems but they still look up with high hopes that everything will be better soon.
Let’s support Cambodia.
Learn its history and culture.
Taste Khmer food.
Smile and laugh with the locals.
Immerse yourself in the experience.
Let Cambodia show you a different perception about life.
If you’be been to Cambodia and have felt the same way, leave a comment below and share your experience! See you in our next article!
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*Featured image is courtesy of Dmitry A. Mottl, WikiMedia*