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Introducing Phnom Pehn: Get to know Cambodia’s capital

Never has a city captured our hearts like the capital of Cambodia. Full of energy, steeped in history and constantly buzzing, we were never bored in this cosmopolitan city full of friendly people and intriguing attractions. Check out our guide to what to see and do in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh

Why go?

While other Asian capitals get the bulk of the travel buzz, this diverse city has something for everyone. From markets and museums to great food, expertly-crafted cocktails and a waterfront perfect for post-dinner meandering, it’s worth getting to know Phnom Penh a little better.

Where to sleep

We suggest calling it a night at the small but stylish Pavilion Hotel where we opted for a breezy private pool room ($95 including breakfast). The small private plunge pool in our own courtyard was welcoming after a hot day of exploring. The hotel is also conveniently within walking distance of the Royal Palace and National Museum.

If you’re looking for something minimalist that doesn’t scrimp on style, try the 252, a well-appointed boutique hotel. Rooms (starting at $45) are airy and stylishly sparse without compromising on necessities (Wi-Fi, iPod dock), and the pool offers a relaxing oasis in the bustling city.

Budget-seekers will love Fairyland Guesthouse (99, Street 141), with spotless double rooms, daily servicing, all the modern conveniences (A/C, Wi-Fi, hot water) and ultra-friendly staff for only $15.

What to eat

Malis Restaurant offers both serene surroundings and authentic flavors right in the heart of the city. Try the bright and lively green mango and smoked fish salad ($7.50) and succulent scallops wrapped in lotus leaves ($9.50).

Vegetarians will love the elevated veg-heavy, local cuisine at K’NYAY, featuring several vegan options. Try the amok (a local favorite), fish and prawn (or veggies and tofu) wrapped with sticky rice in small parcels of banana leaf and steamed ($6), or the aromatic sweet potato, pumpkin and coconut curry ($5).

Try the Blue Pumpkin for delicious fresh baked goods, hearty sandwiches, fruit smoothies and the ultra-relaxed atmosphere.

Phnom Penh National Museum
Phnom Penh market
Phnom Penh waterfront

What to do

Get cultured with a trip to the National Museum (admission $3), a well-curated glimpse into Cambodia’s storied past, including one of the world’s largest collections of Khmer art.

Head to the riverfront to unwind, walk along the water, grab a cocktail at any of the bars overlooking the Tonle Sap River and relax after a day in the busy city. Most of the bars and restaurants offer happy hour deals, so we suggest a sunset drink. Make a stop at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club (FCC) for a gorgeous view from their second floor bar and restaurant. Happy hour is from 5 to 7 p.m.

Put your bargaining skills to the test at the sprawling Central Market (between streets 126 and 136), a day of shopping like no other. Housed in an imposing 1937 Art Deco building, the market stocks everything from iPods and jewelry to clothing, luggage and kitchen gadgets. Simply ask “how much?” to start bargaining for the lowest price.

If you still have any shopping energy left, move on to the Russian Market (between streets 163 and 444) for even more goods and more bargaining. While not as organized as the Central Market, you will likely find a better deal here on whatever you’re looking for.

Give yourself a break with a stop at Bodia Spa for a massage, body scrub, body wrap or facial. We felt ultra-relaxed after a stop there.

Quick travel tip

Phnom Penh’s streets are a chaotic tangle of traffic going every which way, making walking anywhere a dangerous proposition. Hitch a ride on one of the plentiful tuk-tuks (three-wheeled motorized carts); there will likely be several in front of your hotel at all hours. Get to know one by name and use it as your go-to chauffeur. They’ll even negotiate two-way fares and wait while you shop, eat or sightsee.

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