Things to do in Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace

Phnom Penh is absolutely enormous, and has everything from dirt-cheap street food to Dominos Pizza, bustling markets to shopping malls and all the madness you’d expect of a massive city in southeast Asia.
I’m not sure if it’s easier to cross the road here than in Vietnam, or if it just feels that way because I’ve gotten so used to walking through dozens of speeding mopeds every time I need to nip to the shop, but right now I think the addition of tuktuks to the traffic flow is a plus from a pedestrian perspective. They take up more room than mopeds but can still pull off manoeuvres that cars can’t, meaning that their mad antics serve to keep traffic around them alert and steadily-paced.
That said, I’d still suggest looking both ways a few dozen times before and during the road-crossing process. Just to be sure.

Stupas ain’t stupid. One of many groovy structures in the palace grounds.

Phnom Penh Royal Palace & National Museum

S21 and Killing Fields aside (and for more on that, follow the link), the Royal Palace and National Museum are two of Phnom Penh’s main attractions. Trying to add weight to the notion that all that glitters probably is gold, the palace and the equally ornate buildings that surround it are filled with Buddhist and Hindu treasures gathered across centuries- which sadly you’re not really allowed to take photos of. But doesn’t the outside (seen at the top of this post) look delightful?
Entry to the palace costs $6.50, and groups have the option of borrowing a tour guide to explain what everything means for a couple of dollars more. As a sign of respect, visitors are asked to wear clothing that covers their shoulders and knees- and to remove their shoes on entering religious buildings here, such as the Silver Pagoda.

Sassy statue

Right around the corner from the Royal Palace is the National Museum of Cambodia, where $5 entry buys you access to rooms full of sculptures and carvings from ancient Asian civilisations. I’d be lying if I said I studied it all intently and learnt loads about ancient Cambodian history- it was hotter than a hot thing when I was exploring yesterday, and I spent a fair amount of time in this museum guzzling water and trying to produce faceswaps with the statues.
You’re not meant to take photographs of a lot of things here either, even without a flash as you might in England, so I’d recommend not getting spotted trying to faceswap an ancient Naga sculpture or any other mythical beasts and deities. Just look at them normally like everybody else is doing.
If you visit on a day so hot it feels like you’re walking on the sun, like I did, you’ll be pleased to hear there are stands in the garden of this museum where you can buy cold drinks and sit under a fan while you consume them. Phew.

Figure with attitude

Markets of all sizes

If you’re not in the mood for royal buildings and ancient history, there are a number of markets in Phnom Penh you can investigate instead. From the huge, domed Central Market to the vast labyrinth of the Russian Market, everything you didn’t know you wanted is for sale somewhere at a negotiable price.
If you’re visiting over a weekend, you can catch the night market on Street 1 between 5.30pm and 11.30pm Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Otherwise, head to Street 155 for the Russian Market (Tuol Tom Puong) between 6am and 5pm, or over to the square between streets 126 and 53 for the arguably more easy-viewing Central Market from 7am ’til 5.

russian market phnom penh

The Russian Market

Much like the do-it-all markets of Vietnam, walking from section to section in the bigger markets will take you from butchers and grocers over to jewellery and knock-off handbags, right back around to woodcrafts and accessories made from recycled materials. There are tailors ready to conjure up clothing from a wealth of fabrics, or second-hand clothes stalls to search through for bargains.
As with other shops or restaurants, payment is usually expected in dollars and change given either in dollars or Cambodian riel. On food and drink stalls prices are sometimes in riel for the cheapest dishes, so don’t be put out if you end up with a wedge of tiny notes- you might be able to get rid of them buying a bowl of noodles or a sugarcane slushy.

While noone I’m currently with has had any trouble here yet, it is worth noting that (much like Ho Chi Minh City) Phnom Penh does have a fairly high rate of violent crime, and things like bag-snatching and pickpocketing are not uncommon here.

Keep your things as safe as you can, don’t stumble around drunkenly alone at night and keep in mind that even when you’re in a tuktuk your bag is still within reach of passers-by on motorbikes. Hostels and guesthouses often have a safe place you can leave things during the day if they may not be secure in your room, so take whatever precautions you can to ensure your fun doesn’t get sabotaged!

I’m off to Siem Reap on an 8-hour bus ride tomorrow morning, so watch this space for more updates soon.

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