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Phnom Penh – The Ultimate Guide

When I decided to visit Cambodia, I was torn between Siem Reap and Phnom Penh. Each has its merits. Eventually, I decided on the latter. And I share my experience in this article titled, Phnom Penh – The Ultimate Guide.

In the months that led to my travel to Phnom Penh, every day I searched on the Internet about this city. I watched YouTube videos to learn a bit more.

I was interested in the people, the culture and religion. What festivals do they celebrate? What is the acceptable dress code and what clothing should I pack in my luggage?

Also, what currency do I bring to pay for food, sightseeing, transportation and shopping? How is the weather there in October (when I visited)?

What are the sights to see? What food to eat? Which are the places that serve the best tasting food? And how do I get around Phnom Penh?

Thankfully, besides the Internet, I had a local friend and tour guide who helped me have a lovely time in Phnom Penh. The information here is partly from what I learned from my friend.

Meantime, if you are curious about Phnom Penh, Cambodia, here is a video from their tourist board promoting their beautiful country, and all she has to offer.

Where is Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

Cambodia is a country that is landlocked by Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. The capital of Cambodia is Phnom Penh. It is also the largest city in Cambodia.

Phnom Penh covers the lower south area of the center of the country, and has the Mekong River along the east perimeter of the city. It is also the political, economic and cultural centre of the nation.

Who are the People in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

There around 1.5 million people in Phnom Penh, and I had the great fortune of meeting one of them. He was a nice guy and a talented photographer. He was an excellent example of the Cambodian people. He was gentle, polite, warm and friendly.

I discovered a well produced video titled – People of Cambodia. It does reflect the people in Phnom Penh too. The video highlights the many different races and lifestyles of the people in Phnom Penh. Do watch the less than 3 minute video to get a snapshot of who are the people in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

What is the Culture in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

The culture in Cambodia is uniquely Khmer. Yet, it can be said that there were many contributions to the Cambodian culture by the French, the Theravada Buddhism, the Angkorian culture, and even the Indians through Hinduism.

The culture throughout the country is mostly the same. The current state of the culture is an amalgam of cultures from the French, the Theravada Buddhism, the Angkorian, and the Indians. For the latter, Hinduism played a major role in shaping the culture that it is today.

The people are generally quite shy. In the video below, you can see the shyness of the young man as he shares 7 tips about their culture. Good to know before you travel to any part of Cambodia.

What are the 7 Cultural Tips?

  1. When going into a house, take off hat and shoes before entering.
  2. When meeting the elderly, take off hat as well.
  3. Cambodians respect the head. Don’t touch someone’s else’s head.
  4. In Cambodian culture, men and women show respect for each other by not touching.
  5. Don’t hug someone of the opposite sex. Hugging is not big in Cambodian culture. The tradtitional greeting is putting hands together under the chin.
  6. If you invite someone out for coffee or a meal, it is assumed that you are the one to pay.
  7. Most of the time, Cambodians will refuse the first time something is offered. Ask 3 times.

What are the Religions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

Buddha Image at Silver Pagoda - Phnom Penh, Cambodia

When I was in Phnom Penh, I could see clearly that Buddhism is the religion most Cambodians practice. In fact, I found out that it is the official religion of Cambodia.

A minority follows Islam and Christianity. There is even tribal animism being practiced there.

Below is an enlightening video about religions in Cambodia. It features many Buddhist temples that I visited when I was there.

Just for interest, here is a video about a typical life of a Cambodian Buddhist monk. It is truly fascinating to watch.

What is the Official Language Spoken in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

During the Angkorian period, the Cambodian language was heavily influenced by the Indian languages – Sanskrit and Pali. Officially known as Khmer, the Cambodian language has the world’s largest alphabet.

It is a very complex language, and can be hard to pronounce accurately. One of the reasons is that there are different consonants that can have different vowel sounds. While it is hard to learn Khmer, it is a fun language to learn, too. Watch the video for a foreigner’s view on this.

Most of the people also speak English. So, if you speak English, traveling around and communicating with the locals is not a problem

I found that traveling in Phnom Penh is easy because most of the Cambodians speak English. Here is the video of the nice young man again. This time, watch as he introduces you to common sentences spoken in Khmer.

What are the Festivals and Public Holidays in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

I was in Phnom Penh during the month of October. And my friend informed me that the popular Water Festival and Boat Racing was just over. How I wished I had known earlier about this exciting festival!

Ah well. Maybe next time.

Meanwhile, I made a list of the public holidays and festivals in my article about Cambodia. Do go to that article and read about them. There are interesting videos to about each of the festivals and holidays. Especially if you plan to visit and experience the holidays or festivals there.

Here are some of the public holidays and festivals in Cambodia that are also celebrated in Phnom Penh:

  • January 1, New Year
  • January 7, Victory Day over Genocide
  • Usually January or February, Chinese New Year
  • Usually in February, Meak Bochea
  • March 8, International Women’s Day
  • April 14 to 16, Khmer New Year
  • Usually April or May, Visak Bochea
  • Usually April, QingMing Festival
  • May 1, Labor Day
  • Usually in May, Royal Ploughing Ceremony
  • May 13 to 15, King Norodom Sihamoni’s Birthday
  • May 20, National Day of Remembrance
  • June 1, International Children’s Day
  • June 18, Royal Birthday of the King Mother Queen Monineath Sihanouk
  • September 24, Constitution Day
  • Usually September or October, 3 days Celebration, Pchum Ben
  • Usually September, Silkworm Festival
  • Usually September or October, Mid Autumn Festival
  • October 15, Commemoration Day of King’s Father, King Norodom Sihanouk
  • October 23, Paris Peace Agreement Day
  • October 29, Coronation Day of King Sihamoni
  • November 9, Independence Day
  • Usually October or November, 3 days of Celebration, Water Festival
  • Usually November or December, Kite Flying Festival

Again, if you like to learn more about the above holidays and festivals, please go to my article about Cambodia. More details and videos to watch there.

What is the Dress Code in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

You will be pleased to know that the dress code for touring and shopping is casual wear. I was even able to watch a show in a casino wearing bermudas and t shirt.

But when I visited sacred and holy sites like temples, I was mindful to wear according to the requirements. First of all, be respectful. Do not wear revealing clothing like sleeveless tops, tank tops or shorts not covering the knees.

Before you enter any sacred or holy place, you have to take off your shoes, sandals, or any head wear such as a hat or cap. To help you know what to do correctly, watch the video below by His Excellency Sok Sangvar about the code of conduct when visiting a holy place in Cambodia.

What is the National Dress in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

I covered this topic in my Cambodia article. Just to summarize, there is the krama worn by men and women as an accessory. The sampot to wrap the lower part of the body. For the women, there is the Av Pak to wear with the sampot. This is a blouse that can be also done ornately for formal wear or special occasions.

To see how the designs and clothing look like, watch the video below.

I think you can guess by now that boat racing is a really popular sport in Phnom Penh. It is called Bon Om Tuuk, and is held at the end of the rainy season.

Many people love this exciting festival, and they sit along the Mekong riverside to watch the boat racers compete. Watch the video below to see the excitement and fanfare.

What Currency Can I Use in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

US Dollars

Before I arrived at Phnom Penh, I learned that the official currency in Cambodia is the Riel (KHR).

At the same time, I also learned that most businesses accept US Dollars (USD). I asked my local friend, and he confirmed that, as a tourist, it would be best for me to pay for stuff using USD.

Travel Tip: Do be careful with the USD you bring. There MUST NOT BE any stains or damage to the notes. If there are, the locals will not accept it.

I had one USD ten dollars that had a small coffee stain. I did not notice it at the money changer. When I tried to use it to buy some food at a local supermarket, the note was refused. Fortunately, when I returned to Singapore, the money changer took it back with no questions asked.

How is the Weather in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

The climate in Phnom Penh is tropical. There are basically two seasons. There is the dry season and the wet or rainy season. The dry season is from December to April, and the rainy season is from May to November.

I learned that this is important to know because the rainy season can be a damper and ruin the travel experience. Conversely, the hotel rates during the dry and cool season are high. So, I tried to find a balance where I get to enjoy lower hotel rates and really nice weather.

Usually, the weather is cool in Phnom Penh from November to February. This is the best time to visit the city. The weather is pleasant, and there is no rain.

Travel Tip: The cool season is also the peak season when many tourists visit Phnom Penh. If you wish to enjoy lower hotel rates, avoid this season.

I do not like weather that is too hot. It makes it difficult to truly enjoy the tour. If you are like me, and do not like hot climate, then avoid going to Phnom Penh from March to June.

If you do not mind rain, then May till November is ideal for you. And it may not rain all day, too. Usually, the mornings are dry. Then it pours in the afternoon. And it can be brief.

For more information about the weather and the best time to visit Phnom Penh, watch the video below.

Which are the Hotels to Stay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

There are plenty of hotels and guest houses in Phnom Penh. So many that I had a hard time trying to choose. Then I remembered that Phnom Penh is bordered by the Mekong River on the east.

So, that became the first criteria for my choice of hotel. It helped as it narrowed down the list. Finally, I found The Bridge Club Hotel. It offered rooms with high floors that had floor to ceiling window that presented an awesome view of the Mekong River and the city.

Phnom Penh Hotels Review - The Bridge Club - Featured Image
Phnom Penh Hotels Review – The Bridge Club. Click image above to read review and watch video of hotel, room, facilities, amenities and unforgettable view of Mekong River.

Click here or the image above to read about my experience at this great hotel. My review includes a video of the hotel room, facilities, amenities and the magnificent view of Mekong River.

What are the Things To See in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

“What is there to see in Phnom Penh?” That was a question many of my friends asked when they found out that I was traveling to this place.

To be honest, I too wondered if there was enough to see to fill five days and four nights stay. I need not have to be concerned.

Thanks to my local friend, I soon realized that there were so many places to visit, and so many things to see. He knew all the best sights to experience.

There was the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Independence Monument, King Statue, the National Museum, Nagaworld, night markets, and many pagodas as well as the well liked riverside and boat cruise.

I will be writing about all these places soon. So, please join my I Love Travel Community to get updates when I publish articles about them.

What Food to Eat in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

Whenever I visit a city in Asia, I would like to try the local food there. I was curious about the local fare, and my friend happily introduced me to some of the really best places to eat in Phnom Penh.

Most of the cafes and restaurants we patronized served Cambodian dishes. These were accompanied with a bowl of rice. There are also dining spots that serve International cuisine such as western food, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, etc. And of course, there is the famous local boat noodles.

Click on the image below to read my review of this quaint boat noodle restaurant.

Phnom Penh Restaurants - Featured Image

Most Cambodians drink tea and rice wine. Of late, the younger generation has acquired a taste for coffee. Hence, coffee chains like Starbucks has entered the market. There was one just around the corner from the hotel where I stayed.

This coffee drinking trend has created local coffee chains and the small coffee places that many locals and expats frequent. One of the most popular is the Brown Coffee. I tried this joint, and I must say I was impressed with the excellent brew they serve. Plus, of course the yummy cakes.

Where To Go Shopping in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

There are many wet markets, day markets and night markets to shop at in Cambodia. These are markets where you can find cheap local food, household items, arts, handicrafts, fake branded goods, clothes, and accessories.

Like many of the Asian city counterparts, Phnom Penh has many local markets. There are the wet markets, the day markets and the night markets. At these markets, you can find many cheap products.

Travel Tip: Beware! The ‘branded goods’ at the markets are fake.

If you like to get genuine branded products, head for one of the large shoppping malls there. There was an Aeon Mall just behind the Bridge Hotel where I stayed. It was a nice respite from a hot day touring in the sun. Also, it was where I bought drinks and fruits at local prices from the supermarket.

Watch the video below to learn what are the top 5 shopping malls in Phnom Penh. The first mall featured in the video was the Aeon Mall I frequented.

How to Get to Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

By Airplane

I flew by Jetstar and arrived at the Phnom Penh International Airport, the largest airport in Cambodia. It was a good, safe and short flight from Singapore.

Of course, there are many airlines that fly direct to Phnom Penh. Some of the airlines are AirAsia, Bangkok Airways, Cambodia Angkor Air, China Airlines, EVA Air, Malaysian Airlines, Qatar Airways, SilkAir, and many more. Check online to find out which ones suit your needs.

By Train

The only train to Phnom Penh is from Hua Lamphong, Thailand to Phnom Penh Station. You have to take via Poipet. The entire journey is about 17 hours! Better to take a plane, right?

By Bus

There are private bus companies that provide transport to Phnom Penh. These are from Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh City and Saigon. If you are coming from these cities, and decide to take the bus, check with the right bus companies.

Travel Tip: When traveling from one city to another, it is best to take the day buses. Night buses have high rate of accidents.

By Road

The most popular way to Phnom Penh via road is from Bangkok. You can rent a taxi or a car and drive in to the country. Oddly enough, when you travel by taxi or car, you can arrive in Phnom Penh faster than by bus.

By Boat / Ferry

There is only one ferry that goes to Phnom Penh. And that is from Vietnam. It is run by a ferry company called Mandarin Cruises. Go to them to check for further information such as sailing schedules.

On Foot

It is very difficult to travel by foot into Phnom Penh. Consider the above options instead. Best to choose to fly there.

Do You Need a Visa to Visit Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

Most visitors to Phnom Penh require a visa in advance. For some, you can get a visa upon arrival at the Phnom Penh International Airport. Best to check with the official Cambodian immigration website for more accurate details

People from ASEAN countries do not need to get a visa, as long as the stay is not more than 21 or 30 days (depending on the country). ASEAN countries include Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei Darussalam, and Myanmar. Again, it is best to check official resources to confirm this.

How to Get Around Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

After you arrive in Phnom Penh, you will find there are a few ways to get around the city.

By Bus

There are city buses that is one of the most used public transportation by locals. As a visitor, you can try this mode of transport too. But it will take a lot of effort to understand the bus routes and schedules.

The upside is that the bus fares are very low. At the point of time this article is written, the fare can be as low as USD0.25.

While cheap and almost convenient, do not that the buses do not have air conditioning. And during peak hours, they can get very packed.

By Taxi

Taxis are plenty, and easily available. It is rather safe to take a taxi. One advantage is that the drivers speak English and usually are very knowledgeable about the city they drive in.

Travel Tip: Negotiate for the price you are willing to pay before you ride the cab.

By Grab

Today, in cities like Phnom Penh, Grab is very popular, and the choice for locals and tourists. This is a service where you can get a cab or a Grab driver (for example an owner of a private car) to drive you to your destination. It is exactly like Uber.

All you have to do is download the app, and fill in your details. Then use the app to ‘hail’ a vehicle to get you to your destination.

By Cyclo

These are like the rickshaws or trishaws in other cities in Southeast Asia. The passenger sits on a large chair (sometimes can fit two people), that is fitted to a three-wheeled vehicle. The driver peddles to get the vehicle moving.

The advantage of this is that you get a clear view of all surroundings because the top cover can be pulled back. Also, this is relatively cheap.

The downside is that you will get wet when it rains.

By Moto

Motos are basically motorcycles that act as taxis. It is quite common in countries like Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

It is very cheap and convenient. As a motorcycle, they can easily maneuver around other vehicles and not get stuck in any traffic jams.

Downside is you will get wet when it rains.

Travel Tip: You must wear a helmet, even as a passenger. The driver must provide you one. If you are caught without a helmet, the police will catch you and extort some money from you.

Tuk Tuk in Cambodia

By Tuk Tuk

Like Thailand, there are Tuk Tuks in Cambodia that drives people around the city. It is basically a passenger carriage on a three-wheeled motor vehicle.

It is much cheaper than traveling by a taxi.

Travel Tip: Grab service in Phnom Penh offers the option to ride in a Tuk Tuk. Give it a try!

By Foot

Most visitors travel around by Tuk Tuks or Grab. At times, when an attraction is nearby, you can consider traveling by foot.

But please be careful when crossing roads. The traffic lights can be confusing. And sometimes cars do not follow the lights.

Travel Tip: It is best to travel by Tuk Tuk or Grab.

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If you have ANY questions about Phnom Penh – The Ultimate Guide, ANY at all, please submit your questions as comments below. I will be happy to help you out.

Thank you for reading this.

Wishing you and your loved ones safe and happy travels,


2 Replies to “Phnom Penh – The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Reading your Phnom Penh guide, I feel literally being there now. And all the videos you have chosen to share really helps. I thought Siem Reap is a more popular destination as the famous Angkor Wat is there. Now may not be a good time to travel but will keep Phnom Penh in mind. When the time comes, I will have to decide either Phnom Penh or Siem Reap. Let the family vote. Thanks for the guide and tips.

    1. You’re welcome, Sharon. Both are truly worth a visit, Sharon. Each has their unique offerings. I too plan to visit Siem Reap some day. Yes, now may not be a good time to travel. But always good to research, and plan. So that when it is time to travel, we are ready.

      I am very happy and grateful you enjoyed reading this ultimate guide of Phnom Penh. I will do more such articles, and provide more insights to various cities in Asia.

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