Situated at the confluence of three rivers – the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap - the capital of Cambodia is a vibrant, bustling city with wide tree-lined boulevards, French colonial mansions and monumental Angkorian architecture. Bistros and boutiques line the riverfront, smart shops and art galleries dot the side streets and the city enjoys a heady dusk-to-dawn nightlife.
Arguably the most impressive of the city's attractions is the elegant complex housing the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda that dominate the southern riverfront. The palace dates back to 1866 and inside its gleaming yellow walls are the Throne Hall, the Chan Chaya Pavilion, the Napoleon III Pavilion and the King and Queen's residential quarters. The adjacent Silver Pagoda is home to a stunning collection of Buddha statues.
Other notable sights include the National Museum, which houses a significant collection of Khmer artefacts; Wat Ounalom, an attractive and prestigious pagoda considered the centre of Cambodian Buddhism; and one of the most important landmarks in the city, Wat Phnom. Surrounding the hill on which Wat Phnom sits is the old French Quarter and its many fine colonial buildings, some of which have been restored.
To truly understand the more recent history and tragic events endured by the Cambodian people, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial are essential stops, although they're not for the faint-hearted. Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, is the one-time school that became a notorious prison for those who fell foul of the Pol Pot regime, while the Killing Fields are about 8 miles southwest of the city, was one of the execution and burial grounds used by the Khmer Rouge. Informative audio guides include testimony from both survivors and guards of the regime.
For something rather more uplifting, yet also giving an insight into the Cambodian way of life, do consider one of the many cooking classes available. You'll learn the secrets behind Khmer cuisine, from shopping for the ingredients in the market, to cooking and tasting your creations.
For tourists and locals alike, the lively riverfront is the city's focal point. This wide promenade is lined with restaurants, cafes and bars and particularly comes alive after dark. The riverside also has its own Night Market on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, where you'll find a selection of clothing, souvenirs and food. Alternatively, the Central Market and Russian Market (so named as Russians were the first tourists to shop here and the name stuck!) offer excellent selections of traditional souvenirs as well a unique local market experience. Modern malls can also be found for those seeking international clothing labels, electronics, beauty products and much more.
As well as the many eateries in the riverside area, Phnom Penh has a vast range of places to eat, from street food and cheap noodle shops to five star restaurants and western options.
GMT +7 hours
Phnom Penh is approximately 13 hours 30 minutes from the UK (via Bangkok). Flights are also available from Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.
Phnom Penh has two seasons, a dry season from December through to April and a wet season from May to November when the monsoon brings high humidity and rainfall, although usually in short, heavy downpours, making it a year round destination.
A visa may be required. Please ask for details.Find out more