Phnom Penh | Discover this city differently

Phnom Penh | Discover this city differently

We invite you to discover Phnom Penh in a different way. We only had 24 hours to discover the city and we chose to take our time to see it in a different way, that is to say in the manner of a French expatriate, passionate about Cambodia bringing us his knowledge of the city and the country!

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is both large and small. It didn’t take us long to get round the main sites. However, in view of the traffic and the distances involved, we strongly advise against travelling on foot, and suggest you take a tuk tuk or moto drop. We didn’t stay here long, but 2-3 days seems about right to get a taste of the hustle and bustle and discover the central attractions. In the streets, you’ll notice the way Cambodian women dress: they wear a liberty pyjama-style outfit that’s quite casual and original. How do you immerse yourself in a country? simply by learning a few Khmer words to interact with the locals.


Cambodia | phnom penh | market | advice | travel


| do you speak khmer?

If you arrive in Cambodia via Phnom Penh, the first activity will be intriguing, interesting and useful. We took a course in Khmer at the Khmer Natural Language Institute

The experience is quite surprising, as the learning technique is based solely on communication: 2 teachers face you and speak to you only in Khmer, using visual aids. You’ll soon understand what they’re asking you, and be able to answer them in your own language, or ideally in English. After 1 hour of lessons, we came away with a few words that were useful for the rest of our trip. Fun learning and unusual discoveries!



The afternoon was devoted to a tour of the city, which is divided into 3 zones :

  • The area south of boulevard Sihanouk
  • The neighborhood to the north of the boulevard, along the river front. This is the district where you’ll find the various monuments, the Mekong quays and the central market.
  • The old French Quarter to the north.


Nous nous sommes focalisés sur ce dernier, en visitant d’anciens bâtiments coloniaux de la période du protectorat de 1863 à 1953 ponctués de quelques anecdotes de l’époque puis nous sommes dirigés vers le temple de Wat Phnom qui fut le point de départ de la construction de la ville. C’est une des plus anciennes pagode bouddhiste de Phnom Penh. Perché sur la colline de la ville, ce temple-musée est fréquenté par les khmers, venus prier pour obtenir de la chance. Poussé par notre guide, nous avons testé (enfin Antoine), la dégustation d’un œuf fécondé, spécialité asiatique que les cambodgiens dégustent l’après-midi, à l’heure du goûter!

If you would like to take a free meditation in the heart of Phnom Penh, visit the pagoda Wat Langka. You can learn to meditate with the temple’s monks. Mind you, they only speak Cambodian (but maybe after the language course you’ll know a few words).


Cambodia | phnom penh | market | advice | travel


We then strolled through the former residential area for civil servants, giving us a glimpse into the town’s past. Here you can see, for example, a church that has been reappropriated by locals, who have set up their own homes and businesses there, next to a Chinese temple that has been refurbished in the same way. Finally we visited, Tuol Seng or the museum of the genocide perpetrated under the Pol Pot by the Khmer Rouge, who killed nearly 1/4 of Cambodia’s population (about 1.7 million of the population – I don’t know if you can imagine the drama) and tortured all the regime’s supposed draft dodgers during the period 1975 to 1979.

There’s nothing entertaining or playful about this museum, which was once a college, because it doesn’t leave you unscathed, but it’s unmissable and poignant! The scene of torture and massacres, it was used as a prison and bears the name “prison S21″.


Cambodge | phnom penh | conseil | voyageA friend of ours gave us the photos so that we could understand the horror these poor people went through.

I’m not going to lie to you, but it’s a tough visit. Seeing this furniture, these chains on the floor, these beds where thousands of human beings suffered, these handcuffs, these rooms, these portraits, these barbed wires, these exposed skulls, these torture tools… That was only 44 years ago! The atmosphere is strange, Antoine and I look at each other, speechless, sometimes with tears in our eyes, our throats tightening every time Fabrice insists on the suffering of the Cambodian people in those years of civil war. We feel as if time has stood still… A strange feeling!

To quickly sum up the hell this people went through, during those 4 long years, the Khmer Rouge seized power by establishing a political regime, a dictatorship of extreme violence called Kampuchea, a radical communist political movement. Prisoners in the centers were detained in poor conditions, in tiny cells and subjected to abominable torture to get them to confess to offenses that were often invented and taken to extremes. Mass executions were carried out: men, women, intellectuals (wearing glasses or carrying a pen in your pocket was enough to be considered intellectuals) and babies were separated and killed in extermination camps (there was even a tree used to smash the skulls of newborns – hard to believe, I know! Over 20,000 people are believed to have been locked up during this period, and only 7 survivors have been found.


Cambodge | phnom penh | conseil | voyageA friend of ours gave us the photos so that we could understand the horror these poor people went through.

All these scenes of execution and torture were painted by a prisoner whose life was saved because he had the gift of painting and the ability to serve the powers that be! In 1979, the Vietnamese succeeded in liberating Phnom Penh and abolishing these murders! It’s the end of an ordeal that has lasted 4 long years, during which a people has suffered.


Cambodge | phnom penh | conseil | voyageA friend of ours gave us the photos so that we could understand the horror these poor people went through.

The Khmer Rouge regime is guilty of numerous crimes, in particular the murder of several hundred thousand Cambodians. The number of victims is estimated at around 1.7 million, or more than 20% of the population at the time.

For lack of time, we didn’t go to the Kiling fields, also known as the Choung Ek execution camp. This is where 17,000 prisoners from S21 prison were transferred to be murdered. A friend of ours gave us the photos so that we could understand the horror these poor people went through.

  • Visite de la prison S21 à Phom Penh : 3$ entrée + 3$ audioguide
  • Entrées au S21 et aux Killing fields = $6 chacun avec audio-guide inclus


Cambodge | phnom penh | conseil | voyageA friend of ours gave us the photos so that we could understand the horror these poor people went through.



After that, we’re off to a market in the city, but a more authentic one that you won’t find in the guidebooks. Here, every day, locals come to shop for food but also for beauty products and jewelry, which are the “bank” of Cambodians.

With the country still politically unstable, people don’t trust banks, and rather than inflate their savings, they prefer to tie up their money in safe-haven assets such as gold and silver. Being able to do this market with Fabrice allowed us to put our Khmer course into practice and to have exchanges with the stallholders.

You also have Phnom penh, considered the city’s largest and one of Asia’s biggest covered markets. You’ll find everything: jewelry, clothes, household appliances, food… You can even enjoy succulent tarantulas!

Take a stroll through the Russian market, also known as the Toul Tom Pong. It used to be dedicated to Russian tourists, hence the name, but today it’s a mix of tourist souvenirs and traditional market. You’ll find fish and vegetable vendors as well as bric-a-brac.


Cambodia | phnom penh | market | advice | travel

Cambodia | phnom penh | market | advice | travel



After all these emotions, we had to think about something else and wanted to take our minds off things and settle down somewhere. Fabrice seized the moment and we discovered a “ trend” of Phnom Penh, housed in a colonial building, showing us a little more of the contrasts of this booming city that never ceases to grow and evolve, dragging the whole of Cambodia in its wake. More and more restaurants and bars are offering terraces on the upper floors and rooftops, a cool way to discover trendy places.


Cambodia | phnom penh | drink | advice | travel

There’s a wide choice of restaurants to choose from, but we recommend you try the David restaurant, (street 13 house 213) in the backpacker district next to Friend organisation. These are the best noodles and dumplings we’ve tasted, because they’re homemade and made right in front of you! We were also told about the restaurant friend located on 215 Street 13. It is part of the Tree-alliance association (Training Restaurants for Employment and Entrepreneurship) and aims to provide work and training for street kids. The menu is varied, with typical Western dishes. It looks good and it’s for a good cause! Reservations are required, however, as it is very popular with tourists.

If you’re téméraire, venture to Phnom Penh’s central market to stroll through the aisles of jewelry, electrical goods, food and, of course, fried tarantulas.

Phnom Penh is a city on the move, welcoming more and more expatriates. As a result, some nice bars and clubs have opened, like the street 51 corner. You can also visit the city’s highest rooftop, theEclipse Sky Bar.




In the villa Samnang and the villa Boran. Both of these establishments have around twenty rooms and are boutique hotels. Located in the heart of Phnom Penh, 2 minutes from the Riverfront docks, they’ll give you quick access to the city’s various places of interest. These hotels make you feel good! The decor is modern with a colonial touch, and the pools are extremely pleasant. At the end of the day after a day in the hot city of Phnom Phen, they feel great, believe us! For these 2 hotels, rooms from 45 USD low season and 75 USD high season (double room + breakfast).


Cambodia | phnom penh | where to sleep | travel advice

The villa Srey is a 4-bedroom guest house, with swimming pool, allowing you to feel a little at home, in the heart of a big city! Count on about 35$ per room including breakfast.

For smaller budgets, there’s also:

  • Sky Park Hotel on Rue 111: good value for money ($13)
  • Last Home Guesthouse (street 172, n°21)

Otherwise, the Top Banana Guesthouse et Rooftop Bar, the home Chic hotel or the Raffle Hotel Royal to satisfy you.




  • Getting massage by blind people: and yes, having tested it in China and found it brilliant, you can have a massage in Cambodia by blind people. Visit the Seeing Hands Massage Center near the Phnom Penh post office, next to Wat Phnum.

  • Try the cambodian boxing: we often talk about thai boxing, but do you know Cambodian boxing or Pradal Serey in Khmer. It’s also known as the Khmer martial art, and is practiced with bare hands. Cambodian boxing has a much more radical style than other Asian boxing styles. You can watch a boxing match for free on Saturday and Sunday, in front of the CTN TV studios, starting at 2pm.

  • It’s also possible to dine in a colonial atmosphere, in the former Bank of Indochina at Van’s restaurant located at 5, Street 102, Daun Penh. This beautiful building, built at the turn of the century by the French to house a branch of the Indochinese bank, invites you to an exceptional dinner in a luxurious setting, with mosaics, precious wood…

  • Have a group gymnastics at the sports stadium (near the corner of boulevard Sihanouk and boulevard Monireth: a unique moment with the locals from 5pm.


  • Around Pnom Penh: Once again, due to lack of time, we couldn’t make it, but we’d like to give you this little spot recommended by Fabrice, our guide. Take a tuktuk to Silk Island, just 20 minutes from downtown Phnom Penh. In this fast-paced megalopolis, this place is a real breath of fresh air, giving you a chance to relax in the countryside. You can even still come across ox-drawn ploughs as in the old days. It’s also an ideal stop-off point for learning more about silk-making techniques. We recommend staying in the pretty guesthouse Kroma, run by a Frenchman.





To reach Phnom Penh from the airport, there are several options:

  • Cab (about $13)
  • TukTuk (about $9)
  • But you’re forgetting the bus. If you’re stuck in traffic, allow 1h30 for transport.



Visit either the famous lucky moto or Khmer views travel in the street of the golden home guest house. The 2 agencies offer to help you obtain your visas quickly, at an extra cost of course. (a visa costs 80 euros). It’s very practical if you don’t have the time.



The city of Phnom Penh was surprisingly friendly, even though we spent very little time there. We invite you to read our other articles on Cambodia to help you prepare for your trip. You will find:


If you would like a customized quote for Cambodia, please email me at We do not organize the day tour of Phnom Penh or the homestay, they are included and sold in a tour only.


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Cambodge | phnom penh | conseil | voyage





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