City Guide

Phnom Penh

31 May 2011

The National Museum of Cambodia

Housed in a spectacular burgundy Khmer-style building with an elegant multilayered and multi-spired roof, the National Museum features cool, high-ceilinged halls and serene lily pond gardens within the central courtyard. The building was designed by Frenchman George Groslier (1887-1945), the historian and curator who was the motivating force behind the modern revival of interest in traditional Cambodian arts and crafts. Indeed, the architecture is worth the visit alone, but the artefacts inside are even more stunning: a small but jaw-dropping collection that exudes a powerful sense of Cambodia’s “golden age” of Angkor. From the centrepiece statue of King Jayavarman VII (1181-1219) in meditation pose to the graceful stone carvings of Hindu gods, from delicate ceramics to incredibly detailed thangka paintings, the art and artefacts on show are a visual feast. Open 8am-5pm daily, with last admission at 4.30pm; entrance costs US$3; tel +855 23 211 753;

The Russian market

Phnom Penh has a few markets, but this one is its most fun for treasure hunters with its maze of small dark corridors between stalls selling a mind-boggling array of goods from hand-carved Buddha statues by local artisans to motorcycle engine parts, colourful silk scarves and fresh vegetables. The market is named after the Russian expatriates it attracted in the 1980s, and today it continues to pull in expats of various nationalities as well as Cambodians and tourists. Located on the corner of Street 163 and Street 444, the market covers one square block. Start at one corner and go systematically through the rows, or have a wander and see what you find. At some point you are likely to reach the row of food stalls in the centre. The market is covered so you can still visit when it is raining. Open daily from 7am to 5pm.

Friends Café

Set up by non-governmental organisation Friends-International, this charming café is staffed by former street youth in training to work in the hospitality industry. The café offers affordable western, Laotian and Khmer dishes in small servings or full meals, with plenty of vegetarian options available, as well as fresh fruit shakes and frozen daiquiris. Diners can sit in the small garden at the front of the restaurant, or inside the funky main dining room. After a tasty bite, the Friends shop a short walk down the road sells very reasonably priced notebooks, hanging mobiles, wallets, toys and jewellery handcrafted by the disabled. All profits from the restaurant and shop are put back into projects for street children. The café is located at 215 Street 13 and is open daily from 11am to 9pm;
tel + 855 12 802 072.

The Flicks

There isn’t much to do in Phnom Penh of an evening other than drink in bars, which is why a pair of expats opened The Flicks movie house a couple of years ago. Housed in a converted double-storey colonial home, The Flicks shows locally bought, western DVDs on a five-metre-wide screen. Audiences recline on pink mattresses and silk cushions on the wooden floor or lounge on rattan sofas at the back. Expect everything from classics such as The Terminator to the latest Harry Potter or European art-house titles. Show times are 4pm, 6pm, 8pm and 10pm on weekdays, with an extra show at 2pm on weekends. Tickets are US$3.50 per person, and cold drinks, ice cream, finger food, hot snacks and even hot buttered popcorn are available at the bar. 39B Street 95 (just east of the Tuol Sleng Museum);

Sisowath Quay

Very few visitors to Phnom Penh will leave without having visited this waterfront street lined with shops, bars, restaurants and boutique hotels. It is busy by day and night, and everything you need can be found within a few blocks. If all you want to do is sit by the roadside with a drink and watch the world go by, there are many places here that allow just that. Otherwise, a stroll down the riverfront promenade to admire the marvellous blend of colonial and Khmer architecture is also a delightful experience. Some of the most famous landmarks here are Wat Ounalom, dating back to 1422 and one of the five original founding monasteries of the city, and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), a bar/restaurant and boutique hotel converted from an old French villa. 

Le Bar

Although Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra is a new building, it aspires to bring back the atmosphere of a bygone era. It is slightly out of the way from the busiest areas of the city but that is also part of its charm. Le Bar at the lobby is a great place to sit down for a cocktail or glass of wine while soaking in the colonial atmosphere created by dark woods, roomy leather chairs and ceiling lamps. You could imagine yourself transported back to the 1930s heydays of French Indochina… except with air-con and wifi. Open 10am-10pm;


Named after a legendary seven-headed serpent, this casino hotel is located by the bridge that leads to Diamond Island Convention and Exhibition Centre. Even if you are not into gambling, it is still an experience to come here and witness the over-the-top fantasy world created for pure indulgence, as well as the giant geysers at the entrance and the oversized statues of the God of Fortune in the lobby. If you have an early morning flight to catch and want to just stay out all night, this is the place to be. You can party at Darlin Darlin until 3am and then have your early breakfast at the
24-hour Chopstick Noodle House.

Top Tip

Metered taxis are not always easy to find in Phnom Penh; the tuk tuk is a much easier way to get around, but remember to bargain and agree on the fare before taking it. 

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