Phnom Penh and the New Cambodia
Much of what we know about Phnom Penh in Cambodia is its war-torn past. Images of rusty planes and tanks, limbless mendicants and Red Cross camps are probably still stuck in our memories. That is what history taught us and sadly how the world media projects.
But all those are a thing of the past. Without being hypocritical about its sad history, Cambodia is struggling to outlive those and give its capital city a cosmopolitan vibe. The new Phnom Penh is as vibrant as you can imagine. It is as dynamic as the rest of the capital cities in Southeast Asia.
|The juxtaposition of its chivalric past and dynamic present.
|Flags of all nations are hoisted in Phnom Penh’s Riverside.
The boulevard is definitely the happening belt in Phnom Penh. From sunrise to sunrise, this side of the city is just the place to be. In the shy rays of sunshine, fitness buffs fill the quayside strip. Laptop trotting expats, NGO volunteers and businessmen start to take over the restaurants around the block to get on its the daily grind. Just before sunset, the dove-filled park across the Royal Palace becomes the rendezvous of friends and families for a breezy afternoon stroll. At night, when all the backpackers are back from their daytours, the eclectic choices of restos and wateringholes resonate with accents from all over the world.
|Fashion TV is housed in the premier entertainment address in Phnom Penh, the Nagaworld.
Photo Courtesy of Nagaworld
|Find the party that tickles your fancy! Phnom Penh’s party scene will surprise you.
Photo courtesy of: www.yourphnompenh.com; www.fiuzu.com; www.heartofdarkness.com; www.stickmanbangkok
Just when everyone thinks Phnom Penh’s party scene is non-existent, you’ll be surprised at how diverse and happy its nightlife actually is! Nagaworld is home to the swanky Fashion TV Live, where the elite Khmer and expat partyphiles converge. Popular dance bars like Heartbeat & European pubs deck the street of Pasteur Street. Check out Street 172, the hip strip of cheap booze crammed with backpackers. If you are on the hunt for friendly alternative party venues, Blue Chilli is the place for People Like Us who wants to have a carefree, let-your-hair-down soiree.
|Romdeng Restaurant by night. Photo courtesy of: www.asialifemagazine.com
Cambodia’s culinary tradition is as rich as its culture. If you have sampled the authentic flavors in many of its side street stalls, give its designer restaurants a splurge of Khmer food taken to a delightful gourmet level. Lemongrass, Romdeng and Malis are just among the name-droppables in upmarket dining. But if you long for that familiar taste of home, restaurants offering intercontinental favorites are just aplenty.
|The Central Market in Phnom Penh is one of the 3 local markets frequented by tourists.
|From jewelry, clothes, food, textiles, accessories, home decors and souvenirs, the Central Market is a one-stop shop.
Phnom Penh’s markets are a treasure trove of pre-loved items and with a great deal of effort to dig into mounds of merchandise, you might just go home with heaps of authentic designer brands. Its markets are also home to exquisite Khmer souvenir pieces and copies of famous brands. But if you want to tote the real ones, boutiques along Sihanouk Boulevard and its newly opened Aeon Mall may just be as pleasing.
|The throne hall of the Royal Palace constructed during the reign of King Norodom in the 1960s.
|The Royal Palace complex also houses the statue of the Emerald Buddha done in baccarat crystal and gold.
|The biggest ancient mural frescoes in Southeast Asia depicting the epic Ramayana.
|The Silver Pagoda is floored with 500 solid silver blocks and its steps of the finest Italian marble.
|Wat Phnom constructed by Daun Penh and where its present city name Phnom Penh was derived.
Cambodia has a long history of Buddhism and at the heart of the capital city is a 1373 temple that crowns a 30-meter hill called Wat Phnom. In contrast to the temple hill’s simplicity is the ostentatious Royal Palace that houses sacred Buddhist reliquaries and memoirs of the Royal Family. Within its complex is the Silver Pagoda and wall of ancient frescoes.
As a protectorate of the French Indochine, much of its heritage architecture shows distinct colonial aesthetics that blends the Buddhist Orient and the French West. As its cityscape is changing to the vertical view, its design elements still carry the fusion of cultures that make up its nation.
|The National Museum
|The iron bar that shackled prisoners inside Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.
Museum tours are the staple activities in Phnom Penh and the best kick off to any walking tour is the National Museum. It curates priceless pieces of Khmer antiquities and art mostly from the Angkor area. Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek, popularly known as the Killing Fields serve as memorials of its harrowing tales of mass executions.
To say that Phnom Penh is spotless is also not true. Here, the contrasts in the lifestyles of the rich and poor are obvious. There is filth and some places may not be for the obsessive-compulsives. But these are all part of a changing city’s character and certainly a part of the realities that we need to experience.
As Phnom Penh is at the cradle where the rivers of Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac meet, the city enjoys the advantage of being the gateway to major tourist hubs within the country like Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. It also has quick links to Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam.
While it is good to know its history, it is also great to explore a city that is striving to stand at par with its time. Phnom Penh truly deserves a refreshing image as it sincerely pounds its efforts to create a wonderful Khmer metropolis vibe.
- Direct international flights into Phnom Penh are available from other Asian capital countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Laos, Malaysia and China. Check your carrier for details.
- It is also accessible by bus or boat from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Arrange with your hostel or travel operators in HCM for your onward tickets.
- Some tourists go on a 2-day Mekong Cruise (in HCM), ending down in Phnom Penh.
- Accommodations in Phnom Penh are abundant. International brand name such as Raffles is among the priced hotels. Boutique hotels are best within the Boulevard block. Budget inns are best found in Street 302.
- Suggested boutique/mid-range hotels: The Plantation at Street 184; The Sangkum at Street 75
- Suggested budget inn: Mad Monkey, Street 302 near Brown’s Coffee; Happy 11 Inn at Street 136
- Ticket outlets for Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville and to other parts of Cambodia are in the boulevard area (way past the flagpoles towards the night market in Street 106).
- Suggested bus company: Giant Ibis
- Getting around is best on tuktuk or rented bicycle. Killing Fields is about 15 kilometers away and is best taken on tuktuk.
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