Phnom Penh is a vibrant city, far removed from its harrowing past, Cambodia’s capital city attracts a steady flow of visitors. Designed around a grid system, the capital does not have a distinct city centre, however, the 3-mile (2-km) sweep of the riverfront known as Sisowath Quay is arguably the most attractive area in the city.
Lined with upscale boutiques and myriad restaurants and bars, the area is liveliest at night. The city’s best-known landmarks, the beautiful and sprawling Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, lie across from the flag-studded promenade of the Tonlé Sap River. A little farther ahead are the terra-cotta pavilions of the National Museum.
Phnom Penh does not yet have a comprehensive public transportation system, although things are quickly improving. Recently there has been public bus network put into place which makes getting to and from many locations convenient and cheap. There is a train s from Phnom Penh to Sihanoukville, stopping at Takeo and Kampot but this service is not available for transport within the city itself.
The best way to get around the city is in a tuk-tuk or moto, although areas such as Sisowath Quay are best explored on foot. Metered taxis, a relatively recent addition to the city, are reasonably priced and easily available for hire. Those who like to cycle can also move around the city on a hired bicycle.
Phnom Penh’s riverfront is distinguished by its Gallic architecture – stucco-fronted, ocher-colored villas, and shuttered townhouses – while the surrounding area is home to many embassies, a number of old municipal buildings built under the French in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and several Chinese-style shophouses.
The capital’s scenic riverside promenade, Sisowath Quay, is the hub of the city’s nightlife, with a variety of restaurants, lively bars, and boutiques. Other interesting places in the area include the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, and Psar Kandal, all within walking distance.
Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC)
The FCC’s walls are adorned with atmospheric war photographs. Comfortable leather sofas line the walls of the elegant bar and restaurant, which offers excellent food and impeccable service. The views of the river from the club are spectacular.
Built in 1943, Wat Ounalom is the headquarters and home of the Buddhist sangha (order) in Cambodia. In the early 1970s, over 500 monks lived here. Tragically, the Khmer Rouge murdered the then leader, Samdech Huot Tat, for his religious convictions and threw a statue of him into the Tonlé Sap River.
The statue was recovered after the expulsion of the Khmer Rouge and is now on view on the second floor of the temple. Outside is a beautifully detailed stupa believed to contain a hair from the Buddha’s eyebrow.
There is also an extensive Buddhist library in the main temple, although the building is currently under renovation. Visitors to the temple should be wary of self-styled guides who insist on showing them around for a price.
Kandal Market is a dry goods market selling everything from electronic items to pirated DVDs. Visitors will also find vendors offering fried cockroaches, a local delicacy.
National Museum of Cambodia
Housed in four majestic terra-cotta pavilions enclosing an enchanting, landscaped courtyard, the National Museum of Cambodia has the country’s greatest display of Khmer statuary. Exhibits range from prehistoric to present day items and include Indian sculptures such as a striking eight-armed statue of Vishnu, a Hindu god, and a magnificent cross-legged sandstone statue of the 12th-century king, Jayavarman VII. In the courtyard is a stone statue of Yama, the God of Death. The museum also has an enviable collection of local pottery and bronze statues from the Funan as well as the Chenla periods. A small stall in one of the main halls sells a variety of books on Cambodian history and temple architecture. The museum also has a well-stocked souvenir shop.
An enchanting area, Sisowath Quay is favoured by visitors for its lively bars and the wide variety
of international cuisine on offer. It also serves as a starting point for river festivals and boat cruises down the Tonlé Sap River.