5 mins

An insider's guide to Pnomh Pehn

Peter Jones has lived in Cambodia for eight years and is Tripbod's Pnomh Penh guru. He tells you what you must do in this bustling, re-emerging city

Air-conditioned Cyclo

Pnomh Penh was the ‘Pearl of Asia’ during its 1965 heyday, and once again the city is busy and thriving. It’s 100 miles from the sea but is Cambodia’s – indeed the Mekong’s – largest port, with a brand new waterfront development that is a focus for much of the city’s life, with locals mingling with inquisitive travellers along its busy strip. Our advice? Get there before the next tourist invasion!

1. City Cyclo tour

Cyclos – sort of tuk tuks but with someone peddling you from behind – are the traditional way of getting around Pnomh Penh but they’re fading fast, with just over a thousand cyclo drivers on the roads now compared to over 10,000 15 years ago. Nonetheless a city cyclo tour is one of the best and most relaxing ways of getting orientated.

2. Friends restaurant

A non-profit restaurant run by street children to give them the skills and experience they need to move on to a better life. But that’s not the only thing that’s special: it also serves great tapas-style Cambodian food in a wonderful atmosphere.

3. Exercise at the Olympic Stadium

Like most Asian cultures, Cambodians are very into a spot of communal exercise and it’s fine to join in if you want – best at the Olympic Stadium, where you can pick a group and just follow the steps of the leader. You will almost certainly draw a crowd!

4. The Killing Fields

Located on the outskirts of the city, Choeung EK is the resting-place of victims that found themselves at the Toul Sleng prison – a sombre sight but a must if you want to understand the country’s recent history.

5. Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

Once a high school, the site became the Khmer Rouge’s main torture and interrogation centre before moving inmates to the nearby killing fields. Again it’s not the happiest excursion, but not engaging with these places only makes it harder to get to know modern-day Cambodia.

6. Meta House

Cambodia’s first-ever arts and media centre has established itself as a quite a meeting-place, and something of a nexus for artists and art-lovers alike. Drop by for cutting-edge exhibitions, workshops and community projects and the occasional classic film.

7. Happy Hour at the ‘Raffles Elephant Bar’

An oldie but a goldie, this famous historical bar, immortalised by the formidable South East Asian elephant, is the perfect place to enjoy traditional cocktails in a sophisticated and charming atmosphere.

8. The National Museum and the Children of Bassac

Cambodians are big on dancing, and the best way to appreciate this is by stopping by the National Museum every Thursday at 7pm to see the children perform. Oh, and the museum is fantastic if you’ve been to Angkor – a better display and much cheaper than the new museum in Siem Reap.

9. Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC)

Not actually a club, and always a great starting-point for anyone visiting the capital – and every tuk-tuk driver knows the address.

10. Khmer Cooking Classes

Even if deep fried tarantula and ‘Balut’ make you queasy, you can’t visit Cambodia without falling in love with at least two or three local dishes, so why not give yourself a chance to master the perfect Amok?

TripbodPeter Jones has lived In Cambodia for eight years and is just one of thousands of local experts Tripbod.com has scattered around the world. For local knowledge there’s no better place to start than www.tripbod.com.


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