Phnom Penh for Beginners

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September 5th 2018
Published: September 26th 2018
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Phnom Penh is one of those crazy cities that you either love or hate… on my first visit in 2007 I hated it. I stayed out of the tourist area, walked back to our hotel from a terrible dinner and had children pulling at us begging. The streets were dark and dingy and we felt very unsafe… However fast forward 11 years and it is one of my favourites! Here is my guide to your time in Phnom Penh


I absolutely love the MAADS chain of hotels – they have several in differing budgets… and Urban Teahouse is my number one, followed closely by the ever popular Blue Lime. Blue Lime is walking distance to the river and a firm favourite of many travellers. I highly recommend both of the above, but their other hotels including Pavilion are worth looking at dependant on your budget

Blue Lime: (Rooms start from $55USD)

Urban Teahouse: (Rooms start from $35USD)

Getting around

There are plenty of tuk tuk drivers waiting to take you to all the attractions. One of the best things about Blue Lime and Urban Teahouse is there are good reliable tuktuk drivers that hang around the front wanting your business. The MAADS group of hotels has a price list in their foyer for you as a suggestion to negotiate. You can always tip more at the end of the day if you feel the need.

I personally don’t suggest walking around too much at night. Your tuktuk driver will happily wait out the front of your restaurant and deliver you safely home. There have been various reports of muggings of unsuspecting tourists, even in the daylight, so when walking around try to not flash mobile phones around and even seated in your tuktuk put any personal belongings in the middle of you and your travel partner.

Food and Drink

There are many great places to eat and drink but I have a top 3. For drinks we love going to Touk Bar. It is located 2 floors up on the opposite corner to the Foreign Correspondents Club riverside. Everyone knows where the FCC is, so get a tuktuk there, cross the road and get cheaper drinks with the same view! Their espresso martinis are about $2 and to die for!

For food I have two favourite restaurants – the quintessential ROMDENG where you can eat creepy crawlys such as tarantulas and froglets as well as other beautiful Cambodian dishes in a restaurant that trains street kids to get them off the street and into employment! Eating for a great cause! What is not to love? My second favourite restaurant (probably number one on my list) is Mok Mony.

Mok Mony is another feel good eating for a good cause restaurant. At the end of the night, leftover meals are taken and given to the homeless. Mok Mony also has a rule that if you do not like any dish, they will take it back, not charge you and feed it to the homeless after closing! The food there is delicious and some of the best we have had! The coffee ribs and the beef in betel leaf are two of our favourites!

Make a booking here:

Romdeng bookings:

Things to do and see

Tuol Sleng (S21) Genocide Musuem & The Killing Fields

Top of the list is obviously S21 and the Killing Fields. These are two must see places when in Cambodia and I truly believe that as sad as they are, it only enhances your experience of Cambodia. To see both places really helps you understand why Cambodia is the way it is and makes you appreciate the beauty of Cambodia and its people even more.To get to both, hire a tuk tuk who will wait for you. At both places you are able to hire an audio guide and when we were last at S21 we paid a small fee to have a guide take us around. This definitely enhanced our experience. One of the sole survivors of s21 is there selling his book and signing the front cover for another small fee. We felt truly humbled to have met him.

S21 Genocide Musuem was originally built as a secondary school in 1960, during the reign of Preah Batnorodom Sihanouk. The Khmer Rouge converted it into a torture and interrogation centre to extract ‘confessions’ of anti-government sentiment. Many victims were women and children incarcerated along with the ‘suspected’ father. Documents recovered indicate that over 17,000 persons had been imprisoned there between1975 and 1978, of whom only seven are known to have survived. The others, once the ‘confession’ had been extracted under torture, were transported to Choeung Ek for execution.

Records show that the highest figure was on 27 May 1978, when 582 persons were sent to their death. The museum was established in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion, and the Khmer Rouge’s meticulous photographic records of their victims are exhibited as tragic testimony to those who suffered and died in their hands

The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Memorial) is a bone-chilling reminder of Cambodia’s tragic history. Located 17km south of Phnom Penh City, it is one of the many killing fields or execution and burial grounds used by the Khmer Rouge regime during its rule of the country from 1975 to 19767. Mass graves were discovered after the Khmer Rouge fled the city, leading to the construction of a Buddhist memorial for over 15,000 victims in The Killing Fields.

Russian Markets

The Russian Markets is hot, crowded and full of bargains. Well worth a couple of hours if you want to do some touristy shopping. On our last trip we found a great stall selling genuine shoes (NIKE, Adidas, Sketchers etc) dirt cheap! We shopped up a storm. There is also another market that is air-conditioned called Central Market but on all our trips we have never actually made it… it is definitely on the list for next time!


The riverside in Phnom Penh is a great way to see how the locals like to unwind and relax when not working! It’s a great spot for sunset drinks (at the previously mentioned Touk Bar or FCC or other riverside bar) and a great place to people watch.

Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda

Kill a few hours in the morning and head to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. We hired a guide upon entering and glad we did as it was a bit of a rabbit warren and it was interesting to know what each building was and to hear interesting stories from a local about the Royal Family and Cambodian Culture.

Mekong Floating Bungalows

If you are looking for something different to do, and like to escape the bustle of the city, consider a night on the Mekong Floating Bungalow. This is a small one bedroom bungalow with a restaurant and bar on the opposite side of the Mekong River to the city of Phnom Penh. It is run by the same hotel group I love and can be booked via their website.

You get a rice barge up the river in the afternoon and dropped to the floating bungalow where you enjoy dinner and drinks and the sunset, before spending the night in your own private floating bungalow. In the morning, enjoy a leisurely breakfast before heading back to the city on the rice barge! Great night out!

Sunset drinks are held there for other guests of the MAADS cruises but we only saw a small group when we were there and they only stick around for one drink before leaving again! Well worth doing if you have a spare night!

Book here:

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