Cambodia’s capital doesn’t feature so much in the way of big tourist sights but there is the Royal Palace and a stroll along the riverfront is pleasant enough. If you’re interested in Khmer Rouge history, you can go see the sobering Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng prison.
Phnom Penh is also the only place in Cambodia you’re likely to find a decent bike mechanic and, like Siem Reap, there are plenty of restaurants and hotels where you can treat yourself after a few days out in the wilds.
Sleeping: The area around the Boeng Kak lake is known for its cheap guesthouses, with rooms starting from just a couple dollars a night. Don’t expect a lot in the way of amenities but if you just want a place to crash this is probably your best bet and sunsets over the lake are an extra bonus.
Being internet addicts, we plumped for hotels with free wifi. In this category, you’re looking at $16-25 U.S. a night for a room that should also have air conditioning, hot water, cable television and maybe a fridge.
- Boddhi Tree Del Gusto, on Street 348, not far from Tuol Sleng prison, is the cheapest one. The wifi is excellent and we can also praise the overall atmosphere and restaurant but you get the least for your money here in terms of the room itself. The cheaper ones come only with shared bathroom and cold water. If you stay at Boddhi Tree Umma up the street, directly across from the prison, you can also use the wifi at Del Gusto but again what you gain in atmosphere and decor you lose in amenities. Overall we found these hotels poor value.
- Tonle Sap Hotel on Street 104, just off the riverfront was our home on our second run through Phnom Penh. The rooms are above the Pickled Parrot bar but happily none of the sound from the bar filtered through to our room and for $18 we got free wifi, cable television, hot water, air conditioning and a fridge. The decor wasn’t the best but otherwise we were well catered for. There is a guard outside 24 hours to watch your bike or bring it in the room.
- Hotel Nordic on Street 136 (rooms from $20 U.S.) also has free wifi but in limited quantities, as does the Flamingo Hotel on Street 172 (rooms from $25 U.S. including breakfast).
Self-catering: There are markets all over town, including some very good fruit and vegetables in and around the Central Market.
There are also several supermarkets around town, including Lucky Supermarket, the best place to buy cheese and deli meats. It has a convenient location in the Sorya Centre by the Central Market.
On Street 240, you can pay a visit to The Shop, an amazing bakery that does beautiful breads and pastries. If you’ve had enough of rice, this is the place.
Eating out: Anywhere on and around the riverfront can whip you up some Khmer or Western cuisine. Many of these places have great happy hour specials on beer and cocktails. If you’re craving a taste of home, we can recommend the bangers and mash at the Hope and Anchor pub on the riverfront on the corner with Street 136. They also do draft beers for $0.75 U.S. during happy hour.
Craving more Western food? Try the Alley Cat cafe, as the name suggests down a small alley near the corner of Street 172 and Street 19. They do a mean plate of nachos as well as tacos, hamburgers and other delights.
Bike repair: The friendly folks at The Bike Shop are more into motorcycles but if your frame needs welding, they’re where you want to go.
What to see:We could go on about the Royal Palace, the Killing Fields and S21 but you can probably glean all that from the numerous free magazines around Phnom Penh, if you haven’t already read your guidebook.
Instead, we’d like to encourage you to take some time and money and help the kids out at the Stung Meanchey garbage dump. These kids are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to Cambodian society. They spend their whole day sifting through rubbish, some of it medical waste, just to make a few cents and predictably they are malnourished and many of them are sick.
Many NGOs work in the area around the dump and one group goes out to distribute food and give medical care to the kids a few times a week. You can visit one of the NGOs and make a donation or go with the group to buy food and give it out. See more about the group distributing food.