While most travellers only spend one day in Phnom Penh, this understated city is swiftly reinventing itself.
After the destruction and evacuation of Cambodia’s capital by the Khmer Rouge, parts of the city have been preserved from modernisation and many of the stunning French-colonial buildings - built between 1863 and 1950 - are being brought back to life as hotels, galleries and restaurants. While sites like the Royal Palace and chilling Tuol Sleng top to do lists, finding treasures that others may miss can turn a good holiday in Cambodia into an unforgettable one.
The Foodie Revolution
Fresh, rich and healthy: Khmer cuisine is not to be missed
- ARTillery Café – I’ve been told it’s hard to be a vegetarian travelling in Cambodia, but obviously not in Phnom Penh. This vegetarian and raw foods café has delicious treats at amazing prices. Not only will the wholesome delights make you feel a bit better about a few too many Angkor beers the night before, but you’ll feel great knowing most of the produce is organic and fair trade.
- Digby’s - At the opposite extreme in cuisine, but not in deliciousness, is Digby’s. This enormous upscale butcher and grocer also houses a café style eatery open for lunch and dinner. We hear the cheesecake is to die for!
- Confirel – If you are looking for something a bit different to take home, a visit to Confirel is a must. This produce shop offers high-quality, and often organic, authentic Khmer specialties. All the produce is fair trade and sustainably sourced. They have gift packs, but you can’t go past a pack of world-famous Kampot Pepper to show you care.
- Daughters of Cambodia – Sick of souvenir shopping? Can’t face another trinket? This delightful boutique is full of unique handmade items for men, women, children and the home. The store is the retail arm of a charity which helps victims of sex-trafficking by offering them employment creating the beautiful pieces on sale in the shop.
- Childsafe Centre – Dedicated to protecting Cambodia’s children, especially street children, this centre acts as a training centre for local people and businesses and also highlights how travellers can help by raising awareness. They also run a restaurant called Romdeng which serves delicious local cuisine and helps train disadvantaged youth in hospitality skills.
- Blue Chilli – This predominantly gay bar draws a huge mixed crowd on Friday and Saturday nights for its uproarious 11pm drag shows. Packed inside and out with locals, expats and tourists, get in early or you’ll be watching from the sidewalk with the tuk-tuk drivers.
- National Sports Complex – This one comes thanks to Neil from Backpacks and Bunkbeds. Originally built to host the 1963 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, the political climate in Cambodia at the time caused these to be cancelled. The Khmer Rouge took over the stadium during their regime and used it as a site for executions of Khmer Republic officials and it deteriorated into decay. In 2000 it was renovated and today the stadium hosts regular keep fit sessions which are open to the general public. If it’s too hot to join in, why not catch one of the Cambodian Premier League football matches played here?
- Koh Dach - Known for its sleepy vibe and silk weaving, smiling locals and traditional stilt houses, the island of Koh Dach and its five villages on the banks of the Mekong River is a great day trip from Phnom Penh to escape from the hustle and bustle.
- Takeo - For those not already templed-out, a 30 kilometre (18 mile) journey south of the capital brings you to Tonle Bati lake in the province of Takeo. It’s debatable whether its adjacent temple is as highly rated as the others across the country, but the rural journey along the way is picturesque.
- Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center - Wildlife enthusiasts and responsible travellers may be surprised to learn that the PTWRC, a protected forest habitat around 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Phnom Penh, is home to over 1200 animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. No animal is turned away and all are cared by Wildlife Alliance in cooperation with the Forestry Administration.
Romdeng Restaurant by Friends International
A Helping Hand
Escape the hubbub of Phnom Penh on a day trip out of the city
Sports and Leisure
Becki from backpackerbecki has recommended these great day trips from Phnom Penh. Just a short distance out of town, these treasures will give you a real feel for village life in Cambodia.
Our small group and tailor-made tours of Cambodia give you the flexibility to try some of these great restaurants. If you are travelling independently, you can book a day tour out to Koh Dach Island or a design your own tour in Phnom Penh and choose what you want to do.
Have you discovered a hidden treasure in Phnom Penh that is not listed?