Past meets present in Phnom Penh, the exotic capital city of Cambodia. With a blossoming tourism industry in recent years, Phnom Penh has undergone rapid changes to accommodate huge increases in the number of visitors. Despite growing international influences to the city, Phnom Penh has retained a provincial charm original to the area.
One of city’s most splendid architectural achievements is the Royal Palace, home to the king of Cambodia. This striking structure near the riverfront is where countryside Khmers come to pay their respects on Sundays. Visitors can wander the grounds containing the Throne Hall, as well as the Silver Pagoda compound adjacent to the palace. Just a ten-minute walk from the palace, is the Independence Monument, a commemoration of Cambodia’s independence from foreign rule. Located in the heart of the city, the structure is hard to miss, with a big open park and fountain surrounding the landmark.
Another fantastic example of Cambodian architecture is Phsar Thmei, or Central Market. The Art deco market building has four wings filled with shops selling jewelry antiques, household items and fabrics. From early morning to early evening, visitors can peruse souvenirs while experiencing one of the busiest bazaars in the city. For a glimpse into the country’s tumultuous history, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum memorializes the Cambodian genocide in honor of those who died. With a name that translates to “Hill of the Poisonous Trees” or “Strychnine Hill,” the museum exhibits artifacts including photo records of victims, honorary graves and authentic tools used for torture. For a quick snack break, duck into a sidewalk noodle shop, which are a dime a dozen in Cambodia. After a bowl of katiev, noodles in a clear soup broth, head for the temples of Angkor to see one of the most significant sites of Khmer architecture in the city.
Day trips are great opportunities to observe the local life and customs of Cambodia. Visit the old Khmer capital of Oudong in Kampong Speu to see stupas, dome-shaped structures erected as a Buddhist shrine. The magnificent views of the emerald green countryside will take your breath away. It’s no secret that visitors can discover the ancient art form of silver box and ornament-making in a village near Oudong. But art enthusiasts might feel as if they’ve unearthed a hidden treasure once they see the beautiful craftsmanship. A day trip along one of the two rivers that converge in Phnom Penh, the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers, may also lead to a discovery of lost art forms. Travel along the Mekong through Kandal and Kampong Cham to see water jar-making, mat-weaving, forging and even noodle-making. Head northeast from the city and you’ll arrive at Prey Veng, to find mango nurseries, fish farms, brickworks and hand-operated ferries to take you across the river.
From budget guesthouses to extravagant hotels, visitors will find a great variety of options for accommodations in Phnom Penh. Budget guesthouses can be booked for as low as $5 (USD) per night, typically ranging anywhere from $5 to $20 (USD) per night. Mid-range hotels can cost anywhere from $20 to $50 (USD), while luxury hotels can cost up to hundreds of dollars per night. If you’re looking to meet other travelers, consider a hostel in the heart of the city. For low budget options, guesthouses are a great alternative to hotels or motels. Serviced apartments, offering amenities similar to most motels, are available in the mid-budget range. To splurge on luxury options, a number of four and five star hotels fit the bill, including the Intercontinental Hotel, a favorite among dignitaries, and La Rose Suites, the city’s first five-star boutique hotel.
The largest airport in Cambodia, Phnom Penh International Airport, is located seven kilometers west of the city. Private transportation such as taxis or tuk tuks, motorcycles with a cabin for passengers hitched to the back, can get you into the city. Meter taxis are typically found in tourist areas near the riverfront, while non-meter cabs, for which fares must be agreed upon in advance, can be found throughout the city. Motorbike taxis are a cheap form of transportation, but passengers caught without helmets will be fined. Renting a car is not recommended because of the city’s massive traffic jams and reckless motorcyclists. For alternative transportation options, public buses travel along three main routes across the city. The fare is about $0.35 (USD) per ride. There is also limited train service from Phnom Penh to all the way to Kampot, a small town in southeast Cambodia.
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