Phnom Penh City is the Capital of Cambodia. Phnom Penh Tourism is growing quickly and the pace of growth and development has reached a frenetic pace.
The City seems to become unrecognizable every 2-3 months because of the changes.
The city serves as a transportation hub for further travel into Vietnam, Thailand, or up into Laos. I know the town pretty well after living here for 3 years yet the pace of change is incredible even to me.
Phnum Penh epitomizes the belief that a country is only as good as its people. That is regardless of whatever facilities are available to the average person or the level of wealth at their disposal.
Our City map is pretty darn terrible but we review the Best hotels in the Cambodia Capital City by actually going to them, checking the rooms and even testing their internet speeds.
Everything you'll need to know about The Capitol City of Cambodia is here whether you spell the city's name as Pnom Penh, Phnom Penn, Phnom Pen, or even Phnom Phen.
The city has gone through a massive makeover in the last few years. This year (2012) tourists will find a much cleaner and expansive city than just a few months ago.
In the past, visitors who could not adjust to rubbish filled streets and large numbers of beggars could give Phnom Penh a miss. But this city has transformed to become a much more welcoming tourist destination.
Finding your way around Phnom Penh is pretty easy. You can print out the Phnom Penh maps here if you'd like but they are rags compared to the stuff you can pilfer from any of the big hotels here.
Just walk into any hotel with your nose high and go nuts with the brochures, maps and day-old Newspapers. My personal favorite is the Phnom Penh Hotel. It is an audacious Palace full of helpful brochures and maps.
I once walked in there in shorts with a towel over one shoulder and fully enjoyed their wonderful pool.
If you get lost just remember that in the Cambodian Capital City, odd-numbered streets run North-South with rising numbers as you head West from the Riverside. Even numbers run West-East, increasing as you head South (with some exceptions, e.g. the West side of the now defunct Boeung Kak Lake).
House numbers, however, are quite a different story with no apparent rhyme or reason. Sums Cambodia up pretty well but then again my way of doing it may seem monkey-like to them.
So, don't expect houses to be numbered sequentially in any given street; you might even find two completely unrelated houses with the same number in the same street.
Getting from the Airport to the Center of Phnom Penh
You'll find Buses, Taxi Cabs, Motorbike Taxis and a even Cambodia's version of a Tuk Tuk waiting outside the Airport. Drivers will swarm you as you walk out of the airport and into the heat of the day or night. Their mission is to drive you into the center of town and charge you as much money as they possibly can.
It's generally $10USD for a Taxi (But they only begin the journey once every seat in the Taxi is spoken for) or $5USD-$7USD for a Motorbike Taxi. Prices double the moment the sun goes down and it can be a battle just getting to your hotel for less than $20USD. Drivers are aware that you have fewer options during the night.
I don't blame them but I don't like being forced into paying more than good value.
Now, I always book the airport pick-up and transfer service for my arrival in Phnom Pen. The Viator Airport Transfer Service costs just $12USD yet they meet you at the arrivals gate, carry your bags to an air-conditioned vehicle and drive you to the doorstep of any destination in the City.
It is the easy way to avoid the haggling and stress of organizing a ride into the City. It saves me time and money no matter how early or late my plane arrives.
The 3 Unique Areas of Phnom Penh
Much has changed in the Cambodian Capital since the entire Lakeside Area of the City became a ghost town. Yes, they long ago filled Boeung Kak Lake in with heavy foundation soil.
It is a real shame to see Boeng Kak lake completely filled in but other areas of the City have grown to accommodate what was lost.
The lakeside (Boeung Kak Lake) was the best place to stay if you were on a tight budget. It was an area made for backpackers with sunsets that were unmatched anywhere in Phnom Penh.
The rooms at some of the Guesthouses practically floated on the lake. All of that is gone now.
The Lakeside and the cheapest Guesthouses were all located directly behind the Phnom Penh hotel. The lakeside area has turned into a sort of slum lately and has become a popular place to score bad drugs.
Here's a video guide that will show you how to get from the Central Bus Station in Phnum Penh to The Lakeside. There are still a few Guesthouses down there but the lake is gone and the area is not the place to stay.
Sisowath Quay runs parallel to the confluence of three great rivers. They are the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac rivers. The hotels are more upscale in the Riverside area with prices in the $25USD - $125USD a night range but the restaurants and pubs are more varied and suited for tourists.
If there is an area in the Capital City of Cambodia that is most cared for and where crime is least likely, it is on the Riverside at Sisowath Quay. The Riverside is the most developed area of Phnom Penh in terms of amenities for tourists. I stayed in the Paragon Hotelright on Sisowath Quay.
Here is a video we took of the Riverside from our balcony at the Paragon Hotel.
This area includes the Central Market as well as Street 51, which is the heart of the Phnom Pehn Nightlife. Some would argue the true center of the city but many regard the area in and around the Central Market as just that.
This is not the center of the action and is not a popular place to rent a guesthouse. The Central market opens very early and it is probably the noisiest area in the city.
A visit to the Central Market is a 'Must-See' and the nearby Soriya Center is the largest shopping center in all of Cambodia. Just 2 blocks away from the Central Market is Street 51. This road has the most concentrated collections of bars, nightclubs and outdoor 'Beer Stands' anywhere in the city.
Famous clubs such as 'The Heart of Darkness, 'The Pontoon Club' and 'Walkabout' all sit within yards of each other.
There are many things to see in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, some of the most famous tourist attractions are monuments to the Genocide of nearly a million people. This occurred during the rise of the Khmer Rouge and General Pol Pot following the withdrawal of US troops out of Vietnam.
It can be somewhat overwhelming to visit a Genocide Museum and then a mass grave-site afterwards. Fortunately, there are many other things to see and do and many can be covered in a single day. If you are short on time then consider one of the best Budget Tour Buses which stop at most of the 'Must See' attractions in a single day.
(Entrance Fees into places such as the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Toul Sleng et al will amount to nearly $40USD. Make sure that the entrance fees are included in whatever Budget Tour you choose (Or it won't be much of a Budget Tour!).
Learn More about the sights to see in the Capital City of Cambodia on our Phnom Penh Tour page.
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