Psar Thmei

Electrostatico | flickr

Phnom Penh is finally coming into its own again as a tourist destination. Three decades after a disastrous war that almost destroyed the city, Cambodia’s capital is once again the “Pearl of Asia.”

Breakfast

Psar Thmei

Get your day off to a perfect start with a visit to Psar Thmei, Phnom Penh’s distinctive Art Deco central market. You can buy anything here from antique coins and gemstones to trendy clothes, designer knockoffs and krama, traditional Cambodian checkered scarves.

The food stalls serve Cambodian specialties like bai sach chrouk (pork and rice), quail eggs and even fried grasshoppers. For a tasty breakfast, stick with bobor (rice porridge.)

Central Phnom Penh

Morning Activity

Royal Palace

Next, take one of those bicycle-powered rickshaws known as tuk-tuks to the Royal Palace. What the Royal Palace lacks in antiquity, it makes up for in sheer opulence. The compound was constructed a little over a century ago to serve as the King of Cambodia’s residence. At the heart of the Royal Palace lies the Silver Pagoda whose floor is paved with 5,300 solid silver tiles.

2A, Street 90, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh

Lunch

Sihanouk Boulevard

The street vendors on Sihanouk Boulevard specialize in a succulent roast chicken that makes an excellent lunch. Chickens are cooked until almost done on a vertical rotisserie, then split in half and finished on the grill. They’re accompanied by traditional Cambodian trimmings that include pickled cabbage with carrots, fresh cucumbers and whole limes.

Afternoon Activity

Cambodia’s National Museum

At its height, the Khmer Empire stretched all the way from Thailand in the north to Vietnam in the south. Cambodia’s National Museum is the repository of the Khmer Empire’s riches.

The museum has an impressive collection of Khmer artifacts and statuary dating all the way back to prehistoric times. Many of the Buddhas in the museum are still objects of reverence. They stand in front of makeshift altars bedecked with flowers and incense. Tourists who’d like to leave offerings for them can buy blossoms and joss sticks in the central lobby.

227 Kbal Thnal, Preah Norodom Boulevard, Sangkat Tonle Bassac, Khan Chamkar Mon, Phnom Penh 12305

Dinner

Romdeng

Though it’s a relatively new restaurant, Romdeng has already acquired a reputation for great food. The people who run Romdeng use the restaurant to train street kids for careers in Cambodia’s burgeoning hospitality industry.

Romdeng’s menu emphasizes Cambodian classics like green watermelon soup with prawns, and fish rubbed with Khmer spices and grilled in a banana leave.

Guests can also try crispy fried tarantulas if they get a hankering for a really unusual dish.

74 Street 174, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Evening Activity

Phnom Penh has a dynamic nightlife. If you’re looking for restaurant bars, try happy hour at any of the bars and restaurants that lie along the riverfront strip.

The Correspondents’ Club features white wicker furniture and antique-style ceiling fans as well as a terrific view of the water. The DV8 around the corner sports a more retro punk style.

The hostess clubs and discos lie closer to the center of town. There’s even an Irish pub called Rory’s Pub and Guesthouse where you can order Guinness. Sometimes they’ll even have it in stock!

Many tourists visiting Phnom Penh complain feel they’re only skimming the surface of this fascinating culture. These visitors may want to take advantage of community-based initiatives and other volunteer opportunities that will let them get to know Phnom Penh and Cambodia on a deeper level.

Volunteering with a group like Volunteer Cambodia is an excellent way to travel because interesting grassroots projects exist in practically every part of the world. Helping others enhances personal development in unexpected ways, and volunteering builds friendship that will last for a lifetime.

Whichever method you choose to visit Phnom Penh, by planning your time spent there carefully you’ll be able to experience the rich culture, delicious cuisine and fascinating history of Cambodia, all in one place.