After Saigon, I hopped a super short flight on Cambodia Air to Phnom Penh. Guys, I paid for my plane ticket with PayPal??!! I had organized for my hotel to pick me up at the airport — the one concession I make to my mother when I’m traveling solo — and after picking up a SIM card at the airport, we were on our way. People complain about the traffic in Phnom Penh but I think I got lucky. Chinese New Year meant the streets were pretty empty. Here are my tips for what to do in Phnom Penh.
What to Do in Phnom Penh
Sleeping & Eating
After much research, I had decided on the Plantation Urban Resort and this was honestly my favorite hotel of the entire trip. The rooms were small but the pool and two restaurants were fantastic, as were the friendly and helpful staff. The location was also great — a short walk to the Royal Palace and National Museum. I highly recommend staying here, and even if you don’t stay here, try the poolside restaurant for lunch or have a drink on the lovely veranda upstairs before dinner. (Ask about their happy hour specials.) The food here was so good that it was hard for me to consider eating elsewhere. The Cambodian massage I had here was great too. Hopefully my message is clear…this is a great little hotel. You should stay here! Book Plantation Urban Resort.
Here’s what I got up to while I was in town:
Sunset Boat Ride on the Mekong: If you haven’t guessed, I’m a sucker for a boat ride. My first night in town, I signed up for a sunset cruise which came with hotel pick-up and dinner. Plus, traditional Cambodian music. Yes, it all sounds a little touristy but the peaceful ride and great service was a great introduction to the city. I got all the details on the Cambodian government and some of the staff shared their families’ histories under the Khmer Rouge. Also, this was a pretty big boat and there were only seven people on it. I highly recommend this cruise and it’s a tremendously good value to boot. Oh, and it also comes with hotel pickup by tuk tuk. This should definitely be on your “What to Do in Phnom Penh” list. Book it now.
Genocide Museum and Killing Fields: The next morning, I saw the other side of Cambodia by touring the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields. I highly recommend doing this with a professional guide and not just going on your own. It was helpful to get the full political picture and our guide also introduced us to two of the survivors while we were at the Genocide Museum. The only downside of this tour is that I could swear they said snacks were included but all we got was a coconut. (#firstworldproblem.) This was a very moving and emotionally tough morning. I spent the rest of the day at the hotel pool, thinking about it all. If you’re wondering what to do in Phnom Penh, this is a must. Book this tour now.
Royal Palace: I visited this on my own and it’s one of the places I wish I had done with a pre-arranged guide. I honestly had no idea what I was looking at. It’s beautiful and I recommend visiting, but get a guide. Don’t be like Krista.
Market Tour and Cooking Class at La Table Khmere: After a lot of research, I settled on a cooking class at La Table Khmere and while it started out nicely and the food we made was great –chicken amok for me — our teacher was having a *really* bad day and was not helpful or nice. I finally had to go to the guy who ran the place and just stand there and say “Seriously?” He apologized and said the teacher wasn’t feeling well but this was more than just not feeling well. This woman was angry about something. So while I definitely think you should do a cooking class in Phnomh Penh, I don’t know if I’d recommend this one. (Although if you read the TripAdvisor reviews, you can see that one of the people in my class (Stacey) posted her (our) experience and management responded and said the woman no longer works for them.) Also, the class was about 1.5 hours longer than they said it would be. The best part about this class was the trip to the local wet market to pick up ingredients, so at least that was fun. (Also fun…when the hugest cockroach I’ve ever seen in my entire life ran over the foot of the German guy in our class. He was not pleased.)
I really liked Phnom Penh. As always, I wish I had spent more time here. (I was here for four nights.) I really did not get a chance to wander the streets or check out local restaurants. (As noted above, the food at my hotel was so good I kinda didn’t want to eat anywhere else.) People say you don’t need much time in Phnom Penh and that you should really spend all your time in Siem Reap but I disagree. I could have used another day or two. I had so many other things on my “What to Do in Phnom Penh” list! Next time.