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Phnom Penh travel guide

Phnom Penh Introduction

| 09 Apr 2015
Last updated 09 Apr 2015

In April 2015, Phnom Penh marked 40 years since the city was captured and then evacuated by Pol Pot's murderous Khmer Rouge regime. After more than three decades of gradual recovery, Phnom Penh's makeover is on in earnest.

Streets are buzzing, cranes are hard at work. A city almost entirely depopulated by Khmer Rouge decree in 1975 is a bulging centre of hope and opportunity again.

Phnom Penh is emerging from the ashes. It couldn’t be expected to be an easy journey. And it isn’t.

Cambodia,Phnom Penh
Photo: Mark BowyerNational Museum, Phnom Penh

But this is one of Asia's most compelling cities with plenty of things to do, a wonderful mix of Khmer and French colonial architecture and a new atmosphere as bars, restaurants, galleries and boutiques open up, serving an emerging middle class and curious visitors.

And Phnom Penh still sports two other especially enticing ingredients - a profound story and a sense of exotica.

There are plenty of reality checks. This is after all the capital of one of Asia's poorest countries. Beggars, touts and seediness are all part of the city's fabric. And the conspicuous wealth that cohabitates with the misery is disconcerting.

You're more likely to see a Lexus, a Hummer or the latest model Merc in Phnom Penh than many developed cities.

Tourism is also transforming Phnom Penh. And as more people choose to visit the city to experience its emerging coolness, it's gradually shifting its longstanding and hard to shake off reputation for sleaze.

The Royal Palace is a great place to start a journey into the life of one of the twentieth century's most intriguing characters - Norodom Sihanouk. 

Nearby, the National Museum houses the world's finest collection of Angkorian sculpture in what is, despite its modesty, one of Asia’s most delightful museum complexes.

The genocide museum at Tuol Sleng is a harrowing experience not least because in addition to showcasing the horrors that took place in this school turned concentration camp, it tries to humanise both the victims and the perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge's barbaric project.

Cambodia,Phnom Penh
Photo: Mark BowyerStreet food, Phnom Penh

But a visit to Phnom Penh is not all about solemnity. It's also about recovery and revival.

Take time to walk the streets, visit some of city's beautiful wats and get to know the locals.

Shopping eating and drinking are now a big part of the Phnom Penh experience.

And this city is home to some of Asia's most tasteful, well priced and well loved boutique hotels and guest houses.

Don't overlook Phnom Penh during your visit to Cambodia.