There are also cheaper tuk tuk motorcycle cabs seating from four persons to an entire planeload plus a packet of chips depending on the disposition of the driver and passengers.
The intrepid and tight of wallet can head down the pecking order to contract a sputtering two-wheeler but, in either case, be prepared to inhale vast quantities of dust. Sitting in a tuk tuk while you choke would appear the more dignified approach to an unscheduled call on your Maker. As any Phnom Penh guide will remind you, this is not a vast city and much of it, especially along the river, can be easily navigated on foot.
Rather than carting sacks of local currency, carry lots of low denomination US dollar bills, which are universally accepted. With a population of just around 1.
The occasional fender-bender will invite a frown or a peevish shake of the head, but rarely police. Serene temples, pagodas, and a genocide museum Deceptive calm of Tuol Sleng Despite its sleepy veneer, the town has a tough underbelly in parts and these areas are best avoided on foot late at night if you wish to enjoy uninterrupted ownership of your handbag, camera and wallet. One such spot is the seemingly innocuous leafy roundabout of Wat Phnom, the shrine that lends its name to the city, not far from the venerable Raffles Hotel Le Royal.
Set on a small knoll, practically the only feature enlivening the otherwise flat topography of this plains town, by day the Wat presides over a lively and not unattractive park frequented by squealing schoolchildren, lovers, and gewgaw hawkers.
One arm from this broad roundabout leads on to Sisowath Boulevard that turns to run north-to-south along the river while another, Norodom Boulevard, spikes off parallel to the river promenade directly through town and on to Independence Monument, a diminutive and simple burgundy structure, set within another large roundabout.
The city blocks within the embrace of these two roads are where you will likely spend much of your time sightseeing and browsing. Conveniently for visitors, streets form a grid, not quite Manhattan-style, but easily understandable.
It is hard to get lost. The streets running from north to south are odd numbered while the intermeshing east-west streets leading to the riverfront are even numbered, the value ascending as you move south down the quay from the Wat Phnom area to the Royal Palace.
Addresses and house numbers can be pretty random however. Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace The Royal Palace has been home to Khmer kings since its construction in , at which time Phnom Penh solidified its hold as permanent capital of Cambodia. Deep in the northern jungle fastness, Angkor had waned by the 15th century with the seat of power moving by turn to Phnom Penh and various other cities in the heartland.
Over half the palace grounds are devoted to the royal residence, which is still in use and off limits to the public. Occupying the south of the complex is the Silver Pagoda or Wat Preah Keo housing its prized bejewelled and gold Buddha statues. Entry tickets for foreigners are Crl25, while Cambodians pay just Crl1,, demonstrating the government is no slouch when it comes to harvesting tourist dollars.
Later, outside, toss seeds at the pigeons to stir up a feeding frenzy. Bear in mind a dress code applies within the royal compound: A five-minute tuk tuk ride southwest from here will bring you to some serene, almost drab, two-storey blocks of grey concrete, set in a small garden with coconut trees and benches. The buildings echo to the reverent shuffle of feet and the almost apologetic click of cameras.
No one speaks louder than a whisper. These self-conscious murmurs may seem odd in a former school, but Tuol Sleng, also known as Security Prison 21 or S, shot to prominence as an interrogation centre when the Khmer Rouge stormed the city in For four years it was a name to command fear, and a walk through the small plastered rooms with broken remnants of sleeping cots, rusted iron manacles and rows of black-and-white photographs of the victims, most of whom were never seen again, is a vivid reminder of that grim period.
In May , UN-authored elections ushered in a new era. In the heart of this darkly enticing, if claustrophobic, sprawl are crowded food stalls wreathed in smoke and the aroma of Khmer herbs and sauces. The same holds true in the bigger, art deco, yellow domed Central Market Phsar Thom Thmei , farther north, not far from Wat Phnom and the Train Station largely inoperative while a major ADB-funded overhaul of the railway system by steams along.
The Central Market building provides the focus for a hive of activity as pushcarts and bicycles hauling everything from coconuts to clothes and jewellery elbow their way through the busy side streets.
Close by is the modern Sorya Shopping Centre, a modest high-rise selling aspirational brands and consumer items. On this block are the Cambodian Craft Cooperation tel: Take a breather at The Shop tel: On Street are art and antique shops with oil paintings by the yard. Nothing inspirational, but a touch of Cambodia nonetheless.
For the more adventurous, Blazing Trails tel: A broad promenade runs along its west bank, bordering Sisowath. You can see the mighty Mekong ahead plodding towards the confluence of the two rivers. During the summer monsoons as the waters rise, the rivers actually reverse their flow and the Tonle Sap Lake close to Siem Reap dramatically expands with renewed life as fish and nutrient-rich silt are deposited upriver chased by bobbing fishing boats. Strung along Sisowath are the usual slew of tourist-trap nosheries, pizza cafes, and bars, mostly fun and rarely patronised for fine food unless fortified by several pints.
The Lonely Planet-recommended Anjali tel: This immediately banished all notions of a sumptuous repast. With my teeth barely intact after industriously attacking the dry chunks of charred meat, I executed an honourable retreat, hiding the tikka remnants under lettuce leaves so as not to offend the smiling waitresses.
The K-West Restaurant and Cafe tel: This is a two-storey colonial walk-up with an unbeatable corner location on Sisowath. Think great river views, a convivial bar, and tall stories always on tap.
Given the limitations of a small town, Phnom Penh dining does offer a fair amount of variety and those in search of Khmer cuisine will find several spots to satisfy their curiosity and, sometimes, palate. Down the road is the cosy cubist-cane-chair Khmer Borane tel: Park in the verandah or balcony and try the steamed and fragrantly curried fish amok.
At Khmer-cuisine Romdeng, sit in elegant, garden surrounds amidst paintings and silk creations made by the students. While this is a teaching facility, the food is consistently good. With lotus ponds and stone statues at the centre of a small courtyard, the place conjures up a romantic feel of an evening and serves both traditional as well as contemporary Khmer food.
A common claim in just about every Phnom Penh guide is that a huge variety of cuisine is available. This is true of the endless lists of restaurants, but an overstatement. With tourists the main target, few places are geared for discriminating taste buds.
Expect a high, vaulted ceiling with simple white plaster walls modestly enlivened by elephant frescoes and art deco chandeliers. For truly grand get-togethers in vintage environs, the hotel has the exquisite Restaurant Le Royal.
Girlie bars on Street The Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra, farther south along the quay near the convention centre, offers a fresh clutch of river-view dining and cocktail options if street forays are not for you. Phnom Penh bars are not for connoisseurs or the fainthearted. The nightlife spread runs from out-at-elbow beer-and-girl dives on Street not a very safe area in the wee hours , rising modestly in price and the amount of makeup on Street and its hostess clubs with unambiguous names like 69 and Pussy Cat , to the discos and lounges along Street 51 between Streets and It is ripe for people-watching however, a quick shuffle on the dance floor or a shot of pool.
There is a suggestion of sexual ambivalence in the crowd and the club is listed in gay guides. And the relocated Martini Pub number 45, Street 95, www. But this is changing. As flights fill up to the Cambodian capital, international players are stepping in. The Rosewood Phnom Penh November with all its attendant luxe trimmings and iconic 'dragon' tower is a storey marvel in an entirely low-rise pancake flat city.
The reflective glass 'scales' of the mythical beast rise up and curve inwards, tapering near a cantilevered sky bar on the 37th floor offering grand panoramas made even better by the promise of bespoke cocktails. The hotel occupies the top 15 floors of the easy-to-spot Vattanac Capital Tower One close to - and overlooking - the centrally located Raffles. The room hotel includes 27 residences for long-stay guests who may need something homey and durable as they settle into work or a transfer.
Offices run from the third to the twenty-fourth floor while a mega shopping mall will distract with brands like Hugo BOSS, and Rimova, for the luggage starved. The lobby is perched on the 35th floor.
Large well-lit rooms look over the central business district, the US and French embassies, and government ministries. Expect pearl pastel decor, a stylish minimalism and black outline furniture akin to Dior dress piping.
The end result is smart, stylish and unfussy, accentuating the residential feel of the place. Think large televisions, 50sq m Deluxe rooms with enough room to swing an elephant by the tail, a Rosewood Spa, 20m indoor pool with huge views beyond, gym, four restaurants including Japanese yakitori , and three function spaces to accommodate to guests in various configurations for small corporate meetings or an intimate conference.
The lobby is small and intimate with a high ceiling and comfy sofas. Austere Buddha statues peer down from various strategic positions to ensure check-in is smooth. Guests can enjoy a nibble here if they feel peckish and, of an evening, a classical trio strikes up, keeping things very much in period. A covered walkway runs from the lobby to the main residential wing, passing the gardens with a large, sun-dappled, swimming pool set on either side. The rippling aquamarine is a sight for sore eyes as the afternoon sun starts making its presence felt.
Walk into the residential wing heady with the fragrance of lemongrass. Tiled corridors lead to rooms where the emphasis is on simplicity. Expect pastel-print carpets, plump white beds, and white, glass-paned doors opening onto a small balcony with rattan chairs and a tea table. An old-fashioned wooden almirah faces the bed, housing a defiantly stout box TV, a mini-bar, and a simple electric safe that will accommodate valuables but not a laptop. A wooden work desk offers business travellers the luxury of an internet cable along with complimentary WiFi in-room and in the public areas.
The light — and the do not disturb — switches are old-fashioned too, large, labelled, and easy to flip. The bathroom has a decent hairdryer, affixed to the mirror, a bathtub and a separate shower cubicle. High tea is another hotel tradition. Service is gracious, always with a smile, attentive to a fault. The Raffles works well as a leisure getaway or a business hotel, as well as a Phnom Penh conference hotel for small corporate meetings and the like. The sheer charm of this establishment coupled with the comparative lack of distraction elsewhere in the city could be a perfect recipe for an unruffled company get-together.
Later, head up to the Raffles Spa for a rubdown. Around the corner is the perennial Phnom Penh Hotel in a faux Khmer style that takes a stab at grand. It has a large swimming pool, stone lions adorn the entrance, and a stately driveway lined with palm trees ushers guests in. There the mirage ends. If you are thumbing through a list of simple Phnom Penh business hotels, this one fits the bill admirably.
Expect a health club, spa, shops and boutiques, and a beauty salon.