First 24 Hours in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh Airport is quite small in comparison with most other international hubs you will find in capital cities and is very easy to navigate. The first thing you will be required to do is organize your visa, presuming that like most new arrivals you haven’t arranged it in advance. Two visa types are available at the counter directly in front of the arrivals gate: business and tourist. Both of them are good for a month, with the tourist visa costing $20 and the business version $25. Have passport photos and your immigration form (it will have been given to you with your boarding pass) ready. Forgetting the photo is not a big problem; they will simply photocopy your passport and charge $2, but it is usually best to have everything in order to ensure a smooth arrival.
Be wary of “service charges” being added to the prices shown above the counter. If this is attempted, simply stand your ground and insist on paying the price as displayed. Alternatively, ask for a signed receipt.
There are kiosks available just outside of the arrivals hall where you can buy sim cards and organize transport. There are also some currency changers. As a tourist, do not take large amounts of the local currency (riels). American dollars are much more useful. It’s also better to wait until you are in the city before changing your money, as airport prices are generally higher with commission.
Remember 4000-4300 riel = $1
You’ll often be handed riel in place of coins and small change. This is a helpful way to think about it. A 1000 riel note is a quarter (25 cents) and so on.
Transport into Central Phnom Penh
There are two main modes of transport into the city- tuk tuks and meter taxis. Tickets for both can be bought at the kiosks just outside arrivals. Expect to pay $7-$10 for a tuk tuk and $10-$11 for a taxi.
If you don’t have a lot of luggage, tuk tuks are great for getting a feel of the city as you drive in and absorb the bustle and atmosphere, as well as the heat.
If you’re tired or simply looking for something more comfortable, the couple of extra dollars for the air conditioned taxi is well worth it.
Travel around the city
Getting around Phnom Penh is very easy, though the greater number of cars (particularly SUVs) appearing in the last few years has meant that it is not as quick as it used to be. Urban public transport as you know it (buses, metro, trains etc.) doesn’t exist, however. Tuk tuks are available on virtually every street corner and will take one or two people virtually anywhere for $2-$3. Expect to pay a bit more if you are going very long distances or in groups of three to six.
Motodops, basically men with scooters, will provide the same service for $1 to $2 and are a lot quicker. There is of course a great risk when travelling with no helmet (Cambodian law only requires the driver to wear one), so be wary and don’t take unnecessary chances.
Meter taxis are becoming much more common and are generally cheaper and safer than both tuk tuks and motos. Just make sure that the driver turns on the meter or you agree a price for your destination.
Phnom Penh has a wide variety of hostels and hotels available. The main areas for tourists are the Riverside, where some of the higher end hotels provide fantastic views over the Tonle Sap/Mekong, chief among them Paddy Rice Irish Bar and its hotel. For more affordable accommodation, Streets 136 and 172 have a wealth of places to sleep and eat. A little further down on Street 258, the Australian-owned Lazy Gecko has great rooms at low prices and provides the best quality you will find in the city.
For those looking for the liveliest stay, the Top Banana Guesthouse on Street 278 has a great open plan bar that serves good beer along pumping tunes until the early hours.
Day 1 in Phnom Penh
Most visitors to Phnom Penh tend to gravitate toward the famous Killing Fields and the former prison S21/Tuol Sleng. These are well worth visiting to reflect on the country’s tragic past, but be aware that it is very heavy going and can be quite upsetting.
More cheery diversions are the Royal Palace, the National Museum, and Wat Phnom. The Palace offers an echo of what the splendour of the Khmer court must have been like at its height, while the Museum is a treasure trove of artefacts from the Angkor period and before. Wat Phnom, meanwhile, is a Buddhist temple atop the city’s highest point (which is not all that high to be honest) and has a collection of monkeys swinging from its trees.
Phnom Penh’s markets, the Russian and Central Markets being the most tourist-friendly, are great places to pick up virtually anything from clothes to ornaments to DVDs for a fraction of the price you would pay at home. They and the surrounding restaurants also serve up a huge selection of local dishes, the seafood being a particular delight.
If you’re looking for something happening a bit later, check out the bars and clubs along Street 51, where there is always something going on.
The street lighting in Phnom Penh is primitive to say the least, so avoid walking alone at night, particularly if you’ve had a lot of alcohol. Opportunistic bag snatching is the most common crime that tourists fall foul off, so keep bags etc. very close.
Meter taxis are by far the safest way to get around, but if your guesthouse recommends a tuk tuk driver, you can arrange for them to get you around for a set fee.
Hotels- $40-$90 a night
Guesthouses/Hostels- $5-$40 a night
Street Food- $1-$2
Restaurant Meal- $4-$8
Beer – $1-$2
Soft Drinks- $1-$2