Phnom Penh: more than meets the eye

Auriole Potter

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Auriole Potter tells us why travellers should linger for longer in Cambodia’s capital

With its silver skyscrapers and busy streets, it would be easy to dismiss Phnom Penh as just another bustling Asian metropolis. Many travellers plan a night here but it’s often only to take a deep dive into the country’s recent history, by visiting Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields. We recommend spending a little longer in the capital, to visit some of its hidden gems and create some less harrowing, more enjoyable associations with the city.

Top three alternative experiences in Phnom Penh

1. Diverse colonial architecture

Whilst many of Phnom Penh’s most cherished buildings were destroyed during the time of the Khmer Rouge, several historic sites survive, making Cambodia’s capital a treasure trove of architectural wonders. Besides the city’s temples and palaces, the 1890s neo-classical Post Office sits proudly at the centre of the French Quarter and the opulent Raffles le Royal (where everyone from Jackie Kennedy to Charlie Chaplin has stayed) presents a blend of sophisticated French style and local panache. Other favourites include the 1930s art deco train station, the National Library and the Central Market. 

2. Food culture

Phnom Penh’s food culture is a product of the country’s long and rich history, and diverse influence from neighbouring countries. A stroll around Phnom Penh after dark with a passionate food-focused guide allows you to witness the city coming alive around its myriad food stalls. Visit corners of the city where few other tourists go and get to know the street-side chefs and their signature dishes, many of which have been passed down through the generations. 

3. Colourful suburban countryside

On the opposite shore of the Mekong, which runs alongside the city’s eastern flank, you’ll find delightful Cambodian countryside. This makes a diverting day trip, taking you out of the concrete jungle in less than an hour. Tucked away amongst the lively villages is an extra special collection of antique wooden Khmer homes, owned and run by an exceptional young chef, dedicated to restoring traditional Cambodian recipes. Here we can arrange a private fine dining experience, a day’s cooking course or a home stay in this little-known part of the country.