I never intended to spend a week in Phnom Penh, but due to some poor planning on my part that’s exactly what happened. I meant to spend three days here; just enough time to get my Myanmar visa and then then leave, but I stupidly arrived on a Friday night and had to wait until Monday for the embassy to open again. Once the embassy finally opened and I went to arrange a visa, they told me they had a holiday on Wednesday and I couldn’t collect my passport until Thursday afternoon, meaning I was here even longer!
At first I hated it. Every one told me it wasn’t a nice place and that there wasn’t much to do here, but the longer I stayed the more Phnom Penh grew on me, to the point that I now actually quite like it here!
It’s true that one you’ve seen the killing fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) which can be done in a day, there isn’t a lot of other touristy things to do here, but it can be nice to just chill out and enjoy being in a big city. It’s also a great place to meet people as there are a lot of other tourists and expats here. I never spent a day alone in Phnom Penh; everywhere I went there were other solo travellers around and some people I spent more than one day with. It’s also a big place so there is lots of different areas to explore and hang out.
The Russian Market
If you want to do some souvenir or clothes shopping, then this is the place to go. It’s a huge market and has everything you could possibly need. It’s also in a nice area so once you’re done with the market you can head to one of the many bars and restaurants in the area where there will no doubt be other tourists or expats just hanging out having a drink.
This is another tourist area, you guessed it, on the river! Again there are a lot of restaurants and bars here to hang out in, even more than near The Russian Market. Because it’s more touristy than other areas you will pay higher prices here than elsewhere in Phnom Penh but you can still find a bargain if you look hard enough and are willing to walk around for a bit.
The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)
While confronting, I think it’s important to visit these two places to understand what went on here in the not so distant past. If you don’t know too much about Cambodia’s dark history, then this will fill in the gaps. I would recommend spending two hours at each one so that you can take everything in without being rushed. You will get an audio guide to listen to as you walk around that explains everything and there is also survivors stories that you can listen to as well. Getting a tuk tuk to take you and wait while you’re inside shouldn’t cost you more than $15USD and entry is $6 at both the killing fields and museum.
Is Phnom Penh Safe?
Personally, I felt perfectly safe in Phnom Penh, and nothing ever happened to me. I walked everywhere (sometimes over half an hour) often alone without issue and would often find myself staying out later than intended and walking back to my hotel close to midnight. Having said that though, I did hear a lot of horror stories from other travellers and local tuk tuk drivers and almost every single local that saw me set off from somewhere alone with a handbag in tow told me to be careful and seemed genuinely concerned for my safety. I also noticed that the majority of tuk tuks here have mesh on the sides to prevent people reaching in, something they don’t have in the rest of the country. Now you may think I’m crazy for walking around alone, but not everyone had bad things to say. The French expats I met who’d lived here for a few months said they walked everywhere and felt safe and nothing had happened to them and the local women all walk around with bags alone at night. I was also told by the owner of an Indian restaurant to just make sure I always have my handbag on the side away from the road and I should be fine. He said it can happen and you need to be careful, but not to worry about it. So be aware of your surroundings, particularity in the tourist areas as this is where most of the bag snatchings occur, but don’t let it put you off. It is a big city after all, and I felt safer here at night than I do walking the streets back home!