Insider's Phnom Penh Travel Guide
Phnom Penh became my home in 1995 and for 12 years I spent my days in this chaotic, but completely charming city. The warm and friendly nature of the Cambodian people makes any visit a memorable one. Their positive attitude and genuine desire for you to enjoy their country is what makes this place special. A lot has changed in those years and while it’s still ramshackle and crazy in all the most fun ways, there are also new pockets of sophistication and hip.
Let me share my hidden gems so you can experience the wonderful city that stole my heart all those years ago.
When I’m in Phnom Penh I’m always working with my production team, but if I weren’t rushing to work, I would plan to start my day with a gentle stroll through the tamarind tree-lined streets surrounding the Royal Palace. From there, head along the riverfront to see locals enjoying morning exercise or preparing for their day ahead.
I like to stop at The Shop in Street 240 for breakfast. They make delicious bread and French pastries. If you like markets, I recommend the Russian Market as a must-see, but I also enjoy the shops surrounding the market that sell old antiques, wonderful Chinese ceramics and brass and wood decorative pieces.
An absolute highlight for a bit of old world glamour is the majestic Raffles Hotel Le Royal. Enjoy happy hour in the famous Elephant Bar. This is THE place to be seen, so have fun slipping into a Cassandra Harper caftan or silk shirt and glamming it up!
For dinner I always enjoy the Chinese House - it feels like an old opium den with exposed timber and red lanterns. Try to get a seat in one of the day beds in the downstairs lounge area.
If you are feeling adventurous, finish off the night with a visit to Bassac Lane, the hot ex-pat hangout that was developed a few years back by two Kiwi brothers in a small alleyway off Street 380. The tiny bars all follow different themes - there’s the Library bar, Meat and Drink (a tiny hole in the wall where you can grab a burger with your beer), Harry’s Bar, motorcycle themed Hangar 44 and the Cicada Bar, a tiny gin palace.
PLACES TO STAY
A walled oasis just behind the Royal Palace, the Plantation's proximity to the best shopping and tourist spots in the city, makes it one of the most desirable places to rest your head.
The Rambutan is my home away from home in Phnom Penh. Utterly friendly, it is a quiet space with clean mid-century design that is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle outside.
The grande dame of Phnom Penh, Raffles has been around since 1929 and is where Jacquline Kennedy once stayed. The Elephant Bar is where all the diplomats, business wheelers and dealers and wealthy ex-pats hang out.
PLACES TO EAT
215 Street 13
The food is fab at this social enterprise run by Friends Cambodia, an organisation dedicated to lifting children out of poverty and rescuing street kids from hell. Bookings are a must as it’s top on the list of every Phnom Penh tourist.
11B St 246
Backyard brings hipster to Phnom Penh, billing itself as the Cambodian home of healthy vegetarian, vegan and raw eating. You can enjoy the free wifi while sipping your turmeric latte through a bamboo straw. Once you’ve tasted the truly delicious food, you’ll never go anywhere else for lunch.
PLACES TO SHOP
29 Street 240
Ok, tiny disclaimer, Bliss is my boutique and I adore it, so I'd love to share it with you.
5 locations around Phnom Penh
A worker-run cooperative, Watthan Artisans is filled to the brim with beautiful textiles and covetable treasures all made in Cambodia.
52c Street 240
A.N.D stands for Artisandesign. Set up by British ex-pat, Alan Flux, A.N.D. is where you’ll fill your suitcase with beaded bowls, earrings made from blue and white pottery set into silver and hand loomed cotton ikat clothing.
PLACES TO BE PAMPERED
After all that shopping in the tropical heat, you’ll be looking forward to an afternoon spa treatment. These are my top picks:
29 Street 240
I recommend the 45 minute Lulur Scrub of crushed rose buds and fresh jasmine flowers, blended with tumeric powder and rice and finishing with lavender oil massage. Heavenly!
Cnr Sothearos Bvd & St 178, above U-Care Pharmacy or in the Aeon Mall
As if the spa experience at Bodia wasn’t divine enough, they also offer a complimentary tuk-tuk pick up service from anywhere in Phnom Penh to complete your magical treatment.