The Pearl of Asia: One Day in Phnom Penh

A lit, temple-like structure reminiscent of a lotus blossom sits in the center of a roundabout filled with cars and motorcyclists.

The Independence Monument located at the intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards. Photo © Christian Haugen, licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Phnom Penh, despite its ever-growing volume of traffic, is still a great city to explore on foot, at least in some places. The main sites, including the two biggest markets, can be seen in a day.

Morning

A great place to start is Sisowath Quay, where numerous cafés, restaurants, and delis offer an astounding variety of breakfasts. Explore the Royal Palace, including the Silver Pagoda, and then head across to the National Museum, less than five minutes’ walk, to see its huge collection of Angkor relics.

The impressive Silver Pagoda is named for the silver tiles that cover its floor, laid during King Sihanouk’s pre–Khmer Rouge reign. There are more than 5,000 tiles, each weighing more than one kilogram. —p.142

Afternoon

Street 178, which runs past the National Museum, is a good place to grab lunch and wander around the local art galleries. After lunch, visit the nearby art deco Central Market (Phsar Thmey), a few minutes’ walk from the riverfront.

Hitch a ride south of the city, past the Independence Monument to S-21 Tuol Sleng Museum, as terrible and tragic as a sight can be. From this former Khmer Rouge prison, take another short ride to the Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung), which offers an enormous variety of souvenirs, silks, and bootleg DVDs and CDs. It is often very hot in this crowded roofed market, so late afternoon is the best time to visit.

During the Vietnamese presence in the 1980s, Russians often came shopping at the Russian Market (daily 7 a.m.—5 p.m.) for Western goods they could not get elsewhere, hence the name. In the late 1990s, it was also possible to purchase large quantities of marijuana as well as AK-47s here, but the bad old times are long gone. —p.155

Evening

Round out the day where you started, on Sisowath Quay, to watch the sunset over the river from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, or relax in one of the many sidewalk restaurants.

With its arty ambience (a large painting of American writer Hunter S. Thompson graces one wall), great international dishes (around US$10), and Khmer standards (from US$5), La Croisette (241 Sisowath Quay, at STreet 144, 023/220-554, daily 7 a.m.—midnight) is a more upscale option nearby and the perfect place for a sumptuous dinner. Roadside tables or smart indoor seating, eclectic music, free Wi-Fi access, and a good wine list round off this reliably excellent restaurant. —p.168


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Angkor Wat.

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