We had a great time in Phnom Penh. We spent six days there but we could have stayed much longer. It's a beautiful and very lively city. At sunset hundreds of locals go to the streets of the city centre and start doing all sorts of fitness activities, from badminton to aerobics. We tried the aerobics lesson and had a great time. We were the only foreigners but were welcomed by the group as if we had been regulars.
We also attended a meditation session at Wat Langka temple and really enjoyed it. Anyone can join (for free) provided you respect the rules and blend in.
Near the river there are many great spots for a sundowner. These are the home-made taro chips from The Frangipani hotel near the National Museum. It has a great 360° view of the city centre, from the river to the Royal Palace.
We were really impressed by the quality and variety of food in Phnom Penh. This is the roasted pumpkin, spinach and avocado salad we had at Daughters of Cambodia Cafe. Food is not the only reason to go to this cafe though. This is actually a social project run by an NGO supporting the victims of sexual exploitation in Cambodia through vocational training and employment opportunities. In the same building there is also a spa and a shop that are part of the same project. I liked the concept so much that while waiting for my lunch I went downstairs to buy some fair trade and very colourful clothes 😉
The Corn restaurant has an interesting concept. Almost everything on the menu is vegan but you can request to add non-vegan ingredients to the dish with a supplement. But why would you really? 😉 These freshly made corn fritters with sweet chili sauce were delicious. The restaurant lived up to its name!
You'll be glad to know that I continued eating ricepaper rolls in Cambodia as well. These are the super healthy fresh ones with soy and peanut sauce at veg Cafe Soleil. This was actually one of my favourite cafes in Phnmon Penh. They use good and fresh ingredients and they have a great variety of vegan options on the menu. I went there twice and I enjoyed it a lot.
At Artillery cafe there was a great vibe and very creative food. These are their raw vegan ravioli, made with beetroot and cashew nuts. Artillery cafe is on street 240 which is a very nice neighbourhood for strolling, full of cafes and boutiques.
We also tried the experience of dining in the dark and we found it quite interesting, even though somehow a bit disturbing. I did quite well with the asparagus salad, but when I started eating the veg amok with rice I was completely lost. We had heard about the concept in other cities but this was the first time we found one with a vegetarian menu that could be made vegan on request. Of course, I don't have pictures of the food!
But if by now you're wondering if we went to Phnom Penh only to eat, the answer is NO! Here are some of our cultural and tourist activities. The National museum is well worth a visit, with a very interesting collection of local statues. I was very impressed by the level of detail in Khmer architecture and sculpture. At the museum, you can get up close and admire the intricate details.
OK, this is not the most representative picture one could take at the museum, but certainly this is one of the most surprising statues. The front part of the elephant was a real statue and the the back was actually a bush. Great camouffage!
I also went to the Russian market but must admit to being a bit disappointed. Apart from the beautiful flowers and fruit at the entrance, it's mostly poor quality souvenirs. I'm not sure why guidebooks advise that it's something not to be missed, I think you could easily skip it. It's also quite far from the centre. In Phnom Penh it is easy to find beautiful clothes made of good quality local fabrics which are actually decently priced. It would be a shame to buy bad souvenirs instead of those.
On the contrary, I liked a lot the traditional dance show performed by the Cambodian Living Arts at the National Museum. The objective of the Cambodian Living Arts was to bring back to the country traditional performing arts after the Khmer Rouge rule and to keep them alive. I liked the show a lot and I would strongly recommend it to travellers going to Phnom Penh. I also found very educational that each type of dance was preceded by an explanation of the context and culture in which the dance was born. It was a good insight of rural Cambodia's history and way of life.
And this is the Royal Palace, absolutely not to be missed. But I'd like to warn you, the price for foreigners is 40 times more expensive than for locals!
This was definitely the coolest spot we found at the Royal Palace!
Many travellers also visit S21 prison and the killing fields in Phnom Penh. It's up to you to decide whether you'd like to go there or not as the visit can be difficult. I went to both and I learned a lot on Cambodia's tragic recent past. I think both visits are well worth it especially because these events are still very poorly known abroad. Anyway, it was a very good surprise to discover how well the city is recovering from its recent past.