Sophea is one of our expert Travel Specialists based in Phnom Penh and has an invaluable knowledge of all things Cambodian. A very active person, Sophea loves the outdoors and spends as much time as he can out in the beautiful Cambodian countryside. We thought he’d be the perfect person to quiz about his ideal way to spend a weekend in Phnom Penh and he was more than happy to share his insider tips for an idyllic 48 hours in the country’s capital.
In the morning I head onto the street for breakfast and grab a bowl of Khmer-style noodles. Noodle sellers tend to walk from street to street each morning, distributing their delicious goods as they go like a gastronomic postman scurrying from street to street. If there’s no delivery lady in sight, I settle for a baguette with pâté. The bread in Cambodia is said to be on par with what you might find in France, a leftover from the times of French occupation.
I would then get on my mountain bike and cycle to Koh Pich or ‘Diamond Island’ as it is often known. On the rear of the island there is a ferry that makes the 10 minute trip across the Mekong to another province called Kandal. It is here that the countryside begins, traffic is almost non-existent and like most of Cambodia, it’s completely flat and perfect for cycling.
Cycling through the villages along the banks of the Mekong is invigorating and sometimes eye-opening. To keep hydrated, I often stop at a local market, buy some fresh fruit or have a freshly squeezed sugar cane juice.
When I’m out cycling, I like to take lunch in one of the many small villages, stopping at one of the stalls selling a selection of Khmer food such as five spice pork and boiled egg – slightly sweet but super tasty!
After a few hours of gentle riding I double back and return to the ferry. Sometimes to reward my efforts I make a stop at a local ice cream shop to taste a new flavor before arriving home to relax a little.
In the late afternoon I sometimes head to the Olympic Stadium. As the sun begins to set and weather starts to cool, the dance classes and sports begin at this famous site. As I’ve already done my activity for the day I prefer to watch others partake in their chosen passion, and I grab a bag of pickles to eat with some spicy sugar cane, find a good spot, take a seat, and people-watch.
In the evening I usually go out for dinner. There are plenty of Khmer BBQ restaurants offering more or less the same delicious fare. Typically, friends and I will usually order raw beef and seafood to cook at the tabletop barbecue.
If we feel in the mood to wash the food down with some beer, the good news is it’s always cheap and available, though not necessarily cold! It might be a case of going “Khmer-style” and drinking the beer in a glass with ice. Considered sacrilege in some countries, it’s often the best way to go in Cambodia where refrigeration is often an unpredictable proposition.
The evening sometimes finishes at the BBQ restaurant or sometimes we might prolong the fun by going to dance at a local discotheque. The DJ’s in PP usually like to spin a mixture of Western dance favorites mixed in with Khmer hits – it’s an interesting fusion!
I’m often an early riser, and in the morning I try to head to the riverside as it’s much less crowded compared to the evening. Even at 6am though, there’s plenty to see that tourists tend to miss. As well as the odd jogger you’re likely to see line dance classes, aerobics and tai chi sessions plus people of all ages using the free exercise machines. If I’m feeling active I’ll go for a jog as the sun rises over the river or sometimes I just go there to people-watch.
Jumping on a motorcycle taxi (usually a US$1 charge to anywhere in the central area), I then like to head across to Orussey Market. This is a huge market which has absolutely everything – from TVs to mushrooms, clothes to a live bird section – if it’s an item you can buy in Cambodia, you can get it here! For breakfast I head to Orussey Restaurant, known all over Phnom Penh as one of the best places for Chinese steamed buns.
One of my favorite temples to visit in the city is Wat Ounalom, which most tourists often drive past but rarely enter. Wat Ounalom is one of the most important pagodas as it is the center of Cambodian Buddhism and the Chief Monk resides here. Religious festivals such as Pchum Ben are especially fascinating. One of my most distinct childhood memories was of seeing a room at the temple with other 200 monks in patiently waiting for 11am and the opportunity to eat.
Just two minutes’ walk from Wat Ounalom is Psar Kandal and its here that I like to take lunch. I usually indulge in some fresh-caught fish and some mango and chilli to make a nice salad. Later in the afternoon I like to take a sunset cruise and I head up the river to where the local boats are moored. Phnom Penh locals come here in groups to head out onto the river, watch the sunset, and escape to find some cooler air. No one here is using a laptop or thinking of work…they just relax and enjoy the moment as the sun sets behind the fascinating city that is Phnom Penh.
There you have it! Some expert tips for a captivating 48hrs in Phnom Penh. If you are looking for similar insider tips about the capitals of Thailand and Myanmar, you can read hints and advice from two of our other local experts in the 48hs in Bangkok blog by A and our 48hrs in Yangon blog by Ye.