History meets modernity in cool fusion

Phnom Penh’s grim past has given way to a vibrant future.

Phnom Penh is one of the fastest-growing cities in South-East Asia. While still an ancient city, which is unmistakably Cambodian, it has been heavily influenced by foreign cultures in the past 20 years and has booming music, dining and cultural scenes. 

This is your guide to the best of Phnom Penh.

What to see

An outstanding example of modern Khmer architecture, the Royal Palace is unmissable, with its towering spires and gilded glory. This magnificent complex also boasts the silver pagoda, which has 5000 silver floor tiles. Elsewhere, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is confronting but teaches crucial lessons about the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge.

The National Museum of Cambodia offers more uplifting insight into the country’s history via its enormous range of Khmer artworks and artefacts. Phnom Penh is also awesome for shopping, boasting five great bazaars, from the touristy Russian market, to the gigantic Central market, the chaos of Orussey market, the silk hub of Olympic market and the vintage offerings of Boeung Keng Kang market.

Where to eat

Nowhere in Phnom Penh does Khmer (Cambodian) food better than Malis restaurant. From its spicy moringa soup ($12) to its crispy baked goby fish ($25), crab red curry ($30), and slow-roasted duck ($35), this stylish restaurant nails the distinctive flavours of this cuisine.

Tourists craving Western food will love Terrazza Italian restaurant. The pasta here is home made and delicious — ravioli ($18), tagliatelle ($13) and tortellini ($15). Authentic pizzas start from $13 for Margherita, up to $16 for four-cheese, and $22 for marinara.

Where to drink

Nursing a beer while looking down on the hubbub of Phnom Penh is a glorious experience.

 The two best rooftop bars in Phnom Penh are Le Moon and Skybar at Lumiere, the former for its relaxed vibe and the latter for its glitz. 

Le Moon offers sprawling vistas of the Mekong River and neighbouring Wat Ounalom, a 576-year-old temple. Classic cocktails such as Margaritas and martinis start from $8, while a glass of local draft beer is as cheap as $4. Le Moon has great food too, including fish amok curry ($12) and sweet and sour pork ribs ($15).

Skybar, meanwhile, is luxurious and fashionable. There’s a 14th floor rooftop terrace, and indoor dining area with soaring floor-to-ceiling windows. Despite being very plush, Skybar is great value — bottled beers start from $5, cocktails from $8 and spirits from $6. The same goes for the food, with the likes of fried rice ($5), caesar salad ($8) and carbonara ($13) all cheap.

What to do

Phnom Penh looks different from the decks of a boat cruising down the Mekong River, especially as the sun begins to slide behind its temples in the evening.

 Phocea Mekong Cruises offers a range of family-friendly pleasure rides, starting with daily, 90-minute sunset cocktail cruises for $25 per person, including soft drinks and snacks. The 21/2 hour sunset cruise ($30) features a barbecue dinner along with French wine and free-flow soft drinks.

Tourists who have more time can join Phocea’s five-hour Bassac River cruise from $45 per person, a private eight-hour cruise to Oudong town for $280, or a three-day cruise to Siem Reap for $600 per person twin share, including full board.

Where to stay

With a rooftop jacuzzi, state-of- the-art gym, and floor-to-ceiling windows in all its rooms, the new five-star Lumiere Hotel is glamorous but also affordable.

 Its 26sqm superior rooms start from $120 a night, or if you’re in the mood to splash out its 39sqm executive rooms start from $190. For that price you get ultra-modern rooms, king-size beds, free wi-fi, and a buffet breakfast for two.

Meanwhile, The Plantation Urban Resort & Spa is in one of the city’s busiest areas yet doesn’t feel like it due to its lush, secluded grounds and huge swimming pool, surrounded by trees.

 Its bright, modern rooms start from $110 a night including buffet breakfast for two, up to $300 for its gigantic 200sqm penthouse.

 Tucked away just behind the Royal Palace it owns a fantastic location.