Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Local's Secrets (16) : Jen's Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has so much more to offer than the typical tourist spots. Get off the beaten path and interact with Cambodian people, check out local markets, try foods you’ve never seen before; you’ll be glad you did!  

Phnom Penh

The Basics

What do people have to know about your city’s transportation? 
Motorbikes, called “motos,” and tuk tuks, which are motorbikes pulling carriages, are the fastest and most convenient methods of transport to get around Phnom Penh. Drivers of both vehicles usually converge on street corners, and you can negotiate the price with them before you get in. Even with a group, the cost should not exceed $5USD to anywhere, unless you are heading outside of the city. There are public buses in Phnom Penh as of 2015, but for now there are few routes, and the schedule is unreliable. From the airport you can take a taxi or a tuk tuk to your destination. There is a fixed price ticket for tuk tuks at the airport, which costs $8-10USD based on your destination. However if you walk out of the airport to the main road and flag a tuk tuk there you can save a few dollars. 

If someone is new to the city, which website should he check for daily or weekly free events? 
The Facebook group Interesting Things To Do in Phnom Penh is a good place to start. Expats and businesses post about upcoming events there.
Phnom Penh Week is an online directory and calendar for what’s going on in the city. You can also follow our Two Can Travel Facebook page where we post about events and cultural experiences in Cambodia as well.

Tell us about the food scene! 

Signature dish and where to get the best servings: 
Phnom Penh has a surprisingly diverse and rapidly growing food scene. There are many delicious Cambodian dishes to try all over the city. Banh Cheav, a Khmer crepe filled with minced pork, shrimp, bean sprouts and fresh herbs with a sweet and spicy peanut sauce is one of our favorites. Mr. Mab Global Street Food restaurant near the Russian Market serves the best we’ve tried in the city. Another favorite dish is Lok Lak, beef cooked in a savory sauce with fresh onions and tomatoes. Try it at Street 63 Restaurant in BKK 1 district. Frizz restaurant on Street 240, close to the Royal Palace, serves an array of classic Cambodian dishes, and is best known for their Fish Amok, a coconut based curry steamed inside banana leaves. Don’t miss trying Cambodian iced coffee with sweetened condensed milk from a local cafe. Just about every Cambodian restaurant serves it. It is one of the richest, most flavorful coffees we’ve ever tried! Another great thing about Phnom Penh is that expats from around the world have opened restaurants here, so you can find anything from Italian to Japanese to Jamaican food, authentically prepared.

Wackiest food in town and where to try them: 
If you are feeling brave, Romdeng restaurant serves deep fried tarantula, a Cambodian specialty. Paired with Kampot pepper-salt and lime, they are delicious! Another adventurous option is pong tia koon, a cooked, partially developed duck embryo, which you eat with herbs, lime, salt and pepper, right out of the egg. They are sold for 1000 Riel ($0.25USD) from street carts, especially near the Riverside.  

Phnom Penh
Sisters selling food in Phnom Penh local market. 
Everyday food that foreigners might find exotic? 
The traditional Cambodian condiment prahok, a crushed, salted and fermented fish paste, is used liberally by locals. It is worth trying, but is definitely an acquired taste. There is an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables at local markets throughout the city. Look out for whatever is in season. Some of our favorites are mangosteens, passion fruit, magenta colored dragon fruit and mangos. Jackfruit and soursop fruit are also popular among Cambodians.  

Hidden Gems/ Jen's Secrets! 

Sell us the one or two "things you should experience before you die” in your city. 
A sunset boat cruise provides a new perspective of the city and is a chance to see life on the Mekong river up close. Also check out markets like Kandal Market near the riverside or Boeung Keng Kang in BKK1 District where locals do their shopping to experience daily life in the city. 
If you want a more upscale but truly unique and memorable experience in Phnom Penh, spend a night on the Mekong Floating Bungalow. Built as a model for low-impact tourism accommodation with zero emissions, the bungalow is located on the riverbanks of the shore opposite the Royal Palace, nestled between a fishing village on stilts and undeveloped land. You can watch the sunset from your private deck, enjoy a multi-course Cambodian meal and drinks, while you view life on the river up close. It is also a romantic way to connect with your partner as there is no internet or TV. 

Mekong River
Stilt Houses along Mekong River. 

Hidden gems in the city that tourists tend to overlook:
Skip the restaurants located on Sisowath Quay along the riverside, as most are geared toward tourists tastes and have less flavor for more money. Instead, try one of the many restaurants in the city that exist for a social cause such as Romdeng, Friends, Dine in the Dark or Frizz, which all serve authentic, delicious Cambodian specialities. For riverside views and tasty cocktails, head to the rooftop of the historical Foreign Correspondents Club for happy hour. 

Take a tuk tuk to the former lakeside area of Boeung Kak, now home to a growing community of artists. The street art is constantly changing, and there are small cafes, shops and restaurants along the alleys. Thousands of residents have been displaced from the lakeside since 2007. Chat to residents and learn more about the area from the people living there.  

Boeung Kak
Street Art in Boeing Kak.
To ensure you have a safe and fun time in Phnom Penh there are a few things to be aware of and avoid. Please do not ever give money or buy things from children. Do not visit or donate to orphanages as many are fake and set up for profit. Also be aware of the baby milk scam in which someone asks you to buy milk for their baby and do not do it. Sadly, these are common scams in Cambodia in the tourist areas that are detrimental to children and marginalized people. Your money can be better utilized with organizations working to alleviate these problems with proven strategies such as Friends International. Mad Monkey Hostel lists more scams to be aware of in this article.

Let’s talk about the best festival in the city, and how to participate! 

It is best to avoid traveling to Phnom Penh during major Cambodian public holidays, such as Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben, as many residents head out of the city to their home provinces to be with their families. During these times many businesses and points of interest in the city are closed. The best season to be in the city is between November and February when temperatures are cooler. 

Tell us your favorite photo spots in your city and how to get there 
The best 360 views of the Phnom Penh are from the restaurants at the top of Phnom Penh Tower, located at  #445, Monivong Blvd. 
The riverside and area in front of the Royal Palace are always busy with activity in the late afternoons, and are great places to photograph during the golden hour. Outdoor markets are another great place to take photos.

Tell us about the best day trip destination from your city and why is that your choice? 
A trip to Oudong Mountain, located in nearby Kampong Speu province, is a nice place to spend a day. The area was the former capital and royal residence of Cambodian kings, many of whom are buried in beautiful stupas on top of the mountain. The hike up the mountain is not too strenuous and there are great views of the surrounding countryside from the top.

(BONUS Tips)

If you have questions about traveling or living in Phnom Penh, feel free to email me at Jen@twocantravel.com.


I’m Jen from Two Can Travel, a blog about travel and expat life in Cambodia and around Asia. My husband, Stevo is a comedian, and we love to travel, so we have combined our passions and are pursuing them as much as possible in Asia. We are both in the education field, which is how we earn our living. Life in Cambodia is so much fun, and we love sharing about our current home, Phnom Penh. Follow Jen on Facebook, Pinterest, Youtube and Twitter

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