Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, once known as “The Pearl of Asia” is a chaotic mixture of disorganized traffic, fantastic local markets and the slowly creeping in cosmopolitan vibe of a large city. Sitting on the mighty Mekong River banks it will amaze and scare you, confuse and fascinate at the same time. You can dine on the roadside while 5 minutes later you’re sipping a fancy cocktail in one of the Riverside swanky bars. Phnom Penh is definitely a place to stop by if you want to discover Cambodian history and culture.
Phnom Penh is usually a 2-3 day stop on most backpacker routes. Worth visiting if you’re after experiencing a big city emerging from the dark past of Khmer Rouge regime and wanting to learn more about Cambodia’s history by visiting The Killing Fields and S-21 Prison.
Cambodia is one of the main destinations for those thinking of volunteering in SE Asia with Phom Penh being the main city together with Siem Reap. There are many options available with most of them focused on teaching English, helping local children get into education, supporting local communities and improving medical sector. For more information, visit Go Overseas's Volunteering in Cambodia page with volunteer programs and reviews.
Although initially difficult to research, there are options of studying abroad in Cambodia available out there. You can usually apply for a study abroad program that will involve visiting historic and culturally important places that will give you an opportunity to discover Cambodia while studying. Have a look at Go Overseas's Study Abroad in Cambodia page for more information and inspiration.
Cost of Living in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is a relatively cheap place to visit for all Western tourists. US dollars are widely used and all menus and accommodation prices will be quoted in dollars. Small change (less than $1) is usually given in local currency notes. There are no coins in Cambodia.
There are plenty of good standard guesthouses and hotels in Phnom Penh. Prices for a double, air-conditioned room in a nice guesthouse average about $14-15.
Meals are relatively inexpensive setting you back as little as $5-6 for two for breakfast up to $10-14 for two for lunch or dinner for two if eaten in local restaurants or cafes. Street food is considerably cheaper.
You can hire a tuk tuk driver for a day for around $9-10 if you wish to visit The Killing Fields and S-21 prison.
Drinks like beer are cheap and usually cost around $1, cocktails in a nice bar will be considerably more. Prepare yourself to pay $5 plus for one.
While visiting local souvenir shops and markets, haggling is essential and part of the culture as anywhere else in SE Asia.