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I lived in Cambodia for nearly 3 months and I found all the best places to live, which visas to get, delicious restaurants, what tourist attractions you must see, how to get a sim card and good wifi and most importantly how to experience the Khmer culture to the fullest. My ultimate guide to Phnom Penh will make your life painless because I already did the research for you. So just hop on a flight and enjoy the adventure.
Once you land I would recommend getting an “Ordinary Visa” especially if you plan on cycle touring over 30 days and want to really get involved with the Khmer culture and kind hearted people. The great thing about this visa is you can stay in the country for up to a year until you have to cross a border. This used to be called a business visa for foreigners when opening up their business legally. Go to Passport Renew when its time add another month and watch the video below for the full visa process.
*Updated September 1st:
Now that you have your visa you’ll want to book a room to sleep in for a few nights. The first time I arrived in Phnom Penh I stayed in the OKAY Guesthouse in between Wat Bottom Park and the Tonle Sap River. It’s a good location and the perfect balance of clean and simple as it cost me about $10 USD per night. Once the sun sets they allow you to lock up your bike in their garage and they even let me keep a juice in their refrigerator. If you have a $25 USD per night budget and prefer a pool and balcony walk down to Kha Vi Guesthouse. For a dorm style hostel check out Lazy Gecko Guesthouse for $5 USD a night.
If you prefer to pay $8 USD and want to have a refrigerator, check out Hang Pich Guest House (Video below). The reception desk is very nice and the owner is from Japan and will give you free water and tea if you smile. Homeland Guest House also seemed like a good option with similar features.
Most of these places to visit can be done in a rather short period of time meaning you should only need three days in the city depending on your group size. The Genocide Museum and Killing fields will have an audio tape that you should listen to while walking around. Save #3 and #7 for when the sun sets as they sometimes host soccer games in the stadium and the monument has a beautiful sunset view.
.1 Tuol Sleng Prison Museum – The genocide housed in a former Khmer Rouge prison & interrogation center. – I cried while walking through this prison.
.2 Killing Fields – Execution & burial site of victims of the Khmer Rouge, with a glass-walled stupa full of skulls. – I took a moment to be grateful and bowed out of respect for the lives lost.
.3 Independence Monument – Landmark 20-m tower built in 1958 to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from France. -They wont let you near the actual monument.
.4 Wat Phnom – Buddhist temple built on site of 14th-century pagoda & at 27 m, tallest religious structure in city. – Beautiful art inside the temple.
.5 The Royal Palace – Richly ornamented 1866 palace complex, home to Cambodian kings & example of Khmer architecture. -Don’t wear tank tops or high shorts.
.6 The Central Market – Large market constructed in 1937 in the shape of a dome with four arms branching out into vast hallways with countless stalls of goods. – Let the sellers talk themselves down in price.
.7 Olympic Stadium – Multi-purpose stadium that has a capacity of 50,000. (Open field from 6-7pm) – These are my friends I played soccer with every night.
Food is so flexible here with some of my favorite options right on the street like sugar cain juice, steamed buns, corn, and coconut bean tacos. If you prefer fruit any market you google maps search is a good option, buying ripe and ready to eat is another challenge. I did however find my self returning to these four main restaurants:
It would be a mistake if you did not roam the streets after 5pm for some traditional Cambodian dessert. You might have to do a little search around the city for this but it can be a fun adventure with your friends. Check out this video below to see the my favorite dessert.
If money is really tight just pick some fruit off the tree but just walk backwards slowly if the dogs start barking 🙂
Most of the Wifi I used was in restaurants like Café Soleil, Vego Salad Bar, K’NYAY Khmer & Vegan Cuisine and Surn Yi Mei Shi Guan. However, Pidoa Nature in particular had many students working and eating around the floor tables. I was able to upload YouTube videos, FaceTime with friends and build this actual website with no problems.
At the time I could not really afford a co-working space. Instead, I did some research on a good blog that I will repost below you might want to look into.
Most Popular Co-Working Space – Impact Hub Phnom Penh ( $10 USD Daily fee)
I originally got my first sim card when I landed at a basic shop that sold cell phones. I put $2 USD on the chip and it got me home after getting lost for a bit. The next day I went to the Smart Shop and they hooked me up with a 4GB plan for $5 USD. In the video below I explain a bit about my experience.
There was a sign that promoted a one days pass for $1 on ST 440 but you cant use the cardio machines. I went here a few times to lift weights and I did most of my running at 8am along the Tonle Sap River. If you have time try to beat my Strava KOM in front of the King’s Palace. (Palace Sprint 1:11)
The cycling community from the Flying Bikes 2 Shop organizes road bike and mountain bike ride that meets on Saturdays about 6 or 7am near the Prohm Bayon Circle Garden. Check out the FB2 Facebook for more updated details. You can also go to the Giant store to look at some really expensive bikes. If you are in need of any spare parts or a cassette cleaning, go to Vicious cycle and visit the Kendal Market while you wait the 20 minutes.
At one point during my tour in Cambodia I experienced pain so intense I could not even bend down. I realize some people like a nice oil down massage with candles and low lights. However when riding on average 100km a day it was important for me to get semi-firm massages. The best massage place is on ST 278.
Eating at restaurants, tourist attractions and searching for the best wifi is all good pizza toppings but there is more to the pie. People forget about the thick Brooklyn style crust and without this part it’s just sauce. I am referring to interacting with the people who have lived in the country to bring the experience full circle.
So, how did I meet locals in the most genuine way? Well, the easiest method is to look on Smart Phone Apps or FaceBook groups like Coachsurfing or Warmshowers. These apps allow you to stay with people that host travelers, like you, for free. If you do this you’ll allow yourself to automatically experience how locals live and hopefully get to hear a few stories. My personal favorite method is to just talk to people. If you want to learn to speak Khmer check out Cvbienert’s Channel. Regardless this is what I am good at and I know how to relate to 99% of the people I talk to regardless of language.
To be honest most people in Cambodia came up to me and I just allowed myself to look open for conversation. Some wanted to take selfies while others wanted to look at my bike. Sometimes I just walked up to people to chat about life and it’s how I met my good friend KarunMark Aun in Phnom Penh. Him and his friend were riding a two-wheel skateboard and I just said “hey that’s cool can I try”? I had a lot of fun and we recorded a short video, check it out:
A few days later I am living at his house with his family for two months hanging out loving life, semi off social media the entire time. His mom cooked amazing 100% veg foods for me. I had a good time hanging with the guys in the neighborhood. We played soccer at night and I also had the opportunity to hear incredible stories from his father about the khmer rogue and bombs that took place when he was in school. You wouldn’t even understand the emotion he spoke when describing the shaking glass of water on the table from the blasts.
I eventually was invited to join a traditional Cambodian Khmer wedding. Another incredible experience:
After Phnom Penh I road my bicycle 300KM down to the beaches of Kampot and Sihanoukville. If you are not already subscribed to my news letter and want me to let you know when I release the next Travel Guide to Cambodia send me an email : Trektheworld.email@example.com
*For the most insightful travel book check out: Vegabonding by Rolf Potts