The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Phnom Penh - Time to Know About Phnom Penh and Its Dark Past

The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to Phnom Penh

Time to Know About Phnom Penh and Its Dark Past

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The last time I was in Cambodia, I did not have a chance to visit the capital city. Now that I was back, I decided to spend 2 full days exploring the city and learning all the history the city had to offer from the beginning of the Khmer Empire to the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge reign in Cambodia.

As a history buff, I enjoyed all the great museums they have here but as a human being, it was one of the most overwhelming experience. That said, I believe every one of us needs to know about what had happened in the past and learned from it so that we will not repeat the same mistakes. Here is a backpacking guide on things to do, where to go, and what to see in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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Where to Stay in Phnom Penh

Since it was our last destination before we ended our South East Asia trip, we decided to splurge a little bit and got a cheap room at the Phnom Penh Katari Hotel. It was so worth it. The rooms, facilities and the staff were amazing. Everything was up to western standards with breakfast buffet, swimming pool, and a rooftop bar that gives you an amazing view of the city. The room was bigger than my living room in Bangkok! If you want a comfortable place and don’t mind paying a bit, this place will provide you the perfect sanctuary for your time in Phnom Penh.

How to Get to Phnom Penh

AirAsia has flights flying to Phnom Penh from literally every major cities in South East Asia so getting here via an airplane won’t be a problem. If you are coming from Siem Reap from another city in Cambodia, a mini-van is recommended as it is convinient and not as expensive. The minivan leaves for Phnom Penh from Siem Reap twice a day, at 7:30 AM and 2 PM and it will take you around 5.5 hours.

I would recommend you browse through Skyscanner or Momondo to compare flights and find the cheapest one from where you live to Phnom Penh that best fit your itinerary.

How to Get Around Phnom Penh

If you are located in the tourist area, you should be able to cover the Royal Palace and the national museum by foot pretty easily but if you want to go further to the S-21 Genocide museum or the Killing Fields, you have to get a tuk tuk. Most tuk tuk drivers will let themselves known to you where ever you go so you will have no problem finding one. Do agree upon the price before you get on the tuk tuk though to prevent you from getting ripped off.

Daily Budget

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This place is quite cheap compare to all the other countries in the world. If you are planning a trip here, you can expect to pay around 25 - 45 USD per day per person and that should include accommodation and 3 meals.

Keep in mind that this is just a suggested daily budget based on my style of traveling, which is leaning more toward the budget side of things. If you want to stick to this budget, expect to sleep in dorms, eat out only a few times, and be comfortable using the cheapest and most convenient way of transportation, which often times involves walking.

Travel Insurance

If you are looking for a travel insurance to go along with your trip to Cambodia, I would recommend, which is what I use to look for a travel insurance that fits my kind of adventure. They have a simple and flexible search system that allowed me to find the right insurance for the right amount of time at an affordable price in seconds. If you need a travel insurance, give a try.

Get a Quote from World Nomads

Things to Do in Phnom Penh for Backpackers

1. Hang out at the Royal Palace in the evening

The Royal Palace in the evening in Phnom Penh

The Royal Palace is pretty nice but as a Thai, we have our very own Grand Palace and this one seems a little underwhelming compare to the one in Bangkok. That said, I really enjoyed hanging out around the palace in the evening as the locals come out and socialize among each other in the park around the palace.

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Hundreds of kids chasing pigeons, families picnicking, monks walking around, I could not think of a better place to go people-watching than here.

Learn the Khmer History at the National Museum

You can learn more about the Khmer History at the National Museum in Phnom Penh

The National Museum contains many of the artifacts from the peak of the Khmer Empire and the remnants of the great past of the country. If you ever wonder how Angkor Wat played a role in the history and how they converted from Hindu to Buddhism, visiting the museum is a no brainer. Aside from the wealth of knowledge you can learn from this place, the architecture itself is a must-see in its own right.

2. Visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

 Visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or the infamous S-21 concentration camp is a Khmer Rouge torture camp turned museum. This was the place where they tortured their own people into submission and ran the country to the ground. The most unsettling thing about this place is all the evidences they found on site when it was liberated. Hundreds of photos of victims, all look confused and exhausted, hung on several black boards that stretched for several rooms. Looking into the eyes of these innocent victims require a great deal of courage.

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If you decided to visit the museum, I highly recommend you to get the audio tour and listen to it as you walk around the museum. You will get chills as you walk through each room listening to what had happened in them.

3. Grasp at the Atrocities committed at the Killing Field

Learn about the Atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Field

The Killing Field is a place where the Khmer Rouge systematically massacred their own people and dump their bodies to hide their atrocities.

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As you walk through the seemingly peaceful field, you will stumbled upon many site that will break your heart like this tree shown above where they used to kill babies by beating them up with the trees until their brains come out!

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At the centre of the field is a museum where they collected all the skulls they found when they liberated the camp. The skulls were marked with colors indicating how they die.

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Again, if you decided to come here, I highly recommend getting an audio tour and walk around with it. You will feel your emotion flooding in as you walked through the field and listening to the audio tour reciting Pol Pot infamous quote:

“Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake”

4. Check out the Independence Monument

The Independence Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This is one of the most well know landmark of the capital city, a red lotus-shaped stupa that carries the architectural language from the Angkor Wat. It was built in 1958 to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. It would be a shame if you are in Phnom Penh and did not have a photo of this beautiful landmark.

Digital Nomad Friendly Cafe

It is not difficult to find a great cafe with awesome coffee and free wifi in Phnom Penh but one of my favorite cafe in Phnom Penh has got to be the Costa Cafe at the corner of Street 51 and Street 294. The cafe is located in a 2 storeys traditional building with spacious room and cozy atmosphere. The coffee is as you expected from other Costa cafe. The wifi is free and fast and there are several power outlets for you to charge your electronics. If you want a great place to work from, the Costa Cafe is a great option.

Further Reading for Backpacking in Cambodia

Looking for more information for your trip to Cambodia? Here is a selection of articles that might help you with your trip planning:

The Solo Traveler’s Journal is a series of posts by Pete Rojwongsuriya, the founder of BucketListly Blog where we will follow his solo journey around the world as he experiences different cultures, people, and historical locations one country at a time.

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