After the first shocking introduction to Cambodian history, I found Phnom Penh to be a pretty nice up and coming place to hang out for a couple days. Still rough around the edges but with a laid back vibe and still quite cheap. Besides the Killing Fields and S 21 you should see The Royal Palace, some good temples and markets, and the National Museum which is a must if you are bound for Siem Reap and Angkor Wat — the statues and art here aren’t even matched at the ultramodern Angkor Wat Museum in Siem Reap. Hotels are cheap and a few boutique properties cater to a more upscale crowd. Food and drink are plentiful down on the riverside. Highlights for Peung and me were Metro, a nice a/c refuge with a snappy modern interior and good Khmer food. Beef and ants? Sure, why not?
I thought the tapas lunch special at Pacharan was worth checking out. Two tapas, fresh bread, a glass of beer, soda or sangria, and a coffee for about $7. It’s a second-floor place on the river and you can sit outside and prop your feet or beer on the balustrade. Nice views of the Royal Palace just a block away. They also rent out a single room here which is a nice romantic option.
Probably the most popular place on the riverside is FCC or Foreign Correspondents Club. Three levels rise over the street with the uppermost being one of the best places to perch for happy hour. High ceilings and fans, this has the French colonial charm (as do several others but not quite like this). Photos on the walls when we were there were Vietnam War shots by one of those former foreign correspondents. Very impressive and a nice alternative purchase for travelers. Food here is top notch and includes both Khmer specialties and Western fare.
Just up the street a ways is a mod bar on street level and another on the roof with a cool chic boutique on the floors in between. The Quay is that cozy fancy variety that breaks the $100 mark in a place not accustomed to those prices quite yet (get it below 100 at Agoda though). DJs are hosted here from time to time. Silvia a wandering DJ from Brazil was there the night we stopped in for some $1 happy hour drafts. The front is open to the street and the moment music starts thumping, pedestrians are drawn like Wall Street CEOs to a convoluted sketchy imaginary money scheme.
We stayed at Pacific Hotel which is a $2 tuk-tuk ride from the river or about a 15-minute walk. It’s a great mid-range option at about $27+ and includes breakfast. Their sister hotel in Siem Reap is newer and nicer but we’ll get to that later.
I would have liked to take a river boat up to Siem Reap, but this was April and the last days of dry season, so the water was too low. So we hopped the five-hour bus to Siem Reap (which means seven hours in Khmer). We were just in time for the Khmer New Year (April 13) so traffic was abundant…