A guide to Phnom Penh
Updated May 2022
Phnom Penh (often abbreviated as PP) is a fun city. There are cheap accommodations, liberal visas, internet everywhere and plenty of intrigue — It is said that after Thailand got difficult with visas, Phnom Penh is where the spies and other such mysterious people hang out.
Airlines and getting there
If you are in South East Asia, the best way to get to Phnom Penh is via the budget airlines. You can get these for around 150 to 200 USD. AirAsia (from Malaysia and Thailand), Tiger and JetStar Asia (from Singapore). From Vietnam, a cross border bus is cheaper.
Visitors from ASEAN region do not need a visa. Most others can apply for the evisa at https://www.evisa.gov.kh. You will have to fill an online form and upload a photograph and a scan/photo of your passport. Keep your credit card ready for online payment (36 USD). The visa will be sent to you via email in 4 to 5 days. Remember to take a printout of the evisa. I have used evisa several times over the years and it works well.
In your plane or bus, the crew will handout the arrival/departure card and the customs form. Fill both. You need to fill in the address in Cambodia. Just fill in any of the hotels you are planning to stay at.
After disembarking from the plane, there is a counter where they may check your vaccine certificate. After that the immigration counter . Here they will verify the e-visa, scan your fingerprints, stamp the passport, attache the departure card to your passport, and welcome you to Cambodia. After this you head to baggage belts and the customs, pass them the customs declaration form and exit.
Buying a SIM card
As soon as you exit the customs at the airport, you will see the mobile phone counters. You can buy data enabled SIM cards for 5 to 10 USD. They will also scan your passport before selling you the SIM. I recommend getting the SIM card at the airport as you immediately use Grab on your phone.
Traveling from the airport to the city or your hotel
Travel to the city centre will cost you around 10USD by taxi. If you are traveling alone and light, you can take a motor bike taxi (moto) or cyclo (tuktuk) for around 5 to 6 USD. Just walk out of the airport, the moto-taxi people will find you. It is always a good idea to ask your hotel for a nearby landmark as moto or taxi people may not know where the hotel is. If you have a local SIM card, it may be easier to call the hotel and ask them to explain the directs to your transport guy.
Accommodation in Phnom Penh
You can find good hostels and hotels from 10 USD and upwards depending on the features and location you prefer. Check the regular booking sites such as Agoda, Booking.com, Airbnb etc. After COVID, Phnom Penh is seeing a spurt of construction activities. Check the latest reviews of the hotels for any mention of this if you are a late or afternoon sleeper.
I will recommend these two areas which are equally good for travelers.
The riverfront area in Phnom Penh has many reasonably priced properties.
Boeung Keng Kang (commonly called BKK1) neighbourhood has some hotels and trendy cafes and bars. It is relatively quieter and has some good places to stay.
Ly Yoak Lay (Street 172) has several hotels, some good restaurants and cafe/pubs. It is kind of hidden away so it is less noisy compared to the riverside. I sometimes just walk up this street, ask the guesthouse to see the room and if I like it, I take it. In Cambodia, it is perfectly fine to get them to show the room. (This area appears a bit tired in March 2022 but I will still recommend it for people who don’t have a booking and prefer to check out places before taking it up)
Hotels will do your laundry for 2to 3 USD. All guesthouses and restaurants have wifi.
Money and costs
You can get by on 15 to 20 USD/day (excluding accommodation). You can use ATMs to withdraw money in USD. So you do not need to carry many moneys on you. US currency is in wide circulation but get some small denominations note from your exchange. When people return you US dollars change, check if a currency note is torn or if it has cellophane tape running around it — request for another currency note as it is hard to spend this money at another place. 1 USD is approximately 4000 Cambodian Riels. Change below 1 USD will be returned in Riel.
For local transport, you can use inexpensive motos (motorbike taxis) and tuktuks. Use Grab or the local alternative Pass App to call cab or tuktuk.
If you want to buy an inexpensive and easy to pack souvenir, I will recommend the KRAMA — Cambodian scarf. You can buy at the Central Market. Cambodian coffee is also good.
Phnom Penh has a great local and international food at reasonable price. It is also safe to eat on the street as long as you see the shop has good number of patrons. 24 hours food — All the party neighbourhood — Street 130 and adjoining streets by the river and the streets near Soriya Mall and Apocalypse now have food and drinks all night long.
More on Phnom Penh food from New York Times https://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/09/travel/in-cambodias-capital-an-infusion-of-flavor.html?ref=oembed
There are several 24 hour convenience stores and many of them accept cards for payment.
Most shops and younger local people will speak some English. Menus and general information signs are in English in addition to Khmer. The locals are kind, curious and enjoy talking.
Most hotels have plugs that support multiple regions. The reception may also be able to loan you an adapter.
It is going to be hot. It is going to humid near the river. The city averages 25 C to 33 C. See http://www.bbc.com/weather/1821306
Cotton linen clothes are the best.
As in a big city, take care of your belongings. I have been to Phnom Penh like 30 odd times and I have never encountered any violent crime. Late in the night, try to take to motorbike or Uber or a Pass App ride back to you hotel.