Cambodia's capital is a vibrant city, growing exponentially but still easy to navigate on foot. Take time to wander along the river banks, watching the sun set against the backdrop of a shimmering skyline dominated by the Royal Palace. Young entrepreneurs are opening pop-up bars, whilst up and coming urbanites are enjoying a thriving foodie scene. Though once the epicentre of the country's darkest chapter, to paint Phnom Penh with a solely sorrowful brush would be wrong. This city is on the up; catch it now and watch it bloom.
Obviously there's a lot more, this is just to get you started...
Phnom Penh is fast becoming a cutting-edge hub, but you can still see barbers cutting hair on street corners and find extreme snacks at the night market – fried tarantula, anyone? A stroll along Phnom Penh's river banks unveils industrious sewing machine and auto-parts workshops sitting side by side with boutique bars and pagoda-filled parks. Older folk still practise Tai Chi along the banks of Tonle Sap River whilst, elsewhere, traditional markets sing to the sounds of stall holders and hawkers selling their wares. Your best bet as the sun sets is to find a rooftop bar for cocktails, or grab a bench beside the water, because watching the city skyline twinkle into life really helps put modern Phnom Penh into perspective.
The atrocities Cambodians have endured will always be with you on a visit to Phnom Penh. This city was once witness to genocide and to this day emotions and scars run raw. Visiting Tuol Sleng (S21 prison), which was once a city centre school, is sobering, to say the least, but it's an important part of understanding how the past has shaped modern Cambodia. On the outskirts of Phnom Penh's ever-increasing suburbs you reach the peaceful countryside, but the rural idyll shatters as you learn more about Choeung Ek and the mass graves that were made by the Khmer Rouge in the Killing Fields.
One aspect of Phnom Penh's skyline that hasn’t changed in over a century is the Royal Palace that sits at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. It's a lovely place to visit, with the Silver Pagoda inside the palace walls providing a glimpse of Cambodian royal oppulence: crystals, diamonds and more than 5000 silver floor tiles. Away from the Royal Palace, just past the night market on the same side of the river, you'll find an equally impressive example of ancient architecture in Wat Phnom. This Buddhist temple is the city's shimmering centre piece and certainly worth visiting if you fancy a short stroll.
Discover the true breadth of Cambodian culture by exploring the Angkor Temples, bustling Phnom Pehn before heading to the Cardamon Mountains and rounding up with a few days on Cambodia’s islands.