Impressions of Phnom Penh

February 15, 2018

Cambodia’s capital has a bit of an odd reputation among travelers. Most come to Phnom Penh only briefly,and only to see the genocide memorials. While these are definitely insightful and must-sees, you’ve got to sympathize with this city being known mainly for its ‘dark past’ and not for what it is today.

These are just a few photos taken in Phnom Penh, along with some quick (and totally unpolished) commentary. Most of the photos I take usually just end up on a hard drive, but I thought I’d do a quick photo essay this time.

Please scroll forth for some visual impressions, or check out my Cambodia travel guide for more travel tips.

Much of downtown Phnom Penh looks like this; low-rise buildings, lots of tuk-tuks passing by, webs of telephone cables. It does have a certain charm, doesn’t it?

On the other hand, the Lonely Planet says Phnom Penh has the most “luscious location on the banks of the mighty Mekong”. It also talks of glimmering spires and “monks with fluttering saffron robes”. Just for the record, that luscious riverfront is just what you see in this photo.

I think Phnom Penh gets glorified a bit in the travel literature at times. They keep calling it the Pearl of Asia, and so in. If you keep your expectations in check, I do think it can be a fascinating city to explore.

Admittedly, the waterfront gets a lot more exciting at night! I loved just walking around and observing the life here. Lots of people were having street food, lots were coming to a shrine to burn incense candles and leave prayers.

Above a group of Khmer picnicking. Illuminated in the background is a portrait of Cambodia’s previous king, Norodom Sihanouk. Below, a few more impressions of downtown Phnom Penh.

Much of Phnom Penh looks pretty much like this, though some of it is also starting to look a bit different…

Much construction is happening all over the city, with modern condominiums rising among some of the existing older architecture.

I shot this from the roof of the glimmering new Aeon Mall. (I was really there just to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi after a day of sightseeing as I couldn’t stand avoiding spoilers any longer…)

At the top floor of the Aeon Mall was, to my surprise, a huge air-conditioned ice skating ring.

While Cambodia is nearly entirely Buddhist, Christmas does seem to be culturally and commercially a very big thing. People here were awaiting a Christmas themed ice skating show. ‘Let It Snow’ was playing, which is kind of odd when it’s 30° C outside.

A construction site just outside the Royal Palace. I wonder if someone here used Google Translate?

Baguettes are a common sight in Cambodia, thanks to decades of French colonial rule. Many of the problems in Cambodia today can no doubt be traced all the way back to the days of colonial oppression.

Anyway, baguettes, and also a lot of French colonial architecture. Interesting it is.

While wandering aimlessly I stumbled upon Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple dating back to 1372. A temple in Asia doesn’t usually make my heart beat any faster these days (I’ve just seen so many!), though this is certainly a nice one.

Street food is not quite as a big of a thing as it is in Vietnam or Thailand, but there’s still plenty of it in Cambodia.

If you’re in Phnom Pehn, I’d definitely encourage you to do the usual tour to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. But it’s also very much worth wandering through the city, enjoying the cuisines, and checking out the nightlife. It has a very manageable (even walkable) size compared to other Asian capitals and has its share of little discoveries to make.

(All photos taken with my Panasonic GX8.)

Up next, I’ll be posting some impressions of Koh Rong Sanloem.

For travel tips and top places to visit, don’t miss my Cambodia travel guide.

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3 comments

  1. David Ross Reply February 20, 2018 at 11:10 pm

    Hey Love your website and your book, which is the only literature that helped me properly plan my first big trip and calm my nerves. I would like to make a suggestion regarding your photography, and I don’t mean to be rude, but you should check out some tips on composition. I found the below article extremely helpful. It helped elevate my photography greatly and I highly recommend reading it.

    http://www.bocphotography.com/guide-composition-photography-20-tips/

    • Marek Reply February 21, 2018 at 12:22 am

      Thanks David! Aiii, you’re making me feel simultaneously proud and embarrassed 😉 Many of these were quick snaps to aid my memory, though I decided later to compile them into a post anyway! I think (hope?) I do a better job with composition elsewhere, though it’s a constant struggle to improve. That tutorial is very good.

  2. Ronald Reply February 20, 2018 at 10:27 am

    Amazing photos. Cambodia remains one of my best places to visit in Asia, and I personally have been there quite a few times. I am a travelling journalist and oftentimes, I have to go to interiors to interview people. Phnom Penh has been great because the people there are so genteel and polite. Of course you have to know the local language, otherwise it can become a hassle. But, even if it’s broken, I think you’ll manage. Thanks for taking me back to my journeys…

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