Common Travel Questions for Phnom Penh
Cambodia is a developing country with Phnom Penh as its’ capital city. Since the fall of Khmer Rouge, the country has managed to get back on its’ feet, bringing with it foreign investments and local business development.
I’ve had family and friends ask me questions about the city, for traveling purposes. They are mostly curious as to how the locals live here and whether they will need to take any necessary precautions for a peaceful visit.
Being here for two years gave me plenty of insights about it’s city, people and culture therefore hearing these questions sometimes makes me giggle. In case you’re curious, here are the few common travel questions I’ve been asked since I moved here.
1. Is Phnom Penh a cowboy town? (This is the first question I’m asked!)
By cowboy, they meant a small town with sandy roads and shops made of wood, you know, just like in the movies. The answer is no. Phnom Penh is known as the administrative center for Cambodia and the city (not town) is quite modern looking. There are Provinces around the city where most of the people live in wooden houses (just like back home) but you’ll also be able to see French colonial buildings, renovated Royal villas, luxury hotels like the Raffles and normal looking (tar) roads. You’ll might be surprised to see the amount of Range Rovers, Lexus, Toyotas, Audis and even Hummers (yes!) on the roads too.
2. Which currency should I bring?
Although the local currency is in Riel, most of the business transactions in the country are dependent on the US dollars. My advice is to change your currency to US dollars and the Cambodian Riels will be returned to you as balance (in cents). The exchange rate is 4,000 Riels for US $1. I like to use my Riels for tuk tuk rides, parking fees and the wet markets. It’s convenient and it also means I get to save my US dollars.
3. Do they speak English?
In general, the locals are able to understand but it also depends on the situation and place. In the wet markets, the local sellers will speak to you in Khmer and it becomes an interesting challenge when one doesn’t speak the local lingo. However, you might also bump into a set of older generation who speaks English moderately as well as the occasional French language, since the country was under their influence back then. Don’t worry though, if someone doesn’t understand you, just spell out the street numbers with your hands or write it down for them.
4. How many days should I spend in Phnom Penh?
This is, for me, always a tricky question to answer. I’d usually ask what sort of activities are you interested in, for example shopping, outdoors, history, arts and then I’d share with you a few places of interest which you can visit. The normal duration would be 4D/3N only because 2 days would be for traveling time and that leaves you with 2 days to explore the city. Visit these 8 traditional markets in Phnom Penh if you have more time.
5. Which area should I stay in?
Again, this depends on your travel budget. If you prefer the mid-type hotels then there’s plenty around the Museum or Central Market area. For budget hotels, there’s the Russian Market or Riverside which usually comes with their own roof top bars. I would suggest staying anywhere that’s close to the market or the touristy area (Riverside). There are places of interests which are just walking distances in these area. The tuk tuks are able to bring you to any other part of the Phnom Penh. Here’s 14 places to go on Street 178 & 19 if you’re staying around this area during your travels.
6. (Which brings me to this next question), is there a train going around the city?
The government is currently working on a train system project that will link Cambodia to Thailand but this is closer to the border and not within the city. There’s always the local transportation such as the tuk tuk and taxis which you can take around the city with ease. Just make sure to negotiate with the tuk tuk drivers before you hire them. For other forms of transportation, check out my previous post on Phnom Penh: Transportation IN the City.
7. Is it safe to wander around at night?
I find that blending in like the locals makes me a less target for unneccesary incidents. Having said that, it’s always better to be alert of your surrounding and not take anything for granted. If you plan to stay out late at night, walk in groups or take a tuk tuk together. Hold on to your bags when you’re on the tuk tuk and keep your mobile phones in your bag, while walking on the streets. People tend to drink and drive recklessly at night so it’s best to keep a look out for these when you’re on the road.
8. Where can I get Halal food?
The Muslim group is seen as a minority in Cambodia but you can still find good halal restaurants around the country. There are Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Lebanese food which are owned by Muslims and you could always ask if it’s halal before you there. For your info, majority of the dishes in Cambodia have pork (meat, soup) and I would usually ask before I order anything. Don’t worry though, I have a list of Halal Eats in Phnom Penh (Part 1 & Part 2) which you can save or print before you arrive here.
9. Is it safe to eat the street food in Cambodia?
Well if you don’t have a strong stomach I would suggest against it. The only thing I’ve tried so far are grilled bananas (which are chewy) and k’chay which is a patty made of dough and vegetables. My colleagues usually buys them and shares it with us in the office. Since I trust them, I didn’t mind eating these street food. However if you’re on your own and want to be adventurous, I feel it’s best to look for a clean stall and inspect roughly before you buy them. I wouldn’t suggest any exotic food like spiders, crickets unless you go to a reliable place that is recommended by a local friend.
10. Is there anything to see and do in Phnom Penh?
If you are a fan of historical landmarks and buildings, this city is for you. You can start with the Killing Fields and Genocide Museum followed by the Royal Palace the next day. There’s also the Wat Phnom, night market for local scenes and markets that you can visit. If it’s too hot you can always get some cool air from Aeon Mall which is the first big shopping mall in this country. For more places to see around Phnom Penh, read Travel in Cambodia.
If there’s more questions, feel free to leave them in the comments below.
I hope I’ve covered the essential questions, but if there’s anything else to know about Phnom Penh, you can ask your local hotels or drop me an email. I’ll try my best to help answer them while I’m still in this city.
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.