Expert tour guides share their insider secrets of Phnom Penh, where travelers can uncover modern art, explore culinary adventures and shop for a good cause.
Jack Bartholomew, General Manager, Khiri Travel
Phnom Penh is teeming with local and international artists who are helping put Cambodia back on the map as one of the region’s contemporary cultural destinations. META House is a German-Cambodian, three-story gallery; ROMEET is a space for Cambodian contemporary art, talks and workshops; and Java Cafe and Gallery is a townhouse near Independence Monument.
FCC Phnom Penh, the old foreign correspondents club, is still the best place for a sunset by the riverside and happy hour. Sovanna BBQ is a classic local eatery, with great and cheap steaks and other barbecue delights. It’s a great place to ease travelers in to the local cuisine.
Pheap Choeurm, Group Leader, Peregrine Adventures
Two of my favorite eating places include not-for-profit Friends and Romdeng restaurants that provide hospitality training for former street youths. Next door to Friends is a shop and nail art spa that sells unique gifts, including art from the street children who have been supported by the Friends organization.
For a short break from the busy Phnom Penh streets, Bloom Cakes makes great coffee and has the most irresistible cupcakes. The café also serves up training for disadvantaged Cambodian women. Another great option is Lotus Blanc, which is a training centre for youths who formerly lived on Phnom Penh’s garbage dump.
Channy Ith, Group Leader, Intrepid Travel
A small country town that you could blink and miss, Skuon is a must-stop on any exotic culinary highlights tour. It is home to the black tarantula-like spider or “ayping” (not poisonous or related to tarantulas). The spiders are fried up with a secret blend of herbs and spices. They are best eaten by pulling the legs off and eating the flesh (like a crab). Some people think the abdomen is just like a lovely caramel, but it is definitely an acquired taste.
Tip: Intrepid’s Phnom Penh app beeps when you’re near a cool, lesser-known experience curated by expert guides and tour leaders.
Fila Heng, Group Leader, Exodus Travels
For a taste of rural Cambodia, cross the river by local boat and take a ride through the villages on one of the islands in the Mekong River. The island is famous for silk weaving, agriculture and aquaculture.
Stop to see the silk weavers at work in the village and enjoy cycling along quiet roads through orchards and along rice paddies and vegetable gardens. Explore a Buddhist temple and see the fishing boats and floating fish farms. The ride is an easy 20 – 25 kilometers. Afterward, a short boat ride takes you back to the busy city of Phnom Penh.
Patrick Chase, General Manager, Hanuman Travel
Traveling by cyclo, an architecture tour will introduce the city’s colonial buildings from 1910 onwards including well-known public and private buildings. A second tour, exploring the landmarks designed by Vann Molyvann, Cambodia’s most prominent architect and the New Khmer Architecture designs of the 1960s, can be done by remork or by car.
The Cambodian Living Arts observation tours offer you the opportunity to come see local art in a way that is culturally sensitive, authentic and that benefits the artists. Every dollar you spend goes directly to the artists and to support our mission. For example, we take you to the white building, a slum area that was formerly the home of the local artistic community during the ’60s and ’70s and still has many families there. Among other artists, you can see the children of Bassac in practice sessions, accompanied by students learning their musical instruments. The teacher is a former dance/music master who survived the Khmer Rouge.
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