Phnom Penh was laid out by French colonial city planners with broad boulevards radiating from the city center and a grid of streets (odd numbers for north-south streets, even numbers for east-west). Hotels and attractions are concentrated in the northeast section of the capital. Riverfront Sisowath Quay, which runs along the Tonle Sap River from the Royal Palace to Wat Phnom, is lined with restaurants and pubs that cater to every budget and taste. Street 178, located north of the National Museum, and Street 240, just west of the adjacent Royal Palace, have the most boutiques and handicraft stores. Small restaurants and bars also dot Boeung Keng Kang, a neighborhood south of the Independence Monument filled with international aid agencies.
WHEN TO GO
Like much of southeast Asia, Phnom Penh's rainy season stretches from June into October, but precipitation usually comes in quick, stupendous downpours, not day-long drizzle. The weather is at its best November through February (the tourist high season), when skies are clear and daytime temperatures hover in the mid 80s. March through May finds the capital at its hottest and most arid, although the festivities of the mid-April Khmer New Year are a distraction. Phnom Penh's signature celebration is Bon Om Tuk, an early-November Water Festival filled with boat races that honors the annual reversal of the Tonle Sap River's current. The reversal occurs when the monsoon-swollen Mekong River veers into this 60-mile tributary of the Tonle Sap.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are no direct flights from the United States to Cambodia, but daily nonstop flights link Phnom Penh to Bangkok, Singapore, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Taipei, and Vientiane. Tourist visas are available upon arrival; bring a passport-size head shot and $20 for a 30-day permit. The airports also collect a $25 departure fee. (All fees can be paid with U.S. dollars.) A taxi from the Phnom Penh airport to downtown is about $10.
Traffic is breathtakingly chaotic, even by the laissez-faire standards of Southeast Asia, so forget about driving yourself around. In the absence of meters, all trips by taxi and tuk-tuk, a two-wheeled coach pulled by a motorcycle, are flat fare; agree on a price before you get taken for a ride.
Phnom Penh's gateway, Pochentong International Airport, is remarkably bereft of any tourist-oriented literature. The city's Tourist Information Center is located in the first-floor offices of Mittapheap Tours, an in-country ground operator (262 Monivong Blvd., 855 23 218 585, email@example.com). Your best bet may be to head for a popular restaurant or bar, such as the Foreign Correspondents Club, where there's usually a stack of freebie visitors' guides. Canby Publications and Cambodia Pocket Guide produce the best of them.View Cambodia Factsheet