Phnom Penh is not the most accessible capital in the region. The pavements (sidewalks) are jammed with stalls and traders making navigation difficult without using the road. However, the international airport has facilities for travellers with disabilities, as do many of the international standard hotels in the city.
Dangers & Annoyances
Phnom Penh is not as dangerous as people imagine, but it is important to take care.
- Armed robberies do sometimes occur, but statistically you would be very unlucky to be a victim. Should you become the victim, do not panic and do not struggle. Calmly raise your hands and let your attacker take what they want. Do not reach for your pockets, as the assailant may think you are reaching for a gun. Avoid carrying a bag at night.
- If you ride your own motorbike during the day, some police may try to fine you for the most trivial of offences. They will most likely demand US$5 and threaten to take you to the police station for an official US$20 fine if you do not pay. If you are patient and smile, you can usually get away with handing over a few dollars.
- The riverfront area of Phnom Penh attracts many beggars, as do Psar Thmei and the Russian Market. Generally, however, there is little in the way of push and shove. Watch out for fake monks from China or Taiwan begging as a scam. They usually have grey or brown robes instead of the saffron robes of Khmer monks.
- Flooding is a major problem in the wet season (June to October), and heavy downpours see some streets turn into canals for a few hours.
Bag snatching has become a real problem in Phnom Penh, with foreigners often targeted. Hot spots include the riverfront and busy areas around popular markets, but there is no real pattern; the speeding motorbike thieves, usually operating in pairs, can strike any time, any place. Countless expats and tourists have been injured falling off their bikes in the process of being robbed, and in 2007 a young French woman was killed after being dragged from a speeding moto (motorcycle taxi) into the path of a vehicle. Wear close-fitting bags (such as backpacks) that don’t dangle from the body temptingly. Don’t hang expensive cameras around the neck and keep things close to the body and out of sight, particularly when walking along the road, crossing the road or travelling by remork-moto (tuk tuk) or especially by moto. These people are real pros and only need one chance.
The sexual abuse of children by foreign paedophiles is a serious problem in Cambodia. Paedophilia is a crime in Cambodia and several foreigners have served or are serving jail sentences. There is no such thing as an isolation unit for sex offenders in Cambodia. Countries such as Australia, France, Germany, the UK and the USA have also introduced much-needed legislation that sees nationals prosecuted in their home country for committing sex crimes abroad.
This child abuse is slowly but surely being combated, although in a country as poor as Cambodia, money can tempt people into selling babies for adoption and children for sex. The trafficking of innocent children has many shapes and forms, and the sex trade is just the thin end of the wedge. Poor parents have been known to rent out their children as beggars, labourers or sellers; many child prostitutes in Cambodia are Vietnamese and have been sold into the business by family back in Vietnam. Once in the trade, it is difficult to escape a life of violence and abuse. Drugs are also being used to keep children dependent on their pimps, with bosses giving out yama (a dirty methamphetamine) or heroin to dull their senses.
Paedophilia is not unique to Western societies and it is a big problem with Asian tourists as well. The problem is that some of the home governments don’t treat it as seriously as some of their Western counterparts. Even more problematic is the domestic industry of virgin-buying in Cambodia, founded on the superstition that taking a girl's virginity will enhance one’s power.
Visitors can do their bit by keeping an eye out for any suspicious behaviour. Don't ignore it – pass on any relevant information such as the name and nationality of the individual to the embassy concerned. To report abuse there is a Cambodian hotline (023-997919) and ChildSafe maintains confidential hotlines in Phnom Penh (012 311112), Siem Reap (017 358758), and Sihanoukville (012 478100). When booking into a hotel or jumping on transport, look out for the ChildSafe logo, as each establishment or driver who earns this logo is trained to identify and respond to child abuse. End Child Prostitution and Trafficking (www.ecpat.net) is a global network aimed at stopping child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children for sexual purposes, and has affiliates in most Western countries.
Emergency & Important Numbers
In the event of a medical emergency it may be necessary to be evacuated to Bangkok.
|Ambulance||119 in emergency; 023-723840 in English|
|Fire||118 in emergency|
|Police||117 in emergency; 097 778 0002 in English|
Pretty much all hotels, guesthouses, cafes and restaurants offer free wi-fi connections. Local SIM cards are widely available with cheap data packages, so if you are travelling with an unlocked mobile phone or tablet, sign up soon after arrival and stay connected.
Internet cafes are less common since the wi-fi explosion, but the main backpacker strips – St 258, St 278 and St 172 – have a few places. Most internet cafes are set up for Skype or similar services.
Phnom Penh is a cosmopolitan capital and very tolerant of homosexuality. There are several LGBT+ bars and clubs in the capital, as well as some smart gay-friendly boutique hotels in the BKK area of town. Check out the following websites for listings of LGBT+ events in town:
Gay Cambodia News (www.gaycambodianews.com)
Gay Cambodia Guide (cambodia-gay.com)
There aren't any decent maps of Phnom Penh on sale, but there are several good free maps available through local listings and lifestyle magazines. Look out for copies of the AsiaLife Phnom Penh foldout map, the Phnom Penh Tourist Map (from Cambodia Pocket Guide) and the Phnom Penh Visitors Guide map in hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, cafes and bars around town.
- Listings Magazines AsiaLife is a monthly listings mag full of features targeted at Phnom Penh’s expat community. Pick up a copy of the pocket-sized Phnom Penh Pocket Guide (www.cambodiapocketguide.com). The Phnom Penh Visitors Guide (www.canbypublications.com) is brimming with useful information on the capital and beyond, plus detailed maps of the entire city.
- Newspapers The Phnom Penh Post and the Khmer Times are widely available. They mix original local-news content with international stories pulled from wire services.
There's little need to turn US dollars into riel, as greenbacks are universally accepted in the capital. You can change a wide variety of other currencies into dollars or riel in the jewellery stalls around Psar Thmei and the Russian Market. Many upmarket hotels offer 24-hour money-changing services, although this is usually reserved for their guests. Banks with ATMs and money-changing facilities are ubiquitous. Malls and supermarkets are good bets, and there are dozens of ATMs along the riverfront.
ANZ Royal Bank ANZ has ATMs galore all over town, including at supermarkets and petrol stations, but there is a US$5 charge per transaction.
CAB Bank Convenient hours and location, plus there’s also a Western Union office here (one of several in the city).
Canadia Bank Has ATMs around town, with a US$4 charge. Also offers free cash advances on MasterCard and Visa, and represents MoneyGram.
Everything shuts down during the major holidays: Chaul Chnam Khmer (Khmer New Year), Pchum Ben (Festival of the Dead) and Chaul Chnam Chen (Chinese New Year).
Banks 8am to 3.30pm Monday to Friday, Saturday mornings
Bars 5pm to late
Government offices 7.30am to 11.30am and 2pm to 5pm Monday to Friday
Museums Hours vary, but usually open seven days a week
Local Restaurants 6.30am to 9pm
International Restaurants 7am to 10pm or meal times
Shops 8am to 6pm
Local markets 6.30am to 5.30pm
Central Post Office A landmark, it is housed in a French-colonial classic just east of Wat Phnom.
ChildSafe There's a centre here for tourists to learn about best behaviour relating to child begging, the dangers of orphanage tours, exploitation and other risks to children (see www.thinkchildsafe.org for tips). You can also look out for the ChildSafe logo on remork-motos (tuk tuks) and hotels: this network of people are trained to protect children in Cambodia.
Visitor Information Centre Located on the riverfront near the Chatomuk Theatre in the Yi Sang Riverside, it doesn’t carry a whole lot of information. On the other hand, it does offer free internet access, free wi-fi, air-con and clean public toilets.
Travel with Children
With chaotic traffic, a lack of green spaces and sights that are predominantly morbid, Phnom Penh would not seem like the most child-friendly city. Think again, as there are plenty of little gems to help you pass the time with your children in the capital. Plus, most children love a remork-moto (tuk tuk) ride.
Some children also love Buddhist temples – especially colourful temples such as Wat Langka or Wat Ounalom, and hill temples like Wat Phnom or, beyond town, Udong. Shimmering gold Buddhas, shiny stupas, animal statues and the occasional monkey give children plenty of visual stimulation (hide little ones' eyes from potentially scary demons). The Royal Palace is similarly rich in Buddhist iconography.
Or consider renting bicycles and crossing the Mekong by ferry from the dock just north of the eastern end of Sihanouk Blvd. On the other side, smooth roads and trails lead 15km or so north to Smango, a guesthouse with decent food and a refreshing swimming pool. Best to check its website for exact directions. The Mekong island of Koh Dach is also a great place to explore by bicycle with very little traffic and some good refreshment stops.
Phnom Penh has decent public play spaces, including a playground northwest of the Cambodia–Vietnam Friendship Memorial in Wat Botum Park, and another playground just south of Wat Phnom. Swimming pools are another popular option in a hot, hot city: many hotels with pools allow outside guests to swim for a fee or a minimum spend. Kingdom Resort is a great option for those willing to make a short excursion (6km) out of town; it has a huge pool and some slides.
Great for escaping the heat (or the rain), Kids City is a vast indoor play palace, with a world class Clip 'N' Climb climbing wall centre, an elaborate jungle gym, a science gallery and an ice rink. Younger children will enjoy Monkey Business, which offers slides, ball ponds and a small swimming pool, as well as wi-fi and a cafe for adults. Many of the restaurants and cafes in town are also notably child-friendly.
The most interesting attraction is beyond the city limits and makes a good day trip: Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, a rescue centre for Cambodia’s incredible wildlife.