Phnom Penh is one of the coolest cities in Asia. There are cheap accommodation, liberal visas, internet everywhere and plenty of intrigue – It is said that after Thailand got difficult with visas, Phnom Penh is where the spies, wannabe science fiction writers and other such people have relocated to.
Airlines and getting there
If you are in South East Asia, the best way to get to Phnom Penh is via the budget airlines. You can get these for around 150to 200 USD. AirAsia (from Malaysia and Thailand), Tiger and JetStar Asia (from Singapore). From Vietnam, a cross border bus is cheaper.
Visitors from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Lao PDR and Vietnam do not need a visa. Most others can get it from the airport at arrival. You will see the visa counter as you alight from the boarding area. Just pick up the visa form (usually they will hand out the form along with customs declaration form in the plane, if not then the forms are available at the visa counter), fill the form, attach your photo and submit at the counter. The fees is 25 USD. This visa is good for one month. If you do not have a photo, they will scan the photo that is on your passport and use it (for a small fee).
You can also apply for the evisa beforehand (keep a buffer of 4 days). You will have to fill an online form and upload a photograph. Keep your credit card ready for online payment. The visa will be sent to you via email. Remember to take 2 printouts of the evisa. You will show one when you enter and the other one when you exit. The evisa costs USD 25 and it is processed in 4 days or less. This is the evisa website http://evisa.mfaic.gov.kh/. Apply only at this site and not at some links you get after Googling. I have used evisa several times over the years and it works well. I will recommend evisa over visa on arrival. as the visa on arrival sticker takes up one whole page. E-visa is recommended for travelers from developing countries crossing into Cambodia from Thailand.
In your plane or bus, the crew will handout the arrival card and the customs form. Fill both there. You need to fill in the address in Cambodia. Just fill in any of the hotels you are planning to stay in.
After getting your visa (or if you have evisa), just walk to the immigration counter . Here they will stamp the visa, scan your fingerprints and welcome you to Cambodia. After this you head to baggage belts and the customs, pass them the customs declaration form and exit.
Buying a SIM card
As soon as you exit the customs at the airport, you will see the mobile phone counters. You can buy data enabled SIM cards for 5 to 10 USD. Metfone and Cellcard seems to have the best speeds and they sell nano SIM cards too. I would recommend getting the SIM card at the airport as they staff at the counter speak better English compared to smaller shops in the city. They will also scan your passport before selling you the SIM.
Traveling from the airport to the city or your hotel
Travel to the city centre will cost you around 10USD by taxi. If you are traveling alone and light, you can take a motor bike taxi (moto) or cyclo (tuktuk) for around 5 to 6 USD. Just walk out of the airport, the moto-taxi people will find you. It is always a good idea to ask your hotel for a nearby landmark as moto or taxi people may not know where the hotel is. If you have a local SIM card, it may be easier to call the hotel and ask them to explain the directs to your transport guy. Uber is also available in Phnom Penh. As of November 2017, Uber drivers are not allowed to come inside the airport, The Uber driver may send you an message to come outside the airport.
Accommodation in Phnom Penh
Our favourite source of looking up hotels and guesthouses in Phnom Penh is the online guide published by Canby. http://www.canbypublications.com/phnompenh/pphotels.htm
The riverfront area in Phnom Penh has many reasonably priced guesthouses. Go to riverfront if you like partying and staying up late. If you prefer inexpensive stay, I recommend One Stop Hostel by the riverside.
Boeung Keng Kang (BKK1) neighbourhood has some hotels and trendy cafes and bars. This is a good place to get some work done (at Kiriya or Namu cafe). Blue Dog Cafe here has dormitory stays if you are looking for a budget place and still want to be in a posh neighbourhood. See http://www.canbypublications.com/maps/phnompenhbkk1.htm
Ly Yoak Lay (Street 172) has several hotels of all range, some good restaurants and cafe/pubs. It is kind of hidden away so it is less noisy compared to the riverside. I sometimes just walk up this street, ask the guesthouse to see the room and if I like it, I take it. In Cambodia, it is perfectly fine to get them to show the room. Silver River, Angkor Mithona, Laughing Fatman, Hometown Inn, Sundance are all the places I have stayed at and they are good.
See this map https://www.google.com/maps/search/Hotels+at+Ly+Yoak+Lay,+Phnom+Penhfirstname.lastname@example.org,104.927964,18z/data=!3m1!4b1
Hotels will do your laundry for 2to 3 USD. Cambodia is the most advanced country in the world when it comes to Internet. All guesthouses and restaurants have wifi. However, before accepting a room, make sure that you can get a strong wifi signal in the room that you like.
Money and costs
You can get by on 15 to 20 USD/day (excluding accommodation). You can use ATMs to withdraw money in USD. So you do not need to carry many moneys on you. US currency is in wide circulation and if you are brining in US$, get small denominations. When people return you US dollars change, check if a currency note is torn or if it has cellophane tape running around it – request for another currency note as it is hard to spend this money at another place. 1 USD is approximately 4000 Cambodian Riels. Change below 1 USD will be returned in Riel. Another thing to note is that if you are not used to US dollars in your daily transaction back home, the currency notes are all the same size so be careful when you pay at night – double check the denominations.
For local transport, you can use inexpensive motos (motorbike taxis) and tuktuks. From the riverside to the centre of the city should cost you 1 to 1.5 USD on moto. Of course, these folks will ask your for 5 dollars at first. Just smile and politely offer your price. You can also use Uber or a local ride hailing app called Pass App.
If you want to buy an inexpensive and easy to pack souvenir, I will recommend the KRAMA – Cambodian scarf. You can buy at the Central Market. Cambodian coffee is also good.
Phnom Penh has a great local and international food at reasonable price. It is also safe to eat on the street as long as you see the shop has good number of patrons. You can get good Chinese and Indian food too.
It is not uncommon to find famous people from all over Asia in Phnom Penh cafes.
List of halal restaurants in Phnom Penh: http://www.zabihah.com/sp.php?k=type+%28optional%29&l=Phnom+Penh
List of vegetarian and vegan eating in Phnom Penh: http://www.happycow.net/asia/cambodia/phnom_penh/
24 hours food – All the party neighbourhood – Street 130 and adjoining streets by the river and the streets near Soriya Mall and Apocalypse now have food and drinks all night long.
More on food from New York Times
There are several 24 hour convenience stores and many of them accept cards for payment.
Most shops and younger local people will speak some English. Menus and general information on signs are in English in addition to Khmer. The locals are kind, curious and enjoy talking.
This is the type of plug used in Cambodia ( Type C). Usually the power points in Cambodia can accept US (but make sure that your gadget can handle 240 Volts) and Japanese plugs too. Bigger hotels have plugs that support other regions too. You can also borrow Android or iPhone chargers at some cafes (Kiriya Cafe).
Facebook and Wechat are popular social networks. And almost everyone and their cat is on Facebook. The technorati are very active on Twitter. All events have an hashtag, if you have a questions, just post it on twitter with your event’s hashtag. Someone will answer soon. Interesting people to follow on Twitter – @Kounila, @chantra , @john_weeks, @ChrisInCambo, @tharum, @thulrithy, @ramanasorn, @Sophary, @Vantharith, @jensendarren, @sithen, @melinachan, @meanlux, @viirak (I am missing a lot more, will add them as I remember the handle)
http://www.cambodiadaily.com/ is the local paper of note,
http://wheninphnompenh.com/ – Food and travel reviews by locals
http://globalvoicesonline.org/-/world/east-asia/cambodia/ – happenings and news covered by locals
Social, art events – http://www.ladypenh.com/
It is going to be hot. It is going to humid near the river. The city averages 25 C to 33 C. See http://www.bbc.com/weather/1821306
Cotton linen clothes are the best.
As in a big city, take care of your belongings. I have been to Phnom Penh like 30 odd times and I have never encountered any violent crime. Late in the night, try to take to motorbike or Uber or a Pass App ride back to you hotel.