Phnom Penh — Heady Mix of Old and New

October 1, 2014 by | Filed Under: Authentic Experiences, Cambodia, Culinary, News

A great way to explore Cambodia’s capital as it transforms from wild frontier town to a hub of culture, food and hotels is taking a Phnom Penh walking tour through the myriad of busy streets. Through crowded markets and busy roads, take in the heady mixture of colonial architecture and hectic traffic while sampling some local delights along the way. Khiri Travel Cambodia has a well-balanced, fun experience that takes your travelers inside the heart of Phnom Penh leaving them with a lasting impression of this special city.

Travelers will start a guided walking tour in the early morning with a visit to the very local Pshar Kandal (pshar is market) and head straight for some local delights such as normbonh chork samlor khmer (fish soup with noodles) followed by sach kor ang (BBQ beef) with papaya salad. Afterwards we will move on towards Pshar Chas, another one of the capital’s local markets, where we can try some banh srung, a small noodle dish with coconut milk and spring roll slices. We can also sample chek ktis – a sweet dessert.

french administration building in Phnom Penh

post office in Phnom Penh - colonial architecture

After our on-the-move breakfast, we will walk to Phnom Penh’s old French Quarter – home to a selection of fine colonial era architecture. Here visitors will be able to see a number of belle époque and art deco designs, starting with the post office — a grand building still in use today. There is also the old French administration building. Although abandoned and dilapidated, its beauty is still apparent. The French Quarter is a designated ‘walking zone’ on weekends and public holidays.

Moving onwards we will walk to Wat Phnom. Meaning ‘mountain pagoda’ in Khmer, Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple located in the heart of the city. Built in 1373, this temple is the tallest religious structure in the capital. Legend states that Daun Penh, a wealthy widow, found four bronze Buddha images inside a koki tree along the Mekong. The shrine was built to house the sacred relics giving Phnom Penh its name. Wat Phnom, totally different in style from the colonial buildings, complements Phnom Penh’s amazing variety of architecture.

fortune teller at Phnom Penh walking tour

Walking onwards we will pass the National Library, a fine building still displaying the French sign. We will pass the Raffles Le Royal Hotel with its colorful history. Opening in 1929, the hotel has hosted names as varied as Jacqueline Kennedy and Charlie Chaplin. The hotel reopened under the Raffles brand in 1997. From 1970 to 1975, during the Khmer Rouge, not much is known but the building remained largely undamaged. We will continue our walk to Cambodia’s largest market and a Phnom Penh landmark, Pshar Thmey. Here we meet a fortuneteller who, with the help of our guide, might be able to predict a bright future for your guests!

We will then continue to the French Embassy. The French re-opened their Cambodian embassy in 1996 in a new building, one of the city’s outstanding pieces of contemporary architecture. The embassy, with its flat roof and rendered white facade, is set amidst magnificent gardens on the same site that housed the former embassy until it was sacked by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. When the communists took the city, 1,400 Cambodians and foreigners sought shelter in the compound. Under threat that the Khmer Rouge would overrun the embassy, the French agreed to hand over more than 600 Cambodians to the new authorities. Soon after, the Khmer Rouge expelled all foreigners and sealed off Cambodia’s borders.

We will finish our walking tour at the FCC (Foreign Correspondent’s Club) Phnom Penh. From our vantage point in this old colonial building, we can see a view over the Bassac and Mekong rivers and enjoy a welcome drink and some well-deserved lunch.

For more information on the history of Phnom Penh, our Phnom Penh walking tour, and booking requests, please contact

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