If we have to start from a Point Zero in Phnom Penh, it is the riverside. Day or night it is busy and the proper Phnom Penh downtown. A recommendation to stay in the Cambodian capital is looking any hotel of that district and you have from back packers to five stars’ options. Another is to get a map of the city, since it is quit difficult to understand the city’s nomenclature plus it is easier to point out in a map the place you want to go to a moto-taxi, cycle or taxi than trying to explain it in English or any other language to your Cambodian driver.
Along the riverside you find the oldest sectors of the city and the footprints of different generations since the kings abandoned Angkor to the arrival of the French colonization. The views of the rivers is amazing with the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers to form the Bassac just in front to the Royal Palace and in the same point where it is celebrated the races of the Water Festival in November.
The avenue that goes through the riverside is called Preah Sisowath (in honor to King Sisowath who reigned between 1904 and 1927.) The avenue starts at its south just in front of the Buddhist Institute and near of the Sothearos Boulevard that runs parallel to Preah Sisoswath until the join in front of Wat Ounalom (Wat is pagoda.) After the Buddhist Institute that has a good offering of books, CDs and other material of the recent Cambodian history and the Buddhist religion, you find high profile hotels like Sofitel Cambodia and Cambodiana Inn with huge and luxury buildings and the Raffles Medical Center. This is an exclusive sector for five stars tourism. Walking from Cambodiana Inn to the north, you find the Ministry of Justice and the Renakse Hotel at your left and the Chaktomuk Theater. Then the area of the Royal Palace, a huge beautiful public garden completed also by the National Museum, both of them dated from French colonial times and survivors of the destructive Khmer Rouge regime era.
You continue walking to the north and you find a big offering of restaurants, massage services, ATM, inns, hotels, bars, discos, bookstores, music stores, burgers, etc. Have in account that they are there exclusively for tourists, so the prices are made for tourists. If you want to find cheaper food (you backpackers… like me) you must have to go inside, get far from the river (I promise another post for food in Phnom Penh.)
Among these restaurants that are located in the Preah Sisowath street, between the Royal Palace and the Night Market and even further, you will find international food. I have counted this kind of national foods so far: Germans, Italians, French, Dutch, American, Canadian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Australian, Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian… So, the offer is real international. You can find dishes from 2 to 25 dollars, after reviewing the different menus that are exposed at the entrance of almost every restaurant. A beer is in those places not less than 1,5 US dollars (at what I call far from the river you can find an Angkor Beer in less than one US dollar.
A beautiful place is Wat Ounalom dated 1443. This beautiful pagoda is nothing more than the one that keeps a relic of Buddha (an eyebrow hair) and it gives to the complex a high status in the Kingdom. It is also the headquarters of the Buddhist Patriarch of the Cambodian Maha Nikaya School of Buddhism. It is therefore, as the Vatican for that Buddhist group, because Buddhist, as Christianity and Islam, have different schools, sects or churches too. The majority of the Cambodian Buddhist, as in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar, practice what we know as Theravada Buddhism, that is considered a more strict Buddhist school. But Maha Nikaya is a minority in Cambodia. The word Maha means king, chiefdom, leading, while Nikaya refers to the Sutta Pitaka Buddhist sacred texts.
After beautiful and interesting Wat Ounalom, youn find another busy block of restaurants, bars and so on, until the Night Market that is open only Friday and Saturday night. Back of the Night Market is the Old Market (in Khmer ‘Psah Chás,’) a dirty place that I would not recommend at all. Continuing by our safer Preah Sisowath street (the walking is pleasing through a real nice place, especially in the evenings, where people do Rhythmic Gymnastics, playing Cambodian traditional sports, etc.) to the north, you find at the right hand, just to the river, the boats. It is a recommended thing to do, especially in the night. The boats are real floating restaurants and bars and they go down the south of the river, until the Bassac, in a musical travel.
Preah Sisowath streets continues further to the north until the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship Bridge where the street becomes the National Road 6 going to Battambang City.
A last recommendation: take care with pickpockets. We have too many around. Do not put your wallet in the back pocket. Put it where you can care it better. Ladies, take care with handbag, it happens that thieves in motorbikes approach and grab it (including cameras.) It is better to walk without value things on the street. Making friendship with a particular moto-taxi, cycle or taxi driver is a good and safer idea to move in the city and in Cambodia. The driver will care for you.