Phnom Penh, Cambodia 🚷 No City for Pedestrians

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 🚷 No City for Pedestrians

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Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is a city with a rich and fascinating history. From lush green parks to the bustling markets and street stalls, intricate architecture, colorful temples, and delicious street food, Phnom Penh is a worthwhile destination for anyone traveling to Southeast Asia.

This is also a city that challenges the conventional notion of pedestrian-friendly environments. In this article, we unravel the unique dynamics of navigating Phnom Penh’s bustling streets, which are marked by a lack of accessible pedestrian spaces.

We also explore some of the best places to stay in Phnom Penh, as well as provide practical tips on currencies, visas and getting around the city.



Get Your Cambodian Visa

An essential prerequisite for a visit to Cambodia is your visa. This is currently required for all visitors excluding nationals from Brunei, Myanmar, Thailand, Seychelles, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Maldives and the Philippines.

There are 2 ways of arranging your visa: Either going online to purchase an e-Visa from, or getting a visa on arrival. The price for both is the same – $36 , but the e-Visa will save you some time and hassle on arrival when you pass through immigration.

Make sure you go to the official Cambodian website to get your online visa! There are other websites – like iVisa – that will try to get you to pay more (see Beware of Scams – Uncovering the Ugly Truth Behind iVisa).

If you apply online, don’t wait until the last minute as this process takes around 2 working days. You’ll receive your e-Visa in PDF format from which you need to print 2 hard copies (one for entry and one for exit).

The e-Visa is valid for a 3-month stay. It is a single-entry visa, so once you leave Cambodia there’s no going back unless you purchase another visa.

Note: Even with an e-Visa you will still need to fill out arrival and departure cards.

Getting to Phnom Penh from the Airport

Phnom Penh International Airport is the second largest (but busiest) airport in Cambodia after the new Siem Reap–Angkor International Airport. It is located 10 kilometres west of Phnom Penh city.

The taxi cost between the city and the airport is $20 before 8 pm, and $25 after.

On average the drive takes 30 minutes to 1 hour, depending on your choice of transportation and the traffic. If you arrive early in the day and are a little more adventurous, a bus or tuk tuk is another option. If you arrive later in the evening, your best bet is a taxi.

Order a Taxi from the Airport

We arrived at the airport after 8 pm and it was already dark, so there was little to see on the drive in to the city.

To save time and avoid the hassle of dealing with drivers on arrival, we requested that our hotel – the Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort – send a driver to pick us up.

Clearly, this is what most visitors do. On arrival, we were faced by a large crowd waving what seemed like hundreds of name-cards.

It took a while to locate the card with our name 🤔

Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort

We chose the Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort because of its city-center location, its proximity to the main sight-seeing areas and the high reviews on Tripadvisor.

Although officially a 4-star hotel, like many other establishments in Cambodia this is a 3-star level hotel aspiring to be 4-star. Having said that, it’s a comfortable place to stay with an excellent breakfast and fabulous views from the rooftop swimming pool and bar area.

Phnom Penh No City for Pedestrians

Phnom Penh City View from the Aquarius

Many of the rooms at the Aquarius have no balcony and look onto a shaft. The style of the rooms might not suit everyone: very compact boutique grunge-modern, but the beds are comfortable.

We were only given one card-key for the room, but the cleaning lady very kindly left a piece of cardboard in the card clot after she cleaned our room, so that the airco was working when we got back from our daily outings.

This was very much appreciated since the outdoor temperatures in late January were near the mid-30°C.

Though we don’t recommend walking around Phnom Penh (see Getting Around Phnom Penh, below), the Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort is close to the Independence Monument and Royal Palace, and not too far from the Mekong River promenade.

Book the Aquarius Hotel

The infinity pool on the roof is also a godsend, though it is also open to non-guests for a $10 fee. This means the pool area can get busy in the late afternoons, and you might have difficulty grabbing a sun lounger.

As with everywhere else we visited in Cambodia, the staff at the Aquarius Hotel & Urban Resort were really friendly and helpful, and we would recommend the hotel for a short stay in Phnom Penh. We paid $63 per night for our double room at the hotel, including breakfast.

Other Recommended Central Hotels

Other recommended centrally-located hotels include the following:

  • The White Mansion is a more up-market hotel with room rates starting from $84. If you’re planning to travel by bus from Phnom Penh to another city in Cambodia, then the Giant Ibis bus company will pick you up from this hotel and take you to their central bus station at no extra charge.
  • The Mad Monkey is a more budget-friendly hotel, with dormitory rates starting at $6. You can also get a free pick-up from this hotel by Giant Ibis.


Getting around Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a large sprawling Asian city with some serious traffic and congestion problems. Your choice of transport during your stay here will have a big influence on your mood and overall experience.

This is also highly dependent on where in the city your hotel is located.

The Different Areas of the City

The central areas of the city – from the Independence Monument north to the Central Market and east to the river – are spacious enough and pleasant to discover on foot. Here you can find Wat Botum Park, the National Museum, the Royal Palace and the riverfront promenade.

If you wander west and south of these areas you enter the city proper, and you’re in for a very different experience. We walked south through the city, past the Toul Sleng Museum and on as far as the Russian Market.

It’s an intensive 1-hour walk each way, and a good way to experience the city from a ‘different‘ perspective. Just make sure you wear a hat, stay hydrated and keep a keen eye on the traffic.

Phnom Penh Center Map (click to enlarge)

Getting Around by Foot

With almost all our visits to new cities, we choose a hotel which has close proximity to the places we want to see. Once there, we prefer to discover the city on foot – for a number of reasons:

  • It gives us the opportunity to check out places which are not on the standard ‘must-do’ list.
  • Because one of our main interests is the local food 😋 a leisurely 10 kms walkabout does wonders to burn off the excess calories.
  • We get to know our way around the neighborhoods, giving us an authentic feel for the city.

So we spent our 3 days in Phnom Penh discovering the city by foot – but this was a mistake.

As soon as we wandered out from the hotel, we had difficulty finding a section of pavement that wasn’t blocked by huge 4×4 cars and the ubiquitous scooters.

The street traffic is overwhelming with a huge proportion of motorbikes and rickshaws. We needed to really pay attention when crossing roads – especially on a green pedestrian light. The traffic frequently ignores red lights and can be coming at you from all directions.

Walking around the city is an extremely stressful experience if you wander far from the central areas around the Royal Palace. You are persistently forced to walk in the chaotic roads due to parked cars blocking the pavements.

Add to this the heat, the noise and the pollution and you’re heading for a major headache.

… that is… if you can find room even to stand

By Tuk-Tuk (Motorbike Taxi)

Tuk-Tuks are a popular and convenient way to get around Phnom Penh. They’re relatively cheap and offer a (sometimes) fun and unique way to see the city.

There is a standard one-way Tuk-Tuk fare within the city center of $2 (see map). This should suffice for most purposes. If you want to travel further out (to the Toul Sleng Museum or the Russian Market), be prepared to haggle.

By Bicycle or Motorbike

For those who want a more adventurous way to see the city, bicycle or motorbike rental is an option. These can be rented at many shops around the city, and provide an alternative way to explore Phnom Penh at your own pace.

So go ahead – do your own bit to add even more congestion to the city 😠

By Taxi

If you really want to avoid the stress, the heat and the hassle then a taxi is the only way to go. If you’re only in Phnom Penh for 2 or 3 days (and why would you want to stay longer?) then a few taxi fares are not going to break the bank.

A Tale of 2 Currencies

One of the first things we had to deal with on arrival in Cambodia was the currency. As with Laos and Vietnam, most urban areas in Cambodia quote prices in USD, although the local currency – the Riel – is always accepted at the current exchange rate.

In more rural areas of Cambodia, they will more readily accept Cambodian Riel.

When we arrived at Phnom Penh airport, the currency exchange bureau’s refused to change our $100 notes for Riel. Their excuse was that there were small imperfections with the notes that would mean they would have difficulty using them. We found this strange, since the $100 dollar notes we were offering were mint-perfect. However, we’ve heard that other travelers have had similar issues.

Later on we were able to pay for our hotel bill using the same notes, and could also use them in cash-only supermarkets. We were usually given change in Riel.

The Riel is available in bank notes of 100, 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10000, 20000, 50000 & 100000 Riel.

Phnom Penh No City for Pedestrians

Cambodian Riel Notes

We used an ATM machine just once on the first day of our trip through Cambodia – primarily to get hold of some of the local Riel currency. We requested a withdrawal of KHR 400,000, and were charged an exorbitant fee of KHR 29,500 – a whopping 7.5% markup!

After this, we paid for almost everything directly with credit card.

Using a Wise credit card, we got the best exchange rates compared to standard high street bank cards.

Organizing your Stash of Riel

Getting familiar with your stash of Riel notes can be challenging for the first few days. The problem is that the large numbers you can see on the notes look like English numbers, but are in fact Cambodian numbers: The ‘0’s are the same but the ‘1’s look like ‘9’s. So a 1,000 note is easily mistaken for 9,000.

To avoid confusion, we found the best way was to keep the notes in an organized stash with the English value showing on the lower-right of the short edge (see below). In our first days, this system helped us avoid some embarrassment and potentially costly mistakes.

It can get rielly confusing 😕

As a member of BRICS, Cambodia together with 10 other Asian countries has agreed to ditch the US dollar and strengthen their local currencies, so for how much longer the American currency will be accepted is anyone’s guess.

3 Nights in Phnom Penh

We spent a total of 3 nights in Phnom Penh, before arranging transport to Siem Reap for a longer 6-night stay. Despite the chaotic infrastructure of the city, we enjoyed the food and the attractions that Phnom Penh has to offer.

It’s not the most relaxing city to visit, but with its friendly people and affordable prices Phnom Penh has much that will appeal to the more city-oriented traveler.

All Hotels in Phnom Penh

If you enjoyed Phnom Penh, No City for Pedestrians, take a look at our other Tropical Travel Plans. You may also like:


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