If you’re looking for a great introduction to Cambodia, there’s no better way to do it than to negotiate your transfer to Phnom Penh from Phnom Penh International Airport (nee Pochentong). Be aware that the taxi situation can border on scammy, so it’s good to know what to expect before you go.
As in many cities, you’ll probably have a group of men shouting at you and trying to rope you into various transport options the minute you leave the arrivals hall. Take a deep breath and ignore them. You have three transportation options for Phnom Penh Airport transfers: taxi, tuk tuk, and moto.
Welcome to Phnom Penh International Airport. Here’s how to leave.
Taking a taxi from Phnom Penh Airport
Taxis are the fastest, safest way to get from the airport into Phnom Penh, especially if you’re carrying lots of expensive equipment on you. You can either get an airport taxi or a private taxi. Continue reading →
In the last few years metered taxis have become popular in Phnom Penh, offering a safer and sometimes less expensive ride than the alternatives. Unlike in many major cities, taxis need to be reserved in advance by phone or app, and can almost never be flagged down on the street. However a quick call or swipe can have a taxi to you in less than ten minutes. Here’s a rundown of the best taxi companies and taxi booking apps in Phnom Penh.
Metered taxis can be a safer and less expensive alternative way to get around Phnom Penh
Cambodia taxi apps
Uber has finally arrived in Cambodia, but the local alternatives are better established and often less expensive. PassApp Taxis, Exnet Taxi, and iTsumo are Uber-like taxi apps operating in Phnom Penh that allow you to book a metered tuk tuk, taxi, or SUV with the touch of a button (theoretically). Continue reading →
The most southerly point of the Cardamom Mountain range, Kirirom National Park rises from the flat rice fields and mango plantations, and the natural beauty found its pine trees, mountain lakes, wildflowers, and seemingly endless vistas make the journey to Cambodia’s first National Park worth the effort.
Kirirom National Park: Worth the Effort.
Halfway between Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville along National Road 4, Kirirom National Park is 700 meters above sea level. The cooler temperatures and inviting odor of pine means that Kirirom offers the closest glimpse of the forests of Europe in Cambodia, while the piles of plastic garbage along the winding road help to remind you just where you actually are.
But this certainly shouldn’t stop a visit, with the waterfalls and forest walks on offer a suitable payoff. Just like the coastal town of Kep, Kirirom was a playground for the Cambodian elite prior to the Khmer Rouge era, and the shells of their villas (including that of the late King-father Sihanouk) dot the landscape. And now with the construction of the sprawling V.Kirirom resort, the country’s new elites have returned with villas again nestled among the trees—but with paddle boarding and zorbing now on offer.
Getting to Kirirom by public transport isn’t easy for those without access to private transport, but it isn’t impossible. Buses to and from Sihanoukville and Koh Kong pass through the town of Treng Trayeng, and hopping off will ensure that local taxi drivers will quickly find you and offer access to the nearby park. A more expensive, but less stressful option is to hire a taxi in Phnom Penh to make the journey. The highway is narrow and lacks a hard shoulder, so attempting to ride a motorbike to the park should only be done by confident riders in daylight hours.
To repeat though, it is certainly worth the effort.
From the park gates, where guards insist on a $5-per-foreigner entry fee, the narrow road winds up and up, passing small communities selling forest plants and garlands of wildflowers that are a hit with Cambodian ladies.
Kiriromping at the Kirirom waterfall.
Most visitors head to the “waterfall,” a modest set of rapids encased in bamboo huts offering a very Cambodian setting to enjoy lunch and respite from the sun. For the more adventurous, numerous tracks and trails offer walkers and moto-drivers kilometers of forest to explore, with less garbage on display the further away. Small hill-top shrines allow the forest spirits to be appeased, and offer fantastic viewpoints across the park.
In terms of accommodation, there are four main options. V. Kirirom Resort and Kirirom Mountain Lodge are inside the park, while Kirirom Resort and the Chambok Community-Based Ecotourism homestays are outside of the park. And of course there’s always the option of bringing your own tent or hammock and head into the woods.
From $20 tents to $270 villas, the vast V.Kirirom Resort is popular with local families, and the wide range of activities on offer helps to keep the kids occupied.
Kirirom Mountain Lodge
Occupying a renovated 1960’s villa, the peaceful location of Kirirom Mountain Lodge offers great views and the Moroccan chief rustles up fabulous—if expensive—meals.
One of the more unique features of Kirirom Resort.
Built at the bottom of the hill and outside the park, Kirirom Resort offers none of the perks that the other two options do, but it does have giant dinosaur statues and a UFO-shaped water feature. Its forested “accommodation island” has a range of villas to choose from and a stay here will likely be undisturbed by other guests, if the empty car park is any indication.
Chambok Community Based Ecotourism
Chambok Community Based Ecotourism is a great local organization which arranges numerous homestays with local families. Rustic but clean, this is the best way to immerse oneself in Cambodian rural life, and save lots of money at the same time. They also offer tours of forests, farms, and local waterfalls.
Here’s that UFO-shaped water feature at Kirirom Resort.
These days, there are a couple of easy ways to go from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap and from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh including bus, boat, plane, taxi, and mini-bus. There are options to fit every budget, but some are nicer than others. Right now the road is in great condition and it’s a smooth ride (fingers crossed it will stay this way). The journey takes between 5 and 6 hours, depending on your mode of transport.
Check out the view on a Giant Ibis bus between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
The road between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap offers a glimpse of Cambodian country life, as it barrels past rice paddies, traditional wooden houses, and water buffalo and cows lazily grazing on the side of the road. The views are best appreciated from a full-size bus, as the mini-buses are more crowded and have smaller windows. If you get carsick, the bus is a better option as it’s a bit slower and significantly less bumpy. Continue reading →
In a city that now contains ride-hailing apps for tuk tuks and taxis, as well as the existing motorbike taxis and tuk tuks on most street corners, the bus system is still a welcome addition. Phnom Penh’s public bus system has recently expanded to eight routes, and finally offers a service that is useful to residents and visitors alike. Yes, they can be slower than other transport on the capital’s increasingly traffic-clogged streets, but the bus system is a much more comfortable way to endure a traffic jam.
Get on the bus!
Tickets for a single journey cost 1,500 riel, less that $0.40 USD, on air-conditioned new buses courtesy of China, and services run from 5:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. It’s worth noting that you will need a new ticket for each bus you get on, so make sure you have plenty of riel notes if planning to hop buses.
Bus stops are a mixture of covered seating and more simple signposts, and all contain the route map for that particular bus route. However, to get the most use from the system, download the free “Stops Near Me” app. Not only does it show the full route map for all buses and marks bus stops in English, but it also live tracks buses so you know when the next one is arriving. You can download the app for free from Google Play or Apple App Store.
Why you should take the bus:
The new buses are safer than motorbikes and tuk tuks, and remove the threat of bag/phone snatching.
You don’t need to negotiate prices.
The air conditioning offers a respite from the heat, noise, dust and smells of Phnom Penh streets.
It is by far the cheapest option, even for short journeys. A bus on Route 3 from the night market to Phnom Penh airport is only $0.40 cents, while a street tuk tuk will be $7 with some haggling, and an app-hailed taxi closer to $8.
Route 1: Traverses vertically for much of the city, from the Cho Ray hospital on National Road 1 in Chbar Ampov (on the way to Vietnam), passes over Monivong bridge, up Monivong Boulevard, past the French Embassy and continues up along Highway 5 past the Cham muslim community and the Ammar Ebn Yasser mosque.
Route 2: Another vertical route, goes from Takhmao city in the south, up Norodom Boulevard, past Independence Monument and Wat Phnom, before heading west to northern Toul Kork neighbourhood at Aeon Mall 2.
Route 3: Heading east to west, this goes from the Riverside bus depot next to the Night Market (and where many major bus and minibus services leave and depart), past the Central Market and the Airport.
Route 4: Going past Wat Phnom, Central Market, and the Olympic Stadium, south of the airport it splits, with 4A going connecting with the Route 3 terminus south of the airport near National Road 3, and 4B going west to the the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), more commonly known at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, and terminating at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone.
Route 5: Starts behind Aeon Mall 1 and close to Diamond Island, before heading west along Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, passing just to the north of Russian Market, and then turning to the north, through Toul Kork and terminating at Aeon Mall 2.
Route 6: Begins near the airport, and heads east through Toul Kork, past the French Embassy, before heading north along National Road 6 and terminating a short walk from the Silk Island ferry.
Route 7: Heads south from National Road 5, through Toul Kork, past Royal University of Phnom Penh, before splitting, with 7A heading past the Olympic Stadium and Independence monument, terminating behind Aeon Mall 1, while 7B heads east over the Monivong bridge, terminating in Chbar Ampov.
Route 8: Starts where Route 6 terminates, by the Silk Island Ferry, then heads further north before turning west, past the construction for Cambodia’s hosting of the 2023 SEA Games and the city’s premier golf course Garden City, before crossing the LYP bridge and back south along National Road 5 to the Route 1 and Route 7 terminus.
Cambodian cuisine is delicious, interesting, and varied, but there are few sit-down restaurants in Phnom Penh that do Khmer food justice. Restaurants with a pleasant ambiance also tend to be tourist-oriented, and are likely to serve an incoherent array of over-sweetened curries and Thai food masquerading as Cambodian. Tastier and more authentic places often don’t invite long, lingering lunches—usually you’re sweating too much to want to stay past the last slurp of soup, anyway.
Doing Khmer cuisine justice.
Enter La’Baab. The newish restaurant isn’t immediately obvious. Located above Pharmacie de la Gare near Vattanac Tower, after climbing a few flights of stairs, guests find themselves in a wooden interior evocative of mid-1800s Battambang. At least, that’s what the Phnom Penh Post reported, and we’re willing to take them at their word. The menu, however, seems more influenced by the food of the Lower Mekong, where Cambodia’s east meets Vietnam’s south: lots of fish soups and curries, crunchy vegetables, and tart and fermented flavors.
Mid-1800s Battambang, apparently.
We will overlook this minor ontological confusion given La’Baab’s many gustatorial pleasures—and the fact that it’s simply a damn fine place to sit and sip a lemongrass-infused limeade. And as often happens, limeade leads to lunch, and we ordered a selection of dishes off a menu that was varied enough to content a timid newcomer or an old Cambodia hand.
Since we like to flatter ourselves that we fit into the latter category, we eschewed the spring rolls and chose a selection of more obscure dishes: a subtle but tasty hemp and crab paste soup, and a spread of fresh vegetables surrounding a pot of the the warm, pungent fermented fish known as maam, for starters. Two vegetable dishes, wing beans and lotus root, were both prepared in exemplary fashion, still crunchy and sweet but warm and fragrant with aromatics.
Although less adventurous, the amok was an outstanding example of a dish that is exceedingly popular but too often uninspired. La’Baab’s fish amok was perfectly balanced, the curry’s palm sugar sweetness offset by the slight bitterness of the noni leaves, a defining ingredient that is regularly omitted in the Kingdom’s more tourist-oriented restaurants. Another standout was the mam, a dish more popular in Cambodian homes than restaurants. Milder than prahok, here braised mam was served with fatty pork belly, adding an extra rich layer to the sweet, fermented fish.
Like a Scotch egg, but Cambodian.
One in our party was a chef who, having worked at high-end restaurants before moving to Cambodia, exists in a state of perpetual horror at how restaurant food is presented here. Finally, at La’Baab, he was able to eat a meal without complaint. Like the restaurant itself, the dishes have the right balance of stylish without crossing into pretentiousness, even in the case of the mini-Scotch eggs, made from hard-boiled quail’s eggs wrapped in prahet and coated in green-tinted puffed ambok.
All of us were in agreement that we would be eager to return to La’Baab and dive deeper into the menu, as well as checking out the breakfast specials, which include Vietnamese specialties like com tam and cha trung thit. Or just heading back to relax with a coffee and drink in the restaurant’s fabulous wooden interior, beneath bobbing clusters of traditional fish-traps, gazing out at the futuristic Vattanac Tower—the perfect mix of old and new.
Dishes priced between $4 and $8.
Open daily, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
81 E2 Preah Monivong Blvd (above Pharmacie de la Gare), Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
T: 099 335 666 facebook.com/LabaabResto
This post was a tag-team effort by Julia Wallace and Lina Goldberg.