Where to stay
The Pavilion Hotel in the historical district is walking distance from the bustling river front and the Royal Palace complex. Housed in an old colonial-style villa, it’s a boutique hotel with just 20 rooms set amidst a lush tropical garden. It has a small spa and offers complimentary massages when you book for more than one night. Breakfast is included and served poolside. The staff are more than happy to book activities for you – try a photography and Khmer architecture tour or a sunset cruise. Prices range from $45 to $95 per night (Dh165 to Dh350). Visit www.thepavilion.asia.
What to see
The Royal Palace, home to the King of Cambodia, is a sprawling complex divided into three compounds. Though the King’s residence is off limits, you can visit the Palace’s Silver Pagoda and Throne Hall. What’s most impressive about the Palace is that it has withstood the turbulent Khmer Rouge years and stands as a beautiful example of traditional craftsmanship. It’s open 8am-11am, and then 2pm-5pm. Phnom Penh’s other cultural must-see is the National Museum. Just a stone’s throw from the Palace, the museum houses an impressive collection of Cambodian sculpture, mainly taken from the ancient city of Angkor.
What to do
Part of Phnom Penh’s charm is its chaotic streets and happening street life, so you should make exploring them part of your trip. Thankfully Cambodians haven’t yet started ripping tourists off, so a tuk-tuk ride is a cheap way to explore. At sunset, head for the river front area, which comes alive with locals enjoying family time and mass aerobics classes. Once the sun goes down, head back over the road to the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC) for dinner and great street views.
Where to shop
Bursting with quirky boutiques, Street 240 is the place for upmarket souvenirs and new labels. Check out Wanderlust (www.wanderlustcambodia.com), a community-based project that works with local artisans to create an eclectic range of clothes, accessories and homewares. If bargains are more your thing, visit the Central Market. Housed in a huge colonial-style building, you’ll find anything you can possibly think of.
Where to eat
After visiting the National Museum, walk just around the corner to the popular Friends Restaurant. It not only offers delicious Asian and Western tapas dishes, healthy juices and smoothies, it also gives back to the local community – all the staff here are former street kids. For a real flavour of Cambodia, head to Frizz on Street 240, which serves up a mean amok – a fish curry steamed in banana leaves that’s a local must-try. Barbecue is also big here and you’ll find restaurants on every corner – we love Sovanna, a favourite spot with locals, which delivers huge plates of grilled meats and fish.
Thai Airways flies daily from Dubai to Phnom Penh via Bangkok. Prices start from Dh3,800, www.thaiairways.com