Phnom Penh was our first introduction to Cambodia and we were charmed by this attractive capital city. We found the Cambodian people to be friendly and welcoming. The traffic is still busy but not nearly as crazy as Vietnam. There are lots of tuk tuks to help with getting around and although you still need to bargain they don’t seem to be as notorious as Vietnamese taxi drivers for scams. It was also more walkable with wider footpaths that weren’t crowded with scooters and motorbikes. We enjoyed some really delicious food in Cambodia too. All these things made Cambodia feel very family friendly.
In Phnom Penh we stayed at Chateau The Meliya Hotel and Apartment because they had a great 2 bedroom apartment with lots of room for the 4 of us. We used Agoda for almost all our Asia hotel bookings, their website is easy to use and to filter selections and their prices very competitive.
There are lots of open spaces in Phnom Penh and areas where the kids can walk and explore freely, also refreshing for adults. A walk past the Cambodia Vietnam Friendship Monument and the Independence Monument is interesting, these areas are lit up at night you can join local families and tourists out walking in the cooler evening air. There is also a children’s playground near the Cambodia Vietnam Friendship Monument. For a worldschool teaching moment, walk along the riverfront spotting all the flags and see how many country flags you know.
The Royal Palace and The Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is the complex of buildings that are the residence of the King of Cambodia. It was built in the 1860s and has been occupied by Cambodian Kings since then, with the exception of the time of the Khmer Rouge. Temples can be hard work with children, especially in the heat. The Royal Palace isn’t huge and many parts of the King’s residence are closed to visitors. The highlights can be covered in an hour and the glittering jewels of the Silver Pagoda will keep their interest for a short while at least.
The most famous part to visit is the Silver Pagoda, named for its silver floor made of 5,329 silver tiles each weighing 1.126 kilograms. Much of the floor is covered to protect it so you can only see small parts. Inside, the Pagoda houses many national treasures, Buddha statues glittering with diamonds, emeralds, gold, crystals and precious stones. Photography is not allowed inside.
The Throne Hall is also impressive although you can’t enter, only look inside. The Throne Hall is used for official ceremonies.
One other thing to note is the model of the Angkor Wat, quite handy if you are going to be visiting there, to get an overview of the layout.
Dress Code for the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Rules for women entering the Palace complex are very strict. You need to be covered down to knees at least and ensure chest, shoulders and upper arms are covered. In all other temples I was able to simply put a shawl around my shoulders / chest but this wasn’t enough at the Royal Palace and I ended up having to buy a t-shirt. My dress really was quite modest and after entry I saw many women baring more than me, I’ve seen a few reviews mention the t-shirt ‘scam’ and it certainly did feel like they were taking advantage of tourists which left an unpleasant feeling after the pricey entrance fee. I never have an issue covering up to enter a temple or pagoda and you get used to it after some time in Asia, but the rules here are stricter than most, so come prepared with some extra clothes to avoid having to buy their expensive unattractive t-shirts. Explore the Palace in the morning if you can, before it gets too hot and crowded.
Read more: Social Enterprise in South East Asia features several places in Phnom Penh to shop, eat, pamper yourself and be entertained for a good cause.
Friends Restaurants, Shops and Nail Bar
The Friends training restaurants are child friendly, with menus offering a good selection of food to suit different tastes. Friends on street 13 serves Western style tapas but also features a few Cambodian dishes. Romdeng is Khmer food both traditional and contemporary.
A visit to their restaurants is a chance to talk to our kids about those less privileged than ourselves. We see so much poverty while travelling and regularly see children on the streets, it can be difficult to explain to our own children why this happens and what we can do to help in a meaningful way.
Older children could take a few dollars of pocket money to visit one of the Friends shops and purchase a souvenir made from recycled materials. Profits support the families of street children.
A visit to the Friends Nail Bar is a treat for young and old and they do fantastic nail art. The training students are from disadvantaged backgrounds as in the training restaurants.
Something for Mum – Bodia Spa
My kids usually want to head to the pool each afternoon and Paul goes to the gym, leaving plenty of time for me to try out one of Phnom Penh’s spas. I can highly recommend Bodia Spa, I had their relaxation package, 3 hours of bliss with a full body massage, scrub and facial. Prices in Cambodia spas are very reasonable so be sure to book yourself a bit of pampering.
National Museum Traditional Dance Show
Every night at 7pm, Cambodian Living Arts presents a traditional dance show at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Book your tickets in advance to ensure good seats. Our children loved this show they laughed and clapped and enjoyed the variety of dance and music. There is more information about the show in this post.
Khmer Rouge and the Killing Fields
There are a number of sites that we would have liked to visit but we felt weren’t appropriate for L & S. In Phnom Penh you can visit Toul Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields. Toul Sleng Museum also known as S21 was formerly a high school. The Khmer Rouge set up a prison on the site where they tortured and interrogated those that opposed the Pol Pot regime. The Killing Fields known as Choeung Ek, are one of the places were thousands of Khmer people were killed and buried in shallow graves.
Should you take your kids to the Killing Fields in Cambodia? This is always going to be a personal choice and will depend on your children. We decided not to go because at 6 years old we felt that S was too young, I think we could have taken our 9 year old with some careful preparation and discussion. In some ways it was a shame we didn’t visit because these are important sites and crucial to understanding Cambodia as it is today and the Khmer people. We visited the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam and L &S handled it well, they now have a broader understanding of Vietnam that they didn’t get in Cambodia.
We really enjoyed our time in Phnom Penh and would definitely go back when the kids are older to see more. Our next destination is Siem Reap and the beautiful Angkor Wat.
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