Phnom Penh: beyond the tourist hot spots

Phnom Penh: beyond the tourist hot spots

While often unpublicised, the capital has plenty for visitors to see and do once they’ve run the usual circuit of museums, markets and genocide memorials

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Exotic food
Phnom Penh is home to plenty of great Western food, but you should probably give your visiting friends something a little more … exotic. A popular, and safe, place to get freaky food is Romdeng Restaurant (#74 Street 174), which serves fried tarantulas and beef stir-fry with red ants. Alternatively, the Intercon Fish Markets (near the InterContinental Hotel) is where people go to buy fresh frogs, mice and crabs. Or check out the riverside, where wandering vendors sell crunchy cooked crickets, ants, bees, silk worm larvae and even snake. Bon appetit.

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Architecture tours
Phnom Penh’s bi-weekly architecture tours are a great way to see a bit of the city, learn about its history and meet some interesting people along the way. Run by knowledgeable architecture students, they give participants the opportunity to enter and explore buildings such as the White Building, the Institute of Foreign Languages and the 100 Houses Project. There are several different itineraries covering colonial and pre-Khmer Rouge architecture, particularly buildings designed by the father of New Khmer Architecture, Vann Molyvann.
The tours cost $15 per person and should be booked in advance. See ka-tours.org for info.

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Chinese temple
You can’t go two streets in Phnom Penh without running into a Buddhist pagoda. But on the northern end of the riverfront, in the heart of the old Chinese district, is Cambodia’s best-preserved Chinese temple. Built in the 1890s by Hokkien settlers from Fuijan in southeastern China, this Taoist place of worship was the only Chinese temple to survive the Khmer Rouge unscathed. Visitors may admire the old architecture and leave burning incense sticks to the divinities. Entry is free, though donations are appreciated.
Sisowath Quay, between Streets 82 and 80.

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Cooking class
For a quick immersion in Cambodian cuisine, you could do worse than invest in a cooking class – lip-smacking affairs packed with take-home knowledge that cookbooks can’t give you. If you opt for the one offered by Street 240 eatery Frizz, the day kicks off with a whirlwind tour of Kandal market, where a local chef will show you how to tell your ginger from your galangal. Then it’s straight to the kitchen to set to work on some local specialties – a recent menu included fresh spring rolls and fish amok. Plates are served up before lunchtime.
Visit www.cambodia-cooking-class.com/ to book. Half-days ($15 per person) and full-days ($23 per person) are available.

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Graffiti
Phnom Penh is increasingly becoming a destination for international graffiti artists to literally make their mark – and there are some local taggers lifting their game too. Street art fans could start their exploration at Boeung Kak, where the Simone Art and Bistrot (reviewed on page 13) recently started organising graffiti-filled “art days”. While you’re there, ask the bistro’s owners and they’ll give you some tips on where to find some other good street art around town. One of the spots they will probably suggest is the vacant block opposite the Malaysian Embassy on Norodom Boulevard, where there are about half a dozen fine examples.
Check out the Graffiti Cambodia Facebook page for more ideas.

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Political circuit
Here’s an idea for the politics nerds: hire a tuk-tuk and do a circuit of major sites important in recent political history. For example, start at the National Assembly, drive by the King Father Norodom Sihanouk statue and Independence Monument, past the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s luxurious mansion on the corner of Sihanouk and Norodom Boulevards, up to Freedom Park, maybe stop in at Raffles for a beverage (it’s where most of the foreign journalists hung out before the city fell to the Khmer Rouge), check out the Peace Palace and Council of Ministers on Russian Boulevard before finishing off at Cambodia’s most famous eviction site, Boeung Kak.

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