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Phnom Penh Travel Guide
Legend has it that in 1372, a local widow named Penh discovered four Buddha statues that had been washed up by the waters from the Mekong River. She saw them as bearers of good fortune and erected a temple on the hill to house them, and so the city grew around this structure, known as the Hill of Penh (Phnom Penh).
Once considered to be the loveliest of Indochina's French-built cities, this untidy capital sprawls at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonlé Sap Rivers. Now, concrete buildings in need of repair, unsealed roads riddled with potholes, and a confusion of boulevards crammed with traffic, all make for uninviting first impressions of the city. However, upon investigation traces of the Khmer and colonial eras can be found in the little details, redeeming those first hasty conclusions. The heart of the city, where French villas and street-side cafes perch along tree-lined boulevards and the occasional majestic Khmer building catches the eye, is still very appealing.
Phnom Penh has a number of Wats (temple-monasteries), museums and other places of interest in and around the city, as well as sunset cruises on the Mekong and Tonlé Sap Rivers, and a bustling market place. There has also been a recent boom of new hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs sprouting up through the city and the nightlife promises fun and excitement.
Phnom Penh has a limited public transport system, with no bus service. The city is relatively small and is easy to negotiate on foot but be aware at all times of personal safety and try not to display conspicuous wealth or walk alone at night as bag snatching is a problem. It can also be uncomfortable to walk in the midday heat. Unmetered Taxis can usually be arranged through hotels. Bicycle rickshaws () are widely used, but are best for short distances only, and motorbike taxis are a popular option but can be dangerous. Possibly the most popular option for tourists is using the tuk-tuks which are motorbikes with small cabins attached to the rear. The best way to spend a day sightseeing in Phnom Penh is to hire a tuk-tuk with an English-speaking driver to ferry you around for the day. If you find a good one, these drivers can double as city guides and give you a lot of insight into local history and culture. Fares should be negotiated beforehand. Most tuk-tuk driver's will charge you between $15 and $25 for a whole day of service, depending on where you want to go. Car rental agencies are available but the roads are bad and the traffic can be hectic so driving yourself around can be confusing and frustrating.
Permission should be sought before taking pictures of people, particularly monks. Avoid touching someone on the head as it is considered the most sacred part of a person's body. Women should wear modest clothing, preferably a long skirt or loose-fitting trousers. When visiting religious sites, shoes should be removed, and shorts avoided. A traditional greeting in Cambodia is a bow, bringing together the hands at chest level (similar to hand position for prayer). With foreigners Cambodians sometimes convert to the handshake. The simple rule is to respond with the same greeting you were given.
All visitors must have sufficient funds to cover their stay, documentation for onward travel and a ticket for onward travel. An e-Visa can be applied for online (single entry tourist visas) that allows for stays of up to 30 days. See www.mfaic.gov.kh for more information. Otherwise, a visa can be issued on arrival for 30 days. One passport photo is required along with US$20 for a tourist visa or US$25 for a business visa.