Nat Geo Young Explorer Hannah Reyes is a photographer and travel enthusiast whose work has taken her to the unlikeliest of places to document threatened indigenous cultures. After growing up in the Philippine capital, Manila, she chose a similarly chaotic city in Cambodia—Phnom Penh—as her new home base. With its rich history and its diverse landscapes, Hannah says, “those who decide to take a close look at this changing place enjoy the reward of discovering its wonderful secrets.” Here are a few of her favorite things about the city she calls home.
Phnom Penh Is My City
When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them to is any one of the many small, unique restaurants that dot Phnom Penh. I often start with one on Sisowath Quay as I like showing people my part of the Mekong while sipping a cold glass of locally produced Anchor beer and watching the boats cruise down the Tonlé Sap.
October or November is the best time to visit my city because the monsoon rains are gone and the sun is more forgiving.
You can see my city best from Eclipse Sky Bar, where you can view our little city and count a handful of tall buildings. It’s been interesting to watch Phnom Penh’s skyline change over recent years—It’s a city that is on the rise.
The Russian Market is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. My favorite keepsakes are the small wooden animal puzzles from the provinces, Khmer silk scarves, hand-painted ornaments, vintage style engraved lighters, and temple snow globes. Don’t leave without trying to bargain—it’s half the fun. For more quirky souvenirs, check out Trunkh on Sothearos, in front of the White Building.
My city’s best museum is the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum because it may be small, but it’s alive with very recent memories that help visitors understand Phnom Penh’s story.
If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s the location of the wats (temples); the tuk-tuk and motorcycle drivers don’t always know street numbers, but you can trust that they will know how to navigate to a pagoda near your intended destination.
The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is by the Royal Palace of the Kingdom of Cambodia, just watching the people stream by. Right before sunset, the park facing the river is bustling with local characters: people trying to sell balloons, tourists posing, monks relaxing, and children chasing birds.
My city really knows how to celebrate weddings because when two people get married, blocking a whole street for the occasion becomes both acceptable and inevitable.
You can tell if someone is from my city by their warmth and openness to strangers.
For a fancy night out, I enjoy dinners at Tepui, an old colonial Chinese house. I also love to share plates with friends at The Lost Room, followed by drinks at Bouchon Wine Bar, or any of the intimate bars on Street 308.
Just outside my city, you can visit the sleepy little town of Kampot. A quaint town filled with good food, Kampot is my favorite weekend getaway. I love lazing around with a book or paddleboarding at the Kampot River. It’s also home to the world-famous Kampot pepper.
My city is known for being a boring city, but it’s really filled with charm and spunk if you know where to look. It’s also becoming a foodie place.
The best outdoor market in my city is the Phnom Penh Night Market by the river. Try the crickets; they’re surprisingly enjoyable.
Will’s Brunch Cafe—an eatery carefully crafted by brunch lovers, for brunch lovers—is my favorite place to grab breakfast. For late night eats, visit the kiosks on Street 51. I recommend La Pleine Lune or Katy Peri’s for wood-fired pizza.
To find out what’s going on at night and on the wekeends, read the Post Weekend section of The Phnom Penh Post.
My city’s biggest sports event is Kun Khmer (aka pradal serey), which is similar to kickboxing.
When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I hit the Boeung Keng Kang Market for secondhand bargain shopping. You can even get a very affordable manicure there, in one of the tiny salons next to stalls selling sacks of rice. After that, go to Boat Noodles on 63 for cheap eats.
To escape the crowds, I relax in the National Museum of Cambodia gardens with a good book in tow.
The dish that represents my city best is Khmer-style barbecue, and the espresso martini is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at Sovanna and Bar Sito. Approach the espresso martini with caution; they taste great, but one too many glasses can keep you wired well into the next morning.
The most random thing about my city is the quantity of people going about their workdays dressed in matching, printed pajamas.
A motorbike being ridden by a family of four (with their refrigerator) could only happen in my city.
In the summer you should sample all the different kinds of fruit smoothies, and take a dip into the city’s little swimming pools.
In the monsoon season you should wear a raincoat, trusting motorbike and tuk-tuk drivers to get you safely across the flooded streets.
If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Center.
The best film that involves my city is The Missing Picture, by Rithy Panh, because it presents a very human portrait (in claymation, no less) of the people who were driven away from Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.