On our Southeast Asia trip around the holidays we decided to spend New Years Eve in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. As soon as we got out from the airport, we were jumped by tuk-tuk drivers who offered us a ride to the city center for 15 dollars but in the end we decided to get into the city from the airport with the bus. Although the official currency is riel, everyone happily accepts US dollars. It came as a surprise to us when we payed the bus ticket for both of us with a 1 dollar note and got change back.
After settling into our accommodation at Vacation Boutique hotel, we quickly made a list with the sights we wanted to see during our short stay.
Our accommodation was less than 5 minutes from the market so we couldn’t stay away, we had to have a look inside the market, to see how a Cambodian market looks like. They had everything, from food and spices to clothes, shoes and electronics. The first thing you will notice is the lack of prices on the items which means they will always tell you a higher price. Don’t forget you can negotiate almost everywhere in Southeast Asia.
Royal Palace and Park
Our next stop on the list was the Royal Palace. Due to the number of tourists, you can see people selling different things here, even children selling bags of corn to feed the pigeons. The women are mostly selling food which is carried on their shoulders using a pole and attached to both ends they have their food pots, but there are some who have stands with food as well.
Although these are for tourists only, if you are looking for spiders, snakes or grasshoppers, you are in the right place.
Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk
This a huge bronze statue of the former king who died as a hero in 2012. The statue is hard to miss if you are heading to the Independence Monument which is literally a few meters away. In the park area, there’s a really good atmosphere in the early evening with kids and adults playing around.
The Independence Monument of Phnom Penh was built in 1958 as a memorial to their independence from France in 1953. This monument is very similar with the Angkor Wat tower and is located in the heart of Phnom Penh.
Because we weren’t that hungry after a hearty lunch, we decided to skip dinner and just go for something sweet before heading over to the NYE party on the Mekong riverside where all the locals were gathering for the NYE celebration. We found a French place that sold crepes with nutella and banana.
We couldn’t celebrate empty handed so we decided to stop at a supermarket and get some drinks. Even though we didn’t arrive late, a lot of people were already gathered in the park and surroundings. Most people were having a picnic on the grass with friends and family, since unlike our previous European NYE celebrations, here was T-shirt weather.
Around midnight a firework show started from across the river. It wasn’t that big of a celebration for us, but it was special since it was the first one outside Europe. We spent a few more minutes around the park after which we headed back to our accommodation. Next day we had our flight to Siem Reap to view and photograph Angkor Wat and the Angkor temples.
- The currency is riel but dollars are highly accepted
- Always leave tips in restaurants as the wages are really low in Cambodia
- Wear appropriate clothes if you are planning a visit to the temples
- Always keep your bag or camera around your neck/shoulder as scooter theft is popular in here
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Isn’t it wonderful celebrating a NYE away from where you live, even if it isn’t such a huge celebration, it’s still special isn’t it 🙂 We hope to visit Cambodia soon so it was very interesting reading your story and thanks for the tips! #feetdotravel
Sounds like a wonderful time! Awesome to get an experience for NYE in another place–always cool to get a peek into a different culture’s celebrations.
Thank you, Cat. We found it quite interesting to see how people celebrate NYE there.
Sounds like a lovely relaxed NYE celebration – just the kind I like. Especially if it comes with a nutella crepe ;). Did you guys try the bugs? I don’t think any amount of money will make me eat one!
Hi Anna, we haven’t tried the bugs – I don’t have the stomach for it. Cristi was thinking about it but last night in Cambodia we got food poisoning and we were really careful with food in the next days. We did try crocodile, kangaroo and ostrich in Siem Reap.
Great to see you celebrated NYE somewhere different to where most people choose to spend it so it must have been a pretty cool experience. Phnom Penh was a very interesting place with some very dark history – but it’s a fascinating city and I am glad you got to explore it a bit. Thanks for sharing
Hi Alex, it was a cool experience – nothing compared with what we experienced before. I agree with you, it’s an interesting city that is now recovering after the dark history.
What a great place to spend NYE! We went there last year, so your post brought back some nice memories and you’re right about the atmosphere around the Independence Monument, we went there at night and everyone from Phnom Penh seemed to be out!
Hi Garth, we found it interesting how in the afternoon everyone is out playing around the Independence Monument or around the park. It’s a great city and we are happy we decided to stay there during the NYE.
I always love all the weird food like snakes and spiders in Asia, so intense! I found it interesting that the ladies carry the food on poles over their shoulders. That big bag of plantains at the market (I think they are plantain chips?) looks so perfect. Sweet post!
Hi Scarlett, I didn’t had the stomach to try all the weird food except crocodile, kangaroo and ostrich. the way they carry the food on poles is interesting and shows how much strength they have.
This is actually a place I would like to go for New Year, I’ve been to Phnom Penh and loved it. I see it’s still cheap as you still get change from a dollar bill! It must be fun watching the fireworks over the river at midnight. Your photos of action scenes of Phnom Penh are magical!
Thank you, James. We are happy we chose to spent the NYE in Phnom Penh, the firework show over the river was gorgeous. Yes, it’s still cheap although they will always try to get more money out of it but either way compared to Europe is super cheap.
That market! We are big fans of exploring a city’s markets, and that one looks awesome. Our trip to Southeast Asia keeps getting put off, but one day we will get there! Hadn’t thought about timing it for NYE, but that’s a great idea. Of course, there’s so much to see and do anytime, but that would be very cool. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Rob and Ann, I find Christmas and NYE period to be an excellent time for a long trip because you can take advantage of the bank holidays plus you can have days from both years. Hope you will make it soon to Southeast Asia, you will love it for sure regardless if it’s nye time or not.
Thanks for sharing. Such a great way of celebrating the New Year. I have noticed that when people accept dollars, there is some loss involved. Did you notice any such issues? Good for emergencies though if you don’t have riels.
Hi Siddharth and Shruti, they started to ask dollar prices for tourists because they can make more money. We did noticed this but to be honest it was cheap enough although they charged more so it didn’t bothered us that much. We had some riels as well but we used it mostly for tipping.
Pnom Penh looks pretty intriguing and interesting. Most of the attention in Cambodia is always focused on Siem Reap and the Angkor Wat temples. So this is post with a fresh perspective.
Hi Sandy, I can agree with you about the fact Siem Reap is more well known in Cambodia for its temples. We did spent a few days in Siem Reap but we wanted to explore Phnom Penh as well as it’s so different and captivating.
I found Phnom Penh to be a pretty attractive city and can imagine it’s even more fun at NYE. When I was there it was really hot so walking around the palace was a lot of hiding in the shade but worth it.
Hi David, spending NYE in Phnom Penh was an interesting experience. It was hot as well when we visited, we were lucky it was a bit cloudy and you couldn’t see the sun that much.