09 Jan 3 Off The Beaten Path Things To Do in Phnom Penh Cambodia
Here are three things to do in Phnom Penh that may not make every tourist’s list but definitely should be included for anyone seeking authentic cultural experiences in Cambodia. Special thanks to friend and fellow intentional traveler, Karen Bortvedt, who lived and worked in Phnom Penh for nearly four years, for contributing this travel advice!
Pearls of Phnom Penh
Angkor Wat. Tuol Sleng. The Killing Fields. When most people mentioned Cambodia, these are the most common locations they have visited. From my assessment, most never even make it to the second two because they are in Phnom Penh (Angkor Wat is in Siem Reap Province). While I definitely think all those places should be on an itinerary to Cambodia, there are three more Pearls of Phnom Penh that I think warrant an extra day and two nights before heading on to the next adventure.
Sovannaphum Theatre – Shadow Puppets
Time of Day: Evening
Tuktuk cost from the Russian Market: Around $2
Sovannaphum Theatre Experience: There are a number of different shows that occur at the Sovannaphum Theatre, each featuring live music and shadow puppets. The shows last about an hour and while they are in Khmer, you can still follow the story line without an understanding of the language.
The theater is nothing fancy and in many ways is geared toward a local audience. The way the puppets and their shadows soar with the music is mesmerizing, at times so much so that you fail to notice the sweat dripping down your back. The theater is semi-enclosed so bring a fan and extra water, as, like any cultural experience, you will experience the weather but it is worth the heat in my opinion. After the show, you can even take photos with the performer and get a closer look at the exquisite puppets.
Nara Chan’s Silk
Cost: Free – though purchasing souvenirs is encouraged
Time of Day: Daylight hours
Tuktuk cost from the Russian Market: Around $30
Nara Chan’s Silk Experience: Many tour books talk about Silk Island as a go-to destination. I, in fact, never made it there, due to a tuktuk miscommunication and then a redirect from another driver, I ended up at Nara’s house on my first attempt to find the island.
Nara and her family have been producing silk and silk products for multiple generations, and you will see many of them working away on the looms when you visit. She and a number of her siblings have great English and will explain to you the entire process from silk moth, to eggs, cocoons, soaking, spinning, weaving and every step in between. They in fact raise many of their own silk worms, so depending on the time of year, you will see eggs, worms, or moths.
Ever wonder why silk is so expensive? After your tour here, you will have so much more appreciation for the effort that goes into just a single thread, not even considering the week to set up the loom and all the time to weave.
Every single guest I had come visit in Cambodia made a trip with me to see Nara, and if you have time for only one of the three pearls of Phnom Penh, this should be it!
The easiest way to get there would be to use my tuktuk driver, Dani 097-790-4869, who knows the way, or call Nara (017-730-378) and have her explain to your tuktuk driver how to get there. (If you are feeling adventurous, the direction are: Catch the ferry by Naga World to Areykasat. When you exit the ferry, go straight until you see a wat in front and to the left of you – the road basically dead ends. Turn left and follow that road until you see a wat on your right that has prawns statues out front. Turn left, and drive through the wat school. That road dead ends into the river front, turn left. Her house it the first place on your left with a silk sign. The second has no relation and was set-up by a neighbor to try to capitalize on her business. Go to the first one on the left). Tell her Karen sent you!
Cambodia Living Arts
Time of Day: Evening
Tuktuk cost from the Russian Market: Around $3-4
Cambodia Living Arts Experience: If you like dance and/or performance, YOU MUST SEE THIS SHOW! Even if you don’t like dance, you should probably check this out.
At the Cambodia Living Arts Experience, they perform a mixture of dances from different provinces in Cambodia in traditional clothing. From frisky twitching peacocks, to flirtatious fishermen, you are never sure where to look on stage.
These professional quality dancers put on a captivating performance – each dance more impressive than the previous. The flexibility of their toes and fingers alone will have your jaw dropping as they balance and contort their bodies. When the dances stop, you will be left wishing there were more to come.
I am a lover of the arts and try to fin a wide variety anywhere I go and this performance is the best I have seen of traditional dance in Cambodia. A great way to spend your last evening in town. It is also not far from the river front, night market, and other night life if you are inspired to keep your night going. Again, it is in a semi-enclosed stage so be sure to bring water and bug spray.
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