After some days visiting the main touristic attractions in town, you may find yourself wanting to dive deeper into this city and explore how the locals live. For instance, renting a bicycle is a great way to stop listening “tuk tuk! mister, want motorbike?” all the time, and definitely you have lots of street life going on to experience and mingle!
For instance, why not starting the day by going to one of the many local markets to eat, buy some cheap snacks or fresh fruits? In case you’re staying in a guesthouse on the center of Phnom Penh, you have for instance the lively Kandal Market on street 13. Try the much loved by all Cambodians “nom banh chok”, noodles with green curry and fish, or if you are into something simpler for breakfast, one of the national all time favorites is “bai sach chrouk”, pork with rice, pieces of omelet and pickled salad. Finish with a 2000 riel street coffee with sweet condensed milk to feel like a proper Cambodian!
After you can engage yourself in one of the many activities Cambodia people do on the streets. Like in nearby Thailand and Vietnam, Cambodia has a vibrant street life, without many barriers between private and public space: it’s common to see people eating with their family while sat on the floor, or playing the weirdest games like they were at home. (Bonus points if you spot kids throwing their shoes and betting against each other while doing it!) You can ask to join a tuk-tuk driver in a chess match or a card game, or take care of yourself and cut your hair or do your manicure without leaving the sidewalk!
For a middle day snack, search for street vendors selling grilled sweet potato cakes or fried bananas (or for a healthy version of it, you can also find grilled bananas on a stick), all of them for 1000 riel per piece. In the afternoon you will also start to see people doing barbecue on the side of the street, another cheap treat for any meat lover!
Great places to go and meet locals are the garden in front of the Royal Palace or the one around Independence Monument, where after work Cambodians come to hang out with family or friends. Do some jogging, watch the young community of skaters doing their tricks in the Khmer-Vietnamese Park nearby, or sit with locals to strike a random conversation. You can learn more about their life and they’ll be delighted for an opportunity to practice their English!
Another interesting sight is the Olympic Stadium, especially if you are a photography lover. Watch people jogging while the colors of sunset drop in this iconic place designed by Vann Molyvann, the most famous architect in Cambodia. Enjoy the sight of many aerobics instructors setting up huge sound systems and trying to beat each other on how many old ladies they can attract with lousy Khmer pop music to their street aerobic lesson!
Finish your day by visiting Koh Pich, Khmer term for Diamond Island, where local teens come to hang out on a rather surrealistic amusement park, or grab some beers in one of the many beer gardens where the locals go, as cheap as 2500 riel per can!