See Phnom Penh from the water
Published/Last edited or updated: 11th January, 2019
One of the most popular past times in Phnom Penh is taking a stroll along the riverfront overlooking the waters of the Tonle Sap, Bassac and Mekong rivers. For a different outlook, spend the late afternoon admiring Phnom Penh’s fast changing skyline from the deck of a sunset boat trip.
There are many options for doing this and while standards (and prices) vary, the experience is largely the same. Boats will leave from somewhere along the bank of the Tonle Sap (ours left from in front of the Himawari Hotel, a little to the south of the Royal Palace), cruise out, across the Tonle Sap, past the southern tip of Chruoy Changvar (the landmass which is home to the Sokha Hotel eyesore) and over the waters of the Mekong River. From here the boats cruise along the far bank of the Mekong (which is actually Kandal province) before circling around and slowly making there way back to Phnom Penh. The entire loop takes around 1.5 hours.
Sunset boat trips leave around 17:00, returning to the start point at around 18:30, with a second cruise, an evening dinner cruise, heading off at around 19:00 (depending on the operator). We think the sunset cruises are a good deal and are extremely photogenic, but are less enthusiastic about the dinner cruises, as, if nothing else, you miss the sunset!
The highlight of the sunset cruise is watching the sun set behind the city. While even just a decade ago Phnom Penh’s skyline was dominated by the spires of temples, today those are being drowned out by the skyscrapers that are soaring across the city. Still, look carefully and you will see some temple spires—just don’t confuse them with construction cranes!
On the far bank of the Mekong, the boats tend to dawdle along the riverbank allowing passengers to look and take photos of the small fishing community that lives here. The riverbank is strewn with garbage, intermingling with sampans and other small, wooden fishing boats. The juxtaposition from just a kilometre or two away is dramatic. Keep an eye out for Flotation—a lounge and floating lodge available for the exclusive use of guests of MAADS hotel in Phnom Penh—you’d think with an outlook like this, it would be in considerable demand, but it looked deserted the day we floated by.
The sun should be dropping under the horizon around the time you are at the far bank of the Mekong, as you start your way back, the sky will darken and the lights of the city gradually turn on in the distance. As we neared the Phnom Penh, the boat turned north, running up the waters of the Tonle Sap for a sufficient distance to allow us to linger in front of the Royal Palace, all lit up and looking shiny for the evening. From here boats return to the embarkation point for you to jump off and hit the town.
Overall this is a very chilled out way to see Phnom Penh from an unusual angle. You’ll get a real sense of the overall size of the city, how fast it is changing and also the vast expanse of the countryside surrounding it. Just being on the river, watching the life floating around on it, can be fascinating.
While there are a bunch of operators offering sunset cruises, if you are on a strict budget, or just prefer a less touristic experience, jump on the car ferry which shuttles between Phnom Penh and Kandal province. You’ll get no dawdling around but you will still get to see the sunset. Once you are deposited on the far bank of the Mekong, jump on another ferry for the return trip. We’d be aiming to be on the water around 17:30 to see the sunset. The car ferry leaves from the southern tip, just before the bridge to Koh Pich—about a thirty minute walk from the Royal Palace area.
Sunset cruises are priced according to services rendered, so an operator may offer a barebones tour along with pricier options including drinks (beer), drinks (beer and cocktails), drinks and dinner, and so on. We ended up on the Queen Mary (though we thought we were going on the Kanika) and paid $8 per head and paid our way for drinks. Any travel agent and/or hotel will be able to organise ticketing, or do as we did and just show up.
Note that when the water level is low, reaching the boats can involve a lot of stairs and clamouring from one boat to another—travellers with limited mobility may find this to be a challenge.
Cambo Cruise: Departs from in front of Yi Sang Riverside, just south of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh. T: (092) 290 077. http://www.cambocruise.com/en From $15
Kanika & Queen Mary: Leaves from behind Himawari Hotel, Phnom Penh. T: (017) 915 812 https://kanika-boat.com/ From $8
Ravy Boat Tours: Sisowath Quay near Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh. T: (067) 555 510 https://www.facebook.com/ravy.boat From $14 including unlimited beer.
Mekong Tara Prince: T: (012) 921 830 http://www.taraboat.com/travel-tours/phnom-penh-sunset.html $26 including a BBQ dinner
Stuart McDonald co-founded Travelfish.org with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.
These tours are provided by Travelfish partner GetYourGuide.
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