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The riverfront

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Sisowath Quay, hugging the river for nearly 4km from the Chroy Chung Va Bridge to Chatomuk Theatre, is the heart of the tourist scene in Phnom Penh, with a weekend night market and a plethora of Western bars and restaurants close to the Royal Palace and National Museum. From Street 106, midway along, the quay forms a broad promenade extending almost 2km south, and there are plans to extend this walkway by a further 4km, all the way to the bridge at Chbar Ampov. Every autumn, the river thrums with crowds flocking to the boat races and festivities of Bonn Om Tuk, the water festival. For the rest of the year, the riverfront is fairly quiet by day, when it’s a pleasant place to walk, and gets busier in the late afternoon when the inhabitants of Phnom Penh come out to dah’leng, a term that means anything from a short stroll to an all-day trip out of town. At about 5pm, the pavements around the public garden by the Royal Palace turn into a huge picnic-ground as mats are spread out, food and drink vendors appear and impromptu entertainment springs up. Many will also head across the road to the shrine with the statue of a four-armed Buddha. The story goes that many years ago a crocodile-shaped flag appeared in the river and on Buddhist holidays it would miraculously appear on a flag pole. Now, the spirit of the flag, Preah Ang Dong Kar, has a permanent home here and people make offerings asking for wealth and happiness – at the same time helping the flower and incense vendors to make a living. Boats and their captains can be hired for a late afternoon cruise on the Mekong ($10 per hour; look out for the signs at the north end of the promenade), where you can sup a beer (bring your own) and watch the sun set behind the Royal Palace.

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