Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is not among the most modern cities in Southeast Asia. If you arrive in Cambodia after traveling in Malaysia and Thailand, even Indonesia, you might feel surprised at how plain is this city. At first Phnom Penh might seem very boring but actually it’s not. Yes, it is not as fascinating as Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur but it’s not entirely boring.
There are quite a few places you can visit and interesting things to do in Phnom Penh, as well as amazing cafes where to spend time and beautiful hotels where to relax after a tiring day exploring the city.
Most people don’t stay long in Phnom Penh. Many spend only a couple of days (or just a day) there on their way to other places in Cambodia or Southeast Asia. To help you prepare for a trip to Phnom Penh I have created this list of things you can do in Phnom Penh, as well as I have included some travel tips at the end of the article and accomodation recommendations.
Top Things to Do in Phnom Penh
There are quite a few interesting landmarks and sights in Phnom Penh, and many of them are free. If you are short on time you can also join a small group tour for a hassle free experience.
Here is a list of my favorite places in Phnom Penh.
1. Visit Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium
Head there for a run, or to work out. Or just see how the locals are keeping themselves in shape. Every afternoon local women gather there to do aerobics and dance. Maybe want to join them?
Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium is a large multi-purpose stadium some 3 km from the Royal Palace. It was built in 1964 to host the 1963 Southeast Asian Peninsular Games, which were cancelled due to political problems in Cambodia.
Facilities include tennis courts, football field, running tracks, indoor volleyball court and swimming pools.
2. Enjoy the Street Art in Phnom Penh
There’s one particular place where you can see beautiful street art in Phnom Penh – it’s former Lakeside (Boeung Kak area). It’s a not-the-most-beautiful neighbourhood adorned with street art. Some of Boeung Kak’s buildings are derelict and run down, but the area seems safe, and the street art beautifies it anyway. When the lake was still there, it used to be a very popular neighbourhood among tourists. Now it’s not so touristy but still has its charm.
Many murals are made by foreigners who are both living in Phnom Penh for a long time and traveling.
3. Visit Cambodia Post Office
Kill two birds with one stone – visit the Post Office to see an example of French colonial architecture, and send postcards to your friends from there.
4. Visit the Temples of Phnom Penh
As in many other Buddhist countries, in Cambodia, and in Phnom Penh there are plenty of Buddhist temples and pagodas.
The largest and most popular temples are: Wat Ounalom, Wat Langka, and Wat Phnom.
But also the smaller and less popular temples are worth a visit! So, if you see a smaller temple, don’t don’t rush past. Don’t be shy and enter it. At the same time don’t forget to dress modestly if you plant to visit any temple in Cambodia.
5. Go for a Walk on Sisowath Quay
Sisowath Quay – is a 1.8 mile / 3 km long promenade, which runs along the west bank of the Tonle Sap River. It is occupied by vendors, lined by shops and restaurants, as well as many budget guest houses are located there.
Sisowath Quay is popular among both local and foreign tourists.
The Royal Palace is located at the south part of Sisowath Quay.
6. Visit Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is the home of the King of Cambodia.
Yes, he lives there, but some parts of the palace are open to the public.
Tourists can visit palace’s gardens, the throne room and the Silver Pagoda.
7. Learn More About the History of Cambodia at the Museums of Phnom Penh
Cambodia is known for the horrid happenings during the Pol Pot’s regime – one of the world’s largest genocide that happened there. There are several places in Phnom Penh where you can learn more about these dreadful times in Cambodian history.
The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Memorial) – a memorial and burying grounds some 17 km south of Phnom Penh. The Killing Fields are only one of many burial and killing grounds in Cambodia, but it’s the largest. Audio guides are available, and the memorial feature testimony from guards and survivors. Thousands of exhumed sculls are on display in the memorial.
Go on your own or join a tour to the Killing Fields.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – a former prison, interrogation and execution centre. Before the Khmer Rouge regime it used to be a high school. Thousands and thousands of Cambodians were incarcerated in this prison-cum-execution centre but only a few managed to survive the atrocities! You’ll see cells which are fitted into former classrooms, portraits of prisoners. Unforgettable and hunting experience!
National Museum of Cambodia – a place where you can learn more about the history of Cambodia. Pre-Angkorian and Angkorian collection shows how the life in Cambodia was back then. Artefacts include religious statues and artwork. Cambodian Arts Traditional Dance Show takes place from Mondays to Saturdays (7pm – 8pm).
These dance shows demonstrate village life and traditions, as well as introduces visitors to Cambodian mythology.
8. Visit Markets of Phnom Penh
There are several markets in Phnom Penh, popular among both locals and tourists.
The most popular market among tourists is Central Market. In Central Market in Phnom Penh you can buy pretty much anything there – clothes, souvenirs, cheap electronics, jewellery. The central building is surrounded by stalls that sell food.
As this market is very popular among tourists prices here are higher than usual.
Russian market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung) is another market famous among foreign tourists. There you’ll find souvenirs, clothes, footwear, handicrafts, silks and woodcarvings, as well as vegetables, fruits, fresh meat and seafood.
Old Market (Phsar Chas) is an old, authentic Cambodian market located very close to the Riverside. You can buy fruit and vegetables there, as well as meat and fish.
Night Market (Phsar Reatrey) is an open air market located on the riverside (Sisowath Quay). There you will find clothes, food and accessories.
Phnom Penh Day Trips
Do you have more than a day for Phnom Penh? Think of going on a trip outside the city.
Here are 2 ideas for day trips from Phnom Penh.
1. Silk Island
Silk Head to Koh Dach (Silk weaving island) to see the silk weaving centre and the whole silk production process. When you’ll arrive in Koh Dach, you’ll feel like you have gone back in the past. There’s no hustle and bustle of the city, and the locals live a simple life.
You can get there by a ferry from Preak Leap. Or you can buy a tour in one of the many tourist offices in Phnom Penh.
If you’ll be going on your own, you can explore the silk island on a bicycle. They can be rented at the ferry drop off point on Koh Dach island.
2. Tonle Bati
To escape the busy city of Phnom Penh visit Tonle Bati, a lake some 30 km south of Phnom Penh. It’s a popular picnic spot for locals. Bamboo shacks that are built over water are available for rent. Ta Phrom, an Angkor-period temple, is located just a couple of hundred meters from the lake. Head to any tourist office in Phnom Penh, and they will help you organize a day trip to Tonle Bati.
Angkor Wat from Phnom Penh?
Can you go on a day trip from Phnom Penh to Angkor Wat? If you’ll be flying from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (a city next to Angkor Wat), then you could make it. But it’s gonna be a long and tiring day. And you’ll have only a very little of time for the Angkor Wat. Better find a way to have at least 1 full day for Angkor Wat.
For more travel ideas check out our Cambodia 2 week itinerary.
A Few of the Best Restaurants in Phnom Penh
1. Cheap Eats
David’s Restaurant – Asian and Khmer food, noodles, dumplings.
Eleven One Kitchen TTP – Asian and local food.
Bistrot Langka – European cuisine, desserts.
Friends the Restaurant – European and Asian cuisine.
Piccola Italia Da Luigi – great Italian pizza.
- Try local craft beer at Kingdom Breweries! Entry fee – 15$. A tour of brewery and beer tasting included.
- Visit bars and multi-cultural restaurants at Basaac Lane! It’s a perfect place for the nightlife in Phnom Penh.
- Visit Daughters of Cambodia – a cafe, nail bar, spa and shop that is run by victims of trafficking and sex industry. It’s one of the places where you can get a massage in Phnom Penh.
Where to Stay in Phnom Penh – Our Recommendations
Backpacker Hostel – Eighty8 Phnom Penh
One of the best backpacker hostels in Phnom Penh. Great location – close to Sisowath Quay. Private rooms also available.
Dorm bed starts at 7 USD. Check prices and availability.
Cheap Guest House – Homeland Guesthouse
A popular guest house just a few minute walk away from Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, but quite far from the city centre.
Double room starts at 10 USD. Check prices and availability.
Mid-Range – The Blue Corner Boutique Hotel
A nice boutique hotel in the city centre.
Double room starts at 50 USD. Check prices and availability.
Luxury – Palace Gate Hotel & Resort
A beautiful 5-star hotel in the city centre, very close to Royal Palace and Sisowath Quay.
Double room starts at 185 USD. Check prices and availability.
Phnom Penh & Cambodia Travel Tips
- Cambodian visa. You can get it on arrival at the airport. 30-day visa costs 30 USD (extendable 30-day business visa – 35 USD). Visa fee has to be paid in USD. And you’ll have to provide one passport sized photo.
- Use Grab and PassApp. Just like in many places in Asia getting a taxi or a tuk-tuk on the street can be a hassle. They often cheat and might even involve you in one of the scam schemes. So, I recommend you to book a cab or tuk tuk using ride hailing apps. Use PassApp to book a tuk-tuk, and Grab – to book a cab.
- City bus in Phnom Penh = cheapest way to get from the airport. You can get from the airport to the city center by a local bus (Line 3) which is very cheap – around 0.5 USD per person, one way. The bus stop is located just a few hundred meters from the entrance to the airport. Once you are out of the airport, cross the parking lot to get to the road. Bus stop should be on your left.
- Take Riels and small USD bills. Even though everywhere in Cambodia you can pay with dollars, I suggest you to change some dollars into Riel bills. It will come in handy in buses and buying cheap snacks from a roadside stall. Also I suggest to keep small dollar bills, too.
Have you been to Phnom Penh? What are your favorite places?
Author: Una Baufala
Una is a traveler and travel blogger from Latvia. Apart from traveling and exploring new places she loves to read books. And she adores cats. Together with Kaspars they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since October 2013. WeAreFromLatvia.com is where she shares her travel experiences.