The heart of Cambodia beats in the vibrant, bustling city of Phnom Penh. Cambodia’s sprawling capital is a place of large central boulevards and small back alleyways, where contemporary and ancient meet, stretched out alongside the banks of the Tonlé Sap and Mekong Rivers. The Royal Palace complex is the city’s must-see, but Phnom Penh is also a significant destination for anybody interested in learning about Cambodia’s 20th-century history since it is home to two of the nation’s most sobering monuments. Here are the best things to do in Phnom Penh for a memorable visit.
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We visited Phnom Penh in 2014 and again in 2023 and the city has both changed immensely (it’s huge now), but many things are still the same. We visited both the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Museum (the former S-21 jail) on both visits and got something from them each time. They provide a glimpse into the reign of horror the Khmer Rouge imposed on this country and you should not come to Phnom Penh and not visit.
#1 THING TO DO
Phnom Penh has a dark history, and visiting these places will help you to understand what went on there. It’s not an easy visit, but imperative. Book a tour with a local and transport for the best experience.
A Recent History of Phnom Penh
A degree of understanding of Phnom Penh’s recent history is necessary to comprehend the city. The Khmer Rouge, a guerrilla group in Cambodia began forming in the 1960s with primarily communist ideals. In 1970, Prince Sihanouk was deposed in a military coup and he turned to the Khmer Rouge for support. As Cambodia descended into civil war, the Khmer Rouge presented itself as the party for peace and gained support in the countryside. In the early days, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot envisioned a society without money or education and aimed to inflict that on the whole country.
And so, on April 17, 1975, Pol Pot’s military guerillas pushed tanks into Phnom Penh, creating chaos. First, they destroyed houses, broke up families, armed children, and moved city dwellers to rural labor camps nationwide. The Khmer Rouge then targeted doctors, lawyers, artists, professors, and intellectuals who may have rebelled against this new regime. Killing them, the Khmer Rouge ruled for four years. By 1979, 2 million people had been slaughtered during the regime. It was in 1979, that Vietnamese soldiers invaded and the Khmer Rouge was sent back to the jungles of Cambodia. Pol Pot led the Khmer Rouge until 1997 when he was arrested after killing one of his closest advisers. He died in a village in 1998, never having faced any charges.
The Top 21 Things to Do in Phnom Penh
Whilst the world-famous Angkor Wat at Siem Reap is central to Cambodian history and its’ tourist industry, (you can read about Siem Reap here) you will find that touring Phnom Penh’s more recent past is equally important to get a full understanding of Cambodia. The history of Cambodia and Phnom Penh is documented here, there are a variety of cultural attractions, as well as an excellent food scene here in Cambodia’s capital city. Here are the best things to do in Phnom Penh!
I’ve covered the key details below, but if you’re looking specifically for information about Phnom Penh’s Killing Fields, then head on over here to our guide to visiting both the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng.
I’m only going to linger here a moment, as I wrote a full guide about visiting the Killing Fields of Cambodia and you can read it here. Visiting the Killing Fields is a hugely emotional thing to do. It’s not a comfortable or easy experience but seeing it with your own eyes is the only way to begin to understand what occurred here in Cambodia. Hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children were slaughtered in these fields. Their bones are still visible in the enormous dirt ditches where their remains were buried. The huge trenches, which feature human remains and garments projecting from the earth, are not staged for effect. More and more bones seem to emerge from the ground when certain regions get heavy rainfall.
When you get to the site, if you’re not taking a tour, then you’ll be handed a headset that will serve as your tour guide as it describes the horrific events that took place there via narration and first-person accounts from survivors.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is approximately 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the center of Phnom Penh. To get there, take Monireth Blvd south-west out of town from the Dang Kor Market bus terminal, you can take a Tuk Tuk there. The site is 8.5 kilometers (5 miles) from the bridge, around 271 Street.
This is a hugely emotional place to visit, if you prefer to go with a guide, then this option will also take you to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum at the S21 Prison in Phnom Penh.
- Address of Choeung Ek Genocidal Center: Choeung Ek Street, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Choeung Ek Genocidal Center: The Choeung Ek Killing Fields are open daily, from 8:00 am to 5:30 pm.
- Entry Fees for Choeung Ek Genocidal Center: The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre entry fee is $6 per person, which includes headphones and a multilingual audio guide.
In the center of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, stands the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former secondary school. It is not typical of a prison, although, in many ways, it still resembles any other high school. When it was converted into one of Cambodia’s several prisons and torture facilities in 1976, the secondary school was given the new name S-21 Prison. Although it’s unclear exactly how many prisoners were housed in S-21, estimates place the number between 12,000 and 20,000. I’ve covered more details, including our visit to the S-21 Prison here.
Of those imprisoned here, there were only twelve people who survived being in S-21. Daily torture forced innocent people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit. They were executed in the Killing Fields after confessing. S-21 has numerous photos displayed of captives and guards. Many on both sides were still very young. We recommend taking the audio tour while exploring the grounds, much like at the Killing Fields. In addition to stories from survivors describing their horrifying experiences, it contains information on the museum and its exhibits. If you prefer to take a guided tour of both S-21 and the Killing Fields there are great options here.
We’ve taken guided tours (twice) and the audio guide also. On both occasions our guide was a Phnom Penh local and had personal experience, of losing family and friends during the genocide. You definitely get a very engrossing experience. You’ll get the personal touch with a guided tour, but a lot more detail with the audio guide.
The former prison is in a central area of Phnom Penh, meaning that the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is relatively easy to get to.
You can combine visiting Tuol Sleng with a trip to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center – this half-day tour also provides transport between the two sites as well as an English-speaking guide. You can check availability here.
- Address of Tuol Sleng S-21 Prison: Phnom Penh, Khan Chamkar Mon, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Tuol Sleng S-21 Prison: The S-21 Prison is open daily, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for Tuol Sleng S-21 Prison: The s-21 prison entry fee is $5 without an audio guide and $8 with an audio guide.
It’s easy to think that Phnom Penh is all about the recent historic horrors of the Khmer Rouge, but there’s much more to the history of the city – and the best way to learn more about it is to take a tour that focuses on the heritage of the city.
There’s no doubt that Phnom Penh is a stunning city that many visitors admire because of its location, French colonial architecture, distinctive culture and charming residents. If you’re planning a trip to the capital of Cambodia soon and want to discover more about its fascinating past, then getting a local perspective is a must! And this guided tour will take you to some of the city’s most well-known sights, including the Central Market, Wat Phnom, and the Naga Bridge.
This unique tour also provides you with a tablet and headphones, so that you can absorb more information at your own speed. There are educational movies and photos that will explain details of the locations that you’ll see and their significance in history. Depending on your travel plans, you can choose to select a morning or afternoon itinerary. You can check the times that this educational tour departs here.
4. See The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
The Cambodian Royal Family lives at the Phnom Penh Royal Palace. Because King Sihamoni still lives in the palace, only a portion of it is accessible to visitors. Despite this, the Royal Palace is still one of Phnom Penh’s most visited sights and one of Cambodia’s top tourist destinations.
Architecturally, the buildings and their design are impressive, with remarkably strong similarities to Thai palaces, notably the Royal Palace in Bangkok. The complex is home to several unique structures and monuments with beautiful, elaborate artistry. The entry price is, however, quite steep, for Cambodia.
We visited the Royal Palace in 2023 and took a guided tour of it and we truly enjoyed our visit. The guided tour (which you can arrange as you walk in and have bought your ticket) is well worth it to understand what you’re seeing.
- Address of The Royal Palace: Samdach Sothearos Blvd (3), Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of The Royal Palace: The Royal Palace is usually open daily from 7:30 am to 11:00 am and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for The Royal Palace: The Royal Palace entry fee is US$10 per person.
5. See the Silver Pagoda, Phnom Penh
Although the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh is technically part of the Royal Palace’s grounds, it unquestionably deserves its own place on our list of top things to do in Phnom Penh. The present pagoda was constructed using more than 5,000 tiles and five tons of silver. The silver tiles are inside on the floor, you’ll need to remove your shoes to go inside and there are no photos allowed inside.
Its extravagant and elaborate decoration is a product of its complete reconstruction in 1962. The Silver Pagoda still serves its primary purpose as a storehouse for national treasures.
These jewels, often priceless, are gifts presented to the Cambodian kings. The little Buddha made of crystal in emerald green is perhaps the most remarkable find here. A life-sized gold Buddha with over 2,000 gems is located next to it. Make sure to explore the grounds while you’re here as you’ve already stumped up for a US$10 Royal Palace ticket that includes access to the Silver Pagoda.
- Address of The Silver Pagoda: St. 240, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of The Silver Pagoda: The Silver Pagoda is open daily from 7:30 am to 11:00 am and from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, except on days when there are official events or ceremonies.
- Entry Fees for The Silver Pagoda: The Silver Pagoda entry fee costs $10 (this is included in the ticket to the Royal Palace).
6. Go to the Phnom Penh Night Market
Treat yourself to the delights of modern Cambodian culture at the Phnom Penh Night Market. Talk to friendly vendors while you try a few bites of Cambodian cuisine. There are loads of fruit drinks, noodle soups, dried shellfish, and grilled meat on sticks available. We’ve covered more details on Phnom Penh’s best markets to visit here.
There are plastic tables and chairs close by to enjoy your feast. If you’re after souvenirs, then you’ll find all sorts of clothing, jewelry, purses, shoes, dishes, and a variety of little souvenirs. If you don’t fancy heading there on your own, but want to explore the food scene in Phnom Penh, then this foodie tour of Phnom Penh is a great option
- Address of Phnom Penh Night Market: Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Phnom Penh Night Market: Phnom Penh Night Market is open daily, from 5:00 pm to 11:00 pm.
7. Walk along Sisowath Quay Boardwalk in Phnom Penh
You will be rewarded for visiting the boardwalk in the evening with stunning views of the orange sun setting over the city. The boardwalk is filled with benches to chill out on and take advantage of the passing vendors selling peanuts, popcorn, beer, and coconuts. You’ll also find both Khmer and Western restaurants and pubs serving ice-cold Angkor beer on the main street that runs along the riverfront.
8. Take a Cruise on the Mekong in Phnom Penh
Sunset. The Mekong River. What better time to set off on a cruise? There are several different Mekong River trips – from a dinner cruise to an all-inclusive cocktail sunset tour.
The Mekong is an amazing river and seeing the sunset over PP is an incredible thing to do – here are the best sunset cruises to take in Phnom Penh.
9. Learn About History at the Cambodia National Museum, Phnom Penh
The National Museum of Cambodia is a must-see location in Phnom Penh to learn about the history and culture of the country. In the past, the Khmer Kingdom was among the most powerful in Southeast Asia. Having its center in Cambodia, this empire expanded into Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam at its peak. The largest collection of Khmer artworks and artifacts from the Angkor eras is kept in the National Museum in Phnom Penh.
You can see religious artifacts, ethnographic objects, old ceramics, and bronze and wood sculptures (Hindu & Buddhist). A statue of Lord Vishnu from the sixth century is the museum’s most famous exhibit. Be sure to arrange a guide or use the National Museum’s audio tour. Without one, you’ll be a little disoriented. Although you can take booklets with you, the best way to enjoy this museum is to have someone explain the context of the exhibits.
- Address of Cambodia National Museum: Preah Ang Eng St. (13), Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Cambodia National Museum: Cambodia National Museum is open daily, from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for Cambodia National Museum: The price of admission is $5 for foreigners between the ages of 10 and 17 and $10 for those over the age of 18, with entry costing 500 Riels for Cambodians. The cost for children and school groups is free.
10. Support the Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Centre
The sex trade is still a terrible reality in Cambodia, but here former sex trafficking victims are given the opportunity to rebuild their lives at the Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Centre by developing skills and a trade that will help them to live better lives. There are a variety of ways in which you can support this center. Visit the shop to purchase souvenirs that have a purpose. Every product, from children’s toys to fashion accessories, is handcrafted by Cambodian artists on the path to a better future. Sit down at the café, where aspiring chefs will prepare you a delectable breakfast or an indulgent dessert. There’s also an option for a massage, manicure, or pedicure. Money spent here goes directly toward rescuing females from sex trafficking and providing them with coaching, therapy, and medical treatment. This is one of the top things to do in Phnom Penh, especially for you and to support locals.
- Address of Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Centre: #63C, Street 456, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Centre: Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Centre are open daily (except Sundays), from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Centre: Free! (Donations are welcome)
11. Head up to Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh
There aren’t many hills in Phnom Penh, and even fewer are covered with greenery. Wat Phnom is unique because of this. Wat Phnom, a pagoda that is said to have been constructed for the first time in the 1300s, is set on a 27-meter-high grassland hill with a few scattered trees. You’ll find a classic temple with a unique function when you climb the vast stairway flanked by Buddha images and lions.
Wat Phnom, which is home to four Buddha statues, is now a location where local schoolchildren pray to Buddha for success on their exams and where gamblers pray to Buddha for luck at the casino. It wouldn’t hurt to give it a try for yourself!
- Address of Wat Phnom: Wat Phnom Street, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Wat Phnom: Every day of the week, the temple is open from 7:00 am to 6:30 pm, and the complex’s museum is open from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for Wat Phnom: Wat Phnom entry fee costs $1 for the temple and $2 for the museum.
Most of the silk scarves and cotton shirts you find in the marketplaces across Cambodia are from Silk Island. This little island in the midst of Phnom Penh, also known as Koh Dach, offers a unique opportunity to see rural Cambodia without leaving the city. Many villagers here live on dirt roads in traditional teak wood homes. You’ll see that practically every household has a silk spinning machine below it, where ladies are busy creating these lovely items by hand.
It’s really easy to get there. You just need to take a boat across and take a walk around. If you visit independently and walk around you’ll hear the clack-clack of the looms weaving, but if you want to learn more and see the looms in action, then it’s best to arrange a tour with an English-speaking guide. You can also just head to the island for a wander, it’s glorious and feels a million miles away from the city.
This is the most visited of the Mekong River Islands near Phnom Penh, and it’s famous for its silk production. The best way to really appreciate Silk Island (also known as Koh Dach) is to arrange a guide who can help you learn about silk production and experience the island’s culture. You can take advantage of a private guide’s undivided attention as you learn about island culture, visit the Coconut School, which was constructed from recycled materials, and explore a silk farm to learn about the process of creating silk. You can arrange a Private Half-Day Silk Island Trip from Phnom Penh here.
There is a silk factory on the island where workers gather caterpillars that manufacture silk. Visit the factory with a tour guide and get silk items for a lot less.
- Address of Silk Island: Silk Island, Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Silk Island: Silk Island (Koh Dach) is open daily from 7:30 am to 11:00 am and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, except on days with official events or ceremonies.
13. Visit the Buddhist Temple of Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh
This Wat is the spiritual heart of Cambodian Buddhism. It was founded in 1443 and comprised 44 structures. The Wat suffered greatly during the Pol Pot era but has since recovered. The head of the nation’s Buddhists resides here, along with several other monks. On the second level of the main building, to the left of the dais, there is a statue of Huot Tat, the fourth patriarch of Cambodian Buddhism, who was killed by Pol Pot.
The Khmer Rouge dumped the statue into the Mekong to show that Buddhism was no longer the main religion in the country. The patriarch was 80 years old when the statue was built in 1971, he was killed in 1975. It wasn’t until 1979, that the statue was re-discovered and returned.
To the right of the dais is a statue of a previous patriarch of the Thummayuth sect, to which the royal family belongs. Look for the steps on the left, behind the dais, they lead to the third floor, where a little marble Buddha of Burmese provenance is stored in a glass case. The statue had to be reassembled after the Khmer Rouge ripped it apart. Although the top of the stairs is often locked, there are some great views over the Mekong from up here. Behind the main building is a stupa with Buddha’s hair and a Pali inscription.
- Address of Wat Ounalom: Samdech Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Wat Ounalom: Wat Ounalom is open daily from 6:00 am to 6:00 pm.
14. Visit Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument
In Phnom Penh, visiting the Independence Monument is completely free. You only have to wander down to the crossroads and try to avoid the heavy Phnom Penh traffic. Although there isn’t much to see or do here, the monument is large and has been placed at the heart of a major intersection. It has historical importance as well.
The lotus-shaped monument was built in 1958 to represent Cambodia’s independence from France after the country’s 1953 separation.
- Address of the Independence Monument: Norodom Boulevards, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of the Independence Monument: The Independence Monument is open 24 hours daily.
15. The Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk
The Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk is far more stunning than the nearby Independence Monument. You can visit both of these monuments at the same time as they are practically next to each other.
The monument itself is lovely, particularly around dusk when you can arrange yourself to see the sunset behind the statue for photos. The park is also popular with locals, making it an excellent place to people-watch.
- Address of The Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk: King Father Norodom Sihanouk Statue, Norodom Boulevards, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of The Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk: The Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk is open 24 hours daily.
16. Take a Cooking Class in Phnom Penh
What could be better than Cambodian food, right? And learning about Khmer cuisine. There’s no better way to get a sense of the culture of a country than through her food. And Cambodian food is glorious. Distinctly different from neighboring Vietnamese food, Laos Cuisine, and Thai foods, good Cambodian food is unique, and taking a Cambodian cooking class is an awesome way to really find out about it.
So why not explore a neighborhood market first thing in the morning to get a sense of the activity and culture of a typical Cambodian market, collect the freshest ingredients, and then discover the mysteries of Khmer cuisine, recipes, and methods?
You’ll not only get a guided tour of the local market but also, guided by an instructor you’ll get to make traditional Cambodian dishes such as Lok Lak – a spiced beef dish from Cambodia’s French colonial heritage. You’ll also make Cambodia’s famous fish dish, amok, local fish, and other ingredients steamed in banana leaves and a Khmer curry. It’s the perfect way to learn a new skill and take home some fabulous new recipes! Cooking classes in Phnom Penh last half a day, and you can usually opt for either morning or afternoon lessons – take a look at your cooking class options here!
During the 1970s 90% of performing artists either fled Cambodia or died. But in recent years, both traditional and modern Khmer art has seen a comeback due to the efforts of Cambodian artists, both domestically and abroad. The art of traditional classical Khmer dance originated in Cambodia’s royal courts but was introduced to the general public in the mid-1900s.
It’s possible, today to see the recreation of epic Cambodian poems and Cambodian legends in dance. The best way to see this in Phnom Penh is to come to the Experience Cambodian Living Arts Dance Show tour. You’ll not only get a tour of the gardens of the National Museum of Phnom Penh and some gorgeous examples of Khmer art and architecture. After this, you’ll continue to a dinner theater, where you’ll see Cambodian traditional dance and music performances on stage along with a superb dining experience. Book a place on this Cambodian Dance Tour here.
- Address of Cambodian Living Arts Performance: Meta House Phnom Penh, #48, Street 228, 12207 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Cambodian Living Arts Performance: Cambodian Living Arts Performance is open daily from 7:00 pm to 8:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for Cambodian Living Arts Performance: Cambodian Living Arts Performanceentry fees cost $15 to $25 per person for the Dance show and $50 to $75 per person for the dance workshop.
18. Visit the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center / Wildlife Alliance
No, the Wildlife Alliance is not a zoo, but an animal refuge and conservation facility. Since its founding in 1995, this nonprofit group has been striving to improve protected areas and educate local populations about conservation. The partnership works explicitly in Cambodia to fight animal trafficking and promote ecosystem preservation. You can join the Wildlife Alliance on a trip from Phnom Penh, where you’ll stop at a nearby fruit market to buy fresh fruit, which you’ll then hand feed to a group of rescued elephants. You’ll get to interact with monkeys, see tigers up close, and visit the nursery where various wild creatures are being rehabilitated.
If you’re looking for other ethical places to see elephants in Cambodia, then I highly recommend the Mondulkiri Elephant Sanctuary in Cambodia. It is glorious. We also took a hike there and you can read about it here.
- Address of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center: National Road No 2, Ba Ti District, Takeo Province, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center: Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center opens daily from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center: Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center entry fee is $5 for adults and $2 for children.
19. Take a Bear Care Tour from Phnom Penh
Although native to Asia, Sun Bears’ and Moon Bears’ habitats are constantly being destroyed. You can find Sun Bears, one of the world’s smallest bears, both here and in Malaysian Borneo (I wrote about them here) and you should do so before it’s too late.
A refuge called Free the Bears is dedicated to protecting bear habitats and preserving the species. That includes young bears. When you go to the facility, you can observe the cheerful bears having fun in their secure forest settings and you can discover what the bears eat. You’ll prepare snacks for the bears, which you’ll then hide in their enclosure so they can later forage for them. There is no contact with the bears, as these are rescued wild animals, but a day here will help their ongoing support immeasurably. You can find more out about how to visit and arrange a trip here.
The bear’s habitat is located within the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center.
- Address of Free The Bears: House 9-11, Street 476, Toul Tompoung I, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Free The Bears: Bear Care Tour is open daily from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.
- Entry Fees for Free The Bears: Mandatory minimum donation required for tour
20. Spend an evening watching Kickboxing in Phnom Penh
Kick Boxing is Cambodia’s National Sport, but you’ve likely heard more about Muay Thai (Thai Kickboxing) than Khmer Kickboxing, or Kun Khmer as it’s known. You’ll find Kun Khmer every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night in Phnom Penh and it’s hosted at the TV stations, and it’s free, you’ll just need to get there. The easiest way to find out where it’s on is to ask at your hotel. Once you get there, there’s a security check and foreigners are usually assigned seats at the front. (!)
21. Visit a market in Phnom Penh
The market is an essential part of everyone’s life for Cambodians, who go there to stock up on food and other necessities. That explains why Phnom Penh’s capital has both huge and small marketplaces. I’ve written about the main markets to visit and what to buy at them in Phnom Penh here.
Map of Things to do in Phnom Penh
You can see the full map of the Best Things to do in Phnom Penh here.
Food and Drink in Phnom Penh
Of course, you shouldn’t miss one of the highlights of a trip to Cambodia! Phnom Penh has a diverse culinary culture, as seen by the variety of delicious food and drinks available here, so here are a few foodie things to look for in Phnom Penh.
Street Food in Phnom Penh
The capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is famous for its never-ending selection of street food stalls, and night markets. Cambodia’s open-air marketplaces and night markets stand out with their rustic restaurants, wooden food carts, plastic chairs, and tables, and crowds of visitors wandering the winding alleyways. The way the food is cooked adds to its uniqueness. While some foods are made with a Westernized twist, others are traditional Khmer cuisines that have been handed down from one generation to another. Hygiene is generally pretty good here too, so it’s a great place to explore street food.
Take a Food Tour in Phnom Penh
Now whether you decide to take a cooking class or not while you’re in Phnom Penh, there’s a host of food that you should try here. Sometimes the best way, especially if you’re short of time in Phnom Penh, is to take a tour of all the best places and foods available. The Phnom Penh Food Tour by Lost Plate Food Tour is a fabulous way to try many of the foods of Cambodia. This evening tour means you’ll get to taste some of the most popular dishes in the area and enjoy some of Cambodia’s most fabulous cuisine, all with an English-speaking guide, and on an evening, when it’s cooler. You’ll get to try a variety of Khmer dishes, such as Prahok, some mouthwatering BBQ, and crushed eggplant. Sit on the floor, eat delicious fresh rice noodles with traditional sauce and fresh herbs on top, and learn about the history of Cambodia while having curries and a salad made from banana leaf. This fabulous Phnom Penh Food Tour finishes at a rooftop bar for drinks. You can see more about this great food tour in Phnom Penh here.
An alternative is the Ultimate PP Food Tour, where you’ll get a Local Food Tour by Tuk-tuk – there are 7 Stops, more than 20 Tastings & ALL Drinks and Transport included – This tour is recommended for the adventurous foodie! You will be able to go outdoors into the streets to enjoy the most delicious and historic cuisines in the Khmer Kingdom. You’ll get to taste what’s described as “the greatest ribs in the Kingdom”, exotic fruits, interesting desserts, and maybe even insects! There’s heaps of local food here, and unlimited drinks too. This is a really great night out – reserve your place here.
Eat Noodles at David’s Restaurant
David’s Restaurant is the best place in town to get freshly cooked noodles made with fresh produce from the market. The staff here are friendly and speak both English and Chinese too. David’s Restaurant in Phnom Penh has both meat and vegan options, and features an on-site hand-pulled noodle factory with an open kitchen. The noodles don’t contain any eggs. Vegans can also eat stir-fried veggies, rice, and vegetable dumplings (say no to the oyster sauce).
- Address of David’s Restaurant: 13, #166 Preah Ang Eng St., Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of David’s Restaurant: David’s Restaurant is open daily from 10:00 am to 10:00 pm.
Eat at the Central Market in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh’s central market is the place to go if you need some fresh fruit and veggies or a quick meal. They have row after row of Khmer food stalls offering hot soup, fried fish, and a variety of bugs and spiders. It’s cheap and cheerful and a great place for quick eats.
- Address of Central Market: Street 130, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Central Market: Central Market is open daily from 7:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Eat Seafood at Tipsy Seafood
Visit Tipsy Seafood for great, and affordable, seafood in a fun, outdoor setting. It’s great, cheap, and has a lot of choices too – squid, oysters, cockles, and seafood fried rice. Plus there are all the regular Cambodian BBQ foods too, and Angkor Beer as well. It’s a great spot along the riverside.
- Address of Tipsy Seafood: Koh Pich, 12301 Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Tipsy Seafood: Tipsy Seafood is open daily from 4:00 pm to 12:00 am.
Drink at Long After Dark
This fantastic bar in the Russian Market is the place to come for rare single-malt whiskies and Cambodian craft beers. On Fridays after 5 pm, happy hour is in session, although it’s short, and there’s music until late.
- Address of Long After Dark: No. 86, St. 450, 12310, Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Long After Dark: Long After Dark is open daily from 4:00 pm to 12:00 am.
Drink at Bassac Lane in Phnom Penh
You should visit Bassac Lane if you’re looking for a great night out in Phnom Penh! This alleyway between Norodom and Sothearos Boulevards is close to the Independence Monument. Bassac Lane or the Bassac Quarter now has around a dozen hip microbars, each with a different theme. Hanger 44 and the Jack Saloon, which has a Western theme, are just two spots to head to on Bassac Lane. In addition, there’s Mama Wong’s and the fabulous dumplings at the Red Bar on Street 308, just around the corner from Bassac Lane. Be sure to keep an eye out for some of Phnom Penh’s most outstanding street art as you stroll through this lovely neighborhood.
- Address of Bassac Lane: St 308 Phnom Penh, 12301, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Bassac Lane: Bassac Lane is open daily from 5:00 pm to 12:00 am.
Cocktails at Sundown Social Club
For great sunset views as well as some fabulous cocktails come to the Sundown Social Club.
This rooftop bar has some great views of the Russian Market from above and a good selection of well-made cocktails, a fantastic menu of vegan and non-vegan bar bites, good happy hour specials from 5–7 pm, and hints of Miami pinks and blues throughout the decor.
- Address of Sundown Social Club: #86 Street 440, by Tuol Tompoung Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
- Opening Hours of Sundown Social Club: Sundown Social Club is open daily from 12:00 pm to 12:00 am.
Where to stay in Phnom Penh
The city of Phnom Penh is quite large, it covers 679 square kilometers, and while there are often some great deals on accommodation to be found on the outskirts, you’ll want to stay centrally to be able to get around and see Phnom Penh’s best attractions.
There are heaps of places to stay in Phnom Penh – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Phnom Penh, mid-range places to stay in Phnom Penh, and budget accommodation in Phnom Penh.
The Golden Noura Villa-Pub & Restaurant offers comfortable lodging, an en-suite bathroom, and free WiFi and is within 100 meters of the National Museum and the Royal Palace. All of the rooms at Golden Noura include air conditioning, a flat-screen cable TV, a fridge, and a writing desk. Every room at this great Phnom Penh hotel has great views of the city! You can check rates here.
The Pavilion is an adult-only hotel in the heart of Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh’s Pavilion Hotel has a separate main restaurant as well as two poolside restaurants. It has an indoor spa as well as an outdoor shaded pool for chilling out. When you’re ready to explore, This super Phnom Penh hotel provides free bicycle rental. Check Rates at the Pavilion in Phnom Penh and book a room here.
The Plantation Urban Resort & Spa, in the heart of Phnom Penh, is located in a fabulous spot behind the Royal Palace. The Plantation has two outdoor swimming pools, a restaurant on-site, and a bar. There is free WiFi access throughout. Non-smoking rooms with air conditioning also have a desk and minibar, and there’s also a flat-screen TV in the lounge area of the room. This is a fabulous luxury option in Phnom Penh. This wonderful property fills up quickly, so reserve early!
How to Get Around Phnom Penh
The majority of locals, and visitors choose to travel by bicycle, moto, tuk-tuk, or taxi. Tuk-tuks are a great option to get around Phnom Penh since they are often the most comfortable kind of transportation. Be sure to agree on a price (and yes, you’ll need to pay cash), before you get in.
Where is Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s vibrant and lively capital. It’s the biggest city in Cambodia. This place was originally known as the “Gem” of Indochina and is located where the great Mekong, Bassac, and huge Tonle Sap rivers meet. Phnom Penh is also the largest city on the Mekong River and is 320 kilometers from Siem Reap, 700 kilometers from Bangkok (Thailand), and 250 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam).
When is the best time to travel to Phnom Penh?
The ideal time to go to Phnom Penh is between November and May when the place still has pleasant weather and very little rain. However, Cambodia’s climate does tend to be hot and muggy all year round.
How to get to Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is well connected by bus and ferry services. The main routes to Phnom Penh are
- Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh – our full guide on how to do this route is here – or you can check the most popular bus times here.
- Siem Reap to Phnom Penh – see all your options to go to Phnom Penh from Siem Reap in our guide here – or check the times of the most popular way to travel from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh.
- Coming from Vietnam to Cambodia? Here’s our guide.
Travel Tips for Exploring Cambodia
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- Read about getting around Cambodia in our guide to Cambodian Transport
- Book Buses in Cambodia with 12goAsia
- Book accommodation in Cambodia with Booking
Final Words on The Best 21 Things to Do in Phnom Penh
Although one of our main reasons for visiting Phnom Penh was the dark history of the Khmer Rouge time, we did get to see way more of Cambodia’s capital city than that. From the minute we arrived on the boat from Chau Doc, until when we left heading towards Siem Reap. We truly enjoyed our time in Phnom Penh since it’s such a lively, vibrant city full of kind people. It’s a great place to learn about Cambodia’s history in the 20th century, and despite having a tragic recent history, the Cambodian people here are welcoming, and this is an easy city to explore.
Stock images in this article are courtesy Deposit Photos.
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