8 Unique Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Searching for the top things to do in Phnom Penh? If so, you’re not going to want to miss this!
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia and welcomes many ex-pats and tourists every year. To really immerse yourself into the culture of Cambodia, exploring the historic parts of the city is among the best things to do in Phnom Penh.
This way, you can understand the local people and their way of life. Despite its somewhat dark history (more on that later), Phnom Penh is safe, and the people are friendly and welcoming. The city also has some really beautiful landmarks and history.
I first visited Phnom Penh in 2015 while doing some volunteer work. I worked at an orphanage far out in the countryside but visited Phnom Penh during my weeks off. Since it’s a big city, you can find many Western places to eat and shop.
Make sure to add these things to your Phnom Penh bucket list so you can experience all that the city has to offer!
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1. S21 Genocide Museum
This museum is a good starting place to learn more about the brutality the Cambodian people suffered during the Khmer Regime. They took over Cambodia in 1975 and immediately began killing all of the people in the country with higher education, including doctors, lawyers, and teachers.
The S21 museum was a high school that the regime converted into a prison. For the 4 years that they ruled Cambodia, they imprisoned over 18,000 people there. Only about a dozen survived.
Many of the rooms have been converted into small exhibits where you can see the names and faces of those imprisoned. Some of the torture rooms were left exactly how they were when in use. You can even see blood stains on the floor and bloody handprints on the walls.
S21 Genocide Museum is also called the Sleng Genocide Museum or the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Don’t be confused, as these terms are used interchangeably.
This is a tough place to visit. However, there’s no better place to learn about the strength and resilience of the Cambodian people.
The S21 Genocide Museum is located at រាជធានី, សង្កាត់បឹងកេងកង៣ ខណ្ឌចំការមន, St 113, Phnom Penh 12304, Cambodia. It’s open every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets are $9.
Tip: USD is widely accepted in Cambodia even in rural areas. However, change is often given in the local currency (Cambodian Riel). The exchange rate is usually around 4,000 Cambodian riel to one dollar (but may vary).
2. The Killing Fields
The Killing Fields should be one of the first places you go to upon arriving in Phnom Penh. It’s an emotional experience, but it allows you to learn more about the history of Cambodia and the Khmer Regime.
You can take a self-guided tour of The Killing Fields. There are small marked ditches where the regime killed thousands of people and put them into mass graves. You can buy a headset where you can learn more about the regime and hear stories from survivors.
All of the bones still remain in the mass graves since the government has decided not to recover them. They are left where they are as a reminder to the people of the violence and genocide that occurred in hopes that it will never happen again.
If the rainfall is too much, some of the bones even come up out of the dirt.
The Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center) are located at ផ្លូវជើងឯក, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They’re open every day from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $3.
3. Daughters of Cambodia Center
The sex trade is, unfortunately, a huge problem in Cambodia. Young girls are often sold, or they enter the trade thinking it’s their only option to make money. Once a woman is part of the sex trade, it’s very hard for them to escape.
Daughters of Cambodia is an organization that helps to rescue girls and gives them a fresh start. They teach them a skill or trade so they can begin to make money on their own. It’s an incredible organization to support.
At the center, you can stop into the craft store and buy items that the girls have made by hand. They have everything from Christmas ornaments to toys to clothes.
There is also a cafe where some of the girls are training to be chefs. The menu is seasonal and almost always offers Western options! They serve brunch, dinner, and dessert.
They also have a small spa where you can get massages and pedicures. Please note that spa services are only offered to women.
The Daughters of Cambodia Center is located at #63C St 456, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. They’re closed on Sundays but open every other day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
4. The Royal Palace
Visiting the Royal Palace is one of the best things to do in Cambodia if you’re interested in learning more about the royal family. This palace has been around since the 1860s.
It was built right next to the river, so you also get to see locals fishing and using their small motorboats.
While touring the palace complex, you’ll see many temples and the quarters where the royal family resides. Most of the rooms are decorated in gold from floor to ceiling. You can do guided tours or self-guided tours.
The palace has a dress code so make sure to cover your knees and shoulders. This goes for both men and women.
The Royal Palace is located at HW7J+HG6, Samdach Sothearos Blvd (3), Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s open every day from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., except Fridays, where it closes at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $10.
5. Phnom Penh Night Market
The night market has some of the best food in Phnom Penh, and it’s cheap! All the vendors are super nice and helpful, even if their English is limited. Most will also give you a small sample of something if you want to try it before you buy!
The food vendors have everything from grilled meat to soups to juices. You can also get fresh fruit smoothies and fresh noodles.
At the back of the market, there are many vendors selling things like clothing, trinkets, and jewelry. If you are living and working in Pnom Penh, this is also a great cheap place to go for hardware, dishes, cushions, and other home furnishings.
For more great markets, check out the Central Market and the Russian Market. The Central Market is the place to go if you want to try more exotic food choices like chocolate-covered bugs or fried spiders.
The Russian Market got its name because it once was a hub for Russian goods in the 70s and 80s. Now you can find traditional Cambodian things as well as Russian items here.
The Phnom Penh Night Market is located at Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s open every day from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
6. Phnom Penh Nightlife
There are some great bars in Phnom Penh for travelers looking to party. Nightlife can be found all over the city, but the best bars in Phnom Penh include:
- Eclipse Sky Bar: This bar is on the 23rd floor of the Pnom Penh Tower. Make sure to go during sunset for an amazing view. They usually have happy hour on weekdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
- The Elephant Bar: This is an elegant bar where you can enjoy spirits, cocktails, and many different beers and wines. They also have afternoon specialty tea ceremonies.
- Sora Skybar: For some of the best views in Phnom Penh, head here. They have indoor and outdoor seating areas. They are best known for their cocktails.
- VEHAA Restaurant & Bar: This is a stylish bar with great views of the Tonle Sap River. They have beers, wines, spirits, and many different cocktails.
Be cautious when going out at night as sex trafficking and sex tourism are big in Phnom Penh. The seediest part of town is street 51. When in doubt, head to bars that are also restaurants or bars that are in hotels. These places rarely support sex trafficking.
You can also ask the hotel reception or hostel owner if you are not sure where to go.
7. Silver Pagoda
This is one of the most famous Buddhist temples in Cambodia. You can also see the traditional monks dressed in orange here. The floor of the temple is made from over 5,000 silver tiles hence the name “Silver Pagoda.”
You can’t walk on the section of the floor made of silver, but you can look at it and take photos.
After seeing the stunning floor, you can go up the staircase where there are four different Buddha statues. One is made from Emeralds and 2,086 diamonds. There is also a bronze Buddha, a Buddha made from silver and gold, and a Buddha made from pure gold.
The Silver Pagoda is located at HW6J+XMV, វិថី ឧកញ៉ាឈុន (២៤០, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. (On the same grounds as the Royal Palace). It’s open every day from 8 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., except Fridays, where it closes at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $6.25.
8. Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom is a great place to go because the green hills and tall trees make you feel like you left the city and went to the countryside. It’s one of the top Pnom Penh attractions. Wat Phnom is a pagoda (Buddhist temple) dating back to the 1300s.
The pagoda is built on top of the hill. You can climb a staircase to get to the top and then enter the temple.
Inside there are four Buddha statues. It’s a common place for locals to come and pray, so you’ll see Cambodian people of all ages praying for good luck. Please be respectful of those praying.
Wat Phnom is located at ផ្លូវវត្តភ្នំ, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It’s closed on Saturdays and Sundays but opens every other day from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s $1 to enter the temple and $2 to enter the small museum on the same grounds.
How to Get to Phnom Penh
The best way to get to Phnom Penh if you’re already in Southeast Asia is by flying. A flight from Bangkok to Pnom Penh is affordable and only a few hours. The Pnom Penh airport is small, so if you’re coming internationally, it’ll cost you a bit more.
Most travelers connect through Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City. There are also buses from both of these cities. You can take a comfortable overnight bus with recliner chairs and air conditioning.
Buses are much cheaper, but the trips are long. From Bangkok to Pnom Penh, the trip is about 17 hours, not including stops.
I recommend buying your ticket in person, not online. I found that the schedule posted online is often inaccurate so you might buy a ticket for a bus that isn’t even scheduled. In Bangkok, you can go to the Mo Chit Bus Terminal and buy your ticket a few days ahead of time.
How to Get Around Phnom Penh
The easiest and most fun way to get around Phnom Penh is by tuk-tuk. This is a type of auto rickshaw that’s on three wheels. They are safer than the motorbikes people commonly use as they do not tilt as much.
You can find tuk-tuks everywhere. Usually, all you need to do is step outside your hotel and flag one down. The drivers will often come to you if they see you walking, as they want to offer you a ride and make money.
If you find a driver you like, make sure to get their phone number! This way, you can use the same driver each time you need one.
When to Visit Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is pretty hot and humid all year, so it’s a good idea to wear layers and wicking clothing. November through May sees less rainfall, so walking around and exploring the attractions is much more comfortable.
Best Places to Stay in Phnom Penh
Here are some of the best hotels in Phnom Penh:
Budget—The Birdcage Boutique: If you’re looking for one of the best boutique hotels in Pnom Penh, check out the Birdcage. It’s in a really nice area of town right next to Wat Botum Park. The outdoor pool is awesome, and they have a poolside service for food and drinks.
Mid-range—Blue Lime: This hotel is just an 11-minute walk to the Royal Palace. The rooms are really comfortable and bright with Wi-Fi and TVs. They offer free breakfast and have a large saltwater pool. You can lounge by the pool or in the adjacent gardens. It’s also adults only!
Luxury—Baitong Hotel & Resort Pnom Penh: This resort offers chic rooms within walking distance of the Royal Palace and the Independence Monument. You can upgrade to a suite if you want a balcony and sitting room. They have a cafe on-site as well as an amazing rooftop bar with some of the best views of the city.
Best Restaurants in Phnom Penh
- Namaste Indian Restaurant: By far the best Indian food in the city. The cocktails are unique, and they have tons of different flavors.
- Malis Restaurant: This is a restaurant with all the best Khmer food but in an elegant setting. They have great soups and good beef curries.
- La Coupole: If you’re missing Western food, especially breakfast, this is an amazing buffet in Pnom Penh. On the weekends, they also do a seafood buffet.
- Backyard Cafe: There are many cafes in Pnom Penh, but this is one of the best. They have amazing fruit and granola bowls, fresh coffee, and fresh juice.
- Blue Pumpkin: This is a chain of restaurants in Cambodia, and they offer some of the best breakfasts in Phnom Penh. They also have an amazing ice cream platter with over 20 different flavors that are perfect for sharing. One of the scoops is durian, though! Make sure to ask for it if you’re not a durian fan. Or, try enjoying a new experience.
Phnom Penh is one of the best cities for a variety of food. You can find casual Khmer food as well as elegant Cambodian restaurants. The city also offers western food, Japanese hibachi grills, Thai food, and Mexican food.
The Best Things to Do in Pnom Penh Are Waiting For You!
Ready to start adding the best things to do in Pnom Penh to your southeast Asia itinerary? Doing the top 8 things from this guide ensures you learn about Cambodia’s tragic history and also do some of the top fun things to do in Phnom Penh.
The city is huge, so there are always more things to do and see! Sometimes just wandering around is the best way to see the city as you might happen upon hidden treasures as well as get to know locals!
Are you heading to Pnom Penh? Which of these activities are you going to do first?
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