10 Best Things to do in Phnom Penh
Looking for the best things to do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia? This guide cover has you covered; from historical sites like temples, palaces and museums, to local experiences that you can only have in Phnom Penh.
Despite being the capital of Cambodia, many travellers rush through Phnom Penh in search of the iconic Angkor Wat, and the dreamy paradise beaches of Koh Rong island. However, Phnom Penh is worth visiting for a couple of days to explore the sites and learn about the history of Cambodia. Here are 10 of the best things to do during your trip to Phnom Penh!
Planning a Trip to Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is the domestic and international travel hub of Cambodia, making it easy to get to and explore. Here is some information for planning your trip to Phnom Penh.
How to get to Phnom Penh
With an international airport and both bus and train routes from all corners of the country, getting to Phnom Penh is no challenge. The train station and bus drop-off points are in the city centre, landing you right in the thick of the action. Whereas the airport is on the outskirts of the city – you can expect to pay around $8 for a taxi into the city, and less for a tuk-tuk.
How to get around Phnom Penh
Many of the best things to do in Phnom Penh are located in the city centre so if you opt to stay in the riverside area, then you might be able to walk to some of the sites. However, for seeing things that are further afield, or for when it gets too hot for walking, take a tuk-tuk.
While you can hail cheap rides on the side of the street, I recommend using one of the ride-hailing apps to get set prices and reliable drivers. The two main apps for ordering tuk-tuks in Phnom Penh are Grab App (used all over Asia for ride-hailing) and Pass App (a Cambodian equivalent). Both have similarly cheap prices and an abundance of drivers.
💰 $1 – $2 for tuk-tuk rides within the city centre
Where to stay in Phnom Penh
The riverside is a great area to stay if you want to be in the thick of the best things to do in Phnom Penh. There are some great accommodation options in the riverside area, though it can be a bit seedy come nightfall (I don’t recommend it for families). Onederz* is a great option for backpackers in Cambodia, located right off the riverfront with a rooftop pool and great facilities.
For our first couple of nights in the city, we stayed at Poolside Villa Phnom Penh* which is in a quiet neighbourhood a short walk from the Independence Monument. They have both private and dorm rooms, with a pool and restaurant and while not the most social vibe, it is right next to Bassac Lane which is full of cosy bars and cafes serving a variety of international food.
What are the Best Things to do in Phnom Penh
At first impression, Phnom Penh is another large Asian city, but there is a lot more to do than meets the eye. These are my top 10 best things to do in Phnom Penh.
1️⃣ Barter at the Central Market
Located in the heart of Phnom Penh, the Central Market is housed in a beautiful art deco building dating back to the 1930s. Central Market is one of the largest markets in the city, supplying locals with everything from fresh produce to clothing, electronics, jewellery and even haircuts.
Nowadays the market has transitioned to take some of its trade from tourists, with souvenir vendors lining the fringes of the Central Market, but head inside and you’ll find the authentic side of the market. Be sure to barter, as many locals have told me the vendors often double the starting price for tourists.
On the west side, is a wet market and a food court. The food court is a great place to try Cambodian street food as it’s not only clean but also popular with locals; a sure sign that its good quality!
Dishes average $2.5
2️⃣ Visit Wat Phnom temple
Shrouded in tales of the Mekong River, Wat Phnom is a historic temple built in 1372 that lent its name to the city of Phnom Penh. It is said that lady Penh discovered 4 statues of Buddha floating in the Mekong and brought them to the hill, building a temple to enshrine them. The name Phnom Penh was given when the city was founded centuries ago from phnom meaning hill in Khmer, and Penh after lady Penh that founded the temple.
Wat Phnom has been rebuilt many times over the years, and now houses the main temple and a white stupa to the back. In front of Wat Phnom is a garden with a clock tower.
$1 ($2 extra for the museum)
7am – 6pm
3️⃣ Learn about the Khmer Rouge at S21 Prison (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)
Originally a high school, S21 was transformed into a prison where the Khmer Rouge would inflict cruel torture on their victims. Shortly after the Khmer Rouge were overthrown, the prison was reopened as a museum, to educate and shed light on the genocide that occurred here under the Khmer Rouge.
The majority of the rooms are left as they were, with tiny cells, barbed wire, and torture devices, while other rooms display the stories of the shocking 20,000 women, men and children that were detained and tortured in S21.
There were only 7 survivors of the genocide that took place at S21, some of which you might meet at the museum.
💰 $5 plus $3 for an audio guide
⏰ 8am – 5pm
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum 📍 Street 113, Beoung Keng Kang III, Chamkarmorn, Phnom Penh
If you only have time to visit one of the two sites where you can learn about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge, I would suggest visiting the S21 Prison museum. It’s located in the heart of Phnom Penh and has a bit more information than the Killing Fields (at least without the audio guides).
4️⃣ Pay your respects at the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center)
Another site where you can learn more about the bloody history of the Khmer Rouge’s regime is the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, commonly called the Killing Field. After being interrogated, those held at prisons like S21 were passed through to execution sites called killing fields.
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center marks the mass graves of over 9,000 people, including women, children and men, who were tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge during their terrifying reign in the late 1970s.
It’s not an easy site to visit,
To get to the Killing Fields, take a tuk-tuk from the city centre. It costs $5 each way, and while you could find a tuk-tuk on ride-hailing apps, I recommend finding a driver who can take you and wait while you visit to drive you back to the city as it is could be challenging to find a tuk-tuk to take you back to the city.
💰 $3 entrance, plus $3 for an audio guide or $3 for a tour guide
🛺 $10 return
⏰ 8am to 5:30pm
5️⃣ Explore the Royal Palace of Cambodia
The Royal Palace of Cambodia is notably one of the most popular things to do in Phnom Penh. Despite being the current seat of the Royals, the public can visit a large portion of the Royal Palace, including the Silver Pagoda, throne hall, ornate gardens and courtyards. As it is still an active residence for the Royals you have to dress modestly to visit, covering your shoulders and knees.
⏰ 8am – 11am, 2pm – 5pm
Unfortunately, the Royal Palace was closed due to COVID while we were in Phnom Penh, so we didn’t get to explore it ourselves, but Along Dusty Roads have a great guide to visiting.
✍️ Read more about visiting the Royal Palace of Cambodia in this post by Along Dusty Roads.
6️⃣ Watch a sunset with a view of the riverside
The riverside is a great area to watch a sunset, as the park that lines the riverfront comes alive with locals enjoying the cooler evening weather. Vendors pop up around 4:30pm selling drinks and snacks. This is a great way to taster local life and people watch; you’ll see people walking their dogs, kids rollerskating and playing football as well as the occasional monk wandering home.
There are a few bars around this area, though as I mentioned in my Phnom Penh guide, the riverfront area is a bit seedy so I wouldn’t recommend them for a class sunset spot. Juniper Gin is located in this area and is the perfect place for a sunset cocktail, with $3 cocktails from 5pm – 7pm for happy hour.
Juniper Gin📍Khemarak Phoumin Ave (St 130)
7️⃣ Eat dinner at the Phnom Penh night market
Set up alongside the riverfront every evening, is the Phnom Penh Night Market. Definitely more of a tourist attraction than a local market, you can browse the stalls of clothing, shoes and accessories before grabbing some food to eat.
The Phnom Penh Night Market is one of the most budget-friendly places to eat in the evening. Most of the vendors sell similar food, a mixture of Cambodian and Asian dishes. The seating offers a local experience, eating on communal bamboo mats in the centre of the market.
💰 Average $2.5 per dish
⏰ 5pm – 11pm
9️⃣ Watch a kickboxing show
Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday you can watch live kickboxing in Phnom Penh – free of charge! The kickboxing in Phnom Penh is broadcast from the Bayon TV studio in the suburbs and is apparently worth the trip. Unfortunately, the weekend we tried to go was a national holiday so the kickboxing was cancelled. Do let me know how it was if you get to see it!
If it’s anything like watching the Muay Thai in Bangkok (where it is also televised), you will need to cover your knees and shoulders, wear close-toed shoes and possible a collared shirt for men.
💰 Free to watch and $3/4 tuk-tuk each way
⏰ Double-checking the current times with your accommodation, but the fights run on Friday, Saturday and Sunday
Bayon TV Steung Meanchey Studio 📍 Sola Street (371), Phnom Penh
🔟 Explore the hipster hub of Toul Tom Poung District
We tried our best to explore what is famed as Phnom Penh’s hipster neighbourhood but unfortunately had to hide from the monsoon rain in the Russian market for an hour before realising that it wouldn’t stop for a couple more hours and calling it quits.
There are a few cute boutiques I found that we would have liked to wander past, as well as cafes and bars that look amazing. Here are some of the things I wish we could have checked out in the area – may you have sunnier weather to explore!
Penh Lenh 📍 Handcrafted jewellery by local artisans in Phnom Penh
Chrome Studios 📍 Streetwear and skate shop, come bar and hangout spot for the hipster kids in Phnom Penh
Pleng Chan TTP📍 Quirky coffee shop that looks great to work from
Sundown Social Club 📍 Rooftop bar with a view over the Russian market, a $5 food menu and sunset happy hour
If you’re vegan, this looks like a great area to eat with restaurants like Vibe and Sacred Lotus.
Map of Things to do in Phnom Penh
You can find my 10 best things to do in Phnom Penh on the map below. Click the star next to the map title to save it to your Google Drive for later.
There you have it; 10 of the best things to do during your trip to Phnom Penh. From historical sites to royal palaces to unique local sites, Phnom Penh is a great place to kick off your exploration of Cambodia.
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Planning a Trip to Cambodia
For more information on planning a trip to Phnom Penh and other destinations in Cambodia, be sure to check out my Cambodia Travel Guide which includes everything you need to know for travelling around the country.
✍️ A Travel Guide to Phnom Penh
✍️ How to Visit Cambodia as a Tourist in 2022
✍️ A Travel Guide to Kampot
8️⃣ Support a social enterprise
A great way to give back to the local community while travelling in Cambodia is to visit a social enterprise-run restaurant, cafe or shop.
Friends International is one of the biggest social enterprises in Cambodia, and while they had to close down some of their ventures due to COVID they are hopeful that they can reopen soon. With an estimated 25% of residents in Phnom Penh living in poverty, Friends International works to protect vulnerable youth who are at risk of being homeless and exploited.
They have 2 vocational training restaurants in Phnom Penh, “Friends the Restaurant” and “Romdeng, Let’s Eat Phnom Penh”. Hopefully, they have reopened for your visit to Phnom Penh so you can support them.