This guide shares everything you need to know for visiting Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s lively capital. Includes how to get to Phnom Penh, where to stay, when to visit, what to eat and things to do.
Located in the heart of Cambodia is Phnom Penh; the bustling capital. Home to some of Cambodia’s most important cultural and historical sites, it’s a great place to start your travels in Cambodia. Whether you’re visiting for a weekend or as part of a backpacking trip around Cambodia; this travel guide to Phnom Penh will help you plan your trip.
Phnom Penh was only established as the capital of Cambodia in the 1860s, at which point it was little more than a riverside village. Orchestrated by the French, Phnom Penh was transformed from a riverside village into the bustling metropolitan city that you find today.
Remnants of Cambodia’s turmoiled history remain stark reminders throughout Phnom Penh. Whether it’s the wide streets and architecture left behind by French colonials, or the prisons stained with atrocities from the Khmer Rouge regime, it is impossible to visit Phnom Penh without acknowledging the resilience of Cambodians.
Two full days is the perfect length of time to explore Phnom Penh; one day for exploring the sites of the city, and another dedicated to learning about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime.
As with the rest of Cambodia, Phnom Penh has 2 seasons; dry and wet (monsoon). Regardless of the season, Phnom Penh experiences a hot climate year-round with temperatures running from the high-20s to mid-30s.
As with the south of Vietnam, the monsoon season in Phnom Penh runs from May to December and you can expect the occasional rainstorm but normally they only last for a couple of hours before the sun returns.
As the capital of Cambodia, there are lots of things to see and do in Phnom Penh. Most notable is learning about the history of the Khmer Rouge and the resilience of the Cambodian people.
✍ For more details and things to do in Phnom Penh, check out the 10 Best Things to do in Phnom Penh (coming soon).
The Royal Palace of Cambodia is a major site to see in Phnom Penh. It remains the residence of the Royals, but visitors can explore the lush gardens, dazzling pagodas and grand throne halls.
Unfortunately, the Royal Palace was closed due to COVID during our visit to Phnom Penh, but Along Dusty Roads have a great guide to it for when it reopens and you can visit the grandeur of this iconic site.
Marking the heart of Phnom Penh, the iconic art deco Central Market is a great place to experience the bustle of Cambodian life.
While the entrance is lined with stalls catering to tourists, take a peek inside and you’ll find a maze of vendors selling everything from clothing to electronics. Be sure to barter here! On the fringes is a wet market and food court, full of locals eating breakfast daily.
From 1975 to 1979, Cambodia suffered the largest genocide in Asia at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. An estimated 25% of the population was killed during this reign of terror. Albeit sombre, it’s important for those travelling to Cambodia to learn more about this period of Cambodia’s history, especially as this isn’t something we are educated on in the west.
There are two sites in Phnom Penh where you can learn about the horrific genocide of Cambodian society that took place a mere 50 years ago: S21 Prison in the heart of the city, and The Killing Fields located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
💰 $5 for S21 Prison / $3 for The Killing Fields (+ $3 for audio guides at each location)
Phnom Penh is one of the biggest travel hubs in Cambodia, with an international airport and both bus and train routes from all corners of the country.
Phnom Penh International Airport is the largest and busiest airport in Cambodia, with daily flights from all over Asia and the wider world. It is the same airport for domestic flights within Cambodia, with flights to Siem Reap and Sihanoukville (the only other commercial airports in Cambodia).
Expect to pay around $8 for a taxi from the airport to the city centre, less for a tuk-tuk.
As the capital, Phnom Penh is serviced by buses from all corners of Cambodia. You can often book buses through hostels and hotels in Cambodia. Alternatively, I’ve found the easiest and cheapest way to book transport in advance is through Baolau*, a search engine that compares all travel options to find the best one for you.
You can also book tickets directly through VET Travel, Cambodia’s biggest bus company that services routes all across the country.
It used to be possible to take the bus from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, directly to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Due to COVID, this route has been temporarily suspended but I suspect it will return by the end of 2022. Normally these buses can be found on search sites, like Baolau*, and through accommodation in Vietnam.
Currently, to cross overland from Vietnam to Cambodia you need to take a bus to the border in Vietnam and then catch another bus on the Cambodian side to Phnom Penh. I haven’t personally done the journey like this, but I have heard many hostels can help arrange this for guests.
The heart of the city has a train station serviced by Royal Railways, making it convenient for travellers to use trains to get to Phnom Penh. The northern line starts on the Thai border town of Poipet, passing Battambang and other cities before arriving in Phnom Penh. While the southern line starts in Sihanoukville, passing Kampot and Kep before arriving in Phnom Penh.
There are no overnight trains in Cambodia, but they are one of the cheapest transport options in Cambodia. As with buses, Baolau* is an easy way to book the train in advance. Prices vary depending on the seating option.
Despite being a sprawling city of over 2 million, Phnom Penh is pretty easy to navigate as many of the things to do are located in the city centre. For when walking is not convenient, 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.
Phnom Penh has a vibrant food scene, where you can find street food for less than $2 and restaurant meals for as little as $4.
📍 Phnom Penh Night Market (lots of variety and a communal eating space where you sit on mats on the floor in a traditional Cambodian style).
📍 Bassac Lane (a cosy lane with casual bars and an abundance of international food).
📍 Central Market (the food court is clean and popular with locals, especially for breakfast with lots of cheap street food on offer).
📍 Ke Nou Street (nearby a fresh market with lots of very cheap street food options).
📍 David’s Restaurant Homemade Noodles (watch your noodles and dumplings being made in front of you!)
📍Backyard Cafe (a great spot for healthy vegan food, and fast wifi for working from)
📍Sundown Social Club (the weather was not in our favour for sunset drinks, but Along Dusty Roads highly recommend this spot for sundowners)
📍Seekers Spirit House (perfect for gin lovers, sample gin at Cambodia’s first distillery)
To be in the thick of the main things to see and do in Phnom Penh, I recommend staying near the riverside. Onederz* is a great option in the riverside area; it’s located within walking distance of the Royal Palace, with a rooftop pool, restaurant and budget-friendly private or dorm rooms.
For our first couple of days, we stayed at Poolside Villa Phnom Penh* which is slightly removed from the main tourist sites, just a short walk from the Independence Monument. Poolside Villa is next to Bassac Lane which has lots of cosy bars and cafes serving a variety of international food.
Phnom Penh is a relatively easy place to stick to a budget as the majority of attractions only cost a couple of dollars to visit.
To get from the airport into the city, expect to pay around $8 for a tuk-tuk to the city centre.
Use Grab or PassApp to hail tuk-tuks around the city. Trips within the city centre average around $1.
Street food can be found during the mornings and afternoons for less than $2 in the markets mentions above.
Street food is harder to find in the evenings, but you can find restaurant meals for as little as $3.50.
In Phnom Penh there are only a few attractions with entrance fees, and as you can see they are pretty cheap. Many of the other things to do in Phnom Penh are free to see.
Wat Phnom 💰 $1
Royal Palace of Cambodia 💰 $10
S21 Prison 💰 $5 (+ $3 for audio guide)
The Killing Fields 💰 $3 (+ $3 for guide/audio guide) and $10 for round-trip tuk-tuk