The Cambodian capital is bustling, chaotic, and multifaceted. Not as famous as some other Asian capitals, the city is undoubtedly worth a visit if you’re in Cambodia. On this basis, here are the best things to do in Phnom Penh.
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Welcome to Phnom Penh: Cambodia’s Fascinating Capital
Phnom Penh is the capital and economic heart of Cambodia.
Over several centuries, the city was the capital of the Khmer Empire before being abandoned and re-established in the 19th century. During the French colonization, Phnom Penh grew into the country’s primary economic hub.
The city also played its part during the darkest times of Cambodian history, when infamous dictator Pol Pot murdered one-quarter of the population. Remnants of those times are still visible, most notably at S21 prison.
Today, Phnom Penh is mostly just a stopover to travel to other places in Cambodia, but the city actually has a lot to offer.
Here are the top attractions and best things to do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Best Things to do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The primary places to visit in Phnom Penh are spread all over the city. Start your visit in the center and take tuk-tuks to get around.
Designed by French architects in the 1930s, the gold-dome Central Market is the city’s number one shopping destination and one of the most popular tourist attractions in Phnom Penh.
You can find everything from sunglasses to jewellery, food, and textile here.
Close to the Royal Palace, you’ll see the confluence of the Tonle Sap and the Mekong rivers. The Mekong is one of the most iconic rivers in the world and the lifeblood of an entire region.
Go for a stroll along the river or take a boat tour. I recommend this night tour that includes free drinks and food at sunset.
Cambodian Living Arts
If you want to see a worthwhile performance in Phnom Penh, check out the non-profit organization “Cambodian Living Arts.”
They perform traditional Khmer dances at the Cambodian National Museum for around $15 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and weekends. The dancers practice their craft according to traditional 18th-century rituals, making this a unique cultural experience.
One of the best things to do in Phnom Penh is undoubtedly a visit to the National Museum.
Inaugurated in the 1920s during the French colonial period, it’s Cambodia’s largest and most extensive museum.
Inside, you can admire over 14,000 artefacts dating from prehistory as well as the pre-Angor, Angkor Wat, and the post-Angkor eras.
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Situated adjacent to one another, the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda are two of Phnom Penh’s most recognizable landmarks.
Built in the late 19th century, the palace is still the residence of the Khmer kings. Several parts are accessible to the public. The Silver Pagoda is free of charge and hosts a 17th-century Emerald Buddha.
Wat Phnom Temple
When it comes to the best things to do in Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom should make your list. Sitting on top of a hill north of Cambodia, it’s one of the most significant temples in the country.
The original structure dates from the 14th century but it has been renovated and rebuilt several times, most recently in 1926.
Koh Dach (Silk Island)
If you want to to take a fay trip from Phnom Penh, Mekong Island (Koh Dach – Silk Island) is one of the best places to go.
The island is about 15 km north of the city centre. Dotted with views of rice paddies, farms and fruit orchards, Mekong Island enables you to experience the country’s authentic rural culture.
S21 Prison and Killing Fields
When visiting Cambodia, learning about the country’s dark past is a must.
Between 1976 and 1979, the murderous Pol Pot regime tried to turn the country into an agrarian communist utopia, killing one quarter of the population in the process.
The remnants of that area are still visible at the infamous S21 prison (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) and the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Genocidal Center). In this context, going on a tour is a great choice as you’ll get a lot more background information on the horrors that happened here.
I recommend this tour. They will take you to S21 and the Killing Fields in under five hours for less than $20.
Where to Stay in Phnom Penh
In my view, the best area to stay in Phnom Penh is the neighborhood between Blvd Preah Sihanouk (274) and Street 178. In this area, you’ll find the city’s top hotels as well as lots of restaurants, malls, and the best nightlife in Phnom Penh.
I stayed at the HM Grand Central Hotel and would 100% recommend it. The hotel was great, the staff was lovely, and the price/quality ratio was unbeatable.
Find more places to stay in Phnom Penh here.
Best Things to do in Phnom Penh: Know Before You Go
To complete our Phnom Penh guide, here are some FAQs.
How to Get to Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh’s international airport is the busiest in Cambodia and has direct flights to most Asian hubs. You can also fly or take a bus from Siem Reap (around six hours).
How to Get Around Phnom Penh
The best way to get around Phnom Penh is by tuk-tuk. You can use the Grab app to order a tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh, making the booking easy and convenient. Better still, most journeys cost around $1, and you won’t have trouble finding one.
Best Time to Visit Phnom Penh
The climate in Cambodia is hot and humid throughout the year, but the least-rainy period is between November and May.
Is Phnom Penh Safe?
Overall, Phnom Penh is a relatively safe city, but there are some dangers to keep in mind. Snatch thiefs are common, especially around busy intersections. Apart from that, stay away from drugs and unofficial casinos, and your visit will remain trouble-free.
Bottom Line: is Phonm Penh Worth Visiting?
Phnom Penh isn’t as fascinating as other Asian capitals, but it’s still well worth a visit. As it’s home to Cambodia’s busiest airport, it’s an excellent location to spend a few days before heading into other parts of the country.