Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Looking for tips on what to do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Tammy Lowe who has lived in Phnom Penh for 9 months with her husband who both came as volunteers to
work in the international development sector for 6 months, but loved it so much that they decided to stay a little longer.

Tammy shares with us her insider travel tips on what to do in Phnom Penh for those looking for the best places to see, eat, stay, drink, and explore.

Take it away Tammy…

Why visit Phnom Penh?

Phnom Penh is often only a whistle stop for many travelers who just stop by on their way to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. In my opinion it shouldn’t be overseen though as it has so much to offer.

Phnom Penh today is almost unrecognizable to the Phnom Penh of 10 years ago, when people still lived in traditional wooden houses, rice paddies lined the river, and UN vehicles roamed the dirt tracks trying to bring peace to a country after 30 years of conflict.

Today there are decent roads, modern bars and restaurants, shopping malls, a numerous amount of high-rise buildings, and many historical sights. Phnom Penh is a city on the up.

For me it is not just the sights though. For me Phnom Penh is all about the people, the atmosphere and pace of life. Unlike other Asian cities, such as Bangkok, Phnom Penh is the perfect sized city and much more relaxing.

If you visit Cambodia come and explore Phnom Penh for at least a few days. Slow down, take walks, get lost and explore the jewel of Southeast Asia.

What to Do in Phnom Penh

To really understand Cambodia as a country, its culture and people I really recommend learning a bit about Cambodia’s tragic past and the genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 70’s.

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, a former school, used to be one of the most brutal re-education camps in Cambodia, where thousands of people got killed and tortured. Most prisoners were then bought to the Killing Fields just outside of Phnom Penh.

Both sights are heartbreaking and a lot of visitors can’t take it, as the brutality of the regime is portrayed in so much detail. But I think it is important to remind people about what happened here to make sure that these things will never happen again.

what to do in Phnom Penh
Tuol Sleng prison cells

A more cheerful sight is the Royal Palace, which is a stark contrast to Phnom Penh’s dusty streets with its manicured gardens and golden buildings. It is a beautiful complex with lots of impressive Khmer architecture to explore. Cover your shoulders and knees though, as you can’t get in otherwise.

what to do in Phnom penh
Royal palace

There are also a number of beautiful temples (or wats) scattered around Phnom Penh, which are all worth seeing. You won’t find many tourists visiting these temples, so most of the time you will have them all to yourself. The most famous one is Wat Phnom, where Phnom Penh was allegedly founded in 1422.

Other temples really worth seeing for their architectural delights are Wat Lanka, Wat Ounalom, and Wat Botum. If you visit any temples make sure
to take off your shoes before you enter, cover your shoulders and knees and never point your foot soles at anyone, especially not the Buddha statues.

what to do in Phnom Penh
Wat Phnom

Best Neighborhoods to Explore in Phnom Penh

My favourite neighbourhood for exploring is the riverfront, which is lovely for a stroll, but also great to grab a bite to eat, enjoy a cold drink and visit some local markets, such as the old market in the old French quarter.

It is always busy with locals and tourists alike and if you fancy getting active you can even join one of the outdoor aerobic sessions with the locals for $0.25.

what to do in phnom Penh
The riverside is lined with temples and bars and a perfect
spot for people watching

Where to Eat in Phnom Penh

Khmer food is not very well known outside of Cambodia, but it is definitely worth trying. Street food can be found everywhere in Phnom Penh, as vendors have mobile kitchens attached to their motorbikes and so are able to prepare food anywhere they stop. It is delicious and really cheap where a meal often only costs $1.

If you are thirsty make sure to try delicious Khmer ice coffee, fresh sugarcane juice with lime or fresh coconut juice, all available from mobile drink carts for roughly $0.50.

what to do in Phnom Penh
A mobile coffee cart

If you are a vegetarian I highly recommend K’nyay Restaurant, which offers vegan and vegetarian cuisine and unusual local specialties, such as jackfruit or banana curries.

My favourite restaurant has got to be Samaky Restaurant though. Samaky is a social enterprise that trains street children in the catering business and teaches them English. I have never seen more friendly staff in any other restaurant and by eating there you support a really good cause as well.

I recommend the national dish Fish Amok, and sweet and sticky rice with mangoes.

what to do in Phnom Penh
the best sticky rice in town

Where to Drink in Phnom Penh

As Phnom Penh has a large expat community there are plenty of bars scattered around Phnom Penh. Most of them have happy hours where a glass of ice-cold Angkor beer will usually cost you $0.75, and a cocktail $2. Most bars are down the riverfront, on street 278 or 51. You will be spoiled for choice.

If you prefer drinking with the locals you can try out one of the plentiful Khmer beer gardens, where a pitcher of beer will cost you around $1.5. Be repared for some karaoke though.

what to do in Phnom penh
beer tower

Best Place for a Night on the Town in Phnom Penh

No visit to Phnom Penh is completed without a visit to the famous Foreign Correspondence Club (FCC). The FCC is a very historic building, as it was here where the war correspondents filed their breaking stories in the early days of the Khmer Rouge regime, until they were all forced to leave the country.

Its rooftop bar offers beautiful views over the riverside. The food is delicious, but a bit more on the pricy side. There is also regular live music.

If you would like to see some traditional Cambodian dancing I recommend the Chaktomuk Theatre on Sisowath Quay where you can see the Apsara Dance and some very elaborate costumes.

what to do in phnom penh
Apsara – traditional dance

If you want to party in a private space you can rent one of the many boats along the river which can host up to 50 people. Costs are around $20 for a 2-hour cruise and you can bring your own drinks and food. The boat takes you down both the Mekong river and the Tonle Sap – very relaxing way to spend your night.

what to do in Phnom Penh
boats for river cruise

Where to Stay in Phnom Penh

There are a lot of cheap guesthouses on the Golden Mile on street 278, called golden mile because most guesthouses have the word golden in their name.

I stayed in the New Golden Bridge Guest House when I first arrived and was very happy with the friendliness and helpfulness of the staff and the clean rooms.

A mid-range hotel I can really recommend is the Hotel 252. It has a swimming pool, which is very refreshing after a hot day of sightseeing. The food is Khmer and Swiss and very delicious.

what to do in phnom penh
Pool at Hotel 252

If you are into more upmarket hotels then I can recommend the Raffles Hotel, which is simply beautiful in architecture, luxurious, offers delicious high noon teas and also has a great swimming pool.

For more places to stay in Phnom Penh choose from the largest range of hotels, apartments, and guesthouses with our partner Booking.com. You get free cancellation on most rooms, and in most cases you only pay when you stay.

Markets and Shopping in Phnom Penh

There are three markets where you can buy souvenirs.

  • The biggest is the Russian Market on Street 163, which sells everything from souvenirs, to engine parts, antiques or fresh food.
  • The Central Market on Street 128 is a beautiful art deco building, but sells similar products to the Russian market, but is a bit smaller.
what to do in Phnom Penh
central market
  • The Night Market on the riverfront at the corner of Street 108 is open on Friday and Saturday nights. It is a great place to sample some street food and to buy souvenirs.

Haggling is a must on all three markets to get the best deal. If you are into art and handicrafts in particular I recommend a visit to Street 178 where galleries and workshops line the street opposite the University of Arts.

what to do in Phnom Penh
night market

Events and Festivals in Phnom Penh

The biggest event each year is the Water Festival in October. The 3-day festival is of great significance as it celebrates the end of the rainy season, the start of the fishing season, and also the unique natural phenomenon – the flow of the Tonle Sap river changing direction!

Many villagers throughout the country spend almost a full year preparing their villages boat for the famous boat races. These are elaborately and brightly decorated dug out canoes with large eyes on the prows to ward off evil spirits.

Another big event is the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, which marks the beginning of the rainy and rice growing season. The Royal family is usually involved and you will be able to see parades on the grounds of the National Museum, Buddhist rituals, marching bands and the actual ploughing ceremony where two royal oxens plough the ground and are then offered a varierty of foods and spirits. Depending on what the oxen chooses to eat is a sign for a good or bad harvest.

what to do in Phnom Penh
royal ploughing ceremony

Get around Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh hasn’t got the luxury of public buses or an underground system that other Asian metropolises have. So to get round you can either take a tuk tuk or a moto taxi. There are plenty of those around and you won’t be able to walk a meter without being offered a ride. Motos are a bit cheaper, but don’t expect the driver have a helmet for you.

I prefer tuk tuks. They are safe and you get to relax on the comfy seats whilst being able to take in the surrounding sights. Negotiate a price in advance and expect to pay between $2-$4, depending on how far you go.

what to do in Phnom Penh
tuk tuk

Finding WiFi in Phnom Penh

Most restaurants, hotels and cafes have free wifi these days. The internet connection is also fairly fast, so you won’t have a problem getting in touch with your loved ones back home.

Best time to visit Phnom Penh

There are three seasons in Cambodia. The hot season (November to January), the very hot season (February to May) and the rainy season (June to October).

  • The average temperature during the hot season is around 32 degrees Celsius, so this is a nice time to visit.
  • The very hot season is almost unbearable when it gets as high as 39-42 degrees.
  • The rainy season is quite a nice time to visit as well, as the rice paddies are very green and lush and the afternoon rainfalls cool the high temperatures down a little bit.

Favorite side trip from Phnom Penh

I would really recommend a visit to Tonle Bati and its nearby Angkorian temple ruin Ta Prom. Tonle Bati is a lake where locals often come for the weekend to have a picnic by the lake, go for a boat ride or a dip in the cool water.

Whilst I wouldn’t recommend swimming in the lake for health reasons, the picnic areas by the lake are the perfect spot to relax in a hammock and eat snacks provided by the various street vendors or restaurants.

what to do in Phnom penh
Tonle bati

A few minutes away from the lake is the Ta Prohm ruin, which dates back to the late 12th century. Whilst you get bigger ruins in the Angkor Wat temple complex in Siem Reap, you will have this ruin all to yourself for a true Tomb Raider experience.

You can get there by booking private cars via tour operators or negotiate a deal with any tuk tuk driver in town. It takes about 1 hour in a car and 1.5 hours in a tuk tuk. Expect to pay about around $30 for either mode of transport.

what to do in Phnom Penh
Ta Prohm

Getting There and Away

Unfortunately, there are no direct flights from Europe, the US or Australia to Phnom, so you either have to stop in Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur. I recommend Air Asia as it is very cheap and reliable.

Buses are much cheaper, but take a lot longer as well. If you come from Vietnam you can take a bus or boat from Ho Chi Minh City. The bus trip takes about 6 hours, and is very comfortable. The boat ride takes about 4 hours and is really picturesque as it takes you through the Mekong Delta.

There are also buses available from Bangkok, but they take a whole day with various changes involved. A bus from Pakse/Laos is about 15 hours.

Best insider tip for travellers to Phnom Penh

As most people only stay for a few days in Phnom Penh they often don’t get the chance to experience the surrounding countryside and its sights. I have already mentioned Tonle Bati above, but there is also another place that is easily reachable for a half-day trip, which is Oudong.

Oudong has been Cambodia’s former capital until Phnom Penh became the new capital in 1866. It is now the official resting place of the most sacred of Buddha’s bones possessed by Cambodia. The bones are in a temple on top of a mountain.

After a 10 to 20 minute climb from the base of the mountain you will be able to witness a wonderful view down to the surrounding Wats, rice fields and floodplains. You can get there via tuk tuk or booking a tour with a tour operator for roughly $30.

I love Phnom Penh because …

It is home to the most amazing and friendly people I have ever met. They don’t rip you off and locals will always greet you with the biggest smiles you can imagine. I love Phnom Penh because I feel home here.

Plan Your Trip to Phnom Penh

We’ve been traveling consistently for 17 years and have come to rely on a few trusted websites that save us money and time when booking accommodation, flights, and car rental. Below are our preferred partners:

Accommodation in Phnom Penh

  • Booking.com has 450 properties in Phnom Penh including hotels, apartments, and guesthouses. You get free cancelation on most rooms and a best price guarantee.

Flights to Phnom Penh

  • Skyscanner is a comparison website that searches millions of flights. Once you find your best deal, book directly through the airline (no extra fees).

Popular tours in Cambodia

BIO – Tammy from Tammy & Chris on the move hails from Germany, and is therefore both efficient and punctual. Chris is hailing from the UK, which means he likes to talk about the weather, be polite, or sometimes even both at the same time. They both have civil service backgrounds, but have left their bowler-hats back in London and are currently working on justice and human right issues in Cambodia.

Whenever they get some time off, they travel around South East Asia or plan in which country they will live and work in next. Follow their journey on their blog, Tammy & Chris on the move, on Twitter or on facebook.

Do you have any tips on what to do in Phnom Penh?

Share in the comments.

43 thoughts on “Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia”

  1. Definitely worth a visit in town are also The Flicks. Two ubercomfy movie houses where you can watch the latest blockbusters in an air conditioned movie room with a big screen.

  2. I really enjoyed this post! I’m considering going to Cambodia next year and doing a rough itinerary sketch, hadn’t really pencilled in more than a day, two days max, in the city. Looks like I’m going to have to reconsider – especially given the $2 cocktails. My kinda city! The Royal Palace is absolutely stunning, too. Love anything gold.

  3. This is a really great article. Part of me wishes it still was the same as 10 years ago. I agree, it definitely shouldn’t be overlooked and backpackers should spend at least a bit of time in Phenom Phen. Cool pics as well! Now I know what to do the next time I’m there.

  4. This article couldn’t have come at a better time! We’re heading to Phnom Penh next month and were just talking about things to do there. We’ll definitely have to check out the Ta Prohm ruins and go on a boat cruise. We’ll actually be living in the Oudong district for a few months. I echo your recommendation for people to visit the temple on the mountain there. The views are stunning, and there are rarely many other people there which makes it a unique experience. You can actually explore around the grounds on top of the mountain for hours! If you’ll still be in PP in October, we’d love to meet up! Thanks for a great article 🙂

    1. Thank you Jen! Glad I could help. Would be great to meet up. We will be here until 5th October, then head to the UK/Germany for a month, and then come back to PP on 9th November. If you are around in the first week of October or early November let me know.

  5. I am going to Cambodia on September this year. Besides Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam are also listed to be visited. But still I have a question about a hotel you might have seen during your visit in Siem Reap if you have been there. I booked the following hotel: Tara Angkor Hotel. You know if it is a good hotel? I heard good stories about it. What are the best attractions to visit in Siem Reap and in the surrounding?

  6. This is a really interesting post! I’ll definitely try Sakamy and I am very curious about this Khmer beer gardens with karaoke! Do you have places to recommend, or an area where they can be found?

  7. Hello Emma,
    I read your message and wanted to help you, because I have been in Siem Reap a lot of times. The Tara Angkor hotel is a beautiful hotel and is ideally and conveniently located, Tara Angkor Hotel is situated only 6 km from the Angkor Wat Temples, 15 min drive from the Siem Reap International Airport, a few minutes stroll to the Angkor National Museum and a short ride to the city town center with an array of Cambodian souvenirs, shopping and culture. They have a few promotions that you can make use of if you haven’t booked already: Last minute bookings, summer sales, early bird promotion or Angkor temptations. Of course there are a lot more, but have a look at their website. It is not that far to the Angkor temples that I would advise you to see for sure. I would say, grab yourself a 3 day pass and find yourself a decent tuk tuk driver to take you to the farther ruins and for a drive in some of the outlying villages. If you’re up for it consider renting a bike and checking out Angkor Wat on your own. There’s a lot to see and do so a lot depends on your time and budget. A few temples I would strongly suggest you check out besides Angkor Wat itself are Bayon Temple, Angkor Thom and of course Ta Prohm just to see the amazing tree. The Banteay Srei temple is farther out of Siem Reap but has a very different feel than a lot of the others. If you want to do something else as well, you can visit the day and night market. I can really recommend these attractions. If you need to know more, let me know.

  8. What about the Wildlife Tour at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center? I encourage you to take this new tour where guests will be guided around areas closed to the public and:

    – feed and walk elephants in the forest,

    – play with baby animals in the nursery,

    – get up close with tigers in their dens,

    – have a t-shirt painted by a humanely-trained elephant

    – feed and play with young rescued macaques

    – and other once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, all for a good cause.

    Lunch, water and transportation are provided as part of the tour.

    All profits from the tours contribute directly to the rescue, care and conservation of wildlife in Cambodia.

    All the details are also online at http://www.wildlifealliance.org/page/view/383/wildlife-tours.

    About Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center & Wildlife Alliance:

    Wildlife Alliance (WA), as you may already know, is a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental conservation. WA is now creating a close-encounter wildlife tour of Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center (PTWRC), one of the WA projects located 40km south of Phnom Penh.

    PTWRC is home to over 1200 animals, most of which have been rescued from the illegal wildlife trade by the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team (WRRT), a patrol team created by WA. Animals rescued are released back into the wild whenever possible or they are given a home at PTWRC for as long as needed.

    More information on our organization and Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center:

    http://www.wildlifealliance.org/page/view/81/wildlife/care-for-rescued-wildlife

    http://www.facebook.com/PTWRC

  9. My brother is travelling to Phnom Penh soon. I wanted to see what genuine travelers are talking about this city and found this post. Thanks so much.. it really is very informative.
    I wish I could go with him. That night market is just my style of eating. I love it!

  10. Lesh @ NOMADasaurus

    Wow great summary of Phnom Penh. We were in Cambodia for 2 months not long ago. You are so right! They are amazing people! We only spent a couple of nights in PP but did enjoy our time. The S-21 Museum and The Killing Feilds are a must. They are very sad and heart breaking, but unfortunately it is a part of history and should be learnt about. It just blows my mind how happy the Khmer people are. They definietly are showing the world that they are the bigger people and that they want to move forward. The river cruise would have been great. Pity we missed out, next time. Thanks for sharing guys.

  11. Just so your readers are aware, those lovely little bars you recommended are where children and trafficked for sex each night. Supporting those places is supporting human slavery. Not what I hope people choose to do on vacation…. Just want people to know what’s really going on.

    1. Hi Suzanne,

      We didn’t write this article, it was written by a guest writer so I’m actually not familiar with these establishments in Phnom Penh. Exactly which bars are you referring to in the article and of course I will remove the relevant links immediately. We would never knowingly promote or support anything like that. And I’m sure our guest writer would not either and was not aware of anything like that going on at the time of their visit and publishing this post.

      Thanks for the heads up!

  12. Greetings from Singapore! I chanced upon this on Pintrest – great insight! I will be coming to Phnom Penh end of next month and this would be my first ever solo trip!!! I was wondering if you’d be free for dinner? Hear from you soon cheers

  13. Hi there,

    great blog with lots of useful information and beautiful photo impressions. I am planning to go to Phnom Penh soon and got really inspired by your blog, thanks.

  14. I just realized how long ago this post was written. But I just came across it and I love it!

    I am actually traveling around Cambodia right now. I’m currently in Phnom Penh. And I have just visited the Killing Fields that you talk about. Being there and knowing the history. It just hits you hard.

    After that, I went on to S-21. Yes! It was a pretty depressing day. But I definitely recommend the experience if anyone is ever in Phnom Penh.

  15. I’ll be in Cambodia this December and was thinking of just Siem Reap but thanks for this post – Definitely stopping over for at least 2-3 days in Phnom Penh. If you are ever considering Sri Lanka give me a shout – would love to have you at Mövenpick Hotel Colombo 🙂

  16. This is a great summary of things to do in phenom penh. I was one of those people who only spent a a few days there, but will be there again soon and will check some of these things out.

    My favourite thing i did there (if you could call it that) was the killing fields. Its so sad and was amazing to see how moved everyone was, and how respectful and attentive they were being while learning the history of cambodia.

    The khmer people are beautiful and so kind. Cambodia is my favourite country and im really looking forward to going back

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