Ahh – Phnom Penh. The city we’ve been so lucky to call home for the past year. We have completely fallen in love with this city, and we’re so sad that it’s commonly overlooked. Ok, sure – it’s not as wild as Bangkok, it doesn’t have beaches to offer like Koh Rong, and you won’t be blown away by the magic of the ancient temples in Siem Reap. That said, Phnom Penh has a lot to offer in it’s own way – and we believe it’s way more than a stopover city.
Have a few days in your itinerary to spend time in the capital? Lucky you! Here are our list of things you can’t miss if you’re in PP.
1. Visit the Killing Fields & Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Undoubtedly, the two most important trips you will take in Cambodia. We highly recommend visiting both of these places during your visit to Cambodia. Although these are both very saddening and sombre place, it is extremely important to understand the Khmer Rouge if you are traveling this amazing country.
The two destinations are often offered by tour guides (often tuk tuk drivers) as a pair. If you don’t have the time or the emotional capacity to visit both, we do, at the very least, recommend visiting the Killing Fields.
The audio tours are free of charge and the stories are told by survivors. Take your time at these very important places and make sure you don’t plan anything too crazy afterwards. We recommend taking the rest of the day to relax and reflect after visiting.
2. Shop at the Phnom Penh Night Market
Have time to kill in the evening? The night market is located right near the riverside. After dinner, come down here to get some souvenirs for your friends back home. Try some local foods and listen to live music. If you’re well-travelled, you’ll see that this night market isn’t as big as some of the other ones you may have seen – but it still a fun thing to do on a calm Phnom Penh evening.
Open Friday-Sunday 5:00pm-12:00am.
3. Visit the beautiful Wat Phnom
A Buddhist temple right in the city, Wat Phnom is only $1 USD to visit. The main pagoda is located right atop a small hill. Surrounding the pagoda are beautiful statues and plenty of greenery. Wat Phnom is a quick trip away from other attractions such as the riverside and Central Market, which makes it very easy to visit. We love visiting this park as it is a nice piece of greenery in the middle of the crazy city.
4. Take a walk down the classic riverside (Sisowath Quay)
You can’t visit Phnom Penh without taking a walk down the riverside. The street overlooks the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers and is filled with restaurants, bars, street vendors, and shopping. Watch the locals playing games on the path, as well as setting up their straw mats for a picnic. The riverside walk is lined with flags from around the world – can you spot your country’s flag?
5. Get some cheap finds at Russian Market
Russian Market is our favourite market in Phnom Penh. You can get almost anything you could possibly need here – all for a very good price. Get ready to bargain like a local and enjoy your funky finds.
6. Visit the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is still home to his & her majesty, which makes this visit extra spectacular. The entry fee is $10 and it is reported to be much more enjoyable with a guide. If you’re looking for glimmering gold in the city, this is the place to visit.
7. Eat for a good cause at Friends Restaurant
All profits from this delicious restaurant go to the training of their staff, who are at-risk youth with serious talent. They provide hands-on education and help develop both valuable life skills and full social support. You can support the future of these young talents just by eating their delicious food – it’s never been easier.
8. Get a drink in Bassac Lane
Take a short walk through a residential neighbourhood and you’ll find a back alley that’s now been converted into a lively strip of micro bars and restaurants. Two brothers have ownership of all the bars down the strip, and it’s safe to say they are geniuses. Each establishment is interesting in it’s own way, each offering a different theme and vibe. On Friday night’s, you can even expect live music in the lane where locals and tourists alike will dance into the night. The lane offers a classier feel than other areas like the riverside. You may even forget you’re in Cambodia – until you get your inexpensive bill.
9. Grab a beer and shop all night at Jet’s Container
A place to hang out with both locals and travelers, Jet’s Container is a bustling night market in Phnom Penh. Although there are retail vendors, this isn’t really a market to do all your shopping at. Rather, grab a beer and a snack and listen to some lively music.
10. Take a stroll to see the Independence Monument (and Wat Botum)
If you’ve ever seen Phnom Penh on TV, then you’d definitely recognize the Independence Monument. It is is a 37m tall building located in the middle of a roundabout that memorializes Cambodia’s independence from France.
Near the monument is a park that runs down the middle of the main road. You’ll find well-kept gardens, fountains, and a crowd of locals hanging out. The monument itself is lit up at night, and is truly a beautiful, iconic sight.
If you keep following the path, you will soon reach another park called Wat Botum Park, which is another great park in the city. Walking through both parks past the various statues is a lovely way to get your steps in and take some photos.
11. Watch a traditional Khmer dance performance
Every night, you have a chance to go see a traditional Khmer dance performance at the National Museum. The Traditional Dance Show is presented by Cambodia Living Arts daily at 7pm.
12. Go for a luxurious swim at a beautiful pool
No pool at your hotel? No problem. Most hotels in Phnom Penh allow guests use their facilities for $5-$10 dollars towards food & drinks. Yes, spend just $5 on an appetizer & a beer and use the pool for free. Our favourite snazzy pools include the rooftop jacuzzi at Balconitel Boutique Hotel, Plantation Urban Resort & Spa, Patio Hotel, TeaHouse Asian Urban Hotel and the famous rooftop pool at Aquarius Hotel.
13. Get some late-night pizza at Katy Peri’s Pizza
Ever had a pizza cooked in a wood-fire oven inside of a tuk-tuk? Well, now you will be able to say yes to that question. Don’t expect it to get it during the day, though. That’s right, Katy Peri’s is only open for the night owls. They start cooking at 8:30pm stays open until 5:00am.
If you’re in a nightclub in the area, don’t forget to stumble by this place on your way home. Oh, they deliver too, just in case you forget.
14. Take a boat trip down the river
For $20-$30 USD, you can take a sunset cruise down the river. These river cruises include a buffet and peaceful views of Phnom Penh. You’ll see the iconic views from afar, such as the Royal Palace and Silk Island, and maybe even have a boozy cocktail or two.
15. Take a half-day trip to Silk Island (Koh Dach)
You don’t have to travel too far to get out of the city and witness rural Cambodian life. Silk Island is calm and picturesque and so close to PP that you can easily do this trip in half a day. There are multiple ways to get here: take a ferry from the riverside, hire a tuk tuk, drive your own moto or even rent a bicycle to cruise around the island.
This is a perfect place to get souvenirs to bring back to your friends and family, as you can buy some locally made scarves, bedsheets, skirts, pants, etc. woven by the Cambodian people on Koh Dach. They’ll show you the entire silk production process starting with the silkworms and ending with some beautiful pieces to take home.
Thinking of moving to Phnom Penh? Find our article all about the moving process here.