The biggest city in Cambodia, also its wealthiest, Phnom Penh is the cultural, commercial and political centre of the country and is home to more than one million of Cambodia's population of over 14 million. Covering an area of 345sqk Phnom Penh is located in the south-central region of Cambodia, at the confluence of the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers.
The city offers extensive cultural and historical attractions, including temples, museums, the Royal Palace and also has accommodation from simple guesthouses to five-star hotels. Phnom Penh also features good dining facilities as well as a vibrant and varied nightlife.
10 est Attractions in Phnom Penh
1. The Killing Fields and S-21 Prison
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) and Choeung Ek Killing Fields Memorial are the most visited tourist spots in Phnom Penh. Visits to both sites can be very emotional, but it is an essential stop while visiting Phnom Penh to understand the recent tragic Cambodian history.
Given the connection between the two sites, take in both sites on the same day to fully appreciate the history. Any tuk-tuk driver in the city will be able to take you to both the museum and the memorial, or if you prefer to have a proper English-speaking guide, the PHNOM PENH'S PAST or the CHOENG EK KILLING FIELDS & TUOL SLENG MUSEUM tours are both excellent.
Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21prison, was a high school that the Khmer Rouge regime used as an interrogation and torture centre. Most rooms have been left in the state they were found in January 1979, including classrooms divided into tiny cells. The haunting identity photos of the prisoners who suffered here are exhibited throughout the museum.
Choeung Ek Memorial(best known as the Killing Fields),17km south of Phnom Penh, is one of the many killing fields or execution and burial grounds used by the Khmer Rouge throughout Cambodia. Mass graves were discovered there after the Khmer Rouge fled the city, and estimates say up to 15,000 people were executed there. The visit, with informative audio guides in many languages, is very detailed and includes testimony from both survivors and guards of the regime.
2. Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace covers an area of 174,870 square metres and is open to visitors, even though the king of Cambodia still lives there occasionally (if the blue royal flag is flying, the king is in residence).Different buildings have been added and restored over time, even up until the mid-1960s, but some date back to the 19th century. You can visit the Throne Hall with ceiling murals depicting the story of the Ramayana, the Moonlight Pavilion where classical Khmer dances have been performed for decades, and the Silver Pagoda, named after the five tonnes of tiles covering its floor. The Silver Pagoda also houses the famous Emerald Buddha.
3. National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Cambodia has one of the largest collections of Khmer art, with more than 1,800 works on display. There are numerous sculptures, ceramics, and ethnographic objects such as theatrical costumes or marriage boxes, dating from the prehistoric to post-Angkorian periods. The building dates from the early 20th century but reflects “traditional Khmer” architecture. The garden and ponds feature statues of different types and divinities. Note that taking photos inside the museum is not allowed. This is a must-see visit while in Phnom Penh.
4. River Cruises
River cruises start at Sisowath Quay, Riverside, between Street 178 and Street 130. Expect to be asked many times to choose a boat and cruise company as you walk past. There are daytime and evening sunset cruises, which are the most popular. This is a great way to see the city from a different perspective and enjoy beautiful views of the Royal Palace and Riverside.
The usual route goes down the Tonle Sap, onto the Mekong and up the shore of Kandal Province on the other side, to view floating fishing villages before returning, or ask for other options. We recommend taking in the silk weaving Mekong Island with a return boat cruise to enjoy the sunset on theMEKONG SUNSET tour.
5. Ta Prohm at Tonle Bati
You don’t have to go to Angkor Wat to see Angkor period temples. Just one hour south of Phnom Penh is the beautifully preserved laterite temple of Ta Prohm. Like the temple of the same name near Siem Reap, this temple dates back to the late 12th century.
The carvings on the outside of the structure are in very good condition and bas-reliefs illustrating Hindu mythology are all around. The smaller Yey Peo temple is 200 metres to the north, and the small lake Tonle Bati is a popular picnic spot with locals. Huts and hammocks are available to rent at the lake.
To combine a visit to the temples with a silk weaving village, join the TA PROHM TEMPLES AT TONLE BATI tour.
6. Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
Families and animal lovers will enjoy the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre, a sanctuary for rescued animals. Established in 1995, it is the largest zoo in Cambodia. They also run breeding programs for threatened species, and animals are released back into the wild whenever possible. For a really unique experience, the pricier Wildlife Tour lets you spend the day with the animals: learn how to care for elephants, tigers, gibbons and other endangered species, as well as the rescued baby animals in the nursery. Another option is Bear Keeper for a Day, with a behind-the-scenes experience looking after rescued endangered bears and working with their keepers for the day.
7. Cambodian Living Arts – Apsara and traditional Khmer dance
Apsara dance performances should not be missed. Traditional Khmer dance dates back to the 18th century, but was almost lost under the Khmer Rouge regime. Cambodian Living Arts revived the art by gathering surviving master artists to train and pass on their knowledge to younger generations.
They also organise tours to watch classes and ask questions to both students and master artists for a more in-depth experience. The Cambodian Living Arts Plae Pakaa performances take place outdoor every day in the National Museum gardens from October through to March. A beautiful and unique experience. Book your tickets on their website to be sure of a spot.
8. Silk Island Bike tour
Just a short boat ride up the Mekong from Phnom Penh, is Mekong or Silk Island. So named for the numerous silk producers on the island, this gives a fascinating look into an ancient local industry. Cycle around the island to see people weaving silk in their home-based businesses, and have the option to buy silk garments or material direct. End the tour with a leisurely boat ride down the famous Mekong River back to Phnom Penh in time for lunch. Bring some sun block and your camera!
9. Phnom Penh Local Markets
If there’s one thing Phnom Penh has plenty of, it is markets (phases in Khmer). Large, small and everything in-between, you’ll find clusters of stalls in main streets and sides around the city, selling lots of everything. If you’re pressed for time, you can get the full experience at the must-see Central Market and the slightly further-afield Russian Market. Both will excite all your senses, but have different atmospheres and are known for their own specialties and bargains are assured. Take the full day PHNOM PENH DISCOVERY TOUR and see both in one day.
Khmer cuisine, with its fermented fishy flavors, can be difficult for those who aren’t familiar with it, and many local restaurants only serve a few things, making it difficult to satisfy a large group with multiple preferences. But never fear, it is possible to fall in love with Cambodian food in Phnom Penh.
Here are a few places that I usually end up taking guests who are new to Khmer cuisine.
If you’re interested in eating for a cause, Romdeng is part of the NGO Mith Samlanh, which trains and employs former street children. Romdeng specializes in traditional Khmer dishes from the provinces and gives you a chance to try some of the more adventurous Khmer dishes like deep-fried tarantulas and red tree ants in a atmospheric and hygienic environment. Lots of other dishes on the menu will appeal to a more traditional palate
Adress: 74 St 174, Phnom Penh
K’nyay serves up traditional Khmer dishes in a stylish environment. Their dishes are made with higher-quality ingredients than what you’ll find in local restaurants (and the prices reflect this). It’s a great place to try Cambodian dishes without having to worry about the cleanliness of the kitchen and they also have vegetarian and vegan options on the menu.
Adress: Suramarit Blvd between Sothearos Blvd and St 19
A newcomer to the Khmer food scene, The Empire was opened recently by an English-Cambodian couple who have perfected Khmer dishes that suit a Western palate. You’ll find classics like fish amok and Khmer curry made sansprahok and with just the right amount of spice. They also have steak nights every Thursday, in case not everyone in your group wants to try their delicious Khmer options.
Adress: #34 St 130, Phnom Penh.
The Russian Market, or Psar Toul Tom Pong is a must-see for anyone new to Phnom Penh. But it’s not just a shopper’s paradise: a large food hall sells num ban chok, banh hoi and other local specialities for those looking to experience “real” Cambodian eating. Lots of tourists mean that the food sellers speak a bit of English, but the prices aren’t higher than what you’d pay on the street.
Adress: Intersection of Street 440 & Street 15
54 Langeach Sros
54 Langeach Sros (or “Fresh Evening”) is a Khmer beer garden restaurant that is always a hit with visitors. It’s cheap, there’s a menu in English and the grilled pork ribs are out of this world. They also have a number of intriguing tree-ant dishes, frog’s legs and fish amok. And with jugs of Angkor beer at only 9,000 riel, you’ll be able to eat and drink to your heart’s content for less than $5 a person.
Adress: 15AEe St 178, Phnom Penh.