Monks sitting under a tree in Phnom Penh

32 Best Things to Do in Phnom Penh

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s chaotic capital, is one of the top places to visit in the country. But it isn’t for everyone. You hate it or love it. Either way, you need to experience it at least once.

You won’t get bored in Phnom Penh – there’s so many things to do. It has some of the best cultural and historical sights in the country, bustling markets, nightlife, and interesting attractions. You’ll find all of it in this list of the 32 best things to do in Phnom Penh.

Learn about the Khmer Rouge at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Jail cells of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh

You can’t visit Cambodia without learning about the Khmer Rouge, a communist party that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During that time, 1.5 million Cambodians died by execution, malnutrition, or disease. The horrific genocide left a lasting impact on the country.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was formerly the Khmer Rouge’s Security Prison 21 (S-21). Many Cambodians were interrogated, tortured, and killed here. Today, the museum is a memorial to those who died there and educates visitors on this tragic yet historically significant period in Cambodian history.

An adult ticket is $5 USD and the audio guide is the same price. Definitely get the audio guide – it provides a lot of information that you won’t get when looking at the exhibits. You’ll hear stories from prisoners, see torture devices the Khmer Rouge used, and step into the actual prison cells. Visiting the museum is a somber experience, but it’s one of the things that’ll stay with you long after you leave.

Take a day trip to Mount Oudong

For almost 250 years, Oudong was the capital of Cambodia. It lost that title in 1865, when King Norodom moved the capital to Phnom Penh.

Most people don’t venture outside of Phnom Penh when visiting the city, which makes Mount Oudong a not-so-secret secret. If you have extra time, Mount Oudong is a great day trip. It’s about 45 km, or an hour drive, northwest of Phnom Penh. You can get there by tuk tuk, taxi, or organized tour.

The main attractions are the temples and stupas at the top of Mount Oudong. Climb over 500 steps up the mountain and you’ll see magnificent stupas, stunning temples, and a fantastic view of the surrounding countryside.

Discover a silk weaving community on Koh Dach

Koh Dach, also known as Silk Island, lies in the Mekong River, north of Phnom Penh. It’s known for silk weaving (as you probably guessed from its name), and the slow island life is a lovely escape from the chaotic city. While you’re there, you can visit a silk weaving factory, see how other handicrafts are made by artisans on the island, watch local farmers tending to their fields, and bike around.

If you’re craving some peace and quiet, Koh Dach makes a great day trip from Phnom Penh. There are two ways to get there. You can book a bike tour, which includes pick-up and drop-off at your accommodation and lunch. Or, get to the island on your own by taking a tuktuk across the Chroy Changvar Bridge, also known as the Japanese Bridge or Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Bridge, and following Road 6 (NR6) to the ferry terminal.

You can extend your escape from the city by staying on Koh Dach. There are a few accommodation options, ranging from budget homestays to boutique hotels.

Art gallery hop

Battambang isn’t the only place in Cambodia where you’ll find a small but thriving art scene. Phnom Penh has many art galleries that feature both local and international artists.

DinArt Gallery is the gallery and studio of Din, a Cambodian artist who’s known for his beautiful paintings of apsara dancers. If you’re looking for a more interactive experience, Sra’Art Gallery is an art gallery and event space that frequently hosts exhibition openings, artist talks, sip and paint events, and art classes. The Gallerist’s small and modern space displays works from emerging and established artists, so you never know what you’ll find there.

Visit Koh Pich, a swamp turned satellite city

Koh Pich, or Diamond Island, is a rapidly developing satellite city east of Phnom Penh. Up until 2000, it was a swamp. Now it’s a residential and commercial island with high rises, restaurants, its own city hall, a convention center, a small park, and riverside walk.

There are three bridges that connect Koh Pich to the mainland: Twin Dragon Bridge, Swan Bridge, and Rainbow Bridge. Depending on where you’re coming from, you can walk over the bridge or take a tuk tuk.

Go out on Bassac Street

Hit up Bassac Street for a fun night out. While the area is quiet during the day, the restaurants and bars that line the small street and surrounding alleys come alive at night. Since Bassac Street is one of the best places for nightlife, you’ll find tourists, expats, and locals all hanging out here.

Spend a day with bears

Who knew you could find bears in Phnom Penh? Free the Bears is a non-profit that “protect[s], preserve[s] and enrich[es] the lives of bears throughout the world” and has bear sanctuaries throughout southeast Asia. In Cambodia, their sun and moon bear sanctuary is located inside the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre.

Their Bear Care Tour is a unique opportunity to meet the bears, prepare food and treats for them, and get behind-the-scenes access to the sanctuary. The tour requires a $90 USD donation, which goes toward caring for the bears. The price includes transportation to and from the sanctuary, lunch, park entrance fees, a guided tour, reusable water bottle, and a t-shirt.

Note that you’ll need to contact them at least one day in advance.

Take a sunset cruise on the Mekong River

One of the best places to experience the sunset in Cambodia is on the Mekong River. Instead of sitting on the banks of the river, hop on a boat and set sail for an affordable price. Tickets typically start at $15 per person for a one and a half or two-hour cruise. Some cruises include drinks and fruit, while others include dinner.

Send mail or simply marvel at the Central Post Office

The light yellow Central Post Office is a beautiful example of neoclassical architecture that’s been left behind from Cambodia’s French colonial period. It’s still a functioning post office today and the headquarters of the Cambodian postal system. Send a postcard or souvenirs from here, or simply come to take photos.

Climb the hill of Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom sits on the only hill in the city. The origin of Wat Phnom starts all the way back in 1372. Legend goes, a wealthy old woman named Daun Penh found a floating koki tree in a nearby river. There were four Buddha statues and a statue of Vishnu inside the tree. Amazed by these sacred statues, Penh and her neighbors built an artificial hill and placed a shrine at the top.

Under the reign of King Ponhea Yat in the 1400s, a large temple was built on the hill. The temple has been rebuilt several times in the 19th century and most recently in 1926.

Today, Wat Phnom is surrounded by beautiful greenery and it’s a beautiful sanctuary in the middle of a hectic city. Head up the stairs and into the temple to see a large bronze Buddha statue. Then, pay a visit to the shrine of Daun Penh.

Wat Phnom is free to visit for locals. For foreigners, you’ll have to pay $1 USD. Note that you’ll need to cover your shoulders and knees when visiting.

See how royalty lives at the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is the royal residence of the King of Cambodia, so not all parts of the grounds can be accessed by the public. It was constructed in 1866, after Phnom Penh became the capital of Cambodia. The Royal Palace is a magnificent example of Khmer architecture and a lovely place to walk around.

The temple houses 1,650 artifacts. Many are made from gold, silver, or bronze and decorated with diamonds and other precious stones. Don’t miss the Silver Pagoda, which is named for its gleaming floor made up of 5,000+ silver tiles. Another standout is the small Emerald Buddha, or Preah Keo Morakot, which sits in the center of the temple.

Learn about the atrocities at the Choeung Ek Killing Field

Memorial with skulls of people who were killed by the Khmer Rouge at the Choeung Ek Killing Field

There are many killing fields across Cambodia – places where the Khmer Rouge killed their prisoners. The most well-known and largest of them is Choeung Ek in Phnom Penh.

Prisoners who didn’t die at S-21 were transported to Choeung Ek to be executed. The remains of over 8,000 men, women, and children have been uncovered in the mass graves there. Like the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Choeung Ek serves as a memorial commemorating the people who died there and an educational attraction that teaches visitors about the atrocities that occurred during the Khmer Rouge.

The entry fee is $3 USD. I recommend getting the audio guide, which is also $3, since the placards around the site only provide brief explanations.

See relics at the National Museum of Cambodia

The National Museum of Cambodia holds the country’s largest collection of Khmer cultural items, including art, sculptures, and ceramics. The museum is beautifully designed to look like a Khmer temple and has a small outdoor courtyard where you can feed the fish and take a snack break.

There are very few placards to explain what you’re looking at, so it’s best to get an audio guide or ask for a guided tour. Admission is $10 USD for adults.

Before or after your museum visit, grab something to eat at The Museum Café. Their outdoor seating is a plant-filled oasis, and they serve Cambodian dishes like fish amok and beef lok lak.

Shop the local markets

Get lost in one of the many markets in Phnom Penh and take in the sights, sounds, and smells that surround you. Take your pick from the following: Central Market, Russian (Toul Tom Poung) Market, Orussey Market, The Old Market (Phsar Chas), Boeung Keng Kang Market, and the Phnom Penh Night Market.

Unlike the markets in Siem Reap that are mostly geared toward tourists, the ones in Phnom Penh are local markets where Cambodians go to buy produce, meat, clothing, and other everyday items. Expect to squeeze through narrow walkways and be shuffled along by locals. Central Market is the most touristy out of all of them – probably because it’s housed in a beautiful art deco building that’s become a landmark of the city.

Poke your head into Wat Toul Tom Poung

While you’re near the Russian Market, visit Wat Toul Tom Poung. It’s a block away from the market, located between a primary school and high school.

Meander along Sisowath Quay

Sisowath Quay is a 3 km-long strip that runs along the Tonle Sap River. The road is sandwiched between hotels, restaurants, and shops on one side and the Sisowath Riverside Park on the other. It’s a popular spot among locals and tourists, especially on weekends and in the evening.

Crossing the road to get to the park is a mess, since there aren’t traffic lights. Go slowly and carefully. But once you’re on the other side, enjoy the uninterrupted walkway.

Slip and slide at Garden City Water Park

You wouldn’t expect to go to a water park when visiting Cambodia, but it makes perfect sense given how hot and humid the country gets. Garden City Water Park is about a 35-minute drive north of the city center, near other attractions like the Garden City Golf Club and Morodok Techo National Stadium. It’s large and modern, with water slides, a lazy river, wave pool, and surfing simulator. Adult tickets are $15.50 USD, and they have cabanas, towels, and lockers for rent.

Walk by the Independence Monument

You can’t miss the Independence Monument, which sits in the center of a roundabout a few blocks away from the Royal Palace. The Independence Monument commemorates Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. It’s designed to resemble a lotus flower and is beautifully lit up at night.

Visit the statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk

Combine visiting the Independence Monument with the statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, since the two are next to each other. Norodom Sihanouk served as the king of Cambodia twice. His first reign was from 1941 to 1955, and his second reign was from 1993 to 2004.

It’s no coincidence that his statue is near the Independence Monument. One of his biggest accomplishments was freeing Cambodia from French rule.

Sihanouk died in 2012, and the statue was put up a year after his death.

Cook up classic Cambodian dishes

Cooking classes are a fun activity, whether you’re traveling alone or with friends or family. It’s a must for foodies. Even if you aren’t much of a cook, you’ll turn out delicious dishes and pick up some new skills while you’re at it.

Banana Cooking Class hosts the best cooking classes in Phnom Penh. Choose from either a morning or afternoon half-day cooking class or a full-day class. You’ll start with a shopping trip to a local market, learn Khmer cooking techniques, and take home the recipes so you can recreate a piece of your time in Cambodia.

Meditate at Wat Langka

Wat Langka was initially built to store sacred Buddhist scriptures and writings. It also served as a place where Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks could meet, which is where the name of the temple comes from.

It’s located near the Independence Monument, so it’s best to see both of them in one go. The temple also offers free, non-guided meditation sessions four days a week. You can join Monday, Thursday, and Saturday at 6 PM or Sunday at 8:30 AM.

Explore Wat Ounalom

Founded in 1443, Wat Ounalom is the center of Cambodian Buddhism. It’s one of the five original monasteries built in Phnom Penh during the reign of King Ponhea Yat, who was “the last king of the Khmer Empire and the first Khmer king of the post-Angkor period.” Adding on to the temple’s cultural and historical significance, it used to be the home of the Buddhist Institute and library.

But above all that, the most important aspect of the temple is how it got its name. Ounalom means “eyebrow,” and it’s believed that one of the stupas in the temple contains an eyebrow hair from Buddha.

Take in the cityscape at a rooftop bar

The city of Phnom Penh at night

Take advantage of all the high rises in Phnom Penh by heading up for phenomenal views of the city. Soak in the sunset with some drinks or see the city shimmering below you at night. For views and vibes, check out Eclipse Sky Bar, HighGround Sky Bar, Sundown Social Club, and Lantern Rooftop Bar.

Go for a stroll in Wat Botum Park

Wat Botum Park is one of my favorite places in Phnom Penh. Although small, the park is a popular spot where locals hang out in the evening. It’s the perfect place for people watching. You’ll see runners, families going for a walk, and people playing jianzi (a Chinese sport where the goal is to keep a shuttlecock in the air using your body).

Tee up at the Royal Cambodia Phnom Penh Golf Club

Get out of the city and enjoy a day on the green at the Royal Cambodia Phnom Penh Golf Club. It’s only about 19 km or a 30-minute drive from the city center. If you want to sneak in a game before you leave, it’s 9 km away from the Phnom Penh International Airport.

Dignitaries and celebrities often come here, so you might even spot one of them!

Picnic or fish at Tonle Bati

Join locals at one of their favorite weekend hang-out spots – Tonle Bati, which is 30 km southwest of Phnom Penh. The lake is a popular picnic and fishing spot, with shady huts you can rent and vendors selling food and drinks.

While you’re in the area, visit two Angkorian temples: Ta Prohm and Yeay Peau. Don’t confuse this Ta Prohm temple with the temple in Angkor Wat that has the same name. This one isn’t as impressive, but you’ll see architecture and carvings similar to what you’d find in Angkor Wat.

Learn Cambodian history through the lens of money at the SOSORO Museum

From the periods when money didn’t exist in Cambodia to the current day where two currencies are used, money in Cambodia has an interesting history. The SOSORO Museum, or Cambodia Museum of Economy and Money, “provide[s] a unique perspective on Cambodia’s history and offers a sharper grasp on the constant interaction between money, the economy and politics.”

The museum takes you through 2,000 years of Cambodian history, showing how major events impacted the country’s economy and currency. You’ll see beautiful, old bills and coins and learn through interactive exhibits. Even if the economy and money aren’t the most interesting topics to you, the SOSORO Museum is a modern, well-organized museum that you’ll likely enjoy. Plus, it’s a nice hideout from the heat.

Tour the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Centre

Animal and wildlife-lovers will have a blast at Phnom Tamao, the largest zoo in Cambodia. There are over 102 rescued wildlife species at Phnom Tamao, including elephants, sun bears, leopards, and gibbons.

You can visit the wildlife center on your own or take a tour for a behind-the-scenes experience and to feed some of the animals. Although the tour isn’t cheap ($120 or $150 USD per adult, depending on the time of year), it’s a full-day experience. The price includes pick-up and drop-off in Phnom Penh, lunch, and water.

Support a great cause at the Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Center

Support a great cause by visiting and shopping at the Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Center. Daughters of Cambodia is an organization that provides job opportunities and recovery programs to sex workers who are looking to change their lives.

They teach women to make jewelry, clothing, and ornaments, which are sold online and in their visitor center. In addition to the boutique store, the visitor center also offers spa services and a café.

Indulge yourself with a spa day

With so many spas to choose from, Phnom Penh is one of the best places in Cambodia to pamper yourself. No matter what sort of treatment you’re looking for, you’ll find it – body scrubs, facials, manicures, pedicures, aromatherapy, body wraps, and more.

Feeling overwhelmed with choice? Try Soma Spa, BODIA Spa, or Devatara Spa.

Visit Wat Moha Montrei

Wat Moha Montrei was built in 1970 and used by the Khmer Rouge to store rice and corn between 1975 and 1979. It’s one of the larger temples in Phnom Penh and is beautifully decorated in red and gold.

People watch at the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument

The Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument sits in the middle of Wat Botum Park, making it the perfect place to watch local life go by. When locals come out to the park in the evening, get a drink and park yourself at the base of the monument.

You wouldn’t expect the monument to be a point of controversy, but there’s been a few attempts to destroy or remove it. After Vietnam removed the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979, they occupied the country for 10 years. During that time, they built this monument, which features a Vietnamese soldier, a Cambodian soldier, and a Cambodian woman holding a baby.

For some Cambodians, the monument doesn’t accurately depict what happened or how they feel about this period of Vietnamese rule. In 1998, some people climbed onto the monument and set it on fire. In 2007, a bomb went off at the base of the monument but did little damage.

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