What to do in Phnom Penh Cambodia

When Cambodia is mentioned many people think only of the beautiful temples of Angkor Wat but there are many more places to visit in Cambodia that will wow the traveller. From the bright city lights of the capital, Phnom Penh to the laid back villages of Kep and Kampot, to the islands and beaches in Cambodia this small country has a lot to offer the visitor. Cambodia will make you weep at times and its people will make you smile at other times.

There are many things to do in Phnom Penh and as such we recommend that you plan to spend at least 4 nights or even longer if time permits.

We spent one month travelling slowly in Cambodia arriving into Phnom Penh by boat from Chau Doc in Vietnam.

The city of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh – Image by allPhoto Bangkok from Pixabay

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Our Youtube Video on Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Cambodia Map

Cambodia Map

Map of Cambodia

Map of Cambodia

 

Where is Cambodia located

Cambodia in South East Asia is bordered by Vietnam to the East and South East,  Thailand to the North West and West, Laos to the North East and the Gulf of Thailand to the South West.

Distances: From North to South 450km and 580km from East to West.

Cambodia is officially called the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Where is Phnom Penh located

Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s capital and is located at the confluence of the Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Tonle Bassac Rivers in the south-central region.

What to do in Phnom Penh

Visit the Royal Palace 

The Royal Palace and the adjacent Silver Pagoda is one of Phnom Penh’s most visited tourist attractions. As it is so popular we recommend that you visit early to miss the crowds.

Opening hours for the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda: 08.00 – 11.00 and 14.00 – 1700 daily except for Sunday.

Entry fee: USD10.00

Cost of Guide: USD10.00 (we highly recommend getting a guide)

There are regulations for visiting the Royal Palace:

You cannot:

  • wear shoes inside the places of worship
  • wear hats inside the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda
  • be incorrectly dressed
  • take photos in prohibited places
  • touch the glass panels of items displayed inside
  • touch mural paintings
  • smoke in the Royal Palace or Silver Pagoda area

There are 4 compounds in the complex:

  • central compound – Throne Hall
  • north compound – Khemarin Palace
  • south compound – Silver Pagoda
  • west compound – private inner court

 

The Cannon Ball Tree at the Royal Palace

The Cannon-Ball Tree inside the grounds of the Royal Palace

Our guide showed us the Cannon Ball Tree which is sacred to Hindus. The tree is revered by many Buddhists around the world who believe that Maya, the mother of Lord Buddha,  held onto one of the branches whilst giving birth to him.

The tree can grow to 35m in height and can produce 1000 reddish-pink flowers every day. The round fruits that resemble cannon-balls can grow to 25cm. You can make tea out of the flower blossom which is believed be good for delivering babies.

In 1863 King Norodom (the Great Great Grandfather of the current King Norodom Sihamoni) signed the Treaty of Protection with France. In 1866 architect Neak Okhna Tepnimith Mak designed the Royal Palace and it was constructed by the French Protectorate.

Throne Hall at the Royal Palace

Throne Hall

The Throne Hall is used for Coronation Ceremonies, New Years Day celebrations, official meetings and the Anniversary of Coronation Day.  This is the 2nd Throne Hall built on the site and it was constructed in 1917.

To Travel Too Tip: best time to photograph the Throne Hall is in the morning. You are not allowed to take photos of the inside of the Throne Hall or of the thrones themselves you can only view from outside.

In Cambodia, the King is the representative of Buddha. The King can only sit on Preah Tineang Bossabok (the traditional throne) on his coronation day. For special occasions, he will use the small throne located in the front of the traditional throne.

The current King Norodom Sihamoni is not married, he lives his life more like a Buddha after his father abdicated in 2004.

Phochani Pavilion

Phochani Pavilion

Phochani Pavilion

The Phochani Pavillion was built in 1912 as a classical dance hall.  Today it is used for royal receptions and meetings.

The Silver Pagoda

Silver Pagoda

Silver Pagoda

The Silver Pagoda is a temple compound within the grounds of the Royal Palace.  It is known as Wat Preah Keo Morokot as well as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.

There are 5,329 silver tiles on the floor which you walk over but it is covered with plastic. Each tile weight 1 kg in weight. No photos are allowed within the Silver Pagoda.

The Silver Pagoda is where the King listens to the sermons from the monks and it is also used for the venue for the royal possessions and ceremonies.

The 17th century Emerald Buddha within the Silver Pagoda contains over 2000 diamonds.

Murals from the Silver Pagoda complexThe murals that surround the complex depicts the story of Ramayana. Poland is assisting in the renovation of the murals. They were painted during 1903-04 and stand 3.5m tall and in length are 604m.

The Stupas in the complex contain ashes of the king – 1 king 1 stupa.

Royal Regalia Building

The Royal Regalia Building houses the Royal Bodyguard costumes as well as the gold costumes that have been used in King and Queen ceremonies.

Staff wear skirts of traditional ceremony colours of the rainbow.  All staff, men and women,  wear the same colour skirt which the colours changes daily.

A 4-hour tour that combines Wat Phon, the Royal Palace Complex and the National Museum can be booked in advance here.

S21 & Killing Fields Tour

Our Youtube video on S21 & the Killing Fields

The 2nd most popular tourist attraction is a visit to S21 Prison and the Killing Fields.

Warning: there are disturbing images in both locations.

There is a tour available through our tour partners Get Your Guide. Their explanation of the tour can be found below:

“At 8:00 AM, depart from your hotel and drive to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, located about 16 kms south of Phnom Penh. Here, you will experience a very moving and confronting experience. The Killing Fields were the final resting place for over 17,000 men, women, children and infants between 1975 and 1978. It is estimated the Khmer Rouge Regime took the lives of between 2 and 4 million Cambodians during their destructive and devastating time in control between 1975 and 1979. Your guide will provide you with a detailed tour of the fields.

Continue to Tuol Sleng Museum. In 1975, Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). It rapidly became the largest centre of detention and torture in the country. Prisoners were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, brought to S21, tortured and eventually killed. Spend time discovering the harrowing truths of the prison. At 11:00 AM, your tour comes to an end and your guide will transfer you back to your hotel.”

To Travel Too Tip: At S21 we recommend that you take advantage of the audio (USD8.00 per person in 2020)

S21 – Tuol Sleng Museum

Cell at S21

Cell at S21

During the Pol Pot regime over 4 million people died.  They were either executed or starved to death.

Buddhist monks were killed by Polpot.  The only religion was Polpot himself.  He ordered the Catholic Church in Phnom Penh to be pulled down. He even ordered members of his own family to be killed.

In April 1975 the site was taken over by the security force of Pol Pot and transformed into a prison. The original high school and its classrooms were turned into torture chambers. Today you can see the instruments used and photographs of the victims. Between 12,000 and 20,000 people were imprisoned there with only 12 confirmed survivors.

Opening Hours: 08.00 – 17.30

Killing Fields

At the Killing Fields – many bodies were buried in this small area

When you arrive at the Killing Fields we recommend that you pay for the audio. The Killing Fields were originally Chinese graveyards which were taken over as there was not enough space at S21 to bury the corpses.

DDT was kept in a storage room at the Killing Fields and was spread over bodies after execution and those who were buried alive.

The Killing Tree in the above photo was used by the executioners to beat the children to death.  Over 9000 victims were unearthed, 9 of those westerners.

The Stupa at the Killing Fields has 17 levels of bones and skulls.

It is hard to fathom the destructiveness of one man.

Opening Hours:  Daily between 08.00 and 17.30

We recommend that you take the audio guide – there are 19 stops with information about the Killing fields.

To Travel Too Tip: it is a memorial site so dress modestly and speak quietly.

National Museum

National Museum

National Museum in Phnom Penh

The National Museum contains artefacts from the Angkorian Period.

Address: Streets 13 and 178  for the Visitors Entrance and Ticket Booth.

The Entry fee is USD10, we would recommend using the services of a Guide which is an extra cost of USD6 for group size between 1-6 people.

Opening Hours: 08.00 to 17.00 (last entrance 16.30)

To Travel Too Tip: photographs are not to be taken inside the Museum

You can enjoy an evening dance performance –  a breathtaking celebration of Cambodian Dance and Music Tradition.

The Museum was designed by the French and constructed in 1917.

Each room or gallery depicts a different area or items made of bronze, ceramics, stone or wood.

2 guardian lions adorn the front entrance of the National Museum.

The 1st gallery -bronze gallery – contains Hindu statues dating between 6 – 13th century.

There are 3 periods within the National Museum:

  • Pre Angkor 6 – 9th century
  • Angkor 9 – 15th century
  • Post Angkor 15th century

To Travel Too Tip:  If you are visiting Angkor Wat we would recommend starting your adventure in Phnom Penh and visit the National Museum first.

Galleries 2 + 3 gallery contains artefacts made from sandstone.

6th century sandstone tablet

6th century sandstone tablet

It contains a 6th century sandstone tablet with inscriptions that you read from left to right which was discovered in 1940.

In the 1st room which houses artefacts from the Pre-Angkor period, there is one of the oldest Buddha which is made from sandstone and dates back to the 6th century.

Oldest buddha made from sandstone, buddha orginally from India 6th century buddhas

The 2nd room houses a 7th century Hindu God Vishnu who is the protector of the world. It was found in 1935 in a cave by the French.

Longest scarf in Cambodia

Longest scarf in Cambodia at the National Museum

Another highlight of the museum is the longest scarf in Cambodia which was created in 2018. 22,315 people from the ages of 4 – 88 years old weaved the 1149.8 m scarf.

 

Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom – By Photo: Marcin Konsek / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=58333456

A Legend states that the first pagoda was erected in 1373 AD on this site to house 4 statues of Buddha. The statues were deposited there by the waters of the Mekong River and discovered by a woman named Penh. The city is named after this Wat which is located on the only natural rise hill in town at 30m high. 

Evening Cruise 

Evening cruise on the Tonle Sap River

Evening cruise on the Tonle Sap River

You can pre-book a 1 hour evening cruise on the Mekong and Tonle Sap River in a wooden boat where you can view the fisherman go about their daily lives.  The riverfront offers views of some of the city’s most interesting sights including the Royal Palace, Chaktomuk Hall, and dozens of pubs, galleries, cafes, restaurants, and shops along Sisowath Quay. Relax and enjoy the sunset with free-flowing drinks (draft beer, soft) before being transferred back to your hotel.

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Kandal Market

location map of Kandal Market

Location Map of Kandal Market

Kandal Market

Kandal Market

Kandal Market located at 13 Preah Ang Eng Street and is open from early morning to late evening.  It sells the usual goods such as clothing, shoes and bags etc.  In the evening it is a hive of activity with many local food stalls operating.

Visit the Independence Monument

Independence Monument

Independence Monument

The Independence Monument built in 1958 stands 37m high at the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard.  The lotus-shaped stupa was built in memory of Cambodia’s Independence from France in 1953.

Where to stay in Phnom Penh

We recommend the following two best hotels in Phnom Penh.

4 Star Okay Boutique Hotel

Address: #174 Street, St 19z, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Okay Boutique Hotel

Okay Boutique Hotel

The Okay Boutique Hotel is our hotel of choice when staying in Phnom Penh for location, comfort, swimming pool, good WiFi and breakfast included. Decorated in the Khmer style the Okay Boutique Hotel ticks all our boxes. The hotel offers a tour booking service.

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They also offer an evening cruise on the Tonle Sap River for USD2.00 per person. Drinks and dinner are not included.

Evening Cruise on Tonle Sap River

Evening cruise on Tonle Sap River

 

Plantation Urban Resort and Spa

Address: #28 Street 184 Phnom Penh

The 3-star Plantation Urban Resort & Spa is centrally located in Phnom Penh and is set in a restored 1930s mansion 1 km from the Royal Palace.

All accommodation is inclusive of breakfast. There’s a boutique restaurant with a terrace, as well as 2 pools, a gym, handicrafts shop all in a tropical setting.

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Airbnb Phnom Penh

For a range of available Airbnb Phnom Penh accommodation:

 

Restaurants & Bars in Phnom Penh

Foreign Correspondents Club

Foreign Correspondents Club

View over the Tonle Sap River from the Foreign Correspondents Club

The Foreign Correspondents Club was founded in the early 1990s and was the meeting place for dinner and drinks for all foreign correspondents living and visiting Phnom Penh. There is a restaurant and bar with views over the Tonle Sap River.  Anyone can visit the Club and members of other Correspondents Clubs around the world receive a 10% discount when visiting. The walls are adorned with photographs from Cambodia’s past history.

Address: ‎Preah Sisowath Quay

Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel Sky Bar

Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel Phnom Penh

Sky Bar at the Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel

Cocktails and dinner are available at the Roof Top Bar daily with stunning views over Phnom Penh and Tonle Sap River.

Address: 27, 27 Street 178, Phnom Penh

 

Okay Boutique Hotel Roof Top Bar

Happy Hour Okay Boutique Hotel Phnom Penh

Happy hour at the Okay Boutique Hotel in Phnom Penh – roof top poolside

Enjoy happy hour at the Okay Boutique Hotel from 4.00 – 6.30 pm.  Buy 1 beer and get 1 free.

Address: #174 Street, St 19z, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Friends Creative Cuisine 

The Friends Restaurant is a training restaurant for marginalised youth.

Open 11.00  to 23.00  #215 Street 13 Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Indian Restaurants

Indian cuisine Phnom Penh

Indian cuisine in Phnom Penh

There are many Indian restaurants in Phnom Penh to enjoy.  Some of our favourites were:

Raj Mahal Indian Restaurant: St 13 #160 near the National Museum

Mususo Indian Restaurant: # 82, Street 446, Sangkat Toul Tum Poung I, 12310, Cambodia

Phnom Penh Indian Restaurant: 335 Preah Sisowath Quay

Coffee in Phnom Penh

Killiney Coffee

Killiney Coffee

Killiney Coffee opened in Phnom Penh during January 2019.  Killiney Kopitiam originates from Singapore and is one of the oldest Hainanese coffee shops that dates back to 1919.

Address: Killiney Cambodia, ST, 55, CORNER Samdach, Samdech Mongkol Iem St. (228), Phnom Penh

More Phnom Penh Activities

Getting Around Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh’s International Airport is located 10 km from the city centre and it can take anywhere between 30 – 60 minutes for the journey.

You can pre-book your private International Airport transfer here.

A Taxi will cost USD12 from the airport to most areas of the city

A Tuk-tuk transfer will cost USD9

Tuk-tuks are plentiful and most journeys around the city on average cost about USD1.50.

Bus/Ferry and Rail Tickets Cambodia

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We travelled all over Cambodia using Giant Ibis Bus Services.

Flights to Phnom Penh

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Do You Need A Visa for Cambodia

Check below to see if you require a visa for Cambodia:

Travel Insurance

We recommend taking out travel insurance as soon as you book your flights and pay deposits on any cruises, tours or hotels.

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More articles on South East Asia 

You may enjoy reading our articles on our travels around South East Asia:

At Least 6 Reasons to Visit Bangkok

4 days/3 nights on the Mekong Delta

Stay at the Sofitel Angkor Phokeethra Golf & Spa Resort

How to get to the Cu Chi Tunnels

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