Sights at Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace of Cambodia sits in the old town and is one of the greatest examples of the city’s architecture. Within the compounds of the Royal Palace is the Silver Pagoda. This luxurious masterpiece includes a floor covered in silver, Italian marble stairs, and life-sized Buddhas made out of solid gold, silver and Baccarat crystal.
The Tuol Sleng Museum is located at the former high school that became the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) during Pol Pot’s dictatorship. The museum visits Cambodia’s dark past, giving detailed accounts of the victims-more than 17,000 men, women and children-who were held there and tortured. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek follows the tragic end of many who were first imprisoned in the infamous S-21 and then taken to these fields to be killed.
The Independence Monument is a tower right in the heart of Phnom Penh. Built in the Angkorian tradition, it originally commemorated Cambodia’s independence from French rule but now also serves as a war memorial. Also explore the riverfront park, a main destination in Phnom Penh perfect for walking or cycling along or spending a an afternoon or evening shopping or lounging at a bar or restaurant.
The National Museum of Cambodia houses the best collection of Khmer sculpture and illustrates all of the archaeological periods of Cambodia.
Visitors can explore Phnom Penh with a wide selection of city tours highlighting the history and culture of Phnom Penh as well as more specific interests like the local cuisine and shopping. Tours can be taken on foot, by bus, by tuk tuk, by cyclo and even by boat on the Mékong river.
To Do at Phnom Penh
Leisure, Activities and Sports
Cambodia celebrates its New Year with Chnam Thmey. This popular festival changes dates each year but lasts for several days in Phnom Penh during the springtime.
The Water Festival is held in November when the Tonle Sap river reverses its flow. It is the largest festival in Phnom Penh full of fireworks, boat races, concerts and much more.
To get a better sense of Khmer cuisine, learn how to cook some authentic dishes at a Cambodian cooking class.
While most cinemas in Phnom Penh show only Khmer-language films, the French Cultural Center Cinema has French films, mostly with English subtitles.
A great way to explore the Khmer performing arts scene like Apsara dance or Cambodian martial arts like Bokator or Yutakhun Khom in Phnom Penh is at one of the city’s performing arts schools. Quite a few of them are open to visitors, letting them get a sneak peek of performers while they train or during a performance. Some schools also offer discovery classes.
There is a large amusement park in Phnom Penh full of fun rides making a great day out for both adults and kids. There are also several places that cater to specific sports including horseback riding and go-kart racing while golf is finding new popularity here with large clubs near the city.
In Phnom Penh, there are accommodations that suit everyone’s style and budget. The local hotels and guesthouses are the most popular since they are the most inexpensive. There are also many international hotel catering to singles, couples, families and groups. Or explore a more luxurious option that recalls colonial-style elegance with suites that make guests feel like they are staying at a top resort. 100% gay luxurious hotel and small guesthouse are also available in the Cambodian capital.
The local markets are also a great way to explore Phnom Penh. The Old Market (Phsar Chas) is a large colorful one popular with locals that includes a bit everything: souvenirs, both handcrafted and second-hand wares and plenty of local food. Psar Thmei, or the Central Market, is a newer Phnom Penh market that caters more to tourist but is remarkable for its picturesque art deco architecture and large dome ceiling. At the Tuol Tompoung Market, or Russian Market, one can explore an eclectic mix of handmade items, kitschy Eastern European antiques, clothing shops, and food stalls. Along with these local markets, there are also a few shopping malls in Phnom Penh as well as many speciality boutiques, large retail chain stores, and souvenir shops spread throughout the city.
Eating in Phnom Penh has never been more enjoyable. Explore Khmer and French restaurants to find the city’s more traditional cuisine, as well as some of the best places to dine in the city. Of course, it’s easy to find a cheap and quick meal at the many excellent noodle shops along the streets. There are also plenty of cafes, pubs, and restaurants specializing in American, British, Greek, Indian, Mexican, Italian, Japanese, and Chinese food.
Bar and Nightlife
Phnom Penh is a great destination for nightlife, as this vibrant city parties from dusk until dawn. Restaurants, bars and clubs are scattered across town, so visitors are never far from a lively venue wherever they are staying. Many tourist areas have streets full of bars and restaurants making it easy to hop from one to another throughout the night. The riverfront area is particularly lively with lots of eating and drinking places. These include cocktail bars on rooftop terraces with lovely views, Western style ‘pubs’ with pool tables and hostess bars. Visitors can either focus on one or two streets and go from restaurant to bar to club, or jump into a cheap tuk-tuk, or more expensive taxi, and quickly get to other nightlife destinations in this compact town. Whether you are looking for food, drink, dancing, entertainment or something a little livelier you will find it in Phnom Penh.
Beauty and Personal Care
Massages are very popular in Phnom Penh and spas feature a full range of more traditional beauty treatments as well as the latest spa trends. A majority of the smaller massage parlors and spas are centered around the tourists areas, including the riverfront and Independence Monument. Hair salons range from traditional barber-style shops to hip salons although it’s worth noting that not all are experts in cutting western-style hair. The city is a tattoo hotspot with some celebrated tattoo artists setting up shop here as well as many local shops aimed at tourists.