Welcome to Cambodia, also known as the “Kingdom of Wonder“! While visiting this incredible country, you should definitely stop for a few days in its lively capital! I have been an expat there for almost two years so here is my personal selection of the best things to do in Phnom Penh so you can enjoy my favourite spots in the city!
The best way to discover Phnom Penh is by Tuk-Tuk! For sure, it is a local experience you will remember for life! Announce your destination and bargain with the driver before stepping inside, then you are ready to go!
DISCOVER HISTORIC PLACES IN THE CAPITAL
The Royal Palace
Located on the Mekong river banks, the Royal Palace is one of the iconic building to visit in the heart of Phnom Penh.
Built-in 1866, this traditional Khmer architecture can be seen from the entrance with the yellow pagoda where stands a massive portrait of the King Norodom Sihamoni. It is also used for royal dance shows or even ceremony stage such as the coronation of the king in 2004.
Tourists can visit the South part of the Royal Palace as the other parts are used by the royal family. Walk along with the beautiful courtyards and marvel in front of the impressive Silver Pagoda and the numerous statues which protect the place. Actually, an amazing replica of Angkor Wat temple is located just behind it – a symbol of the apogee of the Khmer Empire, when Siem Reap used to be its capital.
Be curious to enter all the pagodas, one of them is seriously impressive with a massive footprint of the Buddha! Also, you can discover incredible murals surrounding the palace, with original paintings of Khmer myths and legends.
While leaving the Royal Palace, you will be facing one of the major figures of the Kingdom of Cambodia: the ancient King Jayavarman VII. It is very common to find his statue surrounded by offerings as he is still revered for being the biggest king of the Khmer Empire. By the way, its major heritages from the past remain the Temples of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap.
The National Museum of Cambodia
Impressive with its Khmer architecture, this reddish building shelters a wide selection of statues from the remains of Angkor Wat temples.
The square shape of the place enables visitors to walk through the corridors and discover the incredible heritage of Cambodia within the simplicity and serenity of the open-air museum. The natural surroundings with plenty of plants and small pools highlight a small pagoda in its centre with another statue of King Jayavarman VII.
The Wat Ounalom
Located close to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, you should go and visit the Wat Ounalom! Also, you cannot miss it, the pagoda is just in front of riverside! Nowadays, you can enjoy walking through the colourful decors with natural surroundings.
The place was created in 1443 and is still so well preserved! It was supposed to keep one eyebrow hair of the Buddha, also called Ounalom in Khmer. Unfortunately, it got destroyed by the Khmers Rouge in the 1970’s.
The Wat Phnom
Another iconic monument not to miss in Phnom Penh is the “Wat Phnom”, that can be translated as “Temple on the Hill”.
You will have to climb it to discover the legendary atmosphere – the main entrance, all in pink and red, makes you enter in a magical universe surrounded by snakes and lions who protect the temple.
But it is nothing to compare with the decorations inside the pagoda where there are so many details to marvel at!
Originally built in the 14th century, this is one of the most ancient pagodas in the capital. Even if the actual building you can visit nowadays was created in 1926.
Behind the temple stands the tomb (also known as Stupa) of King Ponhea Yat, being the first king to relocate the capital of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. An interesting fact about this place – the Wat Phnom symbolizes the KM 0 of the country!
The temple is surrounded by nature and it is very common to meet monkeys and lovely birds around the temple. You will also be amazed by the incredible amount of lions’ statues that protect the place! Furthermore, the place is known for its massive clock on the bottom of the 27 meters high hill, directly visible from the road.
Before being independent in 1953, the Kingdom of Cambodia used to be a French Protectorate.
This beautiful monument (located next to the big clock) symbolizes the re-ownership of the Provinces of Battambang, Siem Reap and Sisophon (the 3 ladies on the right) after the signature of a treaty in 1907 to redefine the frontiers between Cambodia and Thailand under the French protectorate (soldier on the left). The King Sisowath (sitting in the centre) officializes this positive decision for the Kingdom.
The Independence Monument & King Father Norodom Sihanouk memorial
While visiting the capital, you will obviously encounter the Independence Monument – this memorial was built in 1958 to acknowledge Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. Located on a roundabout and surrounded by colourful fountains by night, it stands on the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard in the centre of the city.
The King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial is a monument commemorating the former King for its accomplishment on liberating the country on 9th November 1953 from French Protectorate in Cambodia. The bronze statue is 4.5 meters tall and is housed under a 27-meter high stupa.
ENJOY THE PEACEFUL VIBES OF RIVERSIDE
- Walk-in the promenade on Riverside and enjoy the local atmosphere as plenty of Cambodians love to meet there after work.
- Experience a sunset tour on the Kanika boat to look at the capital from a different angle along the Mekong River.
- Enjoy a cocktail at the best panoramic rooftop of the city – Le Moon Bar.
WATCH A KHMER TRADITIONAL DANCE SHOW
You should definitely go to see a Traditional Dance Show and the one proposed by Cambodia Living Arts is really amazing! The performance takes place at the covered open-air theatre in the beautiful grounds of the National Museum of Cambodia.
SHOP KHMER HANDICRAFTS
While in the capital, it will be the best time to shop some souvenirs as you will have a wide choice with great quality and affordable price compared to the rest of the country.
- Street 178 also called the “Art Street” is the creative corner of Phnom Penh where artists, fashion designers and even local associations showcase unique pieces exclusively made in Cambodia.
- The Russian Market – also known as Tuol Tompoung Market is located on Street 163 – you will have to go through the narrow corridors to find but especially bargain the best deals in town! This bazaar unveils a large range of handicrafts and antiquities, including miniature Buddhas, woodcarvings, silk clothing, silver jewellery, musical instruments and also fresh food if you feel some cravings!
- The Central Market – also called Phsar Thmey is one of the major markets in Phnom Penh. Easily recognizable by its star shape with a massive yellow dome, this iconic building shelters mostly fake brands at very affordable prices!
HAVE A SWIM WITH A VIEW
Unless you come to visit in the winter, the weather during the rest of the year is very warm and humid in Cambodia – so tourists will enjoy a small break in a cool pool to end-up the day! And what better deal than having a special view for the same price!
- Hotel Cambodiana is offering a day pass to enjoy its open-air pool surrounded by wide gardens, overlooking the Mekong river! The Breeze bar is also serving food and drinks all day long and you can even get access to the gym to complete your day!
- Le Patio is offering a pool with a panoramic view on Sihanouk Boulevard, overlooking the Independence Monument from its 8th floor. A restaurant and bar are located just upstairs to cater to all your cravings. The pool is nevertheless very small so make sure to reserve your seat in advance!
INDULGE A KHMER MASSAGE
While visiting Cambodia, you will be able to enjoy qualitative and affordable massages – another relaxing experience not to miss during your stay! Here are the best addresses to try massages in Phnom Penh:
- Sâmata – more than a classic massage, you will experience a very professional treatment from a renown healthcare clinic! Actually, all the spa therapists have been trained by French Physiotherapist Jean Claude Dhuez and perform many kinds of therapeutic massages with Cambodian essential oils.
- Bodia Spa – another great reference in Phnom Penh, with professional and standardize massage techniques, enabling you to get fully relaxed while experiencing traditional massages with Cambodian essential oils.
FEEL HOME AWAY FROM HOME
WHERE TO EAT?
- Le Malis – easily rated as the most romantic restaurant in Phnom Penh! Its outdoor courtyard with table setting around a tropical garden makes it a fantastic environment to discover the finest Cambodian Cuisine prepared by famous Chef Lou Meng.
- Le Bouchon – one of the most trendy meeting point for foreigners, you can enjoy International and French cuisine but also very good cocktails in this place! There are often local music groups creating a warm and festive atmosphere – a must-try during your visit to Phnom Penh!
- Bopha Phnom Penh – Titanic Restaurant – located at the end of Riverside, this charming Khmer restaurant is set-up on a massive boat floating on the Mekong River. Enjoy a local food experience at a decent price, embellished with local Khmer music!
- Located at the end of Riverside, the Night Market is the meeting point to enjoy local food on a smaller budget – it is so cheap and so tasty!
WHERE TO SLEEP?
Cambodia is known for having a multitude of small and charming Boutique Hotels. If the price seems extremely competitive, be aware of the location, cleanliness and facilities offered.
Here is a selection of the most reputable places to choose from according to your budget:
Less than 40 euros per night:
Less than 100 euros per night:
Thank you for reading this article, I hope it helped you choosing wisely your activities during your next stay in Phnom Penh!
I wish you a pleasant stay in the capital of Cambodia and can only recommend you to explore more of this incredible country!