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As our plane began its descent toward the Phnom Penh Airport in Cambodia, we got our first glimpse of the city – and it was nothing at all like we imagined. Through the hazy air, close-quartered dwellings sprawled from the city center as far as we could peer through the small plane window. Stand-alone skyscrapers stood sporadically in the Phnom Penh center – most of which were wrapped in tarps, accompanied by towering yellow cranes and nowhere near completion. To see the massive, modern city from above crushed my pre-conceived notions of a quaint riverside town. Based on the size of the city alone, I was already mentally readjusting our Phnom Penh itinerary – and I was certain we were going to find many more things to do in Phnom Penh than were mentioned in guidebooks.
Planning 3 Days in Phnom Penh
Our trip to Phnom Penh marked our second visit to the country; the first time through Cambodia we bypassed Phnom Penh in favor of Siem Reap and the temples of Angkor Wat. At the time, all we knew of Phnom Penh was the Killing Fields and S21 Prison – and Dark Tourism simply isn’t our travel style. It was on our recent trip to Singapore, however, that friends raved to us about the city sights and nightlife in Phnom Penh, none of which had anything to do with tragedy. Their tales piqued our interest…and two weeks later, we landed in the Phnom Penh International Airport ready to experience the city ourselves.
Phnom Penh Itinerary
We had a full week in Phnom Penh to discover the top sights, best markets, interesting neighborhoods, delicious food and fun Phnom Penh bars. We condensed our experiences into a 3 Days in Phnom Penh Itinerary for other travelers looking for Phnom Penh things to do. We include helpful information for attractions in Phnom Penh and a Phnom Penh map of sights. At the end of the post, we’ve included more helpful tips, like where to stay and other important information for your Phnom Penh tour itinerary.
Day One in Phnom Penh
Spend the first day sightseeing the top Phnom Penh attractions – and a few off-the-radar spots – in the city center.
Central Market in Phnom Penh
Start your Phnom Penh sightseeing at one of the most iconic buildings in the city: Central Market. Built in 1937, the art deco, domed structure has served as a market hall for Phnom Penh shopping since its inception. Inside, glittering jewelry cases surround a centerpiece clock, while stalls selling everything else – from cheap t-shirts to fine art – are cluttered close together in the four arms that extend away from the central hall.
Street Art (Street 93)
Street Art is not an accepted form of artistic expression in the city – and any tags and wall murals are quickly painted over if they do appear on building walls. However, in the district known as Phnom Penh Lakeside, street artists have been sprucing up the walls of dilapidated buildings with thought-provoking and colorful art. Lakeside was once, in fact, next to a lake, but it was filled in by developers with big plans for the area (that after years have yet to materialize). The absence of the lake has left businesses that catered to lake visitors (guest houses, cafes, shops and restaurants) without patrons – and, except for the families that still reside there, the district is somewhat of a ghost town. The street art, however, is worth a walk through the neighborhood. At first, we felt intrusive to the tight-knit community that lives there, but were warmly welcomed by the residents who seemed pleased to have tourists once again visiting their district.
Top Tip: It’s a bit of a walk from Central Market to the Street 93 Street Art. Consider taking a tuk tuk – and tell them to take you to the old Lakeside or the mosque in Phnom Penh (Al-Serkal Mosque)…or show them a map with these coordinates: 11°34’38.4”N 104°54’54.9″E
Al-Serkal Mosque in Phnom Penh
The palatial white mosque with two slender minarets rising high above the dome was completed in 2014 (replacing a mosque of the same name that opened in 1968). The Al-Serkal Mosque in Phnom Penh is the largest mosque in the country, in which there are 350,000 Muslims.
Raffles Hotel Le Royal
The Phnom Penh boutique hotel, Le Royal, was built in 1929 and has welcomed famous guests from around the world (such as Charlie Chaplin and Jackie Onassis) and was home to journalists who covered the Cambodian Civil War in the early 1970s. During the time of the Khmer rouge, the hotel closed and only reopened as a 5-star hotel under management of Raffles Hotels in 1997. The classic and elegant Elephant Bar hosts traditional High Tea in the afternoons (just as it did when the hotel first opened) and in the early evening, bar patrons are treated to a superb happy hour (which makes really expensive cocktails just less expensive).
Daun Penh Avenue
Stroll the length of Daun Penh Avenue east toward Wat Phnom. The street-center garden is flanked by grand government buildings, such as the Cambodia National Library, the Ministry of Economy and Finance and the well-guarded United States Embassy.
Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh
Perhaps the most popular Phnom Penh temple, Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple that sits on a hill in the very center of the city. The religious site dates to the year 1372 when, according to legend, locals raised the hill to house four relics found in the Mekong River. The temple stands 27 meters above the ground – the tallest religious structure in the city – and is reached by a steep staircase. In addition to the temple (which was last rebuilt in 1926), visitors will find a stupa holding the ashes of King Ponhea Yat, statues and shrines. Wat Phnom is a Phnom Penh must-see! Note: Entry fee for visitors is $1 USD.
Lady Penh Statue (Yeay Penh)
Just south of Wat Phnom is a statue dedicated to Lady Penh, the women credited with the city’s origin. Legend has it that it was Lady Penh who found the relics inside a tree trunk floating in the Mekong River and decided to create a hill and temple to house the treasures. The relics attracted devoted worshipers and a town grew around the hill. Translated into English, Phnom Penh means: The Hill of Lady Penh.
Old French Quarter (Post Office Square)
Very little colonial architecture remains from the years of French rule (1863 to 1953), but those interested in Belle Epoque and Art Deco buildings from the past can find a few examples (some is dire condition) on Post Office Square. The best-preserved building is the cheerful yellow Phnom Penh Post Office, which dates to 1890 and is still used as a post office today. Nearby is the Commissariat (Old Police Station), which is crumbling and inhabited by squatters, the Old Indochina Bank (now Van’s Restaurant) and the former Chamber of Commerce. Top Tip: Interested in learning more of the history of the buildings in the city? Join a Phnom Penh architecture tour (details here!).
Old Market (Phsar Chas)
The Old Market is frequented by both tourists and locals. The stalls on the eastern perimeter of the market feature picturesque displays of fresh fruit and hanging bird houses. Meanwhile, the west side of the market is occupied by the chaotic and cramped wet market, where locals really shop – choosing produce and raw meat that is much less-aesthetically displayed than on the eastern side of the market. If you can handle the offensive scents wafting through the alley, we highly recommend walking through!
Phnom Penh Riverside Park (Sisowath Quay)
On the western bank of the Tonle Sap River is a 3km riverside park, Sisowath Quay. Although it is nowhere near a serene escape from the city (as bumper-to-bumper honking traffic clogs the restaurant- and bar-lined street running next to the park), Sisowath Quay does provide a little space to freely move in the otherwise congested city. The palm tree-lined pedestrian zone is used by joggers, shuttlecock kickers and evening strollers. Benches and green lawns provide a place to sit and watch the loaded cargo boats float up and down the river.
Kandal Market (Phsar Thmei)
If the scene at the Old Market piqued your interest in where and how local Cambodians shop for food, a walk through Kandal Market should definitely be on your Phnom Penh itinerary. Not for weak-stomach or hygiene-concerned travelers, the Kandal Market is as real as it gets. (Stop reading here if you are squeamish!) Wriggling fish are kept barely alive in mere centimeters of water. Blood-dripping, fly-covered carcasses dangle from rusty rods. Women squat over low tables using butcher hatchets to portion raw meat; with every strike loose pieces of flesh are hurtled through the air. Of all the markets we’ve visited, this is the first time I had to cover my mouth and nose with my shirt to reduce the stench and halt my gag-reflex as I clumsily tip-toed in my flip flops trying my best to avoid pools of swirling excess while darting for a side-street exit. That being said, the Kandal Market is an awesome glimpse into real-life Cambodia and one of the best things to do in Phnom Penh if you can stomach it.
Established in 1443, Wat Ounalom serves as the Buddhist headquarters of Cambodia; the complex is comprised of 44 structures including housing for monks, classrooms and meditation halls. Wat Ounalom is one of the city’s five original monasteries and is held in high regard for the prize-possession: a sacred Buddha eyebrow hair. Before Khmer Rouge, it housed more than 500 monks and had a collection of more than 30,000 books in the library, but sustained severe damage from 1975-1979. Restoration is an on-going project and visitors are invited to explore the grounds. Note: Visitors should wear appropriate clothing.
Phnom Penh National Museum
The National Museum in Phnom Penh houses the world’s largest collection of Khmer art. With more than 14,000 artifacts, which span history from prehistoric times to the present, the National Museum of Cambodia Phnom Penh is the top archaeological museum in the country. Not limited to the displays inside, the building itself (which dates to 1920) is one of the top Phnom Penh things to see, as it is a fine example of traditional Khmer architecture.
Royal Palace (and Phnom Penh Silver Pagoda)
Since the year 1866, Cambodian kings have resided at the Royal Palace (the exception being the duration of Khmer Rouge) and tops many lists of Phnom Penh places of interest. The massive complex, which features the Silver Pagoda, the Palace, Throne Hall and Inner Court, was built over time and features Khmer architecture, with a flair of French influence. Visitors (with paid entry) are invited to tour the grounds, but most buildings are off limits. Top Tip: Tourists who don’t want to pay to go inside, can get a peek – and snap a picture – of the palace grounds through the gates.)
After a full day of visiting top downtown Phnom Penh sights, cool off with a late-afternoon drink at one of the city’s elevated, riverside bars. Two of the most popular spots for a drink-with-a-view are Phnom Penh FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) and Le Moon.
- FCC – The bar at the FCC Phnom Penh Hotel, which opened in 1993, has seen a slew of journalists and celebrities, but still offers a decent happy hour (from 5- to 7) and a nice view of the river.
- Le Moon – The Le Moon rooftop lounge, which features cocktails, is much more spacious with incredible views of Wat Ounalom and the river but is a bit expensive for Phnom Penh (even at happy hour!). The tables along the south rail allow patrons to view right down on Preah Sisowath Quay, where traffic moves in a mesmerizing rhythm.
Dinner in Phnom Penh
There is no shortage of options for dining in Phnom Penh; a range of restaurants are found throughout the city. On a mission to find the best food in Phnom Penh (well, at least the best cheap food in Phnom Penh), we followed the crowds to David’s Noodles…and we weren’t disappointed. The made-to-order dumplings and hand-pulled noodles (a fascinating culinary art created before our very eyes) surpassed our expectations. We highly recommend David’s Noodles as one of the best places to eat in Phnom Penh.
Note: Just across the street from David’s Noodles is Friends, a famous restaurant in Phnom Penh for their work in the community. Staffed by Cambodia’s street kids, the menu features creative Asian tapas and cocktails. We did not eat there, but it is one of the highly-rated restaurants in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh Nightlife
Phnom Penh nightlife ranges from laid-back bars to hand-crafted cocktail lounges with entertaining karaoke joints and hostess bars – which are all mostly clustered together on a few streets around the city. Some of the clubs – and even a few pubs – are open until dawn and checking out a few of the hot spots is definitely one of the top things to do in Phnom Penh at night.
- Phnom Penh Riverside – The bars lining Sisowath Quay are a good place to start the night. Many establishments offer balcony views of the river and cheap happy hour drinks (75 cents for a cold mug of Angkor beer at Mekong River Restaurant was the cheapest we found).
- Phnom Penh Street 136, 130, 110, 104 – Most of the bars on these streets are hostess bars (lots of pretty girls – and sometimes transgender people and prostitutes – welcome you in to the bar and are eager to keep you company while you drink…and maybe later, too). Many hostess bars run cheap happy hours until about 9pm. The scene that unfolds under the flashing neon lights is something of a spectacle.
- Phnom Penh Street 51 – Many clubs can be found in the vicinity of Phnom Penh Street 51, with Pontoon being the most popular dance club in the area.
Day Two in Phnom Penh
On Day Two, continue discovering some of the top Phnom Penh things to see and do! Start the day at a popular market before delving into the recent history of Phnom Penh and end the day in one of the city’s hottest districts.
Phnom Penh Russian Market (Phsar Tuol Tom Pong)
Nicknamed the Russian Market due to the popularity of the market with Russian expats in the 1980s, Phsar Tuol Tom Pong is a favorite for many tourists. The dense maze of stalls (with little air ventilation) offer a variety of souvenirs and name-brand items (possibly knock-offs, but some could be factory rejects, as the region has numerous brand clothing factories, like Gap). Beyond catering to tourists, there are also entire sections of the market dedicated to automotive parts and home goods. Near the center of the market, there are a few food stalls with bar seating that provide an excellent spot for people-watching.
S21 Museum (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)
While our purpose of visiting Phnom Penh was not Dark Tourism, we did want to better understand what happened in Phnom Penh under Khmer Rouge. Comprehending the Cambodian genocide that occurred in the late 1970s – where an estimated 1.5 to 3 million Cambodians were killed – is difficult without proper context. The S21 Museum – a former high school-turned-prison – provides a setting in which the story can be told and understood. The museum is one of the top things to do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and we are glad we made the effort to see it.
Visitors can walk through the old classrooms, converted into single-person cells, and view photos of hundreds of prisoners who passed through S21, where their execution orders were signed. Gruesome details have been preserved – and are displayed. Although the museum focuses on the events that played out on the site, the audio guide provides information about the Khmer Rouge, including a timeline and history of Phnom Penh city. After touring the facility, visitors can meet and chat with two (of only seven) S21 Prison survivors. Note: Admission hours and prices can be found on the official website.
Phnom Penh Massage
Getting a traditional Khmer massage in Phnom Penh is a relaxing and rejuvenating Cambodian experience. The masseuse uses kneading techniques, working on the body from the feet, up the legs and back, to the arms and then finishing with a head massage. Full-body half-hour massages can cost as little as $3 (but, when they are that cheap, conditions may be questionable – exactly how many massages have been given on these sheets? – and the room will be without air conditioning). Oil massages are almost always offered and cost twice as much, which is still a really cheap massage. There are upscale spas in Phnom Penh with more services to choose from – like facials and pedicures. Expect higher prices, but perhaps, a better experience. Check reviews for top-rated spas in Phnom Penh on TripAdvisor.
Unveiled in 1962 to commemorate Cambodia’s 1953 independence from France, the Independence Monument stands 20m tall in the middle of a busy intersection (Norodom Blvd and Sihanouk Blvd). Designed to look like a lotus flower, it’s best viewed from the narrow park to the west. To the east is the Norodom Sihanouk Memorial, a 27m stupa protecting a bronze statue of the former King Norodom Sihanouk, who is credited with liberating Cambodia from France and recently passed away in 2012.
Founded in 1442 for monks from Sri Lanka (hence the name), Wat Langka is one of the oldest temples in Phnom Penh. The complex is surprisingly peaceful given its location. A few days a week there are free hour-long meditation classes given by English-speaking monks. Check at the temple for times if you want to join!
Drinks & Dinner in BKK1
Well-known as an expat district in Phnom Penh, BKK1 – or Boeung Keng Kang 1 – is flush with chic bars and contemporary eats; hanging out in BKK1 offers many fun things to do in Phnom Penh. Popular high-end Khmer restaurants in the area are Malis and Khmer Surin, but visitors looking for international cuisine have plenty of choices, too. Upscale French dining can be found at Topaz and Bistrot Langka and there are numerous Japanese sushi restaurants in the district.
Our favorite BKK1 restaurants, however, are on Phnom Penh Street 308: Mama Wong’s Dumpling and Noodles and the inconspicuous Khmer Women Food. Mama Wong’s offers high-quality traditional cuisine with an inventive twist and seriously good fresh-made dumplings. Khmer Women Food, on the other hand, sticks to the basics and dishes up incredibly flavorful (and incredibly inexpensive!) Khmer meals prepared by young women in the outdoor kitchen. We ate the Fish Amok and Bai Sai Chrouk – and it was, hands down, the absolute best meal we ate in Phnom Penh.
BKK1 is also a hotspot for stylish bars catering to Phnom Penh expats and foreign visitors. Bassac Lane (off Street 308) is filled with themed microbars, such as The Library (where books line the shelves), Hangar 44 (with a motorcycle theme) and a tiny country-western bar, Jack Saloon. Most of the bars in the hip enclave offer excellent happy hour deals. Another uber-cool spot is the hidden lane off Street 51 between 282 and 294. Those who make the effort to seek out BattBong speakeasy are rewarded with hand-crafted cocktails and (maybe) live music. Hint: Look for the cola machine…it doubles as a door. Street 278 also has a high-concentration of places to imbibe, but with a more laid-back, backpacker ambiance. For cheap happy hour beers with a view, we recommend Penthouse Rooftop Bar.
A new entertainment district, Jet’s Container Night Market, has just opened a few blocks to the east of BKK1. The village of shipment container bars open at 5pm, but no one shows up until well after dark.
Top Tip: Some travelers think BKK1 is the best area to stay in Phnom Penh for affordable accommodation and proximity to nightlife. BKK1 is home to many of the top-rated Phnom Penh hostels and Phnom Penh budget hotels – more on where to stay in Phnom Penh at the end of the post!
Day Three in Phnom Penh
On Day Three, take a morning half-day trip out of the city, then in the afternoon, embark on a self-guided Phnom Penh city tour to a less-visited neighborhood and end the day with a Phnom Penh boat cruise.
Phnom Penh Day Tours
Although there are many things to see in Phnom Penh, there are a few intriguing sights outside the city center, which can be visited on Phnom Penh day trips. Day tours from Phnom Penh vary from visiting villages to seeing historic sites to participating in animal sanctuaries. You can book these Phnom Penh day tours on Viator:
- Koh Dach Silk Island – Learn about the local silk production and watch weavers create beautiful silk material on nearby Silk Island. Book now on Viator!
- Oudong, Cambodia – The former capital of the Khmer Empire, Oudong (also spelled Udong) features beautiful temples. On the tour, you will learn the history of the Khmer Empire, receive a blessing from monks and eat a traditional lunch. Book now on Viator!
- Killing Fields of Choeung Ek – For a continued education of the horrors of Khmer Rouge, visit the Killing Fields, where thousands of Cambodians were murdered and left in shallow graves. On the site, visitors will find a memorial and 5,000 human skulls – all victims of Khmer Rouge. Book now on Viator
- Wildlife Rescue Center – Spend a full day at the Phnom Penh Wildlife Rescue Center where you can get up close and personal with rescued animals. Book now on Viator
- Ta Prohm and Phnom Chisor – Travel with a knowledgeable guide to visit Ta Prohm – a temple that pre-dates Angkor Wat – then dine lakeside before arriving at the final destination, Phnom Chisor. Book now on Viator!
- Kingdom Brewery – It doesn’t get much better than free flowing beer at a brewery, which is exactly what you get on a Kingdom Brewery tour! Book now on Viator!
- Angkor Wat Tours from Phnom Penh – Traveling from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to see the Angkor Wat temples in a day is possible, but likely expensive. We didn’t actually see any tour companies promoting this tour and it would probably be best to coordinate the trip on your own. We would suggest flying to Siem Reap in the morning, hiring a driver to pick you up at the airport and tour the temples, then drive you back to the airport for an evening return flight to Phnom Penh. It would be a full day, but if you are trying to decide between Phnom Penh or Siem Reap, it is a way to see both!
Olympic Neighborhood Exploration
The Olympic neighborhood is centered on the Olympic Stadium, which has never been used in any Olympic games. Built in the early 1960s (and recently renovated), the 80,000-seat stadium features Olympic-size pools, diving pools, a soccer field and an indoor sports court. It is free to go inside and walk around. Events and soccer matches sometimes take place at the stadium and are either free or inexpensive to attend.
We found the Orussey Market to be one of the most fascinating markets in Phnom Penh. The two-story market is frequented by locals and spills out onto the nearby streets. On the ground floor, rows of booths sell dried, hanging fish, while another section is packed with burlap sacks containing grains and spices. The second floor features colorful fabrics.
Known for fine textiles, the Olympic Market is housed in a ramshackle building (sadly featuring a dilapidated Olympic torch emblem).
Wat Moha Montrei
A relatively new temple, Wat Moha Montrei was build in 1970. The temple, which lacks the typical bold colors, is made of cement, features intricate carvings and is topped with a 35m tower. Peaceful on a weekend morning, we found stray cats lounging about the stupas and monks in their saffron robes chatting on the stairs.
Eclipse Sky Bar at Phnom Penh Tower
Built to house offices, the Phnom Penh Tower also hosts the Eclipse Sky Bar on the 23rd-floor rooftop deck. The bar opens everyday at 5pm and offers 360-degree views of the city.
Phnom Penh River Cruise at Sunset
Taking a Phnom Penh Mekong River Cruise at sunset is a fabulous way to wind down at the end of the day. The boats depart from the Tonle Sap River and sail to the confluence with the Mekong, providing nice Phnom Penh city views. Inexpensive cruises start at $5, but a longer cruise with BBQ dinner and unlimited drinks costs less than $30 (Book a sunset dinner cruise in advance!)
Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey)
After visiting other boisterous and raucous markets, the Phnom Penh Night Market feels extremely low-key and clean. The stalls all sell the same tourist t-shirts and dresses. However, the food stalls offer a unique dining opportunity and a chance to mingle with locals. Get a plate of food, remove your shoes and find a spot on the mats to feast on your supper. Tip: If dining on market food while sitting on the ground isn’t your style, try nearby Fifth Element Rooftop Bar for drinks and Lemongrass Thai Food for dinner.
Map of Phnom Penh Sights
We highly recommend traveling with an actual paper Phnom Penh city map (buy one now on Amazon!). The heat can quickly drain phone batteries and holding an expensive phone out in the open can make you a target of theft. For neighborhood orientation, use this Phnom Penh district map.
Food in Phnom Penh
With so many options, we loved eating in Phnom Penh! Whether we ate at markets or restaurants, we never had a bad meal. For local cuisine, Amok Fish and Lok Lak Beef are must-try dishes (use this Phnom Penh food guide for more on Cambodian cuisine). The best Khmer food in Phnom Penh that we ate was at Khmer Women Food.
If you are craving Western food, we heard The Supreme Burgers and Cheesecakes (next to Mama Wong’s) serve the best burger in Phnom Penh (but the sliders at Mama Wong’s were pretty tasty, too!). We often skipped eating lunch in Phnom Penh, as our hotel’s buffet breakfast was filling and in the heat of the day we just were not that hungry (although we did get fresh-cut fruit from markets on occasion). If you want to try the best food in the city, we recommend joining a top-rated Phnom Penh food tour (more on guided culinary tours here).
Phnom Penh Monks
Young, hairless men wearing saffron robes and carrying faded-to-yellow umbrellas is a common sight in Phnom Penh. Most Cambodians are Buddhist and teenage boys often join the monkhood in Phnom Penh to fund their education (in addition to the spiritual aspect). At temples, monks are often found lounging on steps or benches engaged in conversation or looking at the screen of a smartphone. Freshly-washed robes hang from windows to dry in the sun. In the mornings, some monks participate in a traditional Almsgiving, walking through the city streets in bare feet to accept food donations from devotees in exchange for giving a blessing. Unlike the ceremonious almsgiving in Luang Prabang, in Phnom Penh monks wait until mid-morning when shops are open to make their rounds, stopping at businesses rather than being greeted by waiting Buddhists in the street.
More Things To Do Phnom Penh
A few more suggestions of things to do in Phnom Penh on your trip to Cambodia.
Cooking Class in Phnom Penh
Although there are many choices of Phnom Penh places to eat, none are quite as interesting as cooking a traditional meal yourself alongside a professional local chef. The Phnom Penh Culinary Delights Tour allows participants the opportunity to shop for local ingredients at the market and then prepare Khmer specialties for lunch. Book now on Viator!
Cinema in Phnom Penh
Going to the cinema is one of the popular things to do around Phnom Penh for both locals and tourists. Modern movie theaters show first-run movies on 4D screens and arthouses, like Meta House, show indie films in more intimate settings.
Phnom Penh Happy Pizza
Marijuana is technically illegal in Cambodia, but some establishments have been able to skirt the law. Eating a Happy Pizza in Phnom Penh means the pizza will be topped with cannabis (which is hardly distinguishable from oregano) and Dirty Old Sailor Bar is known for their edible pot treats. Be warned: the potent pot packs a punch and we personally don’t recommend the experience unless you are a pro.
Phnom Penh Sightseeing Tours
In this Phnom Penh guide, we have provided a ton of useful information and facts. However, a professional tour guide can offer deeper insight into the history of Phnom Penh. There are many sightseeing tours in the city, which can be booked in advance of your trip on Viator.
Phnom Penh Facts and Common Questions
A few facts about Phnom Penh and answers to common questions about the city.
Phnom Penh Pronunciation
Exactly how do you pronounce Phnom Penh? That’s the first question of many visitors of the city – and there doesn’t seem to be a clear consensus on the subject. When we pronounced it with a P at the beginning of both words (p-NOM PEN), we were corrected. When we pronounced it with a silent P (NOM PEN), we were corrected. Listen to this Phnom Penh pronunciation.
Phnom Penh Temperature
The average year-round temperature in Phnom Penh is in the mid-80s (high 20s in Celsius). Plan on it being hot and humid. We suggest wearing loose clothing, a sun-protective travel hat, sunscreen and make sure to carry a water bottle with you!. Check temperatures in Phnom Penh on weather.com.
History of Phnom Penh
The history of Phnom Penh is both lengthy and complex – and recent years have seen rapid changes. Before you arrive in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, brush up on the history of the city. A quick review of wiki offers a basic history lesson.
Phnom Penh Safety
Before we arrived in the city, we wondered Is Phnom Penh Safe? While we visited the city without any issues, we were constantly reminded about the dangers of pickpocketing and bag snatching. I (Sarah) was advised by locals to not only wear my bag across by body, but also to physically hold it tight to my body (opposite side of traffic) as I was walking down the street. We recommend only riding in tuk tuks with siding or curtains to deter theft. Use common sense, don’t wear flashy jewelry and don’t leave anything unattended or even unzipped. Wear a money belt or bra stash to conceal cash and phones. We kept our passports in the hotel safety box and only carried copies when exploring the city.
Phnom Penh Currency
The currency used in Phnom Penh is both the US Dollar and the Cambodian Riel. Both currencies can be withdrawn from Phnom Penh ATM machines. Most items are labeled with prices in USD, but for items less than a dollar (like bottled water), it is often in Riel. At the time of our visit, $1 USD was equal to 4080 Riel. Since they don’t use US coins, change is often given in Riel – 1000 Riel is equal to a US quarter. Check current conversion rates.
Phnom Penh Itinerary Tips
We’ve outlined a Phnom Penh Itinerary for 3 days, but what if you only have 24 hours in Phnom Penh? Here are our recommended tips to maximize your Phnom Penh visit:
One Day in Phnom Penh
Combine days 1 and 2 to create a Phnom Penh One-Day Itinerary. Start the day at the S21 Museum, then pick up the sightseeing on Day One at Wat Phnom and continue viewing the suggested sights in order the rest of the day.
2 Days in Phnom Penh
If you are limited to 48 hours in Phnom Penh, simply follow days 1 and 2 of the above outlined 3-day Phnom Penh itinerary.
Getting To Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh can be reached by plane, bus or boat. We prefer flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!) and when we buy plane tickets, we start our search for the best-priced flights on SkyScanner. The airport in Phnom Penh is located just 15km west of the city center, but it takes about an hour to travel from the airport to the city with traffic. There is a Phnom Penh Bus Station at the southwest corner of the Central Market and a second bus station next to the Night Market.
- If you are traveling from Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh, the Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh bus is an inexpensive option that will take about 6 hours.
- For transportation options from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap (and vice versa), read this article.
- If you are traveling from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, there are three basic options: plane, bus, boat – and you can get more information here.
- For travel information from Phnom Penh to Koh Rong, use this handy guide.
Getting Around Phnom Penh
Whether on foot or on wheels, it isn’t exactly easy to get around Phnom Penh. Sidewalks are often cracked and crumbling, overtaken by parked scooters and food vendors or simply don’t exist, which means those traveling on foot need to stay alert of the traffic. Phnom Penh taxi cabs, while usually air conditioned, will likely result in a slow ride. Cars are just too big for the congested streets of the city! On the other hand, information about taking Phnom Penh public transport is minimal, at best, and we never once took a bus in the city. During our stay, we relied heavily on transportation by tuk tuk. Rides cost $3 to just about anywhere in the city ($4 at night when leaving popular bar areas). When we did want a ride in a car, we used the Grab app for the best prices.
Where to Stay in Phnom Penh
During our visit to the city, we stayed in the SIM Boutique Hotel. For us, Sim Hotel was the best place to stay in Phnom Penh – as it fit both our style and our budget. The new hotel is located near the Olympic Stadium, which allowed us the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a less-touristy neighborhood. Hotel features include a rooftop pool and bar (16th and 17th floor) and a fabulous breakfast buffet (made-to-order eggs, traditional kuyteav, sausage, bacon, salad, fried noodles/rice and even pizza!). The staff were friendly and eager to help with tuk tuk services to all Phnom Penh, Cambodia attractions. Other top-rated hotels in Phnom Penh are: The Pavilion, Palace Gate Hotel and Resort and Aquarius Hotel and Urban Resort.
Low-budget travelers will find many hostels in Phnom Penh – including the highly-touted Mad Monkey Hostel. Whatever your budget and style, start your search for Phnom Penh accommodations on Booking.com, like we do!
Before You Go
- Wearing the right shoes is essential in Phnom Penh! Don’t forget to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes for your trip. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be beautifully compiled into a travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around in any foreign city…and especially Phnom Penh! Make sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook before arriving.
- We think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We want to know: What are your favorite things to do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia? What would you add to our 3-day Phnom Penh itinerary? Give us your best tips and advice in the comments below!
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