Looking for things to do in Phnom Penh during your Cambodia travels? This guide details free and cheap activities, ethical restaurants and how to get to the Killing Fields which will be an unfortunate highlight on your Phnom Penh itinerary. Whether you are visiting Cambodia’s capital city for a long weekend or as part of a longer Southeast Asia trip, this jam-packed list of what to do in Phnom Penh works for every season, type of traveller and budget. We’ll look at the top tourist attractions and lesser-known hidden local gems.
Best Things to do in Phnom Penh
Table of Contents
1. Royal Palace
The striking Royal Palace (Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol) in Phnom Penh is where the king of Cambodia residence.
Whether you are religious or not, this is a popular attraction because of its cultural significance, architecture, royal relics and manicured gardens.
The complex showcases a number of buildings including the Throne Hall and Napoleon III Pavilion. Dress code: arms covered, a scarf is not enough. Dresses and shorts must be below the knee.
- Price: $10 USD
- Address: Samdach Sothearos Blvd (3)
2. Phnom Penh Riverside
To the left of the Mekong River is a spacious boulevard well used by locals and tourists alike.
Don’t be surprised to see public fitness classes on one section of the riverside and mature European men with young local women at another.
Across the road from the river is a stretch of cafes, stalls and bars.
The road in between is always busy with cars, tuk-tuks and mopeds. Boats run up and down the river and there a number of cruises which offer special tours.
3. Mekong River Sunset Cruise with BBQ Buffet
Hop aboard an ex-royal boat on this 2.5-hour cruise along the Tonlé Sap and Mekong rivers.
Sail past the city skyline including the Royal Palace as the sun goes down.
Enjoy unlimited drinks and buffet food along with panoramic views.
- Price: $30 Reserve your space here (not under $15 but worth a look)
4. Wat Phnom Temple
Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple, a popular spot for locals to hang and the tallest structure in the city.
The temple walls have historical and modern murals and there is a shrine to Lady Pehn who, according to the story, found the Watt.
There are even sometimes some monkeys on the premises so watch your belongings!
Fun fact: ‘Wat’ typically means a Buddhist place of worship.
A visit to Wat Phnom is cheaper than the Royal Palace at $1 USD.
- Price: $1 USD
Best Markets in Phnom Penh
5. Central Market in Phnom Penh
A roofed market in an interesting building selling everything from clothes to craft under a huge dome.
There are two lanes of stalls at the front which make a cool image with the art decor hall at the back.
It’s not uncommon to she people with bags on their fronts.
- Address: Calmette St. (53)
6. Phnom Penh Night Market
From 5-11pm a small area of the city is taken over by the Night Market (Kos Pich).
You can expect the normal touristy type stalls selling fake watches and clothes under the yellow glow of the light.
There is a small selection of food stalls and an area with mats on the ground which you can eat it.
- Address: Preah Sisowath Quay
7. Russian Market
A little further away from the main Phnom Penh attractions, the Russian Market (Tuol Tompoung Market) is where you will find the cheapest genuine fakes.
There is also fruit, veg, foodstuff and street food sold here.
- Address: St 163
8. Catch a Film
I know it’s quite a strange suggestion to see a movie in Southeast Asia but there is a really cool cinema in Phnom Penh called The Flicks.
Snacks, booze, lazy seating and Western movies.
Does it get any better?
It does downpour and when it rains it buckets down so this is one of the recommended things to do in Phnom Penh in the rain.
When we visited we were the only people in the cinema and the cool Dutch owner let me free pour a vodka.
A hugely impactful holiday memory.
Fun business, great setting.
- Address: 39B Street 95
Museums in Phnom Penh
9. National Museum in Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s largest museum displays hundreds of Khmer artefacts, some behind closed cases others not.
There are also paintings, sculptures, and a serene garden area with ponds.
Conservation work goes on in the same building as the museum.
The Royal Palace is over the road so you can team up a visit to both during the same trip.
- Price: $10 USD
- Address: Preah Ang Eng St. (13)
10. Phnom Penh Genocide Museum
Along with a trip to Angkor Wat, one of the main reasons for visiting Cambodia is to observe and pay respect to those who lost their lives at the Killing Feilds and S21 Phnom Penh.
Getting to the S21 and the Killing Fields
S21 (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) is an ex-school building turned torture ground and prison ran by Pol Pot and his communist Khmer Rouge party who governed from 1975 to 1979.
The building itself is a 40-minute walk or 10-minute tuk-tuk ride from the city.
It is common for tuk-tuk drivers to drive you to S21, wait, drive you to the Killing Fields (45 minutes ride), wait during your time there and then drive you back. This should cost around $15.
S21 is one of the areas where Cambodia’s ex-dictator, Pol Pot killed many of his victims.
It is estimated that 2 million Cambodians died under Pot’s governance. 20,000 people were detailed at S21 with only seven surviving, one of which you can meet at the end of the tour.
The ex-high school is now a walk–through the museum ($3-5 entry) and because of this I recommend taking a guided tour like we did to get insider knowledge of the torture faced by thousands on this plot of land ($2).
During the tour, your guide will walk you through each classroom area and discuss the torture implements on show and the profile of the prisoners held here – glasses wearers, smooth ‘office’ hands, professionals such as teachers and lawyers, the ‘intelligent city’ people.
The kinds of people they thought might question a government.
Many of the torture methods will stand out.
However, one that may stick with you is the scorpion. Used to clip at prisoner’s nipples until they confessed that they were trying to overthrow the Khmer Rouge regime.
Regardless of their intent, they were found guilty one way or another.
Once a confession was made, prisoners were driven out to the Killing Fields, about 45 minutes away, along a dusty road.
That’s your next movement during your tour of S21 and the Killing Fields.
→ Tip: Buy a face mask before you ride as the road is dusty.
Nothing will prepare you mentally for this section of the tour.
For $5 you have access to the grounds and an audio guide which timelines, facts and descriptions of what you are looking at.
The audio guide includes harrowing survivors’ stories.
Bullets weren’t wasted on these prisoners. Their heads were chopped off and bodies left to fall into mass graves.
Even to this day, during monsoon season, bones are still washed up around this area.
What’s just as tough to process is the fact that the Rouge also killed children and babies working from the philosophy:
“When you dig up the grass, you must remove even the roots.”
A visit to S21 and The Killing Fields are one of the top things to do in Phnom Penh, even if you are not a fan of history.
11. Phnom Penh Killing Fields and S21 Hop-on-Hop-off Joint Tour
For the same price as a tuk-tuk driver, you can reserve a place on a joint tour to S21 and the Killing Fields. The tour takes around 4.5 hours and runs twice daily.
A bus picks you up from a central location and drives you to S21. You spend just over one hour at S21 before driving in the minibus to the Killing Fields while a video plays.
This option avoids the dusty road tuk-tuk drive.
At the Killing Fields, you tour the grounds independently with an audio guide for information.
This keeps the level of noise down to a minimum.
Not included: Entry fees and in-house guides if available (total $5-10).
12. Phnom Penh Yoga
Need to stretch the body after a late night?
There are a number of yoga studios in the city.
Azahar is a community-based studio which trains local people to be yoga teachers.
All proceeds go back into training programmes.
You can check out the schedule here.
13. Phnom Penh Nightlife
Nightlife in Phnom Penh is a bit of a strange one.
There is no shortage of bars and clubs but finding the right ones for your style of travel might be a tad difficult.
Bars in Phnom Penh seem to build their business around the hostess trade, a particular hotbed for this is Street 136.
FCC Phnom Penh is always cited as one of the popular bars to go to but I just didn’t get it.
Grab a cocktail, enjoy the view and move on.
Other bars that come recommended include Bassac Lane (live music, fairy light, mixed crowd, pricey), Red Bar (cheap dive bar), Eclipse Sky Bar (sunset) and 21 Bar (food and drink).
You can find beer for .75 cents in some bars and store-bought tins are under a dollar for local beers.
14. Best Shopping in Phnom Penh
If you’re here to shop and you’ve done the markets it’s time to move on to the malls.
AEON Mall in Phnom Penh is an air-conditioned mall with shops, food courts, a cinema showing Khmer and Hollywood movies and play areas for kids.
SORYA Center Point is an older mall in the centre of the city which houses a mix of fashion, gaming and food stores.
Phnom Penh Tours
If you are short on time if prefer expert knowledge during your trip you may want to check out the following tours:
- S21 and Killing Fields: Transport and educational video
- River Cruise: Drinks, buffet and sunset river cruise
- Food tour: Traditional food and history/culture guided tour
Restaurants in Phnom Penh
Like bars, there’s no shortage of eateries in the city.
Western food is more expensive than local which is no surprise.
You can dine out on a couple of dollars for a full meal with soft drink or you can pay more at popular places.
There are also many restaurants which have trained street children as chefs.
- Blue Pumpkin: Sofa beds, ice cream, cakes and lunch
- Vibe Cafe: Healthy, including acai bowls
- Friends Cafe: Started of as one food place which trained street kids, now it’s a brand
- Daughters of Cambodia: Same concept as friends
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15. Happy Pizza in Phnom Penh
Now it’s time for the elusive ‘happy pizza’ chat.
We never saw this advertised anywhere. We never heard of anyone ordering it!
Does it exist? Tell us in the comments below.
Phnom Penh Travel Advice
Accommodation in Phnom Penh
Hotels and hostels are very affordable in the city. So much so, we skipped a hostel and went straight to a hotel with a rooftop pool. We liked it so much we extended our stay from three to five days.
Hotels in Phnom Penh
- The Frangipani Living Arts Hotel & Spa: Near Russian Market so not touristy, big room, two swimming pools, rooftop bar
- Suite Home Boutique Hotel: Located behind the Royal Palace, close to river, clean and bright rooms with air-con
- Le Castle River Hotel: Great location, air con in rooms, swimming pool and hot tub
Hostels in Phnom Penh
Hostels are a great option for those on a tight budget or for backpackers who want to make friends.
- Billabong Hostel: Quiet hostel, nice pool, air-con in dorms, good location
- Lovely Jubbly: Lively, great pool, clean hostel with dorms
- Onederz: Riverside location, hot showers, quiet
Lovely Jubbly Hostel
Phnom Penh Packing List
- A waterproof coat like my Mountain Equipment Rupal US / UK
- Comfortable walking shoes/hiking boots – I swear by Salomon Ellipse trek shoes US / UK
- Layers to cover up in temples
- Camera and battery
- Battery pack for your phone – I like the Anker range US / UK
- Osprey bag cover US / UK for downpours, protect your gear
- Filter and purifying water bottle like Water To Go [quote TSA15 at checkout for 15% off]
- Bamboo cutlery set US / UK for takeout and street food
- Skross universal travel adaptor with USB slots US / UK
- Pacsafe safety net US / UK
- Hydration tablets US / UK if participating in nightlife!
How to Get to Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh Airport is located 10 km west of the city.
Phnom Penh Airport to the city takes around 30 minutes to 1 hour in a taxi.
The fare depends on the distance from $9-15 USD.
Tuk Tuks are cheaper at $7-12 .
There’s a bus line (3) which runs too and costs around KHR 1500.
Getting Around Phnom Penh
You can walk between most of the city attractions bar foot with the exception of the Killing Fields and S21 which many people pay a tuk-tuk driver for the full morning or afternoon for (around $15 USD).
There is a bus service but it is pretty limited.
Tuk-tuks are everywhere in the city and can be found at most hotels and restaurants.
You can negotiate with drivers but most rides cost a couple of USD dollars.
Alternatively, use the Pass App to organise tuk-tuk lifts like you would with a regular taxi! No haggling required.
Currency in Phnom Penh
Confusingly, Phnom Penh uses both its national currency, Cambodian Riel (KHR) and also the US dollar (USD).
Shops will display prices in one or the other or both.
Change can be given in split payment too so get to know the Rei notes to avoid being ripped off.
On the whole, Cambodians in Phnom Penh are sweet.
We never had any issues with scams, quite the opposite actually.
Is Phnom Penh Safe?
We found Phnom Penh safe from crime during the day and comfortable to go out drinking in at night.
Phnom Penh relies heavily on tourism and locals are among some of the friendliest people we’ve met.
Craig left his phone in the hotel tuk-tuk, the driver handed it in.
That wouldn’t happen in Scotland.
He wanted a tip when we saw him the next day, naturally.
You do have to get over the obscene amount of middle-aged white Europeans courting young Asian women openly.
It’s hard to miss down the riverfront and in the bars.
Phnom Penh Map
Click this link to access a map of the activities discussed in our guide.
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