Top Ten Things to do in Phnom Penh

Top Ten Things to do in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s capital is often overlooked by visitors, but Phnom Penh’s buildings, museums and vibrant foodie and shopping scenes reward those who make it a stopover between Siem Reap and the coast or countryside. Pay your respects at moving memorials to the country’s recent history, admire beautiful masterpieces from its ancient past and cruise the magnificent Mekong at sunset. You only need to spend a few rewarding days in this underrated city to discover that there’s a wealth of things to do in Phnom Penh. Read on for our shortlist...


  1. Be moved by Cambodia's recent past
  2. Admire the impressive architecture
  3. Cruise the Mekong at sunset
  4. Discover Khmer culture at The National Museum
  5. Indulge in Cambodian cuisine
  6. Sharpen your bargaining skills at The Russian Market
  7. Marvel at the Royal Palace
  8. Discover Silk Island
  9. Experience the buzzing nightlife
  10. Connect with nature at the Wildlife Alliance


Be moved by Cambodia’s recent past

For four years in the 1970s, Cambodia was brutalised by the genocidal leadership of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge regime. Millions were killed and the impact of the atrocities committed is still felt today. To grasp the reality of what happened, you need to see it with your own eyes. The excellent audio guides at the S21 Prison and Killing Fields museums (also known as Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek respectively) help to explain the dark history. Many visitors choose to combine visiting The Killing Fields and S21 in one sombre day of reflection, accompanied by a private guide to answer any questions.


Admire the impressive architecture

Despite the damage of the recent past, the capital has a rich architectural heritage and there’s no better way to understand its diverse history than on an intimate tour with a local expert. From its palaces and pagodas to its art galleries and fantastic restaurants, there’s nothing our local guides don’t know about Phnom Penh. This is your opportunity to take it all in, going by rickshaw from the colonial grandeur of the Central Post Office to the concrete designs of the 1960s and the more recent run of high rises.  


Cruise the Mekong at sunset

The perfect end to a day of pounding the pavements is a relaxing sunset cruise along the Mekong River, one of our favourite things to do in Phnom Penh. Hire a private boat or join fellow travellers in watching the capital come to life after dark. Take in the stunning views of the city skyline while enjoying a cool beer, see the local fishermen in action and capture fabulous photos as the sun dips below the horizon.


Discover Khmer culture at The National Museum

With displays of ancient artifacts, Buddhist figures, statues of Cambodian warriors, model houses, clothing worn by farmers, and more, The National Museum gives a fascinating account of Khmer culture. The museum itself is gorgeous too, built with dark red clay bricks and surrounded by a lush green garden with shady areas to sit and cool down.


Indulge in Cambodian cuisine

No list of things to do in Phnom Penh is complete without mentioning the delicious Khmer cuisine. From traditional dishes like fish amok and beef lok lak to street food delights like num pang (a Cambodian sandwich) and fried noodles, your taste buds are in for a treat. Be sure to wash it all down with a refreshing sugar cane juice or a cup of strong Cambodian coffee.


Sharpen your bargaining skills at The Russian Market

One of the largest markets in Phnom Penh, the Russian Market is the best market to visit if you’re short on time as it contains a little bit of everything. Although you’ll find a few items like Russian dolls (it’s called The Russian Market as the area was popular with Soviet expats in the 1980s), the bulk of the selection is classic Cambodia. Expect to source great gifts like silk scarves, spices, woodcarvings and more.


Marvel at the Royal Palace

Built in the 1860s, and briefly abandonment during the Khmer Rouge era, this opulent palace complex has long served as the royal residence in Phnom Penh. It contains golden temples and quarters, each more beautiful than the last, and is by the river with beautiful views over the water where boats drift by. Learn more about the royal family and the capital’s past with the help of informational plaques or, even better, enjoy a professional guided tour. Remember to dress appropriately for Buddhist culture; women should cover their knees and shoulders while men should wear shirts with sleeves.


Discover Silk Island

Escape the city’s hustle and bustle by taking a short boat ride to Silk Island (Koh Dach). Explore the traditional silk weaving villages, witness the intricate process of silk production and even try your hand at weaving in a private workshop. This serene island offers a glimpse into rural Cambodian life and is a perfect day trip for nature lovers.


Experience the buzzing nightlife

Phnom Penh has more than its fair share of bars and clubs and hopping between them is a one of our top things to do in Phnom Penh. You won’t be able to walk out the door without running into a watering hole or three and you’ll find a vibrant party scene that’s closer to what you might expect in Bangkok or Hong Kong, with everything from rooftop bars with stunning views to dance clubs and live music venues. Head to street 51 -– one of our favourite after-dark spots – to dance the night away, mingle with locals and fellow travellers and see another side to the city.


Connect with nature at the Wildlife Alliance

Located around 25 miles south of the city, Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center is a showcase for wildlife conservation efforts in Cambodia. Animals that are saved by the Wildlife Rapid Rescue Team are relocated to the Center and individually assessed for release based on their health and strength to survive independently. It’s currently home to over 1,200 animals, and no animal in need is ever turned away. On a visit here, meet a group of rescued elephants, visit tigers, play with monkeys and stop by the nursery where wild animals undergo rehabilitation. Choose between walking in their habitats or washing and feeding the beautiful creatures.