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Phnom Penh Travel Guide


Not only the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is also the culture, economic, and transportation center of the country. Situated at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonle Sap rivers, Phnom Penh still retains its tranquil and historical atmosphere, standing in stark contrast to other modernized and bustling Asian capitals. Its French colonial history and profound Khmer culture have endowed the city with rich cultural charm, and a wide range of historical architecture and highlights.

Beyond the rich culture and history, Phnom Penh is also a paradise for food and souvenirs. Cambodia’s food is a mixture of various flavors from different Asian countries, including India, China, and Vietnam. Plus, Phnom Penh is seeing a revival for handicraft technique and is especially standout for painting, woodcarving, silk, and silver products.

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Top Things to Do in Phnom Penh

Admire the Royal Palace - Residence of Cambodia's Royal Family

Serving as the residence of Cambodia’s royal family since it was built in the 1860s, the Royal Palace of Cambodia is a complex of buildings in the Khmer architectural style. It’s a must for all history and architecture lovers, offering a glimpse into Khmer architecture features: defensive walls, towering spires, stupas, mural paintings, etc.

The Silver Pagoda is the best highlight in the palace, being known for the Emerald Buddha statue and the diamond-studded Buddha. Some of the interior ceiling murals and artifacts are still well-preserved in the pagoda.

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Glimpse into Local History at Cambodia National Museum

The Cambodia National Museum is worth a visit whether you want to see Phnom Penh’s iconic buildings or various precious artifacts. With dark red brick walls, a spiky roof, and flying rafters, the museum itself is a work of art.

The museum was opened to the public in 1920, showcasing a wide array of ancient Khmer artistry, and excellent Angkor Wat statuary. Of its over 5,000 artifacts, the major highlights you can expect include statues from Koh Ker and Angkor Thom temples, pre-Angkorian artifacts, models of traditional Khmer houses, Cambodian warriors statues, and busts of Buddhist figures.

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Visit Koh Dach (aka Silk Island)

About an hour’s journey from Phnom Penh city center, Koh Dach on the Mekong River offers a great morning jaunt to see the rural side of the city. It is the place where most of Cambodia’s scarves and cotton tops are produced. After a short ferry ride takes you to the island, you can hop on a bike to tour the local villages in leisure, and visit some fine silk weaving workshops to see how the skillful weavers use hand-looms to spin silk. If you like, you can also taste some local cuisine and snacks served in the little restaurants.

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Visit the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (former S-21 Prison Camp) is the place to learn about the fearsome prison system of the Khmer Rouge, and discover what Cambodian people suffered during the 1970s.

Formerly a secondary school, the place was used as one of the over 150 prisons during the region of Khmer Rouge. There are approximately 20,000 Cambodians were imprisoned in the S-21, most of whom died of torture or murder. Exhibits in the museum include the original form of some prison rooms, and a large number of photos and artifacts witnessing the crimes of the Khmer Rough.

Pray for Good Luck at Wat Phnom

Sitting on the only hill (about 27 feet) in Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom, aka Hill Temple, is the most popular religious site for locals to pray for good luck and success. Visitors need to reach Wat Phnom by walking along a staircase with dragon and snake handrails on both sides. Inside the Wat, you can see what a Cambodian temple looks like, with the taste of incense sticks, candles, folded lotus flowers, the sound of Khmer Xylophones, and many colorfully painted murals and statues.

On your way return to the bottom of the hill, you will encounter several other Cambodian pavilions, royal stupa, and statues while you take in the fresh air from Mekong and Bassac rivers and enjoy the beautiful vista view of the rivers.

Shop in the Markets

Phnom Penh is a city rich in markets of different sizes and types. Whether you want to pick some souvenirs for your family or friends, sample local specialties, or buy discounted handicrafts or clothing, there is a perfect market to satisfy you. And most of the markets are reachable by a short tuk-tuk ride, offering you a glimpse into local life more than just shopping. Below is the list of the top 4 markets in Phnom Penh.

The Central Market (Phsar Thmei Market) – A unique art-deco style architecture with an eye-catching dome, the Central Market is the cleanest and the most foreigners-friendly market in Phnom Penh. Surrounding its central dome are many stalls selling jewelry, housewares, souvenirs, handicrafts, food, and even household electronics.


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Russian Market – Another tourist-crowded market in the city, featuring excellent handmade goods, such as woodcarvings, clothes, musical instruments, and silks. Other daily-use items, fresh fruits, and vegetables are also sold here.

Phnom Penh Night Market – Only open at night (6:00 pm to midnight) from Friday to Sunday. The market is on the riverfront, offering a wide selection of local street food and great nightlife choices.

Old Market (aka Phsar Chas) – It is the market where the locals usually shop. Don’t miss it if you want to experience authentic Cambodian market life and local culture. Instead of souvenirs, goods being sold here are mainly fresh fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, etc.

How Many Days to Stay in Phnom Penh

Regarding how long to stay in Phnom Penh, it depends on how much you want to explore this city. We usually recommend our clients to spend at least 2-3 days in the city to cover its main attractions: the first half day for arrival and exploring the riverfront area; the second day for exploring landmarks like Royal Palace, Central Market, and Cambodia National Museum; the third day for touring Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the nearby killing fields.

Phnom Penh Weather: Best Time to Visit Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is blessed with mild and warm weather all year round and can be divided into 2 seasons: the dry season (December to April) and the rainy season (May to November).

The best time to visit Phnom Penh is from December to January when the weather is cool and the days are mostly sunny. Also, it is the peak season of the city when it sees more tourist crowds and the hotel and flight prices are high.

March and April are the hottest months when the city is scorching with some days can even reach 40°C (104°F). Though there are frequent rains in the rainy season, it won’t ruin your trip to some historical and cultural sites.

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Phnom Penh Transportation: How to Get to and Get around

How to Get to Phnom Penh?

By Air

Visitors can reach Phnom Penh by flying to the Pochentong International Airport which is about 10 km away from the city center. It serves direct domestic flights to/from Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, and international flights to/from Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Vientiane, Bangkok, Yangon, Tokyo, Taipei, Seoul, and many Chinese cities, etc.

From the airport to the city center, you can take a taxi (about 12-18 USD), tuk-tuk (about 9 USD), airport train (about 2.5 USD per person), or bus (about 0.37-0.5 USD per person).

By Boat

It is convenient to take a boat to Phnom Penh from Vietnam or Laos via the Mekong River Delta.

By Train

There are two provincial lines connecting Phnom Penh with Sihanoukville, Battambang, Kampot, etc.

How to Get around Phnom Penh?

Most people choose to get around Phnom Penh by taxi, tuk-tuk, bike, or motorbike.

Tuk-tuk is the most popular and pleasant way to get around, and you can either hire a driver off the street or use ride-hailing apps. For taking taxis, since there are no taxi stands in the city, calling a taxi in advance is more recommended. If you want to travel at your pace, renting a bike or motorbike should be your great choice. Usually, the cost is about 5 USD per day.

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