With a population nearing two million, divided along the banks of three rivers, Phnom Penh has a lot to offer if you know where to look. Once called, “the pearl of Asia”, Phnom Penh is the perfect destination for any type of traveler.
Art enthusiasts will be satisfied by the country’s architecture at sites such as the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda as well as the plentiful handicrafts at the famous Russian and Central Market. The history buffs can satiate their thirst for the past in the National Museum or the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
Travelers of all types and ages are sure to feel a connection to the local culture at Wat Phnom or one of the other temples that lay in the lush green forests that surround the city.
- Try your hand at bartering for arts, crafts, and souvenirs at a famous market
- Explore the history of Cambodia and the Khmer at one of the fine museums
- Spend time reflecting at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
- Marvel at architecture at destinations like the Royal Palace or the Wat Temples
- Get the scoop while cooling down with a drink at the Foreign Correspondents Club
The Best Southeast Asia Tour for First-timers
The royal palace and the silver pagoda — symbols of the Cambodian royal family
The Royal Palace is the single most important building in Cambodia. Technically a series of buildings, the Royal palace is home to the Royal Family and the Cambodian government. Built and occupied in the early 1800’s, the palace features some of the most striking architecture imaginable.
The sloping tile roofs and spiking steeples are breathtaking from the outside, and a tour of the galleries inside will keep you amazed. This building complex is one of the most culturally significant places in the entire country.
The Silver Pagoda is one of the buildings that fall under the umbrella of the Royal Palace. The Silver Pagoda is unique because it houses some of Cambodia’s most precious national treasures. Statues, jewelry and gems ̵ the gallery in the Silver Pagoda is an opulent viewing experience.
Visiting the palace and gallery will cost around USD20 per person but this will include a stroll around the outer gardens, the main palace, and the gallery. The palace has modern bathrooms and its well-manicured steps make it easy to get around. A great early stop for travelers battling jet lag.
Location: Sothearo, between Street 240 and Street 184, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Silver Pagoda sits at the south side of the Royal Palace.
Tol Selang Genocide museum — a bitter education in Cambodian History
Tol Selang was once a high school, attended by hundreds. Shortly after, it was converted into a make-shift prison during the Khmer period. Today, the building is a museum where one can take a first-hand look at some of the difficult times in Cambodia’s history.
A visit to Tol Selang is a unique experience because it is one of the only remaining prisons from the Khmer period and it is the best preserved. Inside the building you can take a one-of-a-kind tour to see how classrooms became prison cells.
This emotional experience is not to be missed by anyone who wants to understand Cambodian history and culture. Tickets cost around USD8, and you can hire a guide or walk through on your own.
Location: Corner of Street 113 and Street 350, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Open: 9am-6pm daily
An In-Depth Experience of Southeast Asia at an Easy Pace
Killing fields of Choeung Ek — a place for reflection
Choeung Ek is an orchard and field that was used by the Khmer forces as the site of part of the genocide they inflicted between 1975 and 1979. Many of the more unfortunate prisoners from Tol Selang met their end in Choeung Ek.
Today, visitors can pay respects to the more than 9,000 people who lost their lives in the orchard. The natural beauty of the place creates conflict with the horrors that occurred there, making the site one of the most dramatic and important ways to understand Cambodian culture.
While undeniably horrible, the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are an important reminder of the Cambodian people’s resilience ̵ a truly unique cultural site.
Location: Roluos Village, Sangkat Cheung Aek, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Open: 9am-6pm daily
Central market and Russian market — shop ‘til you drop
Cambodia is plenty famous for its temples, but its markets could one day steal the show. The market culture in Cambodia rivals that of its Asian neighbors. Large bustling crowds, haggling vendors, and the smell of street food are three signs that you have made it to a Cambodian Market.
The Russian market
The Russian Market got its name from the large number of Russian expats who lived near the market in the 1980’s. Over the course of the last 10 years, this market has become a haven for shoppers in search of low cost souvenirs, handicrafts, silks and jewelry.
Do not let the name fool you ̵̵ this is an excellent destination for anything Cambodian.
Located at: Corner of Street 163 and Street 444, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Open: 7am-5pm daily
The central market
The Central Market is somewhat larger and more spread out than the Russian Market. Stop here for laquerware, silver and gold, local handmade crafts, or just a snack. Housed in a building that requires admiration of its own, the Central Market is a must see for shoppers and history buffs alike.
Expect crowds but at manageable levels. Bartering is encouraged, and feel free to start as low as 60% of what the seller is offering. If you do not feel like making a big purchase then go for a snack, as the street food is plentiful.
Located at: Street 128 (Kampuchea Krom), Phsar Thmei 1 Commune, Daun Penh District, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Open: 7am-5pm daily
The Best Choice for the First-Timers to Thailand and Cambodia
The Wat temples (Ounalom and Phnom) — spires in the sky
A Wat refers to a Buddhist temple in Cambodia or Thailand. Wats are often significant historical sites and are revered and respected by the locals in the same way churches are in the West. If you only have time to visit a few Wats, check out the two below.
Wat Ounalom is the most important temple in Phnom Penh and perhaps even in the whole country. This temple is the center of Buddhism for the whole country, making it very important to locals and travelers, for political, cultural, and religious reasons.
Wat Ounalom features a grand temple in the traditional Cambodian style architecture. Visitors can explore the compound on their own or with an audio guide for just a few US dollars. For a few more, you can see an urn that is supposed to hold the eyelash of the Buddah himself.
Located: Just across the street from the Royal Palace, making the two a convenient day trip.
Open: 8am-6pm daily
Right down the street from the Central Market is Cambodia’s second most important Wat. If you have a free hour, stop by Wat Phnom to explore the local culture at your own pace. The temple itself has lots of stairs so bring some sturdy shoes but the journey up is worth it, rewarding you with solitude and views of the city and rivers.
Located: Street 96, Norodom Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Open: 8am-6pm daily
Foreign correspondents club — get the juiciest snacks and stories in Cambodia
If you are feeling hungry for food or for the latest gossip, then make a stop at the Phnom Penh Foreign Correspondents Club (PPFCC). Like its counterparts around the world, the PPFCC is a restaurant created solely to be an escape for foreign journalists and correspondents living and working in the area.
Unlike many others, this branch is open to the public, allowing tourists to grab a bite in the most unique of locations. This bar and restaurant has an open-air dining environment that is tastefully decorated with breath-taking photography in line with the theme.
If you are a member of another FCC you can receive 10% off your check but if you are not, do not worry! No membership or dues are required to eat at the PPFCC, and the food is not to be missed. A full French-Cambodian Menu to match the French Colonial architecture and a deep international wine menu make the food as exciting as the venue.
You may not need to be a card-carrying member but make sure to call ahead, especially on weekends. This restaurant is famous for a reason and it can fill up quickly!
Located at: 363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia +855 69 253 222
Open: 11am-12pm daily
Visit Cambodia with Asia Highlights
Cambodia is nearly always visited together with at least one of its neighboring countries, often Vietnam or Thailand. Your experience in this amazing country, however, will be enough to make the long flight all worthwhile.
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