Home Cambodia Travel GuideTop 8 Things to Do in Phnom Penh

Top 8 Things to Do in Phnom Penh

When talking about Cambodia, there is no doubt that the first thing that comes to mind is Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. But if you want to touch the country’s soul, you have to be here, in Phnom Penh.

Being the capital city, Phnom Penh has witnessed the bravery of Cambodians opposing French colonists, the tragic history of the regime of Khmer Rouge and the modern-day economic recovery.

Marvel at the Magnificent Palace

The Royal Palace

Recommended length of visit: half a day

How many times in your life have you been in a king’s kitchen? Never? Here’s your chance.

Having been the permanent home of kings and the most luxurious place in Cambodia, most of Khemarin Palace is now open to the public. Designed by a Cambodian, the palace was built in the 19th century with French technology. Strolling around the palace, you will marvel at its luxury and charm.

Explore the History of Cambodia at the National Museum

The National Museum

Recommended length of visit: half a day

Shaded by green trees, the museum is a classic Khmer building full of exoticism, from the roof to the columns in the aisles. Inside the museum there is an excellent collection of art, ranging from paintings and sculptures to other arts and crafts.

The exhibitions bear witness to history and change in Cambodia. Although some statues are broken, you can still sense the splendor of the Angkorian Period five to nine centuries ago. Observing the precipitous fall from glorious past to impoverished present, all you can do is sigh.

Sense the Misery of the Khmer Rouge Period

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)

Recommended length of visit: half a day

Any visitors interested in the history of the Khmer Rouge, should start their journey here. Having originally served as a high school, the buildings were converted into a prison during the Khmer Rouge period.

More than 17,000 people were interrogated and tortured here, before being executed either here or in the Killing Fields.

When you wander round the schoolyard, it seems like you can hear the happy laughter and cheerful voices of students. When you walk into the rooms, however, you will be shocked by pictures and documents silently recounting the tragedy.

Grieve for Victims at the Killing Fields

The Killing Fields

Recommended length of visit: half a day

After a visit to S-21 prison, you just cannot miss this place, the Killing Fields. True to name, the Killing Fields are where thousands of people were killed during a four-year reign of terror. More than 9,000 skeletons have been unearthed here.

A stupa here is full of over 8,000 human skulls; which will really make your hair stand on end. Here you can understand deeply the meaning of a living hell and how lucky we are now. Please bow in respect for and stand in silent tribute to the victims.

Enjoy the Fun of Bargaining in the Central Market

The Central Market

Recommended length of visit: half a day

Designed by a French architect, the Central Market was built in 1937, without columns. The market is painted gold and looks like a giant fan. It has become a landmark of Phnom Penh and a famous piece of French architecture.

The market is popular with both locals and tourists. You can buy anything you want from clothes to jewelry. If you want to enjoy the fun of bargaining, this is the best place for you. Many sellers will start from a very high price, so you may need to bargain down a lot.

Experience Life on Tonle Sap and the Mekong River

Tonle Sap and the Mekong River

Recommended length of visit: half a day

Tonle Sap, the flowing heart of Cambodia, is a great lake ecosystem as well as the birthplace of Cambodian culture. The Mekong River, which joins up with the Tonle Sap River, replenishes water supplies every year.

If you take a cruise here, you will be amazed at the floating school and the floating fish market, where people do everything on boats.

At dusk, you can see beautiful sunset scenery, with golden light shimmering on the lake and reflecting on the roof of the Royal Palace. You’ll just want to freeze that moment in time.

Engage with Khmer Culture at the Backstreet Academy

Backstreet Academy

Recommended length of visit: depends on your course

If you’d like to do something to engage more with Khmer culture, the Backstreet Academy is the place for you.

The Academy offers all kinds of short- and long-term courses involving Cambodian tradition, including dancing, cooking and martial arts. After attending such a course, you’ll have a deeper understanding of Khmer culture.

Watch Traditional Dance

National Museum

Length of performance: 2 hours

There is a spectacular performance of Cambodian traditional dance organized by Cambodian Living Arts at the National Museum. The dance relates historical stories and is divided into three separate productions, described below.

Children of Bassac consists of traditional dances from different ethnic groups; the Yike Opera dramatizes a Cambodian story; and Passage of Life demonstrates the rituals of Khmer life. You will be immersed in the evocative music and beautiful dancing.

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