Cambodia’s capital and biggest city, Phnom Penh has a lot to offer for visitors. Wide French boulevards, colonial architecture and a great selection of cafés and restaurants make Phnom Penh a quieter and more relaxing destination than most other Southeast Asian capitals.
Lonely King © arileu
Largely abandoned during the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, Phnom Penh has slowly been rebuilt over the last 30 years. Today, modern high-rise buildings indicate the city’s rapid growth into one of Southeast Asia’s most dynamic and interesting capitals.
Phnom Penh has a much sleepier, quieter feel than Bangkok or Saigon. From the numerous bars and restaurants set up along the riverside to historical attractions, it’s easy to fill a three or four-day itinerary in Phnom Penh.
Silver Pagoda Phnom Penh © tartarin2009
Main Areas of Interest in Phnom Penh
Most of Phnom Penh’s nightlife and tourist-focused businesses are located around the Tonle Sap River. Sisowath Quay, which runs for three kilometres along the bank of the river, acts as Phnom Penh’s touristic capital and home to most of the city’s nightlife.
Boeung Keng Kang
Upmarket and trendy, Boeung Keng Kang is where you’ll find many of Phnom Penh’s French colonial houses, high-end restaurants and cafés. Many of Phnom Penh’s best boutique hotels are located in the Boeung Keng Kang area, specifically around BKK1.
Located at the western end of Sisowath Quay, the area around the Royal Palace is home to a mix of art shops, cafés, restaurants and guesthouses. This area’s quiet atmosphere makes it a better option for travellers seeking peace and quiet than the nearby Riverfront.
Set back from the Riverfront, the area around Wat Phnom is home to some of Phnom Penh’s most well known historical buildings. Quieter than the Riverfront, the Wat Phnom area offers a selection of boutique hotels and upmarket cafés and restaurants.
Central Market (Phsar Thmei)
Known as Phsar Thmei (New Market), Phnom Penh’s 1930s Central Market is a great place to shop for clothing, electronics and more. The area around the Central Market is where you’ll find Phnom Penh’s commercial centre, with modern office buildings and the Sorya Mall.
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psar thmei © electricnerve
Things to Do in Phnom Penh
- The Killing Fields
Located a short drive from Phnom Penh, the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek are one of several mass graves for victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. Today the site is a memorial to all of the victims of the regime, with a Buddhist stupa located on site.
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
After the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, the Khmer Rouge converted Chao Ponhea Yat High School into Security Prison 21 — a torture and execution centre for dissidents and anyone associated with the previous Lon Nol government.
Today, the high school buildings are Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The museum documents the fate of thousands of people that were executed during the Khmer Rouge period. Many of the museum’s buildings are in their original state, as discovered in 1979.
- Royal Palace
Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace is the official residence of the King of Cambodia and one of the most iconic buildings of Phnom Penh. Although the King’s residence is closed to the public, many of the building that make up the Royal Palace are open to guests.
- Silver Pagoda
One of the Royal Palace’s most noteworthy buildings, the Silver Pagoda is open to the public and undoubtedly worth visiting. The pagoda contains several gold Buddha statues, as well as Cambodia’s 17th century Emerald Buddha.
- National Museum
A short walk from the Royal Palace, the National Museum cover the history of Cambodia and the Khmer Empire. The museum, which is divided into three sections — pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor — includes a selection of exhibits on Cambodian culture and civilisation.
- Central Market
Built in 1937, Central Market (called Phsar Thmei in Khmer) was Asia’s largest market when it first opened. Today, it’s home to several hundred stalls offering everything from clothing and fashion accessories to electronic gadgets and souvenirs, usually at fairly good prices.
- Russian Market
Called Phsar Tuol Tom Pong in Khmer and known as the “Russian Market” in English, this crowded market earned its name from its primarily Soviet clientele in the 1980s. Today, it’s a good place to shop for knock-off brand name items, souvenirs and cheap clothing.
Best Luxury Hotels in Phnom Penh
- Raffles Hotel Le Royal
Phnom Penh’s most well known luxury hotel, Raffles Hotel Le Royal has hosted guests such as Charlie Chaplin and Jacqueline Kennedy. Located close to Wat Phnom, this classic luxury hotel offers a selection of comfortable rooms and suites.
- Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra Hotel
Sleek and modern, Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra Hotel is a luxurious five-star hotel located close to the upmarket BKK1 area. The hotel features a large outdoor swimming pool, fitness facilities, spa and views over the Tonle Sap River.
- Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel
Located on Chroy Changvar peninsula, Sokha Phnom Penh Hotel is a quiet escape from the city itself. This upmarket hotel offers great views over the Tonle Sap River of the Royal Palace and other Phnom Penh landmarks.
Best Mid Range Hotels in Phnom Penh
- VMANSION Boutique Hotel
Located close to the Royal Palace, VMANSION Boutique Hotel offers a selection of spacious rooms and suites. With just 12 rooms, all equipped with free Wi-Fi, this quiet boutique hotel is a great choice for travellers that want to be in the centre of Phnom Penh.
- TEAV Boutique Hotel
Located close to several upmarket restaurants and cafés on Street 310, TEAV Boutique Hotel is a modern four-star hotel in the BKK1 area. The hotel’s quiet yet convenient location makes it a great base for exploring Phnom Penh.
- The Plantation Urban Resort and Spa
Beautiful grounds, a large outdoor swimming pool and relaxing poolside cabanas make The Plantation Urban Resort and Spa one of Phnom Penh’s best hotels for relaxation. Located a short walk from the Royal Palace, this four-star hotel is quiet, relaxing and convenient.
- One Up Banana Hotel
Located close to the Independence Monument in BKK1, One Up Banana Hotel is a quiet and comfortable two-star hotel. Rooms are clean, nicely furnished and equipped with free Wi-Fi, although some rooms have very little natural light.
- Alibi Guesthouse
Located close to the Royal Palace, Alibi Guesthouse offers a convenient location close to the nightlife at the Riverfront but far enough away for great sleep. Rooms are clean and equipped with free Wi-Fi.
- Sla Boutique Hostel
Located behind the Royal Palace on Street 174, Sla Boutique Hostel is a short walk from the Riverside bars and restaurants. Clean, inexpensive dorms and a shared kitchen make this a great option for travellers on a strict budget.
Best Budget Hotels in Phnom Penh
Places to Eat and Drink in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh 399 © strupler
Located on Norodom Boulevard, Topaz serves a great range of high quality French dishes alongside an extensive wine list.
- The Corn
The Corn is a vegetarian/vegan restaurant located close to the Independence Monument on Preah Suramarit Boulevard.
- Taqueria Corona Restaurant
Phnom Penh is a great city for international food, and Mexican food is no exception. Taqueria Corona Restaurant serves a selection of Mexican dishes close to the Street 51 nightlife area.
- Friends the Restaurant
Part of the TREE Alliance, Friends the Restaurant is a training restaurant dedicated to giving local residents the skills they need to work in leading hotels and international restaurants.
- Connecting Hands Cafe & Training Centre for Women
Located close to the National Museum, Connecting Hands Cafe serves a selection of Khmer and Western dishes. Run as a non-profit organisation, the café trains local women to work in restaurants, cafés and hotels.
- Aria D’Italia
Located on Street 310 in the BKK1 area, Aria D’Italia is a small Italian restaurant that serves excellent pasta dishes and pizza alongside a great wine and cocktail menu.
Located inside a beautiful colonial villa, Romdeng serves a great selection of Khmer dishes in a relaxing setting. Cookbooks, silk products and other items are also available.
- Irrawaddi Myanmar Gallery Restaurant
Located on Street 334, Irrawaddi Myanmar Gallery Restaurant serves tasty Burmese food at excellent prices. A short walk from BKK1’s numerous cafés, bars and health spas.
- Garuda Khmer Restaurant
Popular with expats and locals alike, Garuda Khmer Restaurant is a large Khmer restaurant offering a selection of local and international dishes.
How to Get to Phnom Penh
Propeller Plane to Siem Reap © qilin
Phnom Penh is well connected to the rest of Asia by air. Phnom Penh International Airport handles flights from Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Saigon and Hanoi. Flights are also available from Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seoul, Taipei and other major Asian cities.
Cambodia’s highways, most of which weren’t paved 10 years ago, have improved hugely over the past decade. Bus services connect Phnom Penh with other major cities in Cambodia such as Siem Reap, Battambang, Sihanoukville and Poipet.
Long-distance buses to Phnom Penh are available from Saigon, Bangkok and other regional cities. Many international buses to and from Phnom Penh involve a change of bus at the land border — take note if you’re travelling overnight and expect a good night’s sleep.