Many people seem to skip the Cambodian capital and head straight for Siem Reap, fearing Phnom Penh to be a dangerous and uninteresting city. However, on a recent trip to Southeast Asia’s “unpopular capital”, Meera Dattani discovered all that the city has to offer and concluded that, while it is underrated and understated, Phnom Penh certainly deserves a few days at least. Here are our favourite things to do in Phnom Penh.
It’s one of the most absorbing national museums I’ve visited, just large enough to be comprehensive yet compact enough to see it all in a couple of hours, and bizarrely, a simple map illustrating the former domination of the Khmer Empire draws the largest crowds, united in astonishment upon realising just how far and wide it once ruled.
Prepare for the best things to do in Phnom Penh on this tailor-made Cambodia Cultural Discovery. Tour the capital, Phnom Penh, with its romantic cafes and haute cuisine, discover ancient, awe-inspiring temples, and stunning countryside and explore one of the greatest wonders of the world.
More traditional sights are on the menu too, though, as colourful wats and pagodas (temples) are scattered around the city, and for those who have visited Bangkok’s Grand Palace, the architecture of Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace and glittering Silver Pagoda will ring a bell. Its murals, wats and gardens, and Baccarat crystal Buddha, are reminiscent of those found in the Thai capital.
Finally, for those with the stomach for the experience after visiting Tuol Sleng, about 12km (7.5 miles) southwest of the town are the infamous Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Here victims of the Khmer Rouge were executed and buried in mass graves. Many of these graves have now been exhumed, and a stupa-shaped mausoleum has been erected in the victims’ memory.
When exploring the city, one of the best things to do in Phnom Penh is to visit the mazes inside the Russian Market (Psah Toul Tom Pong). Here not only will you find ethical crafts and Khmer trinkets, you only need to delve deeper to discover all manner of stalls, selling obscure car parts and surreal-looking local fruits.
The Psar Chaa, or Old Market, located near the riverfront at the junction of Streets 108 and 13, is a densely packed locale offering a wide selection of all kinds of goods. Unlike some of the markets, it stays open late into the evening. A tidy, modern Phnom Penh night market is held in the square across the street, facing the river, and is now a favourite spot for weekend souvenir shopping.
See the best of beautiful Cambodia on this amazing tailor-made tour of Cambodia’s Beaches and Temples. Explore the busy capital Phnom Penh, laze on the golden sands of the south coast beaches, and discover local villages and Cambodian cuisine before you lose yourself among the mystical temples of Angkor.
Along with Siem Reap, Phnom Penh is also pioneering the concept of ethical eating with an ever-increasing number of restaurants and cafes training formerly disadvantaged people in all things culinary.
This concept is at the heart of the Friends International brand with places such as Friends the Restaurant, Romdeng and Le Café Mith Samlanh. Other recommendations include Cafe Yejj near the Russian Market and Sugar 'n Spice Café at Daughters.
Look out for Raffles Hotel, Manolis Hotel and the former Banque de l’Indochine before heading river-wards to the 27-metre-high hill of Wat Phnom, after which Phnom Penh was named. These attractions are must-visit highlights when considering the best things to do in Phnom Penh.
It’s the highest point in this low-rise city so the views are not half-bad. Not-for-profit group KA Tours also runs an architecture tour around the city from the comfort of a pedal-powered cyclo.
Among other things, a trip to the island offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh city life. The island is characterised by tranquil and picturesque rural countryside and charming villages. It offers an opportunity to experience the rustic lifestyle and natural beauty of Cambodia. And if you are looking for more unusual islands to travel to, Cambodia also has an outstanding exotic destination for you.
The centre operates a breeding facility for endangered species and releases specimens into the wild when feasible. Both Betelnut Jeep Tours and Free the Bears organise enhanced tours of the centre, with special access to the wildlife for their guests.
This is a tailor-made trip to Cambodia for the adventurer. This trip takes you from the glorious temples and rolling countryside of Siem Reap to the attractive riverside capital of Phnom Penh where you can explore the city’s broad boulevards, new restaurants and myriad sights.
To the west of the main temple stands a stupa said to contain the eyebrow hair of the Buddha. Within the temple are several archaic Buddha figures, smashed to pieces by the Khmer Rouge but since reassembled.
Also on display is a statue of Samdech Huot Tat, head of the sangha when Pol Pot came to power and was subsequently killed. On leaving the temple, turn right (south) along Sisowath Quay, the road that runs along the Sap River. This is a delightful area of small riverside cafés and restaurants where it is possible to experience the international affluence of the new Cambodia.
Visiting the Pagoda is one of the essential things to do in Phnom Penh and in Cambodia in general. It houses the sacred symbol of the nation, the Emerald Buddha, which dates from the 17th century and is made of crystal. Note that photography within the building is forbidden.
On this tailor-made trip to Khmer Cultural Treasures, you will discover the wonders of Khmer architecture through temple tours around ancient Siem Reap, explore the Cambodian countryside, the floating markets of Tonle Sap and see all the cultural highlights of Phnom Penh.
Find more accommodation options to stay in Phnom Penh.
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