• Mario Ng

Phnom Penh Attractions - What to see and do in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a city that has seen and gone through much in its history. Before World War 2, it was known as the "Pearl of Asia", attracting many visitors from all over the world. During the Khmer Rouge era, the city and its residents suffered much, with many dying as a result of the atrocities committed by the then-government. Having said that, the city, and the country as a whole, have done much to move on with life, rebuilding the country and creating investment opportunities. As one walks along the streets of Phnom Penh, you will find that you will mostly see locals who are getting on with their lives, seemingly unaware of the terrible things that have happened not too long ago.


Backpackers love this city, as most of the infrastructure is still left in its original façade, mostly untouched by modernisation and development. Being a former French colony, you will find many French influences in the buildings. The Central Post Office, Raffles Le Royal, and Central Market are just a few examples that demonstrate how the French left their mark on this city.


Do some research and you will know that the country has preserved some of the sites used during the Khmer Rouge regime. These places of interests are must-dos when in this city, as one learns about the difficulties the locals went through during the war, and how much ordinary Cambodians suffered. It is all the more amazing as you realise that Cambodians have moved on so quickly, accepting the realities of life and how they have to continue life as usual to survive.

It is also relaxing to sail along the river and look back at the city lights in the evening, as the sun sets behind you. As day turns to night, one can slowly see the city lights getting turned on, and locals getting ready for the vast crowd by the riverside, A.K.A. Sisowath Quay. It is at this place where the nightlife happens in Phnom Penh. Expats, backpackers, and locals gather nightly by Sisowath Quay for dinner, before having a pint of beer by a rooftop bar. It is quite easy to find a rooftop bar by the riverside and chill!

For your convenience, refer to this list of attractions you should head to while in Phnom Penh!

1. Central Market (Psar Thmei)

​2. Independence Monument and King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial

3. National Museum of Cambodia

4. Olympic Market

5. Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey)

6. Plae Pakaa

7. River Cruise on Tonle Sap

8. Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Poung)

9. Sisowath Quay AKA Riverside

10. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

11. The Royal Palace

12. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)

1. Central Market (Psar Thmei)

Central Market is a huge centre that sells all sorts of goods. Located in downtown Phnom Penh, one can also say that all roads lead to Psar Thmei (almost literally). With the shape of a +, each section sells different types of goods, with the centre of it all focused on jewellery and watches. It even has its own wet market, in case you need to get some vegetables and fresh shrimps to cook dinner!


Shoes, t-shirts, souvenirs, watches, jewellery, luggage, toiletries, perfumes, electronics: this Market’s got it all!

Central Market in downtown Phnom Penh
Central Market in downtown Phnom Penh

One can see how visitors tend to go hungry after bargain-hunting in this place. Thankfully, there is also an eatery located right in the market. Many locals seem to eat here as well, so it can be a little difficult to find seats. Persevere and wait patiently! Food options look pretty good as well, with barbecued seafood, fried noodles, and local desserts among the offerings. However, do take note that those with a weak stomach may not get used to the food here!

Delicious seafood being cooked for customers at Central Market
Delicious seafood being cooked for customers at Central Market

Address: ផ្សារ​ធំ​ថ្មី, Calmette St. (53), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: 7 am to 6 pm daily (approximate)

2. Independence Monument and King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial

When you arrive in Phnom Penh, you are likely to see this grand structure, the Independence Monument, at least once. Following this, you will then be able to see the relatively new King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial.


​The Independence Monument was built in 1958, created to commemorate the country’s independence from France in 1953. It was designed by a local architect, with the result being a source of pride for Cambodians. During the day as well as at night, this structure attracts visitors of all types, looking to snap pictures of and with this monument.

The Independence Monument in Phnom Penh
The Independence Monument in Phnom Penh

​Located east of the monument is the King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial, where the King is depicted looking towards the Tonle Sap river. This King holds special interest to Cambodians, as he was the one who brought independence to Cambodia back in 1953, and was also the country’s first Prime Minister.


At night, you can also see many locals hanging out at this park, where activities abound and they chill under the moonlight while having their dinner. It is a nice place to sit down and talk, while under the watch of the King!

The King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial with the Independence Monument on guard behind
The King Norodom Sihanouk Memorial with the Independence Monument on guard behind

Address: Downtown Phnom Penh

Opening hours: 24 hours daily

3. National Museum of Cambodia

Located in the capital of the country, the National Museum of Cambodia is a must-see for cultural enthusiasts. Conveniently located in central Phnom Penh, it is also located beside the Royal Palace, not far off from Sisowath Quay.


The building itself can be considered a piece of art, with the traditional design standing out against the concrete buildings around the museum.

National Museum of Cambodia
National Museum of Cambodia

Located within the museum is filled with cultural and archaeological treasures. Numerous Khmer sculptures, ceramics, bronzes, among other art pieces, can be found. Apparently, they add up to more than 10,000 unique pieces of items!


Naturally, this museum houses one of the largest collection of Khmer artefacts, which dates from the pre-historic era, up till the post-Angkorian period.


​And yet, that is not all. That this museum is a cultural paradise cannot be denied. Right in the middle of the museum is an open-air courtyard, where visitors can sit down to reflect on the art, or perhaps snap some pictures. The four ponds contribute to the peacefulness of the museum, and the occasional birds flying around, chirping away, further bring a certain calmness to the mind.

Within the grounds of the National Museum of Cambodia
Within the grounds of the National Museum of Cambodia

Address: Preah Ang Eng Street (13), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm daily

Cost: US$10 for adults (18 years of age and above), US$5 for children (10 to 17 years of age), free for children below 10 years of age

​Website: ​https://www.cambodiamuseum.info/en_information_visitors.html


​​​INSIDER TIP:

Note that photo-taking is not allowed on the museum grounds, except for the courtyard and museum exterior!

​Make sure you respect their local rules by keeping your cameras when viewing their priceless treasures!

4. Olympic Market

If you are ever keen to witness how locals purchase clothes in bulk, be it for their own businesses or their personal use, you should not miss this market.


A sprawling complex made up of 4 storeys, the shops here sell a variety of clothes, from the trusty pair of jeans to children’s clothes, to even the latest Korean fashion for ladies. Toiletries and showering products are also on offer here!

Olympic Market in Phnom Penh
Olympic Market in Phnom Penh

For sure, this is not a typical tourist attraction. Yet, the charm of a wholesale market where time seems to have stopped is definitely a must-see for visitors used to the concrete jungle of modernity.


Hungry? Then you are in luck. For there are not one, but two eateries you can find at this complex. Right on the top floor is a food court, while the ground floor also offers food of all kinds. Expect nothing but good old street food. Enjoy!

Vendors selling their merchandise across different levels at Olympic Market in Phnom Penh
Vendors selling their merchandise across different levels at Olympic Market in Phnom Penh

Address: 95 St 286, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: 8 am to 6 pm daily (approximate)

​INSIDER TIP:

Take note that this is not a typical tourist attraction. Hence, common sense precaution should be taken ​when visiting this place, including keeping your valuables from view!

5. Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey)

A night market is a standard offering in many parts of Southeast Asia, and Phnom Penh is no different. This market provides both cheap products and cheap food. Be in a pair of jeans, t-shirts, a watch, a belt, or some dresses, this night market has it. The beauty is such that as many stores are selling similar stuff, the prices are generally kept low. Put your expert bargaining skills to use and you will likely see an even lower price!

Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey)
Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey)

Situated near the back of the night market is where all the food stalls are located. Here comes food heaven, where you can get cheap, oily, tasty food at really low prices. We recommend the barbecued items, where you simply choose what you want and put them on a plate, and they will barbecue it on the spot. Sit on the mats and wait for your food to be served. Get some refreshing sugarcane juice while you wait, or decide to order more food, such as some noodles, along with more barbecued options.

Delicious food cooked on the spot for customers
Delicious food cooked on the spot for customers

One attraction of this night market is the stage located in the middle of it all. Nightly singing sessions seem to occur, where local talents give it their all as they sing their hearts away! If you fancy, pick a spot and eat while you enjoy some local music!

Flowers for sale at Phnom Penh Night Market
Flowers for sale at Phnom Penh Night Market

Address: Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: 5 pm to 11 pm daily

6. Plae Pakaa

Held at the National Museum of Cambodia, seven days a week, this traditional dance show cannot get more authentic, especially if you are keen on local culture.


Involving more than just dancing, with music and theatre to go along with the entire show, this play presents the best of Cambodian heritage.

Plae Pakaa located within the grounds of the National Museum of Cambodia
Plae Pakaa located within the grounds of the National Museum of Cambodia

With a sequence of rotating performances, culture enthusiasts can actually head down to the museum on different days and enjoy a different performance.


With all of the dialogue and singing in their local language, visitors may not exactly understand what’s going on. However, a brief explanation before each act starts is actually shown to the audience in English and French! After that, one can generally understand what the act is all about. This show truly offers a peek into the multiplicity of Cambodian culture!

An amazing performance by the local artistes of Plae Pakaa
An amazing performance by the local artistes of Plae Pakaa

Address: Grounds of the National Museum (St. 178 & St. 13, Preah Ang Makhak Vann St. (178), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: The performance starts at 7 pm each evening

Cost: From US$15 to US$25

​Website: ​https://experience.cambodianlivingarts.org/

7. River Cruise on Tonle Sap

Tonle Sap river is really beautiful, and it looks even more amazing during sunset, as one looks across from Sisowath Quay. However, there is an even more amazing way to enjoy the view, from a river cruise that sails along the river.


​There are many companies and boats that offer such services, and it’s really up to an individual to decide on the boat. Some provide food and drinks as well so that you can have a meal while sailing into the darkness. This can be a romantic experience, so make sure you book your tickets early, especially for the popular ones!

Sailing along the wide Tonle Sap river
Sailing along the wide Tonle Sap river

When dusk arrives and darkness sets, the city’s lights flicker on and you get to see downtown Sisowath Quay in its night glory. Interestingly, the other island off the river looks really dark. Evidently, the city is still developing, and skyscrapers continue to be built to chase investment and development.

Enjoying a beverage while sailing along the Tonle Sap
Enjoying a beverage while sailing along the Tonle Sap

When we planned a trip to Phnom Penh, we did some research and found a nice company, Kanika Boat, which offered cruises along the Tonle Sap. The sunset cruise was their most popular offering and was priced reasonably as well, at US$8 per person. We decided to book this trip and were really happy with how it went. Food and beverages were available on the cruise, and it was a romantic and peaceful evening for everyone on board. Couples and families chatted away as the sun set in the distance and all of us admired the city as the city lights were switched on. It was a good experience to see the sunset from a cruise along the Tonle Sap. We highly recommend this company if you wish to take a sunset cruise along the Tonle Sap the next time you are in Phnom Penh!

Looking back at the city from the boat on Tonle Sap
Looking back at the city from the boat on Tonle Sap

Address: Himawari Hotel, 313 Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: The sunset begins at 5 pm each evening

Cost: From US$8 for a sunset cruise

​Website: https://kanika-boat.com/

8. Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Poung)

Psar Toul Tom Poung, or the Russian Market, in its more commonly known name, is really the go-to place for tourists and backpackers looking for a cheap bargain!

Russian Market in Phnom Penh
Russian Market in Phnom Penh

​Comprising multiple shops that sell a range of products, you will be enticed to no end to part with your money. From t-shirts to backpacks to paintings to touristy souvenirs, visitors will have to depend on their bargaining skills to extract the best price from the shopkeepers. This will also be a good time to consider if you have purchased sufficient luggage space for your flight back home. Act accordingly!


​After all that shopping, one would most likely feel famished! Head down to the food stalls located within Russian Market itself, and you get to choose your favourite local delights! Fruits are also for sale, in case you require your daily dose of dietary fibre! :)

Lots of affordable food for sale within Russian Market
Lots of affordable food for sale within Russian Market

Address: Street 163 Corner of, Street 440, Phnom Penh 12310, Cambodia

Opening hours: 6 am to 4.30 pm daily (approximate)

9. Sisowath Quay (Riverside)

Sisowath Quay is where most of the nightlife happens in Phnom Penh, and if one has no idea where this place is, then you may not have actually been in Phnom Penh!


​Located by the river, it is a long stretch where many businesses are set up. You can find different types of eateries here, serving both western and local cuisines, bars, along with many massage parlours, which provide foot massages at a very low price! A suggestion would be to find one eatery that looks good to you, have your meal there, go for a foot massage, then come back out for supper and a beer!

Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh
Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh

Come evening time, you will also find many locals hanging out by the riverside, with the place bustling to life!


An interesting aspect of this place is the existence of multiple flagpoles, along with different countries’ flags flying in the wind. The ever-present winds mean that flags are usually at their best, flapping aggressively in the winds! Try to find your country’s flag!


Feel like you ate too much the past few days? Wake up early in the morning and go for a jog along the Riverside path!

Sisowath Quay stretches really long alongside Tonle Sap
Sisowath Quay stretches really long alongside Tonle Sap

Address: Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh

10. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

The killing fields of Choeung Ek is a reflective place in Phnom Penh, and for good measure. This is the place where many local Cambodians were killed during the Khmer Rouge era in the 1970s.


Situated some 15km from downtown Phnom Penh, this is where many locals met their untimely death during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The entrance to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
The entrance to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

You will find field pits where body remains were exhumed from in 1980. From these pits, the remains of 8,985 people were exhumed. Even so, about 43 out of the 129 communal graves in this place have been left untouched. It is not uncommon to see bone fragments appearing, especially after a heavy downpour.


​There is one particular tree, with the signage included, where babies met their deaths here. It is right here, on that tree, where babies were flung and smashed against the tree to kill them. Adults were also killed using a variety of methods. Most of the time, to save money on bullets, these people were killed with sticks, hoes, wooden clubs, and other makeshift weapons.

A stupa built at Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
A stupa built at Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

Remember to get the audio tour, which is part of the admission price. It is really beneficial as it is explained in detail as you walk around the Killing Fields. You will hear testimonies from both victims of the Khmer Rouge, as well as former guards who speak about what they did during the turbulent era.


At the end of the audio tour, there is a small museum, where you will be able to see a short documentary about the killing fields. Make sure you catch it.


Address: ផ្លូវជើងឯក, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: 7.30 am to 5.30 pm daily

11. The Royal Palace

Constructed in the 1860s, this sprawling complex consists of many buildings, which also includes numerous stupas and pagodas. Among some of the more famous and well-known structures include the Moonlight Pavilion and Throne Hall. Most visitors would be taking snapshots of these buildings!

The Phochani Pavilion within the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh
The Phochani Pavilion within the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

This is one of Phnom Penh’s most famous and important landmarks and for good reasons! It is the King’s official residence and was built after Phnom Penh became the capital of the country. Over the years, more buildings were added to the complex, and it is worth noting that the current Throne Hall was built in 1917 after the old one was demolished in 1915.

One of the many halls and pavilions located at the Royal Palace
One of the many halls and pavilions located at the Royal Palace

​​The complex is so big, that for one to fully appreciate the beauty of the different buildings, it can take hours to see, admire, and take photos! Yet, the King’s living area, where he still lives to this day, takes about half of the entire Royal Palace and is not open to the public. Wow!

A statue of King Norodom within the grounds of the Royal Palace
A statue of King Norodom within the grounds of the Royal Palace

Address: Samdach Sothearos Blvd (3), Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Opening hours: 8am to 10.30am, 2pm to 5pm(Saturdays to Thursdays); 8am to 10.30am, 2pm to 4.30pm (Fridays)

​INSIDER TIP:

Being in a palace, it is important to respect the local culture. Hence, remember to wear clothes that cover the shoulders and knees! Depending on who you encounter, you may be forced to purchase a t-shirt to cover up! Take note!

12. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)

This museum is simply a must-visit for all visitors of Phnom Penh. For one, this place explains much of what happened to Cambodia not too long ago.

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

​Due to the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979, most Cambodians suffered immensely under the brutal regime. Many were suspected of being a state enemy and were subsequently sent to this prison for interrogation and torture. The vast majority of those who were sent here did not survive. Out of the estimated 17,000 people to have been sent to this prison, only seven were known to have survived.

Cells that were used to keep prisoners in the S-21 Prison
Cells that were used to keep prisoners in the S-21 Prison

When you step into this museum, you see that the former prison looks much like a school, with chin-up bars and benches. This is because it used to be a high school before the regime controlled the country.


​In each block, you get to see how prisoners lived in the prison, with multiple small cells separating the prisoners. Larger communal cells were also created to keep groups of prisoners together.


​You can also see some of the tools that were used to interrogate and torture prisoners.


Many photographs of prisoners are also displayed, all of which were taken when they first entered this prison. You get a sense of the magnitude of what happened as you see the seemingly never-ending photographs.

Within the grounds of the former S-21 Prison
Within the grounds of the former S-21 Prison

​It is truly a distressing experience, but one that is absolutely necessary. You recognise that evil is hardly gone, and it can still happen in this world. Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, was one such evil and was allowed to flourish under the correct circumstances. Visitors get to understand that we, as fellow humans, must do our best to never allow such things from happening again.


Address: Street 113, Phnom Penh 12304, Cambodia

Opening hours: 8 am to 5 pm daily

Google Maps: List of attractions and food places in Phnom Penh!

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