The past, present and future is all on display in Cambodia’s charismatic capital
Phnom Penh’s streets bustle with charm. The Cambodian capital offers plentiful history, architecture, food and culture, all wrapped up in the hectic, vibrant atmosphere you’d expect from a major Asian city. While Cambodia’s tumultuous past is on full display in Phnom Penh, the city is moving on and embracing a bright future.
Spend a few days wandering the laneways, avenues and quays, soaking up sights like the Royal Palace, the Central Market and National Museum. Indulge in Phnom Penh’s buzzing food scene, combining fine dining, traditional dishes and a healthy dose of innovation, or relax in one of the many spas that can be found throughout the city.
Things to do: Phnom Penh
Visit the Royal Palace
Sitting on the banks of the Mekong River, Cambodia’s Royal Palace is one of the city’s most popular sights. While it serves as the official residence of the King, visitors can still explore parts of the palace compound, including the ceremonial Throne Room, the ornate gardens and the Chan Chaya Pavilion. The highlight, however, has to be the Silver Pagoda, an extravagant structure with a floor made out of five tonnes of silver.
Delve into the past at museums and memorials
There’s history everywhere you look in Phnom Penh. Explore centuries of Cambodian treasures and art the National Museum, or visit the sombre memorial to the 20,000 or so people who were killed by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s at at Choeung Ek, or the Killing Fields. You can also pay a harrowing visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a high-school-turned-political-prison, which is still swathed in barbed wire and full of haunting images of its former inmates.
Indulge at the Central Market
Housed in an impressive art deco dome in the centre of Phnom Penh, the Central Market is a veritable maze of stalls selling jewellery, electronics, antiques, spices, clothing and souvenirs, alongside just about everything else under the sun. Once you’ve shopped till you’re about to drop, revive yourself with a local speciality from one of the market’s many food vendors.
Take an architecture walking tour
From the traditional ornate gable roofs of the Royal Palace to the French colonial style found in central city buildings like the General Post Office, Phnom Penh’s architecture shows off the city’s history. Indulge in a walking architecture tour and take in the varied styles of structure, right through to the uniquely modernist New Khmer style of the 1950s and 1960s seen in the lotus-shaped Independence Monument, the Olympic stadium and the Chaktomuk Conference Hall.
Stroll along the Mekong River
Sisowath Quay runs for 3km along the banks of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers and teems with life at any time of day or night. You’ll find locals and tourists alike enjoying the view across the river, exploring the shops and art galleries, getting in a workout or playing games. Head out for a stroll at dusk and reward yourself with a drink at one of the myriad bars and restaurants along this vibrant strip.
Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH)
Distance to city centre 10 km
Taxi There is an official taxi booth outside the arrivals area, with set prices from USD $9-15, depending on where you’re going. The trip can take anywhere from 30-60 minutes and even longer during rush hours.
Tuk tuk If you catch a tuk tuk from the airport you’ll pay a set price between USD $7-12, depending on where you’re going. If you catch a tuk tuk from the street outside the airport, you’ll pay around USD $7 (depending on your negotiation skills).
Bus Phnom Penh City Bus route 3 stops at the airport and goes to Night Market in the centre of town. It costs less than USD $1 – make sure you have change.Back to top
When to go
While temperatures are at their most searing in April, most other times of the year are pleasant. The wet season runs from June to October, when downpours tend to come in short, heavy bursts.
The city streets are very quiet over Pchum Ben, the festival of the ancestor spirits, in September and during the Khmer New Year festival in mid-April, when most of Phnom Penh’s inhabitants head to their countryside villages. Check out a pagoda, either in the city or its outskirts at these times – they’ll be filled with incense and colourful offerings. The Water Festival takes place from mid-October to November, when dragon boats race down the rivers.Back to top
Phnom Penh’s roads have greatly improved over the past 10 years and it’s nice to stroll along the riverside and the area surrounding the Royal Palace on foot or in a cyclo. Otherwise, taxis are available – ask someone at your hotel to arrange one first – and tuk tuks abound. It’s best to negotiate a price beforehand. It’s usually USD $3-5 for a one-way trip in town and less than USD $10 for a return.Back to top