Is Phnom Penh worth visiting
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Is Phnom Penh Worth Visiting in 2024?

If you’re wondering, “Is Phnom Penh Worth Visiting?” the answer is YES! Phnom Penh is a vibrant and fascinating city and it’s well worth visiting so don’t hesitate to add Phnom Penh to your itinerary.

Not only is Phnom Penh the capital of Cambodia, a transport hub, and a centre for commerce, but the city also has an impressive Royal Palace with a pleasant riverfront location, colonial French architecture, important war memorials, bustling markets, and delicious street food.

Cambodia has much to offer beyond the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, which is the main attraction for many visitors. I’ve visited the Cambodian capital many times and it’s easy to find interesting things to do in Phnom Penh.

If you’re planning an itinerary for Cambodia, I suggest putting aside 2 or 3 days to explore Phnom Penh.

a group of barefoot Buddhist monks wearing rust coloured robes at the Royal Palce in Phnom Penh in Cambodia
Buddhist Monks in Phnom Penh Cambodia

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Is Phnom Penh Safe?

Yes, I’ve always felt safe in Phnom Penh and, in my experience, travelling alone in Cambodia has been easy and trouble-free. But nowhere is completely safe. Petty theft, scams, and credit card fraud are the most common things to watch out for in Phom Penh.

Phone and bag snatchings are relatively common but if you keep your valuables hidden, take care of your safety, and don’t wander around alone late at night, you will most likely have a safe and enjoyable experience in Phnom Penh and throughout Cambodia.

The Australian Government’s travel Advice for Cambodia is to “exercise normal safety precautions”.

The Throne Hall at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh Cambodia
The Throne Hall at the Royal Palace is one of the best places to see in Phnom Penh

The Best things to do in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is a capital city with many attractions to enjoy. Here are some of the best things to do in Phnom Penh.

  • Visit the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda the home of the current King of Cambodia, Norodom Sihamoni. The impressive Throne Hall surrounded by manicured gardens is a beautiful example of traditional Khmer architecture.  The lovely riverfront location is superb and the lawn outside the palace grounds is very popular with locals on weekends. Visiting the Royal Palace is one of the best things to do in Phnom Penh.
  • The National Museum of Cambodia, next door to the palace, displays Cambodia’s largest collection of Khmer Art. The building is a beautiful example of traditional Khmer architecture with a Buddha statue as the centrepiece of a lovely open courtyard surrounded by lilyponds and lush greenery.  
  • The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, memorials to the victims of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are a sombre but necessary addition to an itinerary to learn about Cambodia’s tragic modern history. They are high on the list of things to do in Phnom Penh.

TIP: To gain depth and historical perspective take a guided tour or use an audio guide when you visit.

The Killing Fields are located 17 kilometres south of the city centre, and the easiest way to get there is on a Tuol Sleng and Killing Fields half-day tour.

  • Take a Walking tour of the city. Enjoy the Colonial French Architecture, the Colonial Post Office, the former Central Police Station on Post Office Square and The Mansion on Preah Sisowath near the river. Some other buildings worth seeing are the Royal Villa, now part of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, the famous Raffles Hotel and the former Grand Hotel Manolis.
  • The Independence Monument is another important memorial in Phnom Penh.
People walking through the park at the Independence Monumant in Phnom Penh at sunset
The Independence Monument at night in Phnom Penh Cambodia
  • Visit Phnom Penh’s lovely Buddhist temples, Wat Ounalom on the riverfront, Wat Phnom and Wat Langka.
  • Chat with a monk. For me, this is one of the best things to do in Phnom Penh. Many of Cambodia’s Buddhist monks speak English and are very approachable. They enjoy talking to tourists as they see it as an opportunity to practise their English.
  • Shop for souvenirs at the Central Market, the Night Market the Russian Market, and Artisans Angkor Boutique for quality Cambodian arts and crafts.
  • Enjoy a sunset cruise on the Mekong River. Boats leave from the dock opposite the night market from 5 – 7 pm. (US$5) A river cruise is a peaceful way to end a busy day. It’s inexpensive and a lovely thing to do in Phnom Penh.
  • Visit the Phnom Penh Night Market. Enjoy the bustling atmosphere, browse the stalls and try the street food. At the back of the market is a large area where you can sit on the mats and eat the food bought at the nearby stalls. I loved eating here and can personally recommend the coconut ice cream.  (Open from 5 – 11 pm)
  • If you’re still looking for things to do in Phnom Penh, consider supporting the Daughters of Cambodia, a charity that funds programs to help disadvantaged women in Cambodia. Shop for souvenirs or enjoy a manicure or pedicure.
People eating on colourful mats on the groundsurrounded by market stalls at the Phnom Penh Night Market
At the Night Market in Phnom Penh Cambodia

Where to eat in Phnom Penh

  • Enso Café has a good selection of dishes for tourists, and a central location, just behind the Royal Palace. I can personally recommend this cafe for breakfast. I enjoyed the pancakes with banana and strawberries.
  • For street food head to the Night Market. The bustling atmosphere makes this one of the best things to do in Phnom Penh and I loved eating here!
  • Raffles Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh offers a champagne breakfast or a special afternoon tea in the foyer. I enjoyed high tea in the foyer and loved the gracious atmosphere of this charming colonial hotel.
  • Street 240 & Bassac Lane are popular for cafes & restaurants, art galleries and boutique shops.
  • The Foreign Correspondents’ Club has a great location overlooking the river. It’s a popular place to stay and to visit for a meal or a sundowner.  **Before the pandemic this was a great place to stop for a sundowner but the Foreign Correspondents Club is currently closed for renovations.

What to do in Phnom Penh at Night

  • Hemisphere Sky Bar & Restaurant offers fabulous views of the city and the rivers, the Tonle Sap and the Mekong River. Across the road from Wat Phnom, it’s the perfect place to see a Phnom Penh sunset.
  • Five Five Rooftop Bar at the Hyatt Regency Hotel has a fantastic view over the Royal Palace and across the city.
  • Visit Street 136 and Bassac Lane – a trendy area in Phnom Penh known for its nightlife.

Where to Stay in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has some great places to stay and accommodation was very reasonably priced last time I was there. I suggest choosing a central location near the riverfront, the royal palace or the night market. Here are some good options:

Budget: Onederz Hostel has a good central location on the riverfront near the night market and gets excellent reviews.

Mid-Range: The Bridge Club, Phnom Penh. My modern high-rise apartment was on the 32nd floor and had a spectacular view. I loved staying here and I’ve been back a couple of times.

Upper Mid-RangeThe Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel, Phnom Penh has the perfect location for exploring Phnom Penh.

Luxury: Raffles Hotel Le RoyalPhnom Penh offers a touch of luxury with a colonial feel. If you can’t afford to stay here, I recommend visiting for afternoon tea. It’s a fun and relaxing thing to do in Phnom Penh.

TIP: Be prepared for the sweltering heat in Cambodia. Book a hotel room with air-conditioning and a pool. There’s nothing better than a swim to cool off after a long day of sightseeing.

Weekend crowds near the Tonle Sap River in Phnom Penh Cambodia
Weekend prays near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

When to Visit Phnom Penh

The best time to visit Phnom Penh is from November to February but January is the peak tourist season when the weather is typically sunny and dry.

Located near the equator, Cambodia is hot all year round! I have been there several times in January and the weather is extremely hot, with a temperature range of 21 – 35°C (70 – 95°F).  

If you want to avoid the crowds try to avoid peak season in December / January as there are more than 2 million visitors annually.

July /August is also a good time to visit Cambodia. There are fewer tourists and the landscape is green and the rivers are full.

June to October is the wet season and Siem Reap sometimes floods in October.

April / May is the worst time of year to visit because the weather is extremely hot throughout Cambodia.

Tuk-tuks and motors bikes on the busy treelined streets of Phnom Penh in Cambodia
Tuk-tuks and motors bikes on the busy treelined streets of Phnom Penh in Cambodia

Getting Around Phnom Penh

One of the most fun things to do in Phnom Penh is to ride in a 3-wheeled tuk-tuk. I used the Grab App to book tuk-tuks and cars and found this much easier than flagging down a tuk-tuk on the street.

Although plenty of tuk tuk’s are available, many of the drivers don’t speak English and language can be a problem. On more than one occasion the driver had no idea where I wanted to go. So I bailed and used the Grab App to make a booking instead.

Using the Grab app bypasses the language barrier and the fare is clear from the start of the transaction. For me, this was the easiest and most reliable way to get around in Phnom Penh.

I liked walking around the city as well. Phnom Penh is relatively flat and, although the pathways and pavements are often non-existent, it’s an easy city to get around on foot.

The Google Maps App is also invaluable for directions in Phnom Penh. The satellite tracker makes it easy to find where you are and the app shows you the best way to get where you want to go, giving distances and estimated travel times as well.

FAQ’s

How many days in Phnom Penh is enough?

Allow at least 2 days for visiting Phnom Penh to see all the main attractions. And more time if you want to uncover all this fascinating city has to offer. In 2 days you can see the main sights, the Royal Palace, the National Museum, the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields and enjoy the bustling markets and the riverfront.

Is it better to go to Siem Reap or Phnom Penh?

If it’s your first time in Cambodia, head to Siem Reap to see the ancient temples of Angkor Wat and then go to Phnom Penh if you have time. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia with many attractions such as the Royal Palace, the National Museum, Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields, bustling markets and a lovely riverfront location. Both Siem Reap and Phnom Penh are worth visiting and I enjoyed Phnom Penh more than I expected.

What is Phnom Penh like for tourists?

Phnom Penh is a city of contrasts with an attractive riverfront location, crazy traffic, dirty streets, and a mix of charming colonial French architecture, traditional Khmer buildings and modern skyscrapers. Phnom Penh’s many attractions include an impressive Royal Palace,  Buddhist Temples, must-see war memorials, bustling markets and delicious street food.

A staitcase leading to Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh Cambodia
Wat Phnom in Phnom Penh Cambodia

Is Phnom Penh worth visiting?

YES! Absolutely! Phnom Penh is a centre for culture, transport and trade. It’s a busy capital city with a population of more than 1.5 million people and it should be high on your list of places to see. Visiting Phnom Penh is an essential addition to a Cambodia itinerary.

I enjoyed Phnom Penh more than expected, especially the scenic riverside location and the beautiful Royal Palace. 

If you have time, the charming but less-visited city of Battambang, the idyllic tropical island Koh Rong Sanloem and the laidback coastal towns Kampot and Kep are also great additions to a Cambodia itinerary.

Final Thoughts on Visiting Phnom Penh

I enjoyed visiting Phnom Penh and found the city easy to navigate. The riverside area in the city’s centre is an ideal place to stay near the main attractions, the Royal Palace and the National Museum. And there’s also a good selection of restaurants and bars on the riverfront.

The Killing Fields and the Genocide Museums were depressing and upsetting places to visit but they are essential to understanding Cambodia’s difficult history.

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Cambodia Travel: Why Angkor Wat is So Special

Solo Travel in Cambodia – What You Need to Know

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Is January a Good Time to go to Bali?

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