Choose from 15 Fun Things to Do in Phnom Penh
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A 60-foot (20-meter) tall Angkor-style monument built in 1958, the Independence Monument was constructed to commemorate the Cambodians winning back their independence from the French in 1953. Renowned Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann designed the monument; the architecture is patterned after a lotus flower and adorned with five levels of Naga heads, which gives it a very distinctive look. Located in the heart of busy Phnom Penh, the Independence Monument attracts many visitors, not only for its unique architecture, but also for its location: it’s in the middle of a busy intersection and the eastern side features a large, open park that is a popular spot for locals to gather and jog or practice tai chi and aerobics.
More than just a monument commemorating Cambodia’s independence, it also serves as a memorial to Cambodia’s war casualties and is a symbol of the end of Cambodia’s war. In remembrance, families place large wreaths at the foot of the monument for war veterans. At night, the monument is illuminated by red, blue and white floodlights, the colors of the Cambodian flag. It’s also the site of celebrations and services on holidays such as Independence (January 7) and Constitution Day (September 24).
The Independence Monument is located on the corner of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards. It’s not really a location to enter, more of one to see; it’s free to the public.
Address: Corner of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards., Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 15
Wat Phnom is one of the most visited temples in the country. The original sacred temple was built atop a hill in Cambodia’s capital city in 1373, however the spot where travelers visit today was rebuilt in 1926 and underwent a serious facelift in 1998. Traditional games take place on temple grounds to celebrate the Khmer New Year, and during the Festival of the Dead animists from across the country venture to the pagoda to make sacred offerings.
Travelers should beware of a group of gangster monkeys that residents have grown to despise. These friendly-looking furry creatures are notorious for stealing food, money and even biting tourists. It’s become so serious that Cambodian Police have issued a US$250 bounty on them (perhaps a worthy pursuit if you’re running low on cash).
Entry to the grounds costs between US$1 and US$2. Close proximity to the US Embassy, the French Colonial post office and Raffles Hotel on Michael Howe Street makes the wat an ideal starting point for a tour around the city.
Address: Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Admission: Between $1 and $2
From $ 15
This giant yellow dome first opened in 1937, and today, more than 70 years later, the Central Market is remains a destination for first-time visitors to Cambodia’s capital city. Here, travelers can wander through hundreds of stalls selling bargain goods, antique coins, clothing, clocks, fabric, shoes, food and traditional souvenirs. A popular spot, heavy rains can flood the grounds, so it’s a better bet in drier seasons.
The Central Market is located at the intersection of Kampuchea Krom Street and 63 Street in Daun Penh District. It is open from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. Visitors can hire cars and motor taxis from the stand in the northwest corner of the market, or hop a bus at the station in the southwest corner.
Address: Kampuchea Krom Street and 63 Street, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 15
In 1975 the Khmer Rouge turned this former high school into a notorious killing center. Some 17,000 people were killed at Tuol Sleng, which was later referred to as Security Prison 21. It was one of at least 150 other death camps run by the regime.
The prison, which reopened as a museum in 1980, held numerous leaders of the communist party, as well as doctors, teachers and other educated Cambodian citizens. Prisoners were subject to months of torture. Because the Khmer Rouge kept diligent records, including thousands of photographs, rooms at Security Prison 21 are lined floor to ceiling with black and white photos and the prisoners killed there and the torture they endured.
Tuol Sleng is divided into four main buildings. The first, known as Building A, houses prison cells where the last bodies of victims were found. Building B serves as a gallery of images, including the faces of those who died here. Building C offers a closer look at the small cells prisoners called home. Instruments of torture and other memorabilia are on display in Building D.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is open daily from 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and from 2 p.m. until 5:30 p.m. Entry is US$2. The museum’s entrance is on the west side of 113 Street, north of 350 Street.
Address: 113 Street and 350 Street, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 9
While visiting the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, it’s almost impossible to miss the Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Keo), an impressive, opulent structure. With a floor that’s covered with five tons of silver, a Baccarat-crystal Buddha perched on a gilded pedestal (known as the Emerald Buddha) and a life-sized solid-gold Buddha that weighs almost 200 pounds (90 kg) and is covered with 9,584 diamonds (the largest is 25 carats), a visit to the Silver Pagoda is one that is not easily forgotten. Though they’re hard to get a peek at (they’re covered up for protection), see if you can get a look at one of the more than 5,000 silver tiles that were inlaid during King Norodom Sihanouk's pre-Khmer Rouge reign and are the reason for the temple’s nickname.
Though the temple’s true name is Wat Preah Keo Morokat, which means Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the moniker The Silver Pagoda the more common name. Built between 1892 and 1902 under King Norodom, it’s an interesting structure—it’s actually separated from the Royal Palace by a walled walkway, but it’s still located on palace grounds, in the larger complex. Unlike most pagodas, no monks live here—instead, it’s the pagoda where the King meets with monks to listen to their sermons and where some Royal ceremonies are performed. Be sure to check out the gorgeous Ramayana frescoes that are painted on the walls and see the Buddha relic from Sri Lanka, which is housed in a small gold and silver stupa in front of the life-sized gold Buddha.
The Silver Pagoda is open to the public every day from 7:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m., unless there is an official function scheduled. Enter from the gate on Sothearos Boulevard, about 300 feet (100 m) north of Street 240. Guide pamphlets and tour guides are available near the admission booth; multi-lingual tour guides available. Admission is 25,000 Riel (USD $6.16).
Address: Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Hours: Daily 7:30 a.m.–11 a.m. and 2–5 p.m.
Admission: Admission is 25,000 Riel (USD $6.16)
From $ 15
Built in the late 1970s, the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument is a statue located in a large reflecting pool that stands in honor of the former alliance between Cambodia and Vietnam. Located at the Botum Park near the center of Phnom Penh, not far from the Royal Palace, the monument is an interesting piece of history as it was built by the Communist regime that took power after the Cambodian-Vietnamese War and overthrew the leadership of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party that caused the atrocities that can be witnessed at Tuol Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields.
Featuring statues of Vietnamese and Cambodian soldiers, along with a woman and baby representing Cambodian civilians, in the "Socialist realist" style developed in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the monument is situated in a popular park in the middle of the city. More than its artistic value or architecture, the monument has occasionally become a political focal point for protesters, damaged by hammers, gasoline, fire and even a bomb. The damage has been repaired and the memorial remains an interesting piece of architecture that marks a definitive time in Cambodia's history.
The Cambodian-Vietnam Friendship Monument is located at 25Z Blvd Samdach Sothearos Boulevard, near the corner of Sihanouk Boulevard in the middle of Hun Sen Park.
Address: 25Z Blvd Samdach Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 110
The National Museum is home to one of the largest collections of Khmer art in the world. Well-kept galleries display choice artifacts that pay homage to Hinduism and Buddhism. Even daily objects, like household utensils, and items used in religious ceremonies are on display.
Works in the museum, which opened in 1920, are divided into four categories: stone, metal, wood and ceramics. Be sure to check out the bronze standing adorn Buddha, as well as ceramics dating as far back as the Neolithic period.
The museum is located on Street 13 in central Phnom Penh, near the Royal Palace. Visitors can enter at the corner of Streets 13 and 178. Admission is US$5 and travelers can arrange a one-hour group tour of the museum for an extra US$3.
Address: 13 Street and 178 Street, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 15
Take a tuk-tuk to the Royal Palace and begin the day along Phnom Penh’s three-kilometer strip of shops, hotels and eateries. This scenic walk wanders along the river’s edge and visitors can lounge easily at one of the numerous outside tables in popular cafes. Sisowath Quay is an ideal spot to sample local beer, strong coffee and real French baguettes. Travelers can comb through traditional handicrafts at Colours of Cambodia, or purchase a “happy monk” painting at the Happy Painting Gallery next door. Street 178, also known as Artists’ Street, offers local silk and numerous shops that are worth a look.
Sisowath Quay is also convenient to the ferry terminal. Visitors can hop a boat to Siem Reap, where famous temple ruins draw travelers from around the world. Nearby Street 104 offers plenty of backpacker-friendly options, cheap accommodations and crowded, friendly pubs. This well-known walkway is a haven for tourists, so while you may not want to dedicate days to its exploration, the close proximity to many of Phnom Penh’s destinations make it worth an afternoon’s visit.
The quay is located near the junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap River by the Royal Palace.
Address: Sisowath Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 110
A trip to this historic spot just 15 kilometers south of Phnom Penh is not for the faint of heart. Known as The Killing fields, some one million Cambodians were murdered here by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. Nearly 9,000 bodies have been discovered—including former prisoners from Tuol Sleng.
A Buddhist stupa marks the memorial, and visitors can gaze through its clear walls at some 5,000 human skulls—all victims of the bloody regime. Dozens of mass graves are visible and it is not uncommon for travelers to find human bones, teeth or discarded clothing here—particularly after heavy rains—as a large number of people are still buried in shallow graves.
Choeung Ek is located at Roluos Village in the Dangkor District, 15 kilometers outside of the capital. It’s easily accessible by car, motor-taxi or bus. Admission is US$6 and helpful audio tours are included in the price.
Address: Roluos Village, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Hours: Daily 8am-5pm
From $ 26
A place of magic, where it’s conceivable that almost anything can be found for sale, the Russian Market (Tuol Tom Poung Market) is a haven for tourists, displaying a wide variety of goods—most notably, designer brand knock-offs. The Russian Market got its name from the Russian tourists that frequented it in the 1980s; these days, you can hear a wide range of languages being spoken in its stalls.
For those looking for souvenirs, “real designer clothes” at a huge discount and some remarkably fantastic food, you’re in the right place. As factories for such big name Western brands like Levi’s, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren are located in Phnom Penh, stock that is deemed unfit to be shipped abroad due to some flaw are then sold at the Russian Market. Stick to the eastern side of the market for clothing; the northern side sells a utilitarian mix of tools and household goods and the other two sides are a mixture of jewelry and watches, antiques and not-so-antiques, pirated videos and various crafts. The middle of the market is the jackpot–-it’s a veritable Mecca of jet-fuel-grade iced coffee, noodle shops and snacks of both the savory and sweet persuasion.
The Russian Market is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and is about 3 miles (5 km) from Wat Phnom on the corner of Streets 440 and 163. Entry is free, but be sure to take small bills (in Cambodian Riels) to make negotiating prices easier.
Address: Streets 440 and 163, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Hours: 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
From $ 15
Catch a performance of the Royal Dance Troupe at the open-air theater in the coronation hall or linger near the balcony, where the current king has been known to make an appearance. The private residence, built in 1866, houses an impressive collection of artwork, and the multi-purpose house of the white elephant, just outside the palace walls, is used for royal births, deaths and weddings. The current king may live in this well-known palace, but visitors can still tour most of its grounds.
The Royal Palace, located two kilometers from Wat Phnom on Samdech Sothearos Boulevard, is open daily from 7:30 a.m. until 11 a.m. and from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Admission is US$3 per person, US$2 per camera and US$5 for a video recorder.
Address: Samdech Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 15
Kandal Market, or Phsar Kandal in Khmer, is the “market in the middle,” or “central market” (not to be confused with the other, major Central Market in Phnom Penh). Though Kandal Market does sell goods such as clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry, it’s primarily known as the food market for locals.
There’s no better way to get a real sense of place than by visiting a local market; take a trip to Kandal and immerse yourself in the colors, textures, smells and tastes of Cambodia. From fresh veggies stacked high to jewel-like displays of local fruits (many of which are unrecognizable to westerners) to the large selection of fresh seafood, fish and meat—some of which is still moving—the market can be almost overwhelming to the senses. Fight the slightly claustrophobic feeling and slowly wander the stalls. The men and women who wait patiently for customers will often let you sample fruits and veggies; taste something that looks unfamiliar. You may be rewarded by the sweet flesh of the lychee, but it’s advisable to avoid the big, green spiny fruits—both jackfruit and durian have a smell that’s hard for visitors to stomach.
Kandal Market (Phsar Kandal) is located on Street 13 (Preah Ang Eng) in Phsar Kandal 1 Commune and is open from early morning until late evening. To get a real sense of the place, get there early to see the hustle and bustle of the daily grocery run.
Address: Street 13, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Hours: Open from early morning until late evening
From $ 60
Known by locals as Koh Dach, Silk Island sits upstream on the Mekong near Phnom Penh and offers travelers to Cambodia’s capital city a quick escape from the urban landscape into a village that feels worlds away.
The rural community of Silk Island is comprised of dozens of local artisans—well-trained silk masters who hand weave some of the most glamorous fabrics from one of the nation’s most prized resources. Visitors say that the residents who carry on this age-old craft are kind and inviting, offering a warm contrast to the hustle of city streets. Silk Island offers travelers the perfect opportunity to step back in time, see artisans at work, learn more about the silk trade and collect some handmade crafts before heading back to the mainland.
Half-day tours to this tiny island are easy to find along the Sisowath Quay near Street 136. The hour-long boat ride up the Mekong is scenic and typically costs between $10 and $15 each way.
Address: Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Admission: Price of a ferry ride
From $ 24
Built in 1443, Wat Ounalom is perhaps the most important pagoda in Cambodia’s capital city. Comprised of 44 structures, including a stupa thought to contain an eyebrow hair of Buddha, this impressive attraction was damaged during the Khmer Rouge and later restored. An early morning trip provides a quiet respite from the bustle of a busy surrounding city. In this peaceful setting visitors can hear monks chanting while they wander the pagoda, and even visit with them after Morning Prayer.
Wat Ounalom is located in Phnom Penh on Sangkat Chey Chum Neas Boulevard, just a short walk from Thansur Bokor Highland Resort. It is free to enter.
Address: Sangkat Chey Chum Neas Samdach Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
From $ 106
Lions and tigers and sun bears and elephants and deer and gibbons and snakes, oh my! At this sanctuary for rescued animals, guests can see a vast array of Cambodia’s wildlife (which is usually very difficult to spot), ranging from the world’s largest captive collections of Malayan sun bears and pileated gibbons to rare animals like greater adjutant storks and Siamese crocodiles. Rescued from poachers or abusive owners, all of the animals at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center—there are more than 1200 animals of more than 100 species—receive shelter and medical care as part of a sustainable breeding program. When possible, the center’s residents are released back into the wild once they’ve recovered and the center does its best to educate the public on issues of wildlife protection.
The variety of animals that you can see here is extensive, including an impressive tiger population. There is also a large population of elephants who enjoy painting as well as eating. The conditions are excellent in comparison to some other organizations and the residents are given room to roam; work by various NGOs has helped with this. As a result, the Center feels much like a zoo (which it is, to some extent) that’s also a safari park, or vice versa. While there is a lot of work being done, there is still plenty left to do and donations from visitors help immensely.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center is located about 25 miles (40 km) south of Phnom Penh. The Center is open from 8:30am to 4:30 pm daily, with the last ticket being sold at 4:30pm. Tickets are $5 USD for adults and $2 USD for children ages 5-12. Private guides are also available for tours.
Address: National Road 2, Takmao Province, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Hours: 8:30am-4:30pm daily
Admission: Adults $5, Children (5-12) $2
From $ 222