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A child feeds the pigeons that gather outside the Silver Pagoda aleksandr hunta /
A child feeds the pigeons that gather outside the Silver Pagoda aleksandr hunta /

Top 10 Things to do in Phnom Penh

Picture of Marissa Carruthers
Updated: 13 January 2017
The Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh is a hive of activity with plenty for visitors to do, from delving into the country’s turbulent history to exploring its rich culture and heritage. Elsewhere, must-dos include sampling the region’s unique culinary flavours and taking in the sights during a city stroll.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

The Buddhist stupa holding more than 5,000 skulls exhumed from the killing field at Choeung Ek.

Buddhist stupa hold skulls exhumed from Choeung Ek | © Sophie Lenoir / Shutterstock

Between 1975 and 1979, the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia, with an estimated two million people killed or dying from starvation and exhaustion. Almost 9,000 bodies were discovered at the mass graves of Choeung Ek, more commonly known as the Killing Fields. Now serving as a memorial, the site features a Buddhist stupa filled with more than 8,000 human skulls. Visitors can also walk around the exhumed graves and learn more through a headset-guided walking tour.

15 kilometres outside Phnom Penh. Tel: +855 (0)23 305 371 

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum 

Cells that held political prisoners at Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21. ©Davide Calabresi/

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: cells that held political prisoners at Security Prison 21 (S-21) | © Davide Calabresi/

Based in the centre of Phnom Penh, this former high school was transformed into a political prisoners’ camp known as Security Prison 21 (S-21) during the Khmer Rouge reign. Only seven prisoners survived, while many others were tortured and killed there, or sent to their deaths at Choeung Ek. Much of Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum has been left as the prison, which was found in 1979 when the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh; the blood-splattered walls, tiny brick cells and abandoned torture tools offer a sobering insight into the brutal regime.

St 113, Phnom Penh. Tel: +855 (0)88 820 2037 


The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda 

Inside the grounds of the Royal Palace ©Eric Valenne/

Inside the grounds of the Royal Palace | © Eric Valenne / Shutterstock

Holding a special place in the hearts of Cambodians, the Royal Palace serves as the King’s residence, a venue for court ceremony and a symbol of the Kingdom. The palace compound is also home to the Silver Pagoda, a prominent temple from the popular riverside named for its gleaming silver floor. Guests can stroll through the manicured gardens and discover the ornate temples, libraries and galleries inside the palace grounds.

Samdach Sothearos Blvd (3), Phnom Penh. Tel: +855 (0)10 292 240

National Museum of Cambodia

The National Museum of Cambodia boasts intricate ancient Khmer detail in its architecture ©Elite Studio/

The National Museum of Cambodia boasts intricate ancient Khmer architectural detail | © Elite Studio / Shutterstock

Located next to the palace, the National Museum of Cambodia is home to more than 5,000 artefacts dating back to the ancient Angkorian period. Various rooms display a range of rare statues, lingas and other items, including a legendary statue of the Leper King from Siem Reap and a giant 11th-century bronze Vishnu. It is a great precursor to a trip to Angkor Wat. Multilingual tour guides are also available for visitors.

Preah Ang Eng St. (13), Phnom Penh. Tel: +855 (0)23 211 753


Wat Phnom

The gardens that surround Wat Phnom ©Marissa Carruthers

The gardens surrounding Wat Phnom | © Marissa Carruthers

A tranquil retreat in the center of the capital’s hustle and bustle, Wat Phnom is a small park with an active pagoda perched  on top of a small hill. The sacred site is popular with Cambodians, and visitors can respectfully explore the temple for US$1. But watch out for the rogue monkeys, which have been known to attack humans for their food.

North end of Norodom Boulevard at Street 96


Some of the bars and restaurants that look out onto the riverside ©Lisa-Lisa /

Bars and restaurants overlooking the riverside (Sisowath Quay) | © Lisa-Lisa / Shutterstock

Riverside, or Sisowath Quay, is best visited at dusk when locals descend on the promenade looking out across the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers to take part in acrobatics, play games or to simply hang out. Soak up the sights from one of the many restaurants and bars lining the strip, or join a boat trip departing from the north end of the stretch.

Preah Sisowath Quay

Koh Dach 

Golden silk is handwoven on a loom at Koh Dach ©Marissa Carruthers

Golden silk is handwoven on a loom at Koh Dach (Silk Island) | © Marissa Carruthers

Also known as Silk Island, Koh Dach is approximately an hour’s journey from the capital, including a short ferry ride. Guests can learn about Cambodian silk weaving by visiting the weaving villages dotted across the islands, where they can watch workers use handlooms to spin silk while others dye materials to create stunning designs.

Koh Dach

Central Market 

The Art Deco design that forms the hub of bustling Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh | © Davide Calabresi / Shutterstock

The hub of bustling Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh features an Art Deco design | © Davide Calabresi / Shutterstock

Markets form a daily part of life in Cambodia, and there are plenty to choose from. Central Market, or Phsar Thmei, is a unique Art Deco interpretation of a traditional market, with a well-designed dome forming the centrepiece. Stalls sell everything from jewellery, gems and trinkets to homeware, food, souvenirs and handicrafts.

Prey Nokor Street

Bassac Lane

The inside of Hangar 44, one of the bars that line Phnom Penh's Bassac Lane | © Rusty Compass

The inside of Hangar 44, one of the bars lining Phnom Penh’s Bassac Lane | © Rusty Compass

For evening entertainment, bustling Bassac Lane is a must-do. Tucked away off Street 308, it’s only for the in-the-know cool crowd. The small avenue is home to a series of quirky bars and eateries, with a central outdoor square that often hosts live music – Harry’s and Hangar 44 are well worth a visit.

Off Street 308

Cambodian cooking class 

Some of the ingredients used during Frizz restaurant's popular cooking classes ©Marissa Carruthers

Frizz restaurant’s Cambodian cooking classes use aromatic fresh ingredients | © Marissa Carruthers

Learn how to cook like a local with a half- or full-day class through the renowned Frizz restaurant. Kicking off with a tour of the local market to buy ingredients, budding chefs will then learn how to create a range of typical Cambodian dishes, including fish amok (curry with banana leaves), and mango and sticky rice pudding. Classes are held on a shaded rooftop terrace overlooking the city.

67 Street 240. Tel: +855 (0)23 220 953