Cambodia is a wonderful country to visit. One of the key places to visit in Cambodia is Phnom Penh. We have been twice and enjoyed it both times. South East Asia is one of our favourites areas to visit, and while we had visited Cambodia and Phnom Penh before we felt that we hadn’t really done it justice the last time we visited. Hence the return visit. It was well worth it. Here you will find some tips on things to do in Phnom Penh, where to stay and what to eat.
Where Phnom Penh
Where we stayed
Where to stay in Phnom Penh is usually one of our first questions and finding a good Phnom Penh hotel can be overwhelming. Our search for a fabulous boutique hotel in Phnom Penh led us to two hotels we recommend. There are plenty of options out there for every price bracket. We put in a lot of research into where we stay as it is an important part of our experience. Our preference is to stay at small hotels with a swimming pool and there are plenty of hotels in Phnom Penh that meet these two criteria. We stayed at two lovely boutique hotels both in our budget range of $40 – $60 USD a night. You can get great accommodation at those prices. We research through Travelfish and Booking.com and book through Booking.com.
The first time we went to Phnom Penh we stayed at Villa Sovanna Boutique Hotel. It was relatively new. We had a huge room, with a balcony, and we got breakfast too. The room and bathroom were some of the biggest we have struck when travelling in Cambodia, and with the added bonus of a private balcony, on these elements alone Villa Sovanna is worth checking out. The pool was lovely and they had a very good happy hour. We loved that the hotel was newish and small, so there weren’t many guests. The bonus of this is that there was never any worries about finding a spot by the pool or even one for an afternoon cocktail. We didn’t eat dinner there but breakfasts were good – loads of lovely fresh tropical fruit and coffee!! Can’t complain. If you are really lucky there will be a woman selling yummy noodles from her cart in the afternoon – just outside the hotel.
There are a couple of restaurants within a few minutes walk – including a particularly raucous bbq place that has very good bbq and plenty of beer. It was an event going to it – very few people spoke English and we were doing a lot of pointing – and drinking!
About 5 minutes walk away there is a lovely day spa which I took full advantage of. There are also several superettes nearby where you can stock up on water and the necessaries. The hotel isn’t in the centre of town but we were able to walk in to see the attractions with no trouble – and be able to take advantage of the various drink carts etc on the way.
Recently, we stayed at the Teahouse Asian Urban Hotel. This was a slightly bigger hotel, which also had a great pool, breakfasts and excellent happy hour. Really loved that they had loads of places to sit and read or relax. There was a small superette about 5 minutes walk away, and it was surrounded by restaurants and cafes – plus some good street food options. This hotel is a couple of blocks from a main road, so you are only 5 – 10 minutes away from pharmacies, ATM’s, fast food and chain stores.
Things to do in Phnom Penh
Okay. I need to put this upfront. We haven’t visited any sites associated with the atrocities of Cambodian history. Nor do we intend to. For us, we just can’t equate visiting locations of death and killing with tourism and travel. We understand others have different views and approaches which is fine. But for us, we just don’t visit these sites regardless of which country we are in. And there are plenty of things to do in Phnom Penh, without visiting these sites.
So, what did we do? Well, there is plenty to see in Phnom Penh. We love taking out time when travelling and to be honest, we don’t try and squeeze too many things in – otherwise we would need a break from our break. At max, we will do one major tourist thing a day – or every two days. There are quite a few Phnom Penh attractions to visit – we have highlighted those we enjoyed and would visit again.
Here are a few things to put on your list:
We walk a lot – so we like to explore off the main drag and venture into the less touristy parts of a city – which we did equally in Phnom Penh. You never know you may stumble upon a magnificent Cambodian wedding, where they have closed off a street and erected a huge marquee!
Sit in local parks and watch the world go by
There are some great parks in Phnom Penh so it is great to sit in those and watch the world go by. You may strike it lucky and stumble across an exercise class taking place in one of the parks. The age range in these classes is astounding. Many of the big parks also have interesting statues and monuments you can also check out.
See some Local Architecture
If you like walking you could also do a self guided tour of Khmer architecture. This tour includes many of the great buildings to see in Phnom Penh – plus a few new ones. There is lots of development happening in Phnom Penh, so I suspect this map may get out of date very quickly. You could always book in for a guided tour. These tours are run by local students and cost $15.
Visit the Royal Palace
The Royal Palace Phnom Penh is well worth taking some time out and visiting. We visited on a stunningly beautiful day and spent approximately 2 hours wandering around the site. We hired a guide at the gate – which was a really good way of understanding a bit more about what we were looking at.
Beautiful buildings and site. Be warned, there is very little shade in this complex, and Phnom Penh can get fiercely hot – so go prepared with water, a fan and/or an umbrella.
Visit the National Museum
The National Museum of Cambodia, Phom Penh is a beautiful, small museum. You can buy tickets and audio guides at the gate. You can also hire a guide there too. There isn’t a lot of interpretation or explanation of objects in the Museum, so we recommend getting an audioguide or hiring a guide. There is also a beautiful courtyard in the middle of the museum complex that is well worth taking a moment or two in. Plus there are some lovely shady spots.
Head up to Wat Phnom
The highest point in the city, and a historic hilltop Buddhist complex. Lovely walk up and around – and it is a beautiful, contemplative space.
Visit the Markets
There are several big markets to explore in Phnom Penh, plus plenty of smaller ones too. There is a good night market where you can get a good meal and park up on mat with other locals enjoying a night out – and often listening to very loud Cambodian music, or you could pick up some bargains. The Central Market is in a striking art deco building – alongside all the things you could need for a home and touristy things – they also have a wet market and plenty of food discoveries. The Russian Market is also a good one to explore.
We had some delicious street food in Phnom Penh. One of the best meals we had was amazing noodles from a woman doing a brisk trade on the side of the road. You could try a bbq place and also have a few beers. We discovered one just down the road from our hotel – we were the only foreigners in there, there was no English menu – we loved it, the food was good, plentiful and the beer was lovely and cold. It was raucous, lively and well worth the experience. We also discovered another one that did snails, frog legs and various delicacies. It was extra busy and the food was delicious. Well worth it!!
It is perfectly ok to take some time out and do nothing. If you want to sit by the pool in your hotel, go for a massage, find a nook to read in – or just sit and watch the world go by – do it.
Our Phnom Penh tips
- stay somewhere that has a pool – you won’t regret it after a long day in the heat and sun
- organise for your hotel to pick you up from the airport or bus station. It saves a lot of hassle.
- We have had no problems using ATM’s in Cambodia, although we do use special travel cards that enable you to load money on, rather than our credit cards.
- eat street food – look for places that are busy, or have lots of tissues on the ground – this means it is busy and the food is fresh
- buy large bottles of water and snacks from local superettes rather than at your hotel – it will cost at least 50% less
- try new foods – we tried snails and frogs legs
- visit the museums and Royal Palace
- watch evening calisthenics is the main parks – all ages doing their exercises on a Friday night
- go to the night markets and don’t forget to barter
- have a cocktail overlooking the river
- go soon – in the two years between our trips Phnom Penh has changed significantly. It is becoming a high rise city with lots of building development going on. We also noticed big chains like KFC and Starbucks popping up for the first time.
Do visit Phnom Penh and create the trip you want to have – if you want to focus on museums, lounge by the pool or do volunteering – it is totally up to you. Enjoy.
Is there anything we have left of the list that you loved to do in Phnom Penh?