l Phnom Penh Travel: Things to know before visiting Cambodia

Phnom Penh Travel: Things to know before visiting Cambodia

Cập nhật: 01-01-1970 12:00:00 | Blogs about Cambodia | Lượt xem: 720

Phnom Penh, the economic and political capital of Cambodia, was born on the banks of the majestic Mekong. From the Mekong River, you can see everything belonging to this city: the traditional Khmer architecture, the marvelous pagodas, the floating saffron robes of Buddhist monks, and the everyday life of a capital still wounded by the memory of the Khmer Rouge dictatorship.

In Phnom Penh, you will be surprised every day: by the force of nature, by the stunning views, and by the powerful combination created between past and present. From chaotic traffic, fine cafes, smelly markets to noisy streets and quiet riversides, Phnom Penh is a place that can give you mixed feelings and unforgettable experiences.

If you are planning to visit Phnom Penh one day, here’s a detailed Phnom Penh travel guide that will help you learn more about this enigmatic land.


History of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh’s story starts with a woman named Daun Penh, who stayed in Chaktomuk (known as Phnom Penh today) at the end of the 14th century when the Khmer capital was still Angkor. As Daun Penh gathered wood along the banks of the Mekong, she saw a floating log that contained four statues of the Buddha and one statue of Vishnu – the god of Preservation. That discovery was considered a divine blessing and a sign that the capital should be moved to Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh then became the capital of Cambodia until 1505, but then it was abandoned for the following three centuries due to infighting between the royal pretenders. During the Post-Angkor period (1431 - 1863) when the prosperous Angkor Kingdom in Siem Reap was attacked and occupied by the Siamese in Ayuthaya, the capital was gradually moved toward the center of Cambodia. Therefore in 1866, Phnom Penh finally returned to being the capital again as it became the permanent seat of the government.

From 1870 onwards, French colonialists finally transformed Phnom Penh from a simple riverside village into a full-grown city with hotels, schools, telegraph offices, courts, and health services. Phnom Penh was dubbed as “Pearl of Indochina” in this era.

However, Cambodia’s capital still had some terrifying years. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot turned this city into a sort of concentration camp. The inhabitants were evacuated and forced to work on common farms and labor camps, according to the policy of so-called agrarian socialism. All opponents were systematically imprisoned, and then eliminated. Tuol Sleng High School was transformed into a prison and torture center under the name S-21, and Choeung Ek (known as the Killing Fields) became the first place to torture and kill Tuol Sleng’s prisoners.

On Christmas 1978, two hundred thousand Vietnamese invaded Cambodia, conquered Phnom Penh and drove Pol Pot and his loyalists into the forests on the border with Thailand.

Today, Phnom Penh is still resurrecting after being overshadowed for too long by the atrocious experience of war and Khmer Rouge domination.

When to visit Phnom Penh

In Phnom Penh, the climate is warm all year round with little temperature range, ranging from 22 – 35°C (72 – 95°F). You will find basically three main seasons here: the cold season runs from November to January with the lowest temperature of 22°C (72°F), the hot season runs from February to May with the highest temperature of about 40°C (104°F), and the rainy season runs from June to October.

You can include Phnom Penh in your Cambodia private tour at any time of the year, but avoid the rainy season because it’s not suitable for hanging out here and there. August is usually the wettest month, but also the one in which the rice fields are most luxuriant and the views are greenest.

Phnom Penh travel: How to get around

The most popular vehicles in Phnom Penh are bicycles, motorbikes, cars and of course, the “legendary” tuk-tuk. If you want to immerse yourself in nature and explore the locals’ daily life, just rent a motorbike. If you are traveling in a large group, the best suggestion for you is to rent a private car with a driver. A local driver always knows the fastest way to your destinations, and they can also give you some really helpful tips to enrich your Phnom Penh travel holidays.

Top-rated attractions in Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom Temple

At the top of the only hill in Phnom Penh is Wat Phnom (translated as “Hill Temple”), the most well-known temple of this city. Founded by Daun Penh in 1372, Wat Phnom is characterized by a vihara with a golden Buddha statue, a statue depicting Mrs. Penh and, above all, an imposing stupa that contains the ashes of Ponhea Yat – the last king of the Khmer Empire and the first king of Cambodia. Inside this temple, you can learn about the story of the Buddha and Ramayana through the interesting murals on the walls.

The hill itself is also called Phnom Penh, which means “Penh’s hill” in the Khmer language. It is centrally located and can easily be accessed from the city center. As you enter, you’ll need to go through a stairway to reach the temple on the top. This is also the highest place in Phnom Penh with an altitude of 27m so if you want a panoramic view of the whole city, it’s absolutely the perfect spot for you.

Address: St. 47 and St. 92, Phnom Penh
Ticket price: $1
Opening hours: 7 am – 6 pm

The Royal Palace of Cambodia 


Not far away from the bank of the Mekong is Sothearos Boulevard, in which you will find the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda - two most elegant examples of Khmer architecture of the 20th century. The stunning gold-roofed Royal Palace was built in the center of Phnom Penh in 1866 and has been used as an official residence by members of the royal family ever since. The palace itself is off-limits, but you can visit many other buildings in the complex, including the Throne Hall decorated with murals depicting the Hindu legends of Ramayana – a high-class space reserved for ceremonies and important events.

The Silver Pagoda gets its name from the floor of the temple, which is completely covered with silver plates. It boasts a luxurious staircase made with the finest Italian marble and an emerald Buddha statue that’s composed of gold and crystal and embellished with 9500 diamonds.

Behind the Silver Pagoda, you will find The Napoleon III Pavilion – an iron structure originally erected in Egypt for Empress Eugénie but was later given to Cambodia by Napoleon III in 1876 to be rebuilt in honor of King Norodom.

Address: Samdech Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh
Ticket price: $6
Opening hours: 8 am – 11 am, 2 pm – 5 pm

The National Museum of Cambodia 

North of the Royal Palace is Norodom Boulevard, where you can find a large red building that houses the National Museum, a strange combination of French design and Cambodian craftsmanship. The building itself was designed by the French architect and curator of art George Groslier, who was born and lived for a long time in Phnom Penh. He devoted himself to the preservation of the art, culture, and history of the Khmer Empire in Cambodia.

The museum houses and showcases one of the most complete collections of Khmer art in the world. Its collection is over 14,000 artifacts, including Khmer finds (sculptures, ceramics, bronzes...) made of different materials like stone, metal, or wood... Many artistic finds that cover Cambodian history from the sixth century to the present day are exhibited in this place. In addition to household utensils, there are also objects for worship and religious ceremonies of Hinduism and Buddhism.

Address: Preah Ang Eng St. (13), Phnom Penh
Ticket price: $3
Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21)


Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is the place where the Khmer crimes against the Cambodian people began. It was once a high school located in a quiet neighborhood of Phnom Penh, but then transformed into a place of torture and interrogation during the Khmer dictatorship. Only a few years ago had it officially become a museum and monument that commemorates the thousands of Cambodians who died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. The structure of the prison has been left almost unchanged.

Address: St. 113 and St. 350, Phnom Penh
Ticket price: $3
Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm

Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields)

Choeung Ek is the site that collects the remains of the victims of the Pol Pot regime who died between 1975 and 1979. After being locked up and brutally tortured at Tuol Sleng Prison, the Khmer were escorted here for execution. More than 20,000 people were buried at Choeung Ek, in a mass grave. Today, Choeung Ek is not merely a tourist area, it’s also a place to keep the dark and painful past of the Khmer people.

Address: Sangkat Cheung Aek, Phnom Penh
Ticket price: $3
Opening hours: 8 am – 5 pm

Sisowath Quay 

If you are looking for some fun things to do in Phnom Penh, Sisowath Quay has everything you need. Best-loved for its modern and vibrant soul, Sisowath Quay is known as one of the districts that attract the most foreign tourists in the capital. From this 3-kilometer riverfront strip, you can reach the most famous Phnom Penh tourist attractions, enjoy the typical Cambodian cuisine, take a glance at the daily life of Cambodian families, observe the vivid kites flying above the Mekong River, and admire the sunset's stunning colors. The riverside is also full of cafes and restaurants, which makes it really crowded and vibrant during the evening.

Central Market (Phsar Thmei)

Central Market is the largest market in Phnom Penh with an unmistakable shape. Located in the center of the city, it was built in 1937 and last renovated in 2011. This market sells souvenirs, jewelry, technological products... and is reputed to have the freshest food in all of Phnom Penh. However, the prices at Central Market are usually higher than in other markets, so be careful if you want to buy something here. 

Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung)

Located in the southern part of Phnom Penh, this is a bustling market where tourists can find anything that’s related to local craftsmanship: from colorful lanterns to hand-woven silk scarves, from classic fake bags to carved statues... The name of the market derives from the fact that in the 1980s, it was one of the favorite places of the Russian expatriate community in Cambodia.

Silk Island (Koh Dach)

Famous for its traditional silk production, Silk Island is the most visited of all the Mekong River islands around Phnom Penh. This is a village of quaint stilt houses where you can meet families who are still using the ancient tradition of hand-looming silk, learn about this process, admire the transformation of a wool-like texture turning into a silk thread, and enjoy the opportunity to try weaving yourself.

What to eat in Phnom Penh


You can find all kinds of insects in every corner of Phnom Penh, from ants, worms, scorpions to spiders and crickets... They can be fried, stir-fried, or steamed, and are mostly sold on the streets.

Num pang bread

Made of roasted mini baguettes, pickled carrots, cilantro, chili sauce, and a protein, num pang is like Cambodia’s version of Vietnamese bánh mì, but with a different way of preparing ingredients.

Khmer red curry

Less spicy than Thai curry, Khmer red curry is made of fresh coconut milk and other ingredients such as beef, chicken, fish, eggplant, green bean and potato... You can easily find it at any local market or restaurant in Phnom Penh.

Num banhchok noodle

Made from lightly-fermented Cambodian rice noodles doused in traditional fish sauce and coconut milk, Num banhchok is served with seasonal vegetables and garnished with fragrant herbs, foraged leaves, and edible flowers. In Phnom Penh, this noodle dish is sold by vendors at very affordable prices.

Nom plae ai

Also known as Cambodian rice cake, nom plae ai is a tasty sweetmeat made with rice flour glutinous rice flour and palm sugar filling in the center, and served with freshly grated coconut scrapings. These cute dumplings can be made in different colors.

Cha houy teuk


Cha houy teuk is another cheap and beloved dessert sold by mobile vendors and sidewalk eateries in Phnom Penh. This sweet jelly is made from agar and other ingredients such as sago palm powder, green beans, red beans, jackfruit, taro and coconut cream…

Num sang khya l’peou 

To make this special stuffed Cambodian pumpkin, Cambodian chefs get rid of the seeds, stuff the pumpkin with a mixture of egg yolk, jaggery, and coconut milk, and then steam it for about 30 minutes.

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