Phnom Penh Cambodia : What To Do

Recommended things to do and see in and around Phnom Penh Cambodia.


Riverfront & Cruises

One of your first ports of call when visiting Phnom Penh should be the riverfront. There are some great views of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap rivers, and it is jam packed with restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Early risers can enjoy some great sunrise photo shots of the river near the Grand Palace. There are also a number of tourist boats offering cruises along the riverfront near Street 178.

How to get there:

Just ask anyone!

Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda

The impressive Royal Palace was built in 1870 during the reign of King Norodom, great grandfather of the current King Norodom Sihanouk. The surrounding yellow wall has five doors, two on the east entrance and one each on the remaining three walls. The main entrance is positioned along Sotherearos Blvd and 100m south of the Chan Chaya Pavilion, which is at the front of the grounds. The compound contains the Royal Residence, Throne Hall, Silver Pagoda and other buildings. Remember, that the Palace grounds are not open while the King is in residence.

The building next door and to the South of the Royal Palace is The Temple of the Emerald Buddha or the Silver Pagoda (so-called due to the tiles that cover the floor which are made of pure silver). A total of 5,329 silver tiles, weighting 1.125 kilograms each, adorn the floor of the building. The pagoda, which doesn’t actually serve as a Buddhist Monastery and its primarily used to display priceless national treasures, is the most visited temple in the city. Exhibits include the Emerald Buddha and loads of Buddha statues. Paintings of the Ramayana epic (dated 1903 to 1904) surround the outer wall of the building.

How to get there:

Get to Sothearos between Street 240 & 184. $3 per person, $2 for cameras, $5 for video cam, opens everyday from 7.30/11AM & 2.30/5PM.

National Museum

The red-bricked National Museum was built in 1920. Today it stores and displays more than 5,000 Khmer objects of art, which have been conserved from the Angkor era, the post-Angkorian period and late colonial times. It is a good place to visit after seeing the Angkor temples in Siem Reap because it will give you a sense of perspective. Artifacts include statues and lingas made of sandstone, bronze, silver, copper, wood, pottery and other art materials. The museum was also once home to a vast number of tomb bats living between the roof and the ceiling. Each night, they’d swarm into the sky, startling those who were unaware of their presence. Sadly, they were moved on in March 2002 following renovations to the ceiling and roof. .

How to get there:

Head to Street 178 & 13, very near the Royal Palace, $2 entry, open 8.00/11.30AM & 2.00/5PM everyday, tour guides available

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21)

Tuol Sleng was a high school until the Khmer Rouge (KR) came to power in 1975, and decided to turn it into a prison and interrogation centre known as Security-21 (S-21). Prisoners were tortured, often over a period of months, to gain confessions of their so-called treachery against the state. Later, they were sent to the Choeung Ek killing field. Of the 17,000 who entered into the prison, only seven survived. Today the museum serves as a testament to how far mans inhumanity to man can sometimes reach. The KR abandoned the prison while retreating from the invading Vietnamese forces in January 1979 and the building has been largely left as it was found. Graves, clothing, foot shackles, and thousands of black and white photographs of the victims are on display. The KR kept extensive records of its activities, which is why you’ll see thousands of shocking and incriminating photos documenting the torture of the prisoners on many of the walls of the museum. There are also some paintings from one of the few survivors of S-21, Vann Nath, which depict acts of torture within the prison. A recommended documentary film on S-21 is also shown twice daily. Without question, a visit to S-21 is a thoroughly depressing but worthwhile lesson in history. Not too bad an idea to combine it with a visit to the Choeung Ek killing field (although you may find that you’ve seen enough already after visiting S-21).

How to get there:

Get to the corner of Street 113 & 350, $2 admission, open everyday from 8AM to 5PM

Independence Monument

A single tower of Angkorian style, standing in the heart of the capital. The Independence Monument was built in 1958 to celebrate Cambodian Independence from France on the 9th November 1953. Today, it also serves as a monument to Cambodia’s war dead. Its unique look distinguishes it from all the other structures in the city, and it’s definitely not a bad idea to photograph it in the evening because its red, blue and white floodlights (colours of the national flag) is quite striking. The best view of it is across the street (it is sometimes illegal to walk across the road to the monument).

How to get there:

At the intersection of Sihanouk and Norodom Blvds

Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom is located on a small hill and is the legendary birthplace site of Phnom Penh. The story goes that a famous laywoman called Daun Penh built the hill and small Wat to house four sacred Buddha statues, which were found inside the trunk-hole of a floating Koki (teak) tree. The teak was also used to build the small temple. The area around the hill later became known as Phnom (meaning hill in Khmer) and Penh (its builder). The temple seen today was actually built in 1926. The ancient stupa (tomb) behind it contains King Ponhea Yat’s ashes (the ruler who actually abandoned Angkor in 1431). Visitors should not leave the site without visiting a memorial, which recalls the returning of three provinces from Thailand following its brief capture of them during World War II (located on the south side at the foot of the hill). The hill is generally covered and surrounded by tropical trees, which adequately represents the various kinds found throughout the country. They have also become home to many monkeys, birds and bats. Elephant rides are available around the base of Wat Phnom.

How to get there:

Wat Phnom is at the intersection of Street 96 and Norodom Blvd - $1 entry

Wat Ounalom

Wat Ounalom is the headquarters of Cambodian Buddhism and the centre for Buddhist monk training. It was founded in 1422 and contains 44 religious structures. There are many other Wats around Phnom Penh including Wat Lang Ka (south west of the Independence Monument) and Wat Koh (off Monivong & between Streets 174 &178).

How to get there:

Corner of Samddech Sothearos Blvd and Street 154 (opposite Phnom Penh Tourism)

Central Market (Phsar Thmei)

Memorable and easily recognizable art-deco building which is definitely a ‘must see’ city landmark. Built in 1937, it has a huge central dome and four wings pointing north, east, south and west. The land from which the building was built upon was actually a swamp/lake before 1935 and was subsequently drained to allow the market to be constructed. Indeed, the flooding that the market receives during the rainy season today is due to the lands former swamp/lake status. Despite its age, the Central Market is still able to provide its customer with meat, vegetables, utensils, silk, cloths, books, stationery, souvenirs, crafts and electronics to semi-precious gems, gold and diamonds.

How to get there:

Between Street 130 & Monivong/Norodom Blvd or just ask anyone!

Russian Market (Tuol Tom Pong Market)

Named the Russian Market due to the USSR aiding its renovation in 1985 by upgrading the ground floor with new concrete. Unlike the Central Market, it isn’t visually impressive but does stock loads of bargain goods including CDs, DVDs, computer games and other electronic goods. And it also has a more varied selection than the Central Market of souvenirs, silks, silver, gold and jewels.

How to get there:

Located a little bit outside of the city centre on Streets 155, 444, 163 & 450. You will need to take a moto.

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