Exploring the Cambodian Capital: The Ultimate Travel Guide to Phnom Penh

explore cambodian capital travel guide phnom penh

Phnom Penh represents the vibrant heart of a nation steeped in timeless traditions and a dynamic contemporary culture. From innovative restaurants to myriad nightlife options, you'll fall in love with the Cambodian capital.

A city ever on the cusp of change, no other location within the country better showcases the evolution of Cambodia as a nation than Phnom Penh. Particularly in the context of a tragic recent past.

Yet, Cambodia has worked hard to move beyond the shadows of its mid-century devastation and now represents the third most popular travel destination in Asia.

But where should you go on a trip to Cambodia? Read on for a breakdown of must-see hotspots on a trip to Phnom Penh.


The Killing Fields

Visiting the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is a difficult and challenging experience, not unlike experiencing a concentration camp in Germany or Poland. But the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge must not be forgotten. 

The Killing Fields also represent a crucial element of understanding Cambodia today and the challenges its citizens have overcome. The Killing Fields are open from 8 am to 5:30 pm, and admission costs $6. 

Inside, you'll learn about the horrific reign of the communist leader, the Khmer Rouge, and the more than one million people he ordered murdered.

Located 4.7 miles from Phnom Penh by car and 20 minutes by tuk-tuk, the rural site is a stark monument to the dead. It requires a couple of hours to explore and remains an emotionally stirring landscape.


The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Besides the Killing Fields, it's also critical to stop at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Although Cambodians today place an optimistic focus on their future, they also acknowledge the history that has impacted each of their lives.

The Killing Fields are known for their pastoral calm, whereas the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum represents a more harrowing exploration of the past. The former high school located in central Phnom Penh is open from 8 am to 5 pm daily. 

During the reign of the Khmer Rouge (1951-1999), Tuol Sleng in S21 was a maximum-security prison where prisoners were tortured and sentenced to death.

After forced confessions, prisoners moved to the Killing Fields for execution. At S21, you can purchase an audio guide for $6 that walks you through the brutal history of the prison. 

You can walk the grounds and see the metal beds and hastily built brick cells where prisoners lived. The walls contain mugshots of hundreds of prisoners, showcasing the human faces behind the genocide. 

With a better understanding of the nation's 20th-century past, it's time to delve into its ancient splendors found at the National Museum and the Silver Pagoda. 


The National Museum

For a deep-dive into Cambodia's heritage, visit the National Museum, open from 8 am to 5 pm daily. An affordable $5 admission will give you access to the museum's stunning collections, which include plenty of Khmer artwork.

While touring the museum, you'll also learn more about Cambodia's unique cultural history, an admixture of Hinduism and Buddhism. 

You'll find out about the ancient Khmers that once ruled this nation. And you'll have a chance to check out the intricate treasures and artwork they inspired. Then, head next door to the Silver Pagoda.


Go Royal at the Silver Pagoda

Ready to rub elbows with nobility? Check out the Silver Pagoda with its silver-tiled floor. When the king's not in residence here, your $10 admission also comes with access to the Royal Palace. 

From 8 am to 11 am and then 2:30 pm to 5 pm daily, you can check out the Pagoda complex and learn more about this remarkable compound's history.

Don't forget to scope out the pagoda's intricate murals inspired by the Reamker, Cambodia's version of the epic Sanskrit poem, the Ramayana.

Replete with legendary battles between monkey warriors, tenheaded monsters, and warrior princes, you'll be awestruck by the incredible visuals created to retell the story. 


Wat Phnom

In northern Phnom Penh, explore Wat Phnom. According to tradition, a large koki tree washed up on the banks of the River Mekong during the Middle Ages.

A wealthy widow named Lady Penh, who happened to be walking nearby, saw the tree and noticed four Buddha statues embedded inside. Lady Penh's auspicious discovery was commemorated in 1372 with an intricate Buddhist temple. 

It stands 88.5 feet tall, the largest religious structure in the region. After Penh found the statues, legend says that locals helped construct an artificial hill to keep the relics safe. Then, Penh had a small shrine constructed atop the mound.

When it comes to national holidays and celebrations such as Pchum Ben and Khmer New Year, there's no more lively place to be than Wat Phnom.

Like the Silver Pagoda, you'll marvel at mural-lined walls depicting mystical tales from the Reamker

Wondering when the next big happenings are scheduled at Wat Phnom. Find out more about events near me


Where to Eat in the Capital of Cambodia

When you've worked up a healthy appetite from museum-hopping and visiting temples, dive into Phnom Penh's phenomenal cuisine. One of our favorite restaurants? Romdeng.

Located in a colonial villa, the restaurant is open from 11 am to 11 pm and features a delectable variety of Cambodian cuisine. Although you'll find less-than-savory bites on the menu, too, including stir-fried tree ants and fried, overlook these.

Instead, opt for one of Cambodia's rich, spicy curries with coconut milk and rice served in a banana leaf. 

Or, if you're looking for a restaurant with a more casual vibe, check out Friends, Open from 11 am to 11 pm, it features smoothies and small plates with front and rear patio seating. 


Where to Drink in Phnom Penh

And if you're longing to finish off your meal with a dessert or after-dinner drink, look no further than the Sundown Social Club or Long After Dark.

The Sundown Social Club is open from noon to 11 pm. It serves up delicious tropical drinks and stunning city views while a live DJ entertains. 

Or, head over to Long After Dark, open from 12 pm to 12 am. Long After Dark boasts a comprehensive cocktail menu. 

It also serves an eclectic variety of dishes, from moussaka to crispy pork with red cabbage. If you spend a little too much time on cocktails and find yourself in need of sobering up, this is your spot.


Phnom Penh: The Cambodian Capital 

As you can see, you've got endless choices when it comes to what to do in Phnom Penh. 

History proves multi-layered in the Cambodian capital, whether you're exploring the ancient Khmers or the country's tragic history of Communism.

There are also breathtaking sites such as Wat Phnom and the Silver Pagoda, which provide a hearty dose of Cambodia's rich artistic and literary past. 

And when you're ready to eat and drink? Savor a wide variety of innovative restaurants and bars. 

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