Top 10 Things to Do in Phnom Penh

As far as Robert Casey – an American traveler was concerned; Phnom Penh metropolis in the year of 1929 took a pride with white buildings where golden towers as well as stone stupas rocketing out of numerous plant layers into the vibrant blue sky. Moreover, he specifically made a further note of the shady, spacious streets and nice-looking parks.

Perhaps, no one can deny that these images evoke a remarkable resemblance to the Phnom Penh known as the "Pearl of Asia" of today.

Actually, this cutting-edge capital has no longer a reflection of the Khmer Rouge or Cambodia’s tragic past. Instead, let’s think of it with all charming islands, Khmer era temples, wildlife sanctuaries, amazing performances as well as museums, and then draw up a plan for your vacation with our top 10 things that you cannot miss out on doing while being in this laid-back land.

1. Learning about Cambodian History

Normally, everyone has a tendency for experiencing the Cambodian culture just by wandering along its streets and mixing with the locals. Nonetheless, if you fancy getting a thorough insight into it, you need to have the knowledge of its historical background.

Significantly, two worth-visiting sites namely Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison) and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, which will offer you a large amount of useful information for your purpose of learning about Phnom Penh’s bloody history under Khmer Rouge. Only when you witness varying Khmer Rouge's clearly photographic records of their victims displayed as a catastrophic testimony to those who suffered and died in their hands can you feel how Cambodians have remained resilient and strong.

things to do in Phnom Penh

2. Admiring the Temples

A trip coming to Phnom Penh without exploring Theravada Buddhism which is the country's official religion practiced by over 90% of the population, will be a worth-regretting thing. Indeed, the only approach for you to understand about not only long-lasting history but also typically different architectures of this religion is to visit several scared temples. You are hesitant about which temple deserves coming to admire, aren’t you? Check out our top 3 must-visit temples below:

  • Wat Phnom
  • Wat Ounalom
  • Wat Langka

» Tip: Whether you intend to discover awe-Inspiring ruins or scared temples, please usually do not let your shoulders and knees be uncovered. This rule is like a mark of respect for spiritual sites where everyone comes to sincerely pray. Despite the above strict regulation, you do not have to wear full-length clothes; a light scarf is adequate to cover what you need to.

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3. Dropping by the Central Market

If you have a craze for shopping, you will easily realize that there is no differences between Phnom Penh's marts and other ones in Asia, where all reunite the hustle and bustle, hundreds of colorful stalls like actual mazes.

You want to test on your haggling skills, bag yourself a bargain, and buy some souvenirs from this metropolitan area, right? So, why don't you drop by the Central Market (also called Phsar Thmei) where is always filled with effervescent crowd from one end to the other? Definitely, come there, walk around and you will find it wonderful with countless stalls of goods ranging from yummy cuisines, handicrafts, designed handbags, local silverworks, jewelries, household furniture, and even secondhand stuff. Fortunately, all of them are sold with affordable prices.

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4. Taking a Boat Trip

Taking a boat trip to enjoy the scenic sunset on Tonle Sap and Mekong River is an excellent plan to get away from Phnom Penh's noisy streets in peak hours. As a rule, a boat cruise typically takes about 1 – 2 hours to run up the Tonle Sap River along the central riverside area offering visitors picturesque scenery of the Royal Palace as well as Phnom Penh skyline.

things to do in Phnom Penh 3Jahan Cruise on Mekong River in Phnom Penh

Next, you need to carry on cruising across the Mekong River which will give you a sense of the tranquil countryside surrounded with a warm orange glow. Being totally different from the floating villages seen in other regions, in fact, Phnom Penh has its own version named as Kompong Chhnang. 

Noticeably, short river cruises and sunset cruises are easy to book in advance, which costs about 15$/h for small boats (up to 20 passengers), 20$/h for boats in medium size (up to 30 passengers), and 25$/h for large ones (up to 40 passengers) about.

For visitors who wish to have more wonderful experiences in their Southeast Asia trip, consider one of the most interesting itinerary of Phnom Penh to Saigon Cruises.

5. Joining in with Local Celebrations

In no circumstance can other things replace festivals' position as an embodiment of Cambodian culture; hence, there is no better way to experience and gain background knowledge about its traditional customs than to join in on local celebrations. Even though the increasing presence of modern Western culture has partly changed the way that the capital’s citizen celebrate, their festivals like annual three-day Bonn Om Touk (Water Festival) and the Khmer New Year regarded as the two biggest ones still come in all colors along with their distinct style.

In a little more detail, while the highlight of the Water Festival is boat race with more than 400 boats, propelled by precision-trained oarsmen, the Khmers mark their New Year with purification ceremonies, visits to temples, and playing traditional games. Undoubtedly, with all its culture, Phnom Penh is a site where offers everything you want to experience and even more. Therefore, if you are here in festival time, do not hesitate to take part in!

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6. Taking Part in a Cooking Class 

Would you like to dazzle your beloved family members and friends with numerous different mouth-watering cuisines when returning home from your fantastic holiday in Cambodia’s capital? If it is right, be quick to participate in a half-day or full-day class, kick off your culinary adventure by following a basic formula of a market tour to buy ingredients, then pay attention to professional chefs’ guides, and finally make your desire to cook like indigenous people come true!

Particularly, Phnom Penh proudly provides you varying options of cooking classes to pick up such as Frizz Restaurant - the capital’s longest - running cooking class, La Table Khmere -  the urban-contemporary Khmer restaurant, Feel Good Cooking School, Veasna in the Kitchen, or Cambodia Uncovered, and so on.

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7. Visiting the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center

» First, ask yourself 2 following questions:

1. Are you currently staying in Phnom Penh?

2. Do you love animals?

Next, if you answered “YES” for both of these ones, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center is top-one recommended place for you to visit. As its name clearly states, this destination is not a zoo that has been built to draw tourists’ attention and make money; instead, it is genuinely there for the wellbeing of rescue animals like near-extinct sun bears, tigers, moneys, and even an albino deer or a 3-legged elephant.

Interestingly, this sanctuary brings you many chances to spend a whole day interact, feeding, washing, and trekking with friendly animals through their natural habitat. Of course, nothing can express what you feel when you are supporting this ethical center rather than fuelling the cruel Asian animal parks that have had bad reputation for.

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8. Trekking 

How regretful it will be when you do not spend time diving in blood-pumping activities like trekking and rock-climbing in this mighty land. Definitely, the awesome feelings of adventurous moments overlapped with funny smiles will excitingly fulfill your day. As long as you keep your patience and hold a strong belief that you can overcome any challenges appearing along your trails from gently sloped mountains to rugged jungles, nothing can prevent your goal from discovering lesser-known country’s corners. 

Trekking with a group or hiring a tour guide to ensure that you stick to safe trails and do not get lost is a perfect idea. Because Phnom Penh’s stifling tropical climate can make walking through the midday heat seem an insane activity; so you need to store much water, wear sunscreen and light clothing items to protect your skin from the relentless sunshine. Happy exploring! 

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9. Eating Kampot Pepper Crab

After getting lost in appealing cafes, bustling bars, and attractive destinations, let’s just say that you will never enjoy a delicious meal without trying Kampot Pepper Crab! Originating from a tiny riverside town of Kampot, pepper crab is made in Kep using green peppercorns which are immature that is really hard to find outside of Cambodia. The fact lies in they will dry out and change the flavor quickly just after a couple of days. 

In terms of recipe, this marine delicacy composes of freshly-caught crab fried in a tasty garlicky-chili sauce that is heavy on pepper. Despite being extremely spicy, this cuisine will dispel all of your anxiety in the daily life with the crab meat's sweetness and the chili's warmth. Yum!

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10. Spending a Night at the Movie Theaters.

To meet the demand for enjoying without limitation of visitors, Phnom Penh also suggests the cinema culture as one in top 10 fascinating things to anyone who is interested in movies, especially watching films at night. Luckily, this capital never sleeps thanks to electric lights of cinemas which are full of sizes ranging from massive complexes playing the latest releases (in 4D which is awesome as well!) to the tiny film houses that epitomize the image of ‘picture house.’

Apart from an interesting list of movies, some movie houses also feature the huge seats like bed and air conditioner which promise to give you a great night watching movie.

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All in all, Phnom Penh certainly deserves at least a few days to carry out your awesome exploration with all 10 great things suggested above. Needless to say,  it is high time you took a trip to this Southeast Asia’s “unpopular capital”.

© Laos Private Holidays - Specialized in customizing Laos Tour Packages.

Read More: Top 10 Things to Do in Siem Reap

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