15 Incredible Things To Do In Phnom Penh For First-timers

things-to-do-in-phnom penh

If this is your first time visiting Phnom Penh, prepare for an adventure brimming with 15 incredible things to do in Phnom Penh that will sweep you into the city’s vibrant heartbeat. This Cambodian capital is a kaleidoscope of culture, with a rich tapestry of history, architecture, and bustling markets that will capture your imagination and create memories to last a lifetime. Get ready to explore and be whisked away by the charm of this city. 

Why Phnom Penh Is A Must-visit Destination

Phnom Penh represents Cambodia’s enduring spirit and resilience, a city that has risen from its tumultuous past to become a beacon of Southeast Asian culture and charm. Here are reasons why Phnom Penh should be at the top of your travel list.

  • Cultural melting pot

The rich tapestry of Cambodia’s history is most vividly on display in Phnom Penh. The city is a living museum, home to stunning royal palaces, ancient temples, and colonial architecture, all telling the story of a nation that both its glories and its tragedies have shaped.

  • Historical significance

The city offers an unflinching look into the country’s past, with sites like the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek providing powerful reminders of Cambodia’s resilience in the face of adversity. These historical landmarks serve as both educational sites and memorials to the country’s journey.

  • Vibrant lifestyle

Phnom Penh is also known for its vibrant lifestyle. Bustling markets, burgeoning art scenes, and a lively riverside promenade underscore the city’s dynamic energy. Night markets, local eateries, and a growing number of cafes and bars reveal the modern, cosmopolitan side of Phnom Penh.

  • Gateway to adventures

Serving as a gateway to the rest of Cambodia, Phnom Penh is ideally located for those looking to explore beyond the city limits. From here, you can easily venture to the ruins of Angkor Wat, the beaches of Sihanoukville, or the lush countryside that defines much of rural Cambodia.


This dynamic metropolis offers a plethora of exploration options

>> Read More: 15 Best Things To Do In Cambodia

15 Incredible and Fun Things To Do in Phnom Penh

Admire The Architecture of The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

Step into the realm of royal grandeur at Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace, a dazzling complex of buildings that serves as the King’s residence and a symbol of the nation. The intricate details and gilded roofs will leave you in awe, while the adjacent Silver Pagoda, named for its shimmering silver-tiled floor, houses priceless Buddhist artifacts. Wander these hallowed grounds and let the opulence transport you to a different era.

Tour the Cambodia National Museum

Culture enthusiasts will relish a visit to the Cambodia National Museum, which boasts an impressive collection of Khmer art and sculptures. The traditional terracotta structure itself is a masterpiece, set amidst peaceful gardens where you can often find locals practicing Tai Chi. Inside, the museum chronicles the nation’s history from the pre-Angkorian era to the present day, offering a fascinating glimpse into Cambodia’s soul.

Visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek


The historical Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

A solemn but essential visit, the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek tell a harrowing tale of Cambodia’s past. The site, a former orchard turned mass grave, now stands as a memorial to those lost during the Khmer Rouge regime. Audio tours provide poignant personal narratives that guide you through the grounds, ensuring a moving experience that honors the resilience of the human spirit.

Learn About History at Tuol Sleng Museum

Once a high school, then a notorious prison known as S-21, the Tuol Sleng Museum is a stark reminder of Cambodia’s darker times under the Khmer Rouge. Today, it’s a place of remembrance, with rooms preserved as they were found and exhibits that include photographs of many victims. This museum provides a profound context to Cambodia’s history, challenging visitors to reflect on the impact of tyranny.

Watch Apsara, Traditional Khmer Dance Performances


Apsara Dance – a unique performance in Cambodia

Experience the enchanting beauty of Apsara dance, a traditional Khmer performance art that dates back to the Angkorian era. These dance performances, often accompanied by percussive classical music, can be enjoyed in several venues around the city. The dancers, with their elaborate costumes and hypnotic gestures, tell age-old tales of mythology and folklore, offering a mesmerizing display of Cambodia’s artistic heritage.

Explore the Central Market (Phsar Thmey)

The Central Market, or Phsar Thmey, is an art deco marvel at the heart of Phnom Penh. Its dome gleams in the sunlight, a beacon for those searching for treasures. Step into this bustling bazaar where vibrant stalls spill over with everything from glittering jewelry to fresh produce and local delicacies. Haggling is part of the fun, so engage with the friendly vendors, and you might walk away with a souvenir at a bargain price.

Cruise on Phnom Penh’s Rivers


Take in the city’s scenic views and witness daily life along the riverbanks

For a different perspective of Phnom Penh, take to the waters where the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers converge. A river cruise at sunset offers a serene experience as the city’s lights begin to twinkle. Watch as fishermen glide by on traditional boats, children play on the riverbanks, and the silhouettes of pagodas create a postcard-perfect backdrop against the crimson sky.

Sightsee Independence Monument

The striking Independence Monument, built in the form of a lotus-shaped stupa, stands as a symbol of Cambodia’s freedom from colonial rule. Its location at a major city intersection makes it a focal point for both visitors and locals. At night, the monument is beautifully illuminated, and the surrounding park with its fountains becomes a social hub, especially during national festivals.

Shop at the Russian Market

Dive into the maze of the Russian Market, or Phsar Toul Tom Poung, where you’ll find a dizzying array of goods from motorcycle parts to hand-woven silks. It’s an ideal place to hunt for souvenirs, such as intricate carvings, traditional fabrics, and vintage items. The market is also a great spot to sample local street food like num pang (Cambodian sandwiches) and sweet, iced coffee.

Visit the Temples of Oudong


Phnom Oudong – White Buddhist temple in the north of Phnom Penh

A short trip from Phnom Penh will take you to Oudong, the ancient capital of Cambodia. The site is dotted with stupas and shrines set against a backdrop of rolling hills. Climb up the steps to the hilltop temples and be rewarded with panoramic views of the countryside. Oudong provides a tranquil escape from the city and a chance to see an important spiritual site for Cambodians, with its history as the resting place of past kings.

Enjoy Cambodian Street Food

Surely, no visit to Phnom Penh is complete without indulging in the local street food, a delicious foray into Cambodian cuisine. Venture through the streets and you’ll find sizzling barbecues, pots of aromatic soups, and baskets filled with fresh fruits and herbs. Try specialties like “bai sach chrouk” (pork and rice), “lort cha” (stir-fried noodles), and the delectable “amok” (a curry steamed in banana leaves). Each bite is a burst of local flavors that tells a story of the country’s culinary traditions.

Cycle Around Koh Dach & Koh Okhna Tei Islands

Escape the hustle of the city and hop on a bicycle to explore the tranquil islands of Koh Dach and Koh Okhna Tei, located on the Mekong River. These islands offer a picturesque countryside landscape, where you can witness traditional silk-weaving villages, friendly locals, and verdant orchards. Cycling these paths is a refreshing way to connect with Cambodia’s rural charm.

Head to Wat Phnom


The main pagoda of Wat Phnom

Situated on a small hill in the heart of Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom, also known as “Mountain Pagoda,” provides visitors with a panoramic view of the surrounding area. This place holds great significance for the people of Phnom Penh and is a place of worship and pilgrimage. Many locals come to the temple to make offerings, light incense sticks, and pray for good fortune and blessings.

Visiting Wat Phnom offers an opportunity to immerse yourself in Cambodian culture and observe the local way of life. Travelers can witness devotees engaging in religious rituals, monks chanting prayers, and locals paying their respects to the deities.

Stroll Along Sisowath Quay

Sisowath Quay is a bustling waterfront promenade, perfect for a leisurely stroll with views of the Tonle Sap River. Lined with restaurants, cafes, and bars, this area comes to life, especially during the evenings. It’s a place where locals and tourists alike gather to enjoy the river breeze, exercise, or simply watch the boats glide by. The lively atmosphere, coupled with the setting sun, makes for an unforgettable experience.

Enjoy The Nightlife at Bassac Lane

Experience Phnom Penh’s vibrant nightlife at Bassac Lane, a trendy alley lined with bars, restaurants, and live music venues. It’s a popular spot among locals and expats alike. 

What sets Bassac Lane apart is its unique setting. It is a narrow alley transformed into a trendy entertainment area. The lane is adorned with colorful murals, string lights, and creative decor, giving it a distinctive and inviting ambiance.

Tourists can find diverse entertainment options to suit different tastes here, from cozy cocktail bars and craft beer establishments to live music venues featuring local and international bands and DJs.

>> Read More: What should you do with a day in Phnom Penh?

How to Fully Enjoy Your Trip to Phnom Penh?

There are some tips we would share with our travelers so that they can truly embrace the essence of Phnom Penh and have unforgettable experiences.

  • Consider the best time to visit Phnom Penh

Plan your trip during the dry season, which runs from November to April. This period offers the most pleasant weather for exploring the city, avoiding the heavy rains and high humidity of the monsoon season. Cooler temperatures in December and January make for particularly comfortable sightseeing.


Dry season is the best option to plan your Phnom Penh journey

  • Respect cultural etiquette

When visiting temples and sacred sites, dress modestly and remove your shoes. Learning basic Khmer phrases not only enriches your interactions but also shows respect for the local culture.

  • Immerse in local life

Engage with the local culture by starting your day at a bustling market or a traditional café. Participate in local events, and consider taking a workshop or class to learn about Cambodian crafts, cuisine, or dance.

  • Stay connected

A local SIM card will help you navigate the city, translate, and arrange transportation. Staying connected can make your travel experience smoother and more enjoyable.

  • Try the local transport

Experience the city like a local by using tuk-tuk or renting a bicycle. It’s an eco-friendly and authentic way to navigate through the city and discover places that are not on the typical tourist trail.

  • Stay informed and safe

Keep your belongings secure, and exercise caution, especially at night. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs to ensure a safe and respectful visit.

>> Read More: How To Make The Most Out Of One Week In Cambodia?

Discover The Hidden Charms of Phnom Penh

More than just a destination, Phnom Penh captures the hearts of its visitors by offering an authentic glimpse into the soul of Cambodia, promising more enchanting discoveries than one could ever imagine.

So do not hesitate to Create Your Trip with Asia Pioneer Travel. With our expertise and local knowledge, our team knows exactly what to include to transform your journey into an unforgettable adventure! Contact our committed Travel Designers now to get the best advice and many interesting information.

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