Cambodia Phnom Penh

25th February 2024

Phnom Penh Travel Guide: History, Facts, How To Reach, Best Time To Visit (2023)

Are you looking for the ultimate Phnom Penh travel guide? If so, we’ve got you covered in this blog post.

From our past experience of leading group trips here, we’ve gathered insider tips and hidden gems to make your journey unforgettable.

Why should you listen to us? From our last visit to this place, we learned that Phnom Penh is a vibrant city brimming with rich history, mesmerizing temples, and mouthwatering street food.

We’ll take you on a captivating adventure, sharing our firsthand encounters and recommendations that will ensure you have an authentic and remarkable experience in Phnom Penh. Let’s dive into this dynamic city and explore its wonders together!

Why Visit Phnom Penh?

First and foremost, Phnom Penh is steeped in history. From the majestic Royal Palace to the solemn Killing Fields, this city bears witness to Cambodia’s past and offers a profound understanding of its resilience.

Explore the iconic landmarks, such as the stunning Silver Pagoda, and delve into the tragic history at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Beyond its historical significance, Phnom Penh boasts a vibrant and energetic atmosphere. The bustling markets, like the Russian Market and Central Market, are a treasure trove of unique finds and delicious street food.

History of Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has a rich and complex history that spans centuries. Originally founded as a small fishing village, it gradually grew in importance and became the capital of Cambodia in 1866 during the reign of King Norodom.

The city’s name, “Phnom Penh,” translates to “Hill of Penh,” derived from the legend of a woman named Penh who discovered sacred relics on a nearby hill.

During the French colonial era, Phnom Penh underwent significant development and modernization. The French architectural influence is still visible in buildings like the iconic Central Market and the beautifully preserved colonial villas.

However, the city faced dark times during the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s, when it was largely evacuated and suffered immense devastation.

Facts about Phnom Penh

  • Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, offers a fascinating blend of history and modernity.
  • The city is home to the majestic Royal Palace, which showcases stunning Khmer architecture.
  • The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum serves as a haunting reminder of Cambodia’s tragic past under the Khmer Rouge regime.
  • Phnom Penh’s vibrant markets, like the Russian Market and Central Market, are a shopper’s paradise with a variety of unique souvenirs and local delicacies.
  • The city’s riverfront promenade is a bustling hub, perfect for leisurely walks, dining at waterfront restaurants, and enjoying the vibrant atmosphere.

Things to Do In & Around Phnom Penh

1. Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Phnom penh travel guide: history, facts, how to reach, best time to visit (2023) 1 phnom penh travel guide

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is a mesmerizing showcase of Khmer architecture and serves as the official residence of the King of Cambodia. Located along Sothearos Boulevard, this grand complex offers a glimpse into the country’s rich heritage.

Adorned with intricate details and glistening golden spires, the Royal Palace is a true architectural masterpiece. Within the palace grounds lies the revered Silver Pagoda, named for its stunning silver tiled floor.

This sacred site houses a magnificent collection of Buddha statues, including a life-sized golden Buddha adorned with over 9,000 diamonds.

  • Location: Sothearos Boulevard, Phnom Penh
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 AM to 10:30 AM and 2:00 PM to 5:00 PM

2. Explore the historic grounds of the Killing Fields

 Explore the historic grounds of the Killing Fields
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A visit to the Killing Fields is a solemn and important experience that sheds light on Cambodia’s tragic past. Choeung Ek, one of the most prominent Killing Fields, is located just outside Phnom Penh.

This former execution site stands as a memorial to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. Walking through the area, you’ll witness mass graves and a commemorative stupa filled with human skulls, serving as a somber reminder of the atrocities committed.

Audio guides and guided tours provide detailed narratives, helping visitors understand the significance and impact of this dark period in Cambodian history.

  • Location: Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh (Outside the city center)
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM

3. Immerse yourself in the tragic history at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Immerse yourself in the tragic history at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
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Located in the heart of Phnom Penh, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as S-21, offers a haunting glimpse into Cambodia’s darkest days under the Khmer Rouge regime.

This former high school turned prison was a center for torture and execution. Today, the museum stands as a somber reminder of the atrocities committed, with preserved prison cells, photographs, and gripping accounts of survivors.

Exploring the museum’s exhibitions provides a chilling understanding of the immense suffering endured by countless Cambodians during that time.

  • Location: Street 113, Phnom Penh
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM

4. Wander through the vibrant Central Market and Russian Market

Wander through the vibrant Central Market and Russian Market
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Phnom Penh is a haven for shopaholics, and two must-visit markets are the Central Market and the Russian Market. The Central Market (Psar Thmei) is an architectural gem with its iconic yellow dome.

Here, you’ll find a bustling maze of stalls offering a wide array of products, from clothes and accessories to jewelry, souvenirs, and fresh produce. The Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tom Pong) is a treasure trove for bargain hunters, known for its diverse selection of handicrafts, antiques, clothing, and local artwork.

It’s the perfect place to find unique souvenirs and immerse yourself in the vibrant market atmosphere.

  • Central Market Location: Street 53, Phnom Penh
  • Central Market Opening Hours: 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM
  • Russian Market Location: Street 155, Phnom Penh
  • Russian Market Opening Hours: 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM

5. Take a relaxing stroll along the scenic riverfront promenade

. Take a relaxing stroll along the scenic riverfront promenade
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Phnom Penh’s riverfront promenade, stretching along the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, offers a delightful escape from the city’s hustle and bustle. Take a leisurely walk along Sisowath Quay and immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere.

Enjoy stunning river views, vibrant street performances, and an array of charming cafes, bars, and restaurants. This is the perfect spot to unwind, people-watch, and witness the fusion of traditional and modern lifestyles that characterizes Phnom Penh.

6. Discover the unique flavors of Cambodian cuisine through a food tour

Discover the unique flavors of Cambodian cuisine through a food tour
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Embark on a culinary adventure and tantalize your taste buds with the flavors of Cambodian cuisine. Join a food tour that will take you through bustling local markets and hidden street food gems, where you can sample traditional dishes like Fish Amok, Nom Banh Chok (Khmer noodles), and Lok Lak.

Engage with friendly vendors, learn about the ingredients and cooking techniques, and gain a deeper appreciation for Cambodia’s gastronomic delights. Whether you’re a food enthusiast or simply curious about the local culture, a food tour is a fantastic way to explore Phnom Penh’s culinary scene.

  • Food Tour: Various operators offer food tours in Phnom Penh. Check with local tour agencies for availability and options.

7. Unwind at the tranquil Oudong Mountain, known for its stunning temples

Unwind at the tranquil Oudong Mountain, known for its stunning temples
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Escape the bustling city and venture to Oudong Mountain, a serene retreat located just outside Phnom Penh. Set amidst picturesque landscapes, Oudong is renowned for its ancient temples.

Climb to the hilltop to discover the magnificent Oudong Monastery, offering panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. Explore the intricately decorated stupas and pay your respects at the sacred shrines.

Oudong Mountain provides a peaceful and spiritual experience, allowing you to connect with Cambodia’s religious heritage.

  • Location: Oudong Mountain, approximately 40 kilometers northwest of Phnom Penh

8. Explore the fascinating National Museum of Cambodia

Explore the fascinating National Museum of Cambodia
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Delve into Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage at the National Museum of Cambodia. Located near the Royal Palace, this museum houses a remarkable collection of Khmer art and artifacts, spanning from prehistoric times to the present day.

Marvel at the exquisite sculptures, ancient ceramics, and intricate stone carvings that showcase the artistic prowess of the Khmer civilization. The museum provides valuable insights into Cambodia’s history, artistry, and religious traditions, making it a must-visit for history and art enthusiasts.

  • Location: Street 13, Phnom Penh
  • Opening Hours: 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM (closed on some public holidays)

9. Take a boat trip to the nearby Silk Island (Koh Dach)

Take a boat trip to the nearby Silk Island (Koh Dach)
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Embark on a scenic boat journey to Silk Island, also known as Koh Dach, located on the banks of the Mekong River. This tranquil island is renowned for its silk-weaving traditions.

Visit local silk farms and witness the intricate process of silk production, from rearing silkworms to spinning and weaving fine threads. Engage with the friendly locals, learn about their time-honored techniques, and perhaps even purchase exquisite silk products as souvenirs.

It’s a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the island’s natural beauty and experience the artistry behind Cambodia’s silk industry.

  • Location: Koh Dach (Silk Island), located on the Mekong River near Phnom Penh

10. Experience a traditional Khmer dance performance

. Experience a traditional Khmer dance performance
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Indulge in the rich cultural heritage of Cambodia by attending a traditional Khmer dance performance. Phnom Penh offers several venues where you can witness these captivating performances.

Be mesmerized by the graceful movements, ornate costumes, and enchanting music that bring ancient Khmer legends and folklore to life. The performances often depict stories of love, mythology, and historical events, providing a window into Cambodia’s artistic traditions.

It’s a cultural feast for the senses and a captivating way to appreciate the beauty and elegance of Khmer dance.

11. Venture outside the city to the picturesque Mekong River islands

Venture outside the city to the picturesque Mekong River islands
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Escape the urban landscape and embark on a journey to the charming Mekong River islands located near Phnom Penh. These idyllic islands offer a tranquil and authentic rural experience.

Hop on a boat and explore islands like Koh Dach or Koh Oknha Tei, where you can witness traditional village life, lush green landscapes, and beautiful riverside scenery.

Engage with friendly locals, discover ancient pagodas, and savor fresh fruits from local orchards. The Mekong River islands provide a peaceful retreat, allowing you to connect with nature and embrace the simplicity of rural Cambodia.

  • Location: Various islands on the Mekong River near Phnom Penh

How to Reach Phnom Penh

1. By Air: Phnom Penh is served by the Phnom Penh International Airport (PNH), which receives both domestic and international flights. Numerous airlines offer direct connections to major cities in Southeast Asia, as well as connecting flights from other parts of the world.

2. By Land: If you’re traveling from neighboring countries, you can reach Phnom Penh by land. There are land border crossings with Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. Buses and shared taxis operate regular routes to and from these border points.

Best Time to Visit Phnom Penh

The best time to visit Phnom Penh is during the dry season, which typically spans from November to March. During this period, the weather is generally pleasant with lower humidity and cooler temperatures.

1. November to January: This period offers the most comfortable weather, with mild temperatures and less rainfall. It’s an ideal time for outdoor activities and exploring the city’s attractions.

2. February to March: These months continue to provide favorable weather conditions, although it gradually gets warmer. It’s still a popular time to visit, but expect more crowds, especially around major tourist sites.

3. April to October: The wet season in Phnom Penh starts around April and extends until October. While rainfall is more frequent during this time, it usually comes in short bursts. The countryside turns lush and green, and the landscape offers a different charm. However, it can be hot and humid, so be prepared for the occasional showers and plan outdoor activities accordingly.

Where to Stay at Phnom Penh

1. Raffles Hotel Le Royal: Located in the heart of Phnom Penh, this iconic colonial-style hotel combines elegance and luxury. With its well-appointed rooms, exquisite dining options, and a beautiful pool area, Raffles Hotel Le Royal offers a truly indulgent stay.

2. Rosewood Phnom Penh: Rising above the city skyline, Rosewood Phnom Penh offers unparalleled luxury and breathtaking views. Its sophisticated rooms and suites boast contemporary design and modern amenities. Indulge in the hotel’s fine dining establishments, rejuvenate at the spa, and take in panoramic vistas from the sky bar.

3. White Mansion Boutique Hotel: Nestled in a tranquil neighborhood, this boutique hotel provides an oasis of serenity amidst the bustling city. The White Mansion offers elegant rooms with stylish decor and a peaceful ambiance. Relax by the pool, enjoy the lush gardens, and savor delectable cuisine at the on-site restaurant.

Things to Know Before Visiting Phnom Penh

  • Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, known for its rich history and vibrant culture.
  • The official currency is the Cambodian Riel (KHR), but US dollars are widely accepted.
  • Dress modestly when visiting temples and religious sites, covering your shoulders and knees.
  • Be cautious of your belongings and stay vigilant against petty theft and scams.
  • Tuk-tuks and taxis are popular modes of transportation within the city, but negotiate fares beforehand.
  • Sample local cuisine but be cautious with street food; choose clean and hygienic establishments.
  • Remember to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun by wearing sunscreen and a hat.

Things to avoid at Phnom Penh

  • Avoid displaying excessive wealth or valuable belongings to minimize the risk of theft.
  • Do not disrespect or touch religious objects or statues in temples.
  • Avoid drinking tap water; stick to bottled water to prevent waterborne illnesses.
  • Avoid walking alone late at night in unfamiliar or poorly lit areas.
  • Do not engage in or support the exploitation of children, such as street begging or orphanage visits.
  • Avoid discussing sensitive topics related to politics or the Khmer Rouge regime unless in an appropriate setting.
  • Do not rely on unlicensed tour operators; choose reputable companies for tours and transportation.

Conclusion – Phnom Penh Travel Guide

In conclusion, Phnom Penh, the captivating capital of Cambodia, offers a wealth of experiences for travelers. From its historical landmarks like the Royal Palace and the somber reminders of the Khmer Rouge regime to the bustling markets, vibrant riverfront promenade, and delightful culinary scene, there’s something for everyone in this dynamic city.

Soak in the rich culture, immerse yourself in the local way of life, and uncover the hidden gems that make Phnom Penh truly special. With this Phnom Penh travel guide, embark on an unforgettable journey through this vibrant city and create memories that will last a lifetime.

FAQs – Phnom Penh Travel Guide

What are the must-visit attractions in Phnom Penh?

When in Phnom Penh, don’t miss the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, and the chilling Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Explore the vibrant markets like Central Market and Russian Market, and take a stroll along the scenic riverfront promenade.

What is the best time to visit Phnom Penh?

The best time to visit Phnom Penh is during the dry season from November to March, offering pleasant weather. However, the city has its own charm in the lush green wet season from April to October.

How can I get to Phnom Penh?

You can fly directly to Phnom Penh International Airport or reach the city by land through border crossings. Buses and boats are also available for those seeking different travel experiences.

What are some recommended hotels in Phnom Penh?

For a touch of luxury, consider Raffles Hotel Le Royal or Rosewood Phnom Penh. If you prefer a boutique experience, White Mansion Boutique Hotel is a great choice.

Is it safe to visit Phnom Penh?

Like any city, exercise caution and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid displaying excessive wealth, stay vigilant against petty theft, and follow common-sense safety practices.

What should I try in Phnom Penh’s cuisine?

Indulge in local delicacies like Fish Amok, Nom Banh Chok (Khmer noodles), and Lok Lak. Join a food tour to discover hidden street food gems and taste the unique flavors of Cambodian cuisine.

Are there any cultural etiquettes to keep in mind while visiting Phnom Penh?

Dress modestly when visiting temples, respect religious objects, and engage with locals with a friendly and polite attitude. Embrace the rich cultural heritage and be mindful of local customs.

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