From Khmer pagodas to rooftop bars, here’s what to do in Phnom Penh…
Steeped in history, Phnom Penh sits at the junction of the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, making it the perfect base to discover both the heart of the city and the Mekong Delta river. The riverfront is lined with great restaurants and bars, and at the heart of the city is its renowned art deco Central Market. Phnom Penh is easily one of the friendliest capital cities in Asia. Locals welcome visitors with open arms, proudly showcasing hidden charms, the warming cuisine, the riverside promenade, beautiful pagodas and hearty Khmer curry. Though it’s a busy city, it’s kept a tropical charm and is still an up-and-coming location, so it’s surprisingly affordable. Here’s a sneak peek at some of Phnom Penh’s best spots…
Where to stay
Phnom Penh’s hotels range from simple guesthouses to luxury hotels and villas. Whilst it is a small city that is easy to get around, there are a few different areas to consider:
Riverside houses rows of boutique shops, bars and restaurants and is located along the intersection of Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. It’s ideal if you want to be right in the heart of the action and nightlife. Keep in mind that this is one of the most touristy areas.
City Centre is in the Northern part of Phnom Penh and is ideal for those who want to explore the traditional markets and experience local culture. Traffic can be very hectic and busy during rush hour, so factor that in when planning day trips from your hotel.
Independence Monument is arguably the most expat-centric area, as it is home to many of the foreign embassies. You’ll also find a range of mid-priced hotels and tourist attractions. If you stay here, head to Street 51, which is a buzzing hot spot of trendy restaurants, bars and cafes.
Now check out some of our top hotel picks…
Rosewood Phnom Penh
Soaring 188 metres above the heart of Phnom Penh’s business district, Rosewood Phnom Penh sits within the 14 floors of Vattanac Capital Tower, offering sweeping views. As a symbol of new Cambodia, it’s quickly become the most iconic modern structure in the city. The hotel stands to uphold Rosewood values whilst celebrating Khmer pride. Catering to families, honeymooners and business travellers alike, there’s something for everyone. The modern space offers expansive rooms, thoughtful amenities and the impeccable service you’d expect at all Rosewood hotels. In the restaurants, you’ll find fresh, local ingredients. With four different restaurants, Rosewood Phnom Penh manages to specialise in cuisines from all over the globe: including Chinese, Japanese, French and, of course, Cambodian. In the art gallery, you’ll find emerging and renowned local artists. Even as you walk around the hotel, you’ll see modern art by Cambodian artists lining the halls. To unwind after a day of exploring, Sense, the Rosewood Spa, features private saunas, steam rooms, personalised packages and 5-star products.
Rosewood Phnom Penh, Vattanac Capital Tower, 66 Monivong Boulevard, Phnom Penh, 12202, Cambodia, www.rosewoodhotels.com/phnom-penh
Less than 1.6km from Riverfront Park, The Pavilion boasts a casino, a sunbathing terrace and an indoor pool. Located a short walk from a museum and a palace, there’s plenty to explore nearby. As an adults-only hotel, it’s set in tropical gardens and is the ideal spot for a girly getaway at a mid-priced hotel.
The Pavilion, 227 Street 19, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, www.the-pavilion.hotels-phnom-penh.net
This urban resort and spa provides a welcoming change from Hong Kong’s vibe. If you’re after a boutique hotel with a good pool, look no further. Set in beautiful frangipani gardens, the pool here is large with an abundance of sunbeds. The rooms are simple but welcoming, with comfortable, four-poster beds. The rooftop suite is both calm and spacious. If you’re travelling as a big group, the penthouse suite has a bar, BBQ and jacuzzi, with three surrounding terraces providing the perfect space for private parties. The convenient location is another bonus.
If you’re on a budget, this is the hotel for you, with rooms starting from $300. Tea-themed, this boutique hotel features a range of rooms from basic and snug, to super spacious. Expect large tea tins lining the lobby and daily afternoon teas.
Vacation Boutique Hotel
Set in the Daun Penh district in Phnom Penh, Vacation Boutique Hotel is 300 metres from Riverfront Park. The rooms are basic but comfortable, with an on-site restaurant. There are also plenty of eateries and local shops nearby, with the Phnom Penh night market only a 10-minute walk away. Budget-friendly and welcoming, this is a great spot for a quick stop.
If you’re looking for a truly unique hotel experience, check out Aqua Expeditions, the luxury river cruise. With floor to ceiling windows, a Michelin-starred chef on board and interesting daily excursions, this is like no other hotel stay you’ll ever have experienced.
Sassy Tip: Jump on at Phnom Penh and end your trip in Ho Chi Minh City to get the best out of both Cambodia and Vietnam.
Aqua Expeditions, +65 6270 4002, www.aquaexpeditions.com/luxury-cruise-ships/aqua-mekong
Where to eat
This is the ideal spot for healthy globetrotters, serving vegan, raw and vegetarian dishes.
Backyard Café, 11B Street 246, Phnom Penh, Cambodia,+855 078 751 715, www.backyardeats.com
Boat Noodle Restaurant
Head to Boat Noodle Restaurant for your Thai-Khmer fix. With some of the best prices in town, chow down on noodle soups and a range of local speciality dishes.
Boat Noodle Restaurant, 184Eo Preah Trasak Paem Street (63), Phnom Penh 12301, Cambodia, +855 11 952 120
When you’re on holiday, sometimes all we crave is a good glass of wine. Look no further than Le Bouchon. This French restaurant serves delicious, rich dishes and has a top wine menu to match. Rehoused in a beautiful French colonial villa, you could be forgiven for thinking you’re in Paris!
Le Bouchon, 82 Street 174, Phnom Penh 12210, Cambodia, +855 77 881 103, www.bouchon-wine-bar.business.site
Le Broken Plate
It’s hard to know what to expect going by the name of this restaurant, but it is, in fact, a sushi joint. The Canadian-Cambodian chef works his magic behind the counter to serve up the freshest seasonal ingredients. Try the sashimi here.
Le Broken Plate, No. 17, Street 242, Corner 51, Khan Daun Penh, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, +855 78 903 336, www.facebook.com/lebrokenplate
Malis is renowned as one of the best restaurants in Phnom Penh and we promise it won’t disappoint. Set in beautiful greenery, this is a great alfresco spot (making it ideal for either dinner with the girls, or for date night with your significant other). Make sure you order the Kampot Rock Red Curry!
Iza is Rosewood Phnom Penh’s Japanese restaurant. With full izakaya-style dining, breathtaking views of the city, an extensive menu, 42 varieties of sake and shochu and numerous beers on tap this is a great restaurant for a special occasion. Book in advance or go early if you want a seat at the counter around the robata-yaki – definitely the best seat in the house!
Rosewood Phnom Penh, Vattanac Capital Tower, 66 Monivong Boulevard, Phnom Penh, 12202, Cambodia, www.rosewoodhotels.com/phnom-penh/dining/iza
Piccola Italia Da Luigi
A bustling kerbside spot, we’ve heard that Luigi’s serves the best pizza in Phnom Penh. You’ll have to try it to make sure. If you’re planning on heading here for dinner, it gets busy so make a reservation.
Piccola Italia Da Luigi, M36 Street 308, Sangkat Tonle Basak, Chamka Morn, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Restaurant Le Royale
Found inside the famous Raffles Hotel, this refined restaurant oozes grandeur. The menu is a mix of classical French dishes and traditional Khmer royal cuisine.
Restaurant Le Royale, Raffles Hotel Le Royal, 92 Rukhak Vithei Daun Penh, Sangkat Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, +855 23 981 888, [email protected], www.raffles.com/phnom-penh/dining/restaurant-le-royal
Romdeng is as much about the beautiful setting as it is about the food. You’ll find yourself dining on Cambodian fare in a stunning colonial villa with a pool. For the more adventurous, sample the deep-fried tarantulas. Warning: not for the spider-wary, they don’t come disguised and definitely still look like fried tarantulas.
Sovanna is always packed with locals and expats alike, making this barbecue joint the place to be in Phnom Penh.
Sovanna BBQ, Street 21, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, +855 16 840 055, www.facebook.com/Sovanna-BBQ-624282917587799
You can’t spend an evening in Phnom Penh without heading to Sora at Rosewood Phnom Penh. As the highest bar (and building) in the whole of Cambodia, it’s an ideal place to order a round. Sora also offers drink deals for different days of the week, so be sure to check them out! Plus, this rooftop bar is buzzing most days of the week, so it’s a great place to chat to locals, expats and other visitors.
Sora at Rosewood Phnom Penh, Vattanac Capital Tower, 66 Monivong Boulevard, Phnom Penh, 12202, Cambodia
The Foreign Correspondents Club
Here you’ll find good food along with an interesting mix of people, views of the museum and the Tonle Sap river. It’s definitely worth a visit.
The Foreign Correspondents Club, 363 Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, +855 69 253 222/23 724 014, www.fcccambodia.com/fcc-hotel-phnom-penh/dining
Topaz is one of Phnom Penh’s most well-known French fine-dining restaurants. Serving a range of classic French dishes, the menu features set lunch and dinner options and regularly hosts guest chefs from France.
Topaz, 162 Preah Norodom Boulevard, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, +855 15 821 888, www.topaz-resta urant.com
Vibe Café is 100% vegan, offering homemade original superfood dishes. This is a perfect spot to satisfy those healthy cravings.
Vibe Café, 26A, Street 446, Russian Market, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, +855 61 764 937, www.vibecafeasia.com
Yi Sang Riverside
This is one of my top spots – it’s set right on the riverfront, taking alfresco dining to a whole new level. Enjoy a well-deserved cocktail before chowing down on Cambodian street food dishes.
Where to shop
Ambre is one of the most well-known haute couture shops in Phnom Penh. With designs characterised by femininity and high-quality materials, it’s definitely worth stopping in and taking a look.
Central Market & Russian Markets
You’ll find souvenirs, jewellery, cheap electronics and clothing at the hectic Central Market. The best thing about it is that it’s open until late in the evenings. At the Russian Market, you’ll also find discounted brand name clothing in the maze of busy stalls.
This is a popular shopping street where you’ll find small boutiques selling clothing, textiles and design items. Check out Elsewhere for stylish clothing, A.N.D for beautiful home accessories, Colour for vintage items, Paperdolls for bold fashion, Pen Lenh for delicate and stunning jewellery, Nun Ay Bong for pop art and vintage vinyl and Artisans Angkor for high-quality Cambodian crafts.
If, like us, you like to spend time in delis and bakeries, be sure to check out The Shop for homemade pastries, bread and chocolates.
What to do
It’s hard to miss this palace as it gleams in gold in Asia’s sunlight. In the Royal Palace you’ll find the Silver Pagoda, named for its silver-covered floor. Heralded one of Phnom Penh’s most incredible architectural achievements, this is one tourist attraction not to miss.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
This museum serves as a marker to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. The museum displays photographs of all the men and women that were killed during this period. This is one of the spots where it is actually worth paying for a tour guide.
Art Galleries and Exhibitions
If you’re looking to see Phnom Penh’s growing art scene, there are plenty of places that showcase the city’s culture. Rosewood Phnom Penh’s Art Gallery does rotation collaborations with the country’s most influential and up-and-coming artists to celebrate some of Cambodia’s exciting contemporary work. The Art Gallery is located on the 35th floor of Vattanac Capital Tower and is open to the public, completely free of cost. Other hotels, like The Plantation, also partner with local artists to showcase their art.
Choueng Ek Killing Fields
Found on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, this makes an insightful day trip, but be prepared, it’s a harrowing experience. During the Khmer Rouge reign, an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million Cambodians died as a result of execution, disease and starvation. At the Killing Fields you’ll find mass graves, with the largest of these fields serving as a monument to all those who died and also to those who survived. To get there you can either get a tuk-tuk (about 40 mins), take a taxi or catch the Hop-On Hop-Off shuttle bus.
This beautiful park welcomes visitors with its stunning temple and calm lush gardens. Climb up the steps to enjoy views of the city and have a nosy around the pagoda. Watch out for the monkeys – they’re always hungry!
Phnom Penh Food Tours
If, like us, you’re a foodie, don’t miss Phnom Penh’s food tours (which take place in the morning or evening). Both will take you off the beaten track and allow you to try authentic Cambodian dishes at markets and street food stalls.
Kick start your evening in Phnom Penh with a boat trip up the Mekong River as the sun sets over the city. There are different cruise options that offer both a buffet dinner and entertainment. Check out Tara Boats and Floatation Cruises.
If you’ve got some time, make a week of it and head to Siem Reap to explore the stone ruins of Angkor Watt, visit Tonle Sap (Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lakes) and also take in buzzing Ho Chi Minh City!
Editor’s note: This post was originally written by Poppy Mason-Watts in 2018 and was updated by Tania Shroff on 26, February 2020.
Featured image courtesy of Getty, image 1 courtesy of The Plantation via Instagram, image 2 courtesy of Rosewood Phnom Penh, image 3 courtesy of The Plantation via Instagram, image 4 courtesy of The Teahouse via Instagram, image 5 courtesy of Backyard Cafe via Facebook, image 6 courtesy fo Le Broken Plate, image 7 courtesy of Rosewood Phnom Penh via Facebook, image 8 courtesy of Romdeng via Facebook, image 9 courtesy of via Rosewood Phnom Penh via Instagram, image 10 courtesy of Vibe via Instagram, image 11 courtesy of Clay Gilliland via Wikimedia Commons, image 12 courtesy of Tourism Cambodia via Instagram.