Phnom Penh is the capital and most populous city in Cambodia. In recent years the city has grown into a tourism hotspot for Western and Chinese tourists searching for history, culture, and nightlife. Whatever your taste, you'll be able to find something to enjoy in Phnom Penh.
Here, you'll learn about the most famous and vibrant places to visit in Phnom Penh. They come in no particular order and the best places for you to visit will depend on the type of vacation you are looking to enjoy.
1. Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Frequently Called the Killing Fields)
Throughout Cambodia there are memorials dedicated to the victims of the Communist Khemer Rouge who committed genocide against 1.3 million people. At the time, these people were labeled as enemies of the state. However, in reality, many of these people were everyday citizens who simply did not fit the ideological purity demanded by the government.
To remember the lives of those who were lost too early, Cambodia's most notorious killing fields were transformed into a place of remembrance. Touring the site is a powerful experience where people can learn the stories of those who's lives were impacted by the regime.
It takes about 45 minutes by car to reach the site. Most hotels and hostels can help arrange a ride there. Visiting the site is not something that can be rushed and frequently has a strong impact on the people who visit.
2. The National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum is for history buffs and instagram enthusiasts alike. Here you can learn more about the ancient history of Cambodia and the empires that came before it. The exhibit primarily contains statues, but also a small selection of paintings.
Perhaps one of the best parts the museum is the grounds itself. The ancient artwork is housed in building trimmed with traditional designs. The beauty of the building and gardens makes snapping a photo fun and easy.
3. French Cuisine
Cambodia was previously a part of the French Colonial Empire. It was during the era of European colonization that France's influence expanded throughout the region and in particular Phnom Penh. French architecture can still be seen throughout the city and the local French restaurants are frequently visited by French expatriates helping reinforce the authenticity of the food.
When I visited I tried Khéma. There are two Khéma restaurants in the city - Khéma Pasteur and Khéma La Poste. Both provide high quality and affordable French cuisine. The main difference between the two is that Khéma Pasteur retains a more vibrant and busy atmosphere.
During my dining experience I tried the steak frites with fries. The combo is only $9 US dollars.
4. National Palace
Most people have seen pictures of the Thai palaces in Bangkok, but travelers around the world are still discovering the beauty of the royal palaces in Phnom Penh. The architecture is similar to that of Thailand, but features its own unique elements as well.
On the grounds you'll also be able to see the influence of French colonialism on the local elites. This is perhaps best exemplified in a statue of King Norodom majestically riding a horse in a way that closely parallels portraits of Napoleon.
There are many choices to pick from when exploring the nightlife in Phnom Penh.
For those searching for a high-class environment the recommended destination is The Elephant Bar at Raffles Hotel. In 1967 First Lady Jackie Kennedy visited Cambodia after receiving an invitation by King Sihanouk. In her honor the hotel (previously under a different name) created a new drink called femme fatale. The bar is as classy as it is full of history.
Chinese investment has also helped change the nightlife in the city. Every year more Chinese are traveling to Cambodia for tourism. This trend has helped develop a growing demand for casinos. The most popular casino in the city is Nagaworld. While the casino tends to cater to Chinese customers, most of the staff speaks English and the games are almost all available in English. Expect for 90+ percent of the clientele to be from mainland China.
Throughout the city there are popular bar streets. Most tend to cater to Western (male) tourists, but locals can be spotted at some of the bars as well. Connecting with solo travelers and backpackers at one of the many hostels in the city is a good way to start the night for those looking for the traditional holiday experience.
Have a favorite place you recommend to visit? Let us know in the comments.
About the author:
Alexander graduated with his bachelor's degree in political science from Portland State University. He is currently pursuing his graduate degree in international relations at Peking University in Beijing, China.