Phnom Penh City – Sisowath Quay

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For many travellers, Phnom Penh, Cambodia isn’t the easiest city to adjust to. It’s hot, big, loud and frenetic. Markets spill out onto roads, people are everywhere and the city is in constant motion – making walking from place to place an intimidating experience. 

But look past the chaos and you’ll find a Southeast Asian city begging to be explored. 

Cambodia’s capital, once dubbed ‘Paris of the East,’ can prove somewhat irresistible to those who give it a chance. It’s not uncommon for travellers to linger after the main sights are ticked off. 

Those seduced into staying around for a while will find charming cafés, beautiful French-colonial architecture, tree-lined boulevards, and, when the sun goes down, buzzing bars and pumping clubs!

Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Backpacking Guide 

Phnom Penh Map and Resources

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Best Time to Visit Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The best time to visit Phnom Penh city is November-April. This is the dry season, meaning relatively cool temperatures and clear skies. Towards the end of this period, temperatures start to rise in the run-up to the rainy season. 

Even in monsoon season, it rarely rains all day. The rains are predictable, although heavy, usually falling for an hour or so in the afternoon. Visiting Southeast Asia in the rainy season means fewer tourists and lower prices. 

How Long to Spend in Phnom Penh 🗓️

Most travellers spend only a day or two in Phnom Penh, eager to see other parts of the country or as a quick stop before flying out of Phnom Penh International Airport – the largest airport in Cambodia. But this does the city a disservice. We recommend at least four to five days in Phnom Penh, so you can get to know it a little more intimately than those just passing through!

Where to Stay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Pick up an old copy of The Lonely Planet and it’ll tell you the majority of budget-friendly traveller digs are found around Boeng Kak Lake. But in 2008 the lake began to be filled in after a series of dubiously legal land sales. These days the lake is all but gone and the preferred accommodation options have moved to other parts of the city:

  • Doun Penh – Most budget-friendly accommodations in Phnom Penh are around the Doun Penh area, between Wat Phnom and The Royal Palace. Running adjacent to the Tonlé Sap River, this area offers a range of bars, restaurants, hostels, hotels and markets. Opt for accommodation with a rooftop bar if you’re overlooking the river – the views are incredible, especially at night! Also, be aware that Doun Penh is home to one of Phnom Penh’s larger red-light districts – you’ll know it when you walk through it. It’s as safe as the rest of the city but is obviously a little seedy. 
  • Boeng Keng Kang – Located just south of Doun Penh, Boeng Keng Kang offers a quieter but still centrally located stay. Popular with expats and digital nomads, you’ll find plenty of cafés, coworking spaces and cute places to eat or drink. 
  • Tonle Bassac – Surrounding Boeng Keng Kang on two sides (south and east) Tonle Bassac is the place to go for a more upmarket stay. Think five-star hotels and bougie complexes. 

👉 Read More: Where to Stay in Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom View – Phnom Penh
Doun Penh is a popular spot for first time visitors to the city!

Best Accommodation in Phnom Penh

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1. Mad Monkey Hostel Phnom Penh

The popular party hostel chain delivers once again with its exceptional Phnom Penh offering. The staff at Mad Monkey know how to show travellers a good time. The dorms are clean, colourful and cheap. The bar is busy, full of friendly faces, and the happy hour deals aren’t to be sniffed at. Mad Monkey is perfect for solo travellers and is always rated as the number-one party hostel in Phnom Penh! 

2. Eighty8 Backpackers Hostel

A popular choice with budget-conscious travellers, Eighty8 Backpackers Hostel offers a range of rooms at very reasonable prices! The pod room is a great choice for those wanting a bit more privacy than in a regular dorm. The attached bar and restaurant is a little pricey, but if you’re strapped for cash there are plenty of cheap eats nearby! 

3. Onederz Phnom Penh

With great views over the Tonlé Sap River from the rooftop bar and pool, Onederz Phnom Penh offers a great place for travellers to stay and enjoy the city. Rooms range from large dorms to private ensuites and are spread across two buildings – the Main Building and the Annex. The Annex is a couple of dollars cheaper per night and is set across the other side of the road. 

Onederz Rooftop Bar – Phnom Penh
The Onederz rooftop bar is an excellent place to chill in the evening!

“The Onederz Annex makes for a more peaceful stay than the main building! The staff are all super friendly and able to help with booking onward transport, arranging tours and ensuring you have the best time possible in Phnom Penh!”

Tim Ashdown, Writer at South East Asia Backpacker 

4. Sacred Lotus Vegan Café X Hostel 

Located near the Russian Market, just over a kilometre away from Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Sacred Lotus offers one of the few truly vegan menus in Phnom Penh. For those seeking to stay away from animal products, this café and hostel is the perfect place to pitch up during your stay in the city! With dorms and private rooms, there is an option for all budgets here! 

5. La Chronique Hotel

Another offering near the Russian Market, La Chronique Hotel offers opulence without the inflated price tag. Beautiful decor, high-class service and a fantastic restaurant make this the place if you’re looking for a luxurious stay in Phnom Penh! 

6. NagaWorld  

The Vegas-style casino resort hotel isn’t for everyone but if you’re looking for a five-star stay in Phnom Penh, this could be the spot for you. Much like Vegas hotels, NagaWorld has a lot of empty rooms, meaning you can sometimes pick one up for around $50USD per night! Keep your eyes peeled for special offers! 

Sadly, some of our favourite hostels and accommodation options in Phnom Penh have closed down over the years, this is our in-memoriam list:

  • Lovely Jubbly Villa
  • Billabong Hostel
  • Ampoule Modern Hostel
  • Feliz Hostel Café & Bar

Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

1. Visit The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek 😞

In an attempt to understand the Cambodia of today, every visitor to the kingdom should be aware of the recent history and the terrifying, four-year reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, in which one-third of Cambodia’s population was senselessly murdered.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek is the site of mass graves where thousands of victims, (men, women and children) were killed for absurd reasons.

Scraps of clothing and bits of bone can still be seen on the ground, bringing the events even closer, and sending shivers down your spine as you try to contemplate how on earth human beings could do such a thing to each other.

A Buddhist Stupa made of real human skulls has been erected at the site to commemorate the horrific loss. 

The site is located about 40 minutes south of the city. As the Killing Fields are one of the main attractions in PP, try to find some other travellers to split the cost of a tuk-tuk for the day and combine a trip here with a visit to the S-21 Museum. It will cost around $20USD for the day (not including entrance fees). Your accommodation may also arrange group hire. 

2. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) ⛓️

Once a high school, the site was converted into a prison from 1975-1979 during the Khmer Rouge period. It housed so-called ‘enemies of the state’ and their families, including babies not even old enough to talk.

An estimated 17,000 prisoners were kept here under dire conditions, many tortured before being senselessly murdered and thrown in one of the mass graves such as Choeung Ek. Thousands of victims stare out of the black and white photographs around the site – each a story of stolen life and unthinkable anguish.

First, they Killed My Father is an incredible memoir written by Loung Ung, who was just a child during the reign of terror. Her story is an honest and heartbreaking account of the horror endured by herself and her family and a must-read for those interested in finding out more about Cambodia’s recent history. Luong’s memoir was brought to life in the Khmer language film of the same name, written by Luong herself alongside Angeline Jolie. 

3. The Royal Palace 🛕

Built in 1886, the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and Temple of the Emerald Buddha are a must-visit sight in Phnom Penh. Situated on the Western Bank of the Tonlé Sap River, it’s an impressive example of Khmer design architecture.

The palace site has been used by Khmer Royalty since the fifteenth century and is now the current residence of King Sihamoni. The Palace Gardens offer a retreat from the frantic city streets.

4. The National Museum 🖼️

Delve into the ancient past of Cambodia and the golden era of Angkor at Cambodia’s Museum of History and Archaeology. At its height, the Khmer Empire stretched across Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, producing a huge amount of art and sculptures. The museum is full of ancient Khmer Art, Hindu sculptures, statues and engravings that tell the tale of this impressive empire.

5. Shop at Phnom Penh’s Markets 🛍️

I know, I know. You’re probably bored with hearing everyone tell you to visit the local markets in Southeast Asia – I got bored with it too – but in Phnom Penh, two markets are really worth a visit, even if they’re the last two you visit on your trip! 

  • Phnom Penh Central Market – Just a twenty-five-minute walk from The Royal Palace, Phnom Penh’s central market is something to behold. Located in an incredible art deco building, designed by French architect Jean Desbois, this massive market houses almost everything you could need. As with most local markets in Southeast Asia, it’s loud, smells funny, has questionable hygiene standards and is full of boundless energy. If you’re shopping, remember to haggle!
  • Phnom Penh Russian Market – A great spot to grab a bargain or a good meal, the Russian Market is about 15 minutes by tuk-tuk from the Central Market. Described as a true local market, you can find some fantastic Khmer food and drink at the Russian Market. But that’s not all, around the outside of the market are a bunch of factory outlet stores (known as export stores in Cambodia), selling genuine seconds of some of your favourite brands. Many large international clothing companies have factories in Phnom Penh and when something has a small discrepancy or imperfection, it can’t be sold abroad so it goes to these shops. While more expensive than the stuff in the market itself, these export shops sell genuine branded clothing for a fraction of the price you’ll pay at home!

6. Climb Phnom Penh’s Tallest Hill ⛰️

Wat Phnom is often touted as Phnom Penh’s highest natural hill. Towering a ferocious 27 metres above the surrounding road, it’s barely high enough to see over the trees… However, the Wat Phnom complex houses a poorly kept secret – Great and Wreathed Hornbills have taken up residence in the park. This is in part due to easy access to food – they’re often fed by well-meaning individuals and also eat whatever tourists leave behind – and in part because it’s a green space left in an ever-expanding city. 

Hornbill – Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh
Wreathed Hornbills are right at home around Wat Phnom!

The temple itself is pretty enough but gets busy at weekends and during the holidays. It’s common for locals to come here asking for good luck in their upcoming trials – usually exams or other important life events. 

If you feel the need to restore some good karma, there is a morally questionable way to do it at Wat Phnom. For just a dollar, you can be responsible for saving a small bird from its overcrowded cage. You’ll be handed the bird, which you can then release in front of the temple (and in front of a camera of course 📸) and let the good karma flow your way. 

The Ethics of Birds In Cages 🐥

Another way to look at this practice is that for just a dollar, you’ll be responsible for continuing the cycle which means these small birds are crammed into cages in the first place. If you’ve ever been on Bangkok’s MRT during rush hour, you’ll know how this feels…

7. Ta Phrom and Tonle Bati 🛖

Ta Phrom, located around 30km from Phnom Penh is one of the best ancient Cambodian temples outside of Angkor. Tonle Bati is the name of the small lake close by, which is a popular weekend spot for locals and tourists who make the effort to trek out here. Bamboo huts line the lake where locals eat picnics and enjoy the quiet scene away from the city smoke.

8. Walk Along Sisowath Quay After Dark 🚶

Phnom Penh comes alive when the sun goes down. It’s amazing the difference a few hours makes to the city’s streets and waterfront. Walk along the river in the afternoon and you’ll be the only person braving the fearsome heat. But make the same journey in the evening and the area is alive with locals playing games, exercising, chatting with friends and generally having a great time. It’s a wonderful place to wander and experience local life. 

Phnom Penh at night riverside
As the sun goes down, the riverside starts to come to life!

9. Shoot an AK-47 🔫

Fancy the adrenalin rush of firing a real machine gun? In Cambodia, that can be a reality if you’re willing to pay for it. For some travellers, this feels like a weird thing to do but for others, it’s another reason to visit the country. You’ll find plenty of shooting ranges around Phnom Penh, just make sure you read the reviews, some appear much safer than others! 

Cow vs RPG?! 🐮

There are constant reports and rumours that you can shoot a cow with an RPG (or just a regular grenade if you fancy it) in Cambodia. Some travellers even say their tuk-tuk driver offered to take them to a place where livestock is the target… Reportedly, it’s not cheap, costing a few hundred dollars and I’m not entirely sure anyone would want to but don’t be surprised if you hear the story or get offered a chance. Just to be clear, we’re not suggesting this as an activity to seek out in Phnom Penh. We actively recommend avoiding it if you’re offered the chance, but we’d be remiss not to mention it.  

Food and Drink in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is home to a surprisingly vibrant food and drink scene. No matter what you’re looking for, Cambodia’s capital will wet your culinary whistle. From local street food to Western restaurants and fusion food, Phnom Penh has it all! 

If you’re looking for a unique night out, check out BattBong, one of Phnom Penh’s best speakeasies. Sure, it’s more expensive than most bars in town but it’s a memorable spot for a cocktail or two! Hidden down the alleyway opposite the corner of St 288 and St 51, you’ll walk straight past the door if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Think huge American fizzy drink brand and you’ll find it…

BatBong – Phnom Penh
Weird place for a Coca-Cola vending machine…

Happy Pizza in Phnom Penh 🥴🍕

You’ve surely heard whisperings of happy pizza in hostel dorms throughout Cambodia. Well, those rumours are true. Phnom Penh is one of the only cities I’ve ever visited where restaurants openly use illegal substances as pizza toppings. Find a restaurant, pick a pizza, decide how ‘happy’ you want it – aka how much weed you want on top – order your pizza and enjoy. It really is that simple. But be warned, cannabis is illegal in Cambodia with strict penalties for those caught consuming the drug. I have no idea how these restaurants don’t get shut down but they’ve been operating for over a decade with no signs of slowing! 

For a collection of great international and Khmer restaurants, as well as some lovely little bars, look no further than Bassac Street. This walking street (at least in theory) is the unofficial home to Phnom Penh’s food scene and offers something for everyone. Our favourite spots along Bassac Street are:

Bassac Street – Phnom Penh
Bassac Street has something for everyone!
  • Elia Greek Kitchen (Greek)
  • Mama Wong’s Dumpling & Noodle House (Chinese)
  • Little Wine Bistro (French wine bar with small food selection)
  • Namaste India (Indian)
  • Malis Restaurant (Khmer)
  • Turkish Kebab Alert (Turkish)

But there are plenty of other spots for great food in Phnom Penh too!

David’s Homemade Noodles serves authentic Khmer and Asian dishes, as well as a few western favourites but the real draw to David’s is the homemade noodles – the clue is in the name! Handmade, right in front of your eyes, the noodle dishes here are excellent and well-priced! 

David's Handmade Noodles – Phnom Penh
David’s noodles are bloody delicious!

With three locations in Phnom Penh, Backyard Café serves a range of freshly prepared Western meals, cakes and freshly pressed juices. Vegan and vegetarians are well catered for but prices are higher than in much of the city. 

The area around Wat Ounalom Monastery is chock-full of street vendors selling amazing Khmer cuisine for just a dollar or two a plate. Pick a stall, place your order, grab a tiny plastic chair and prepare for a taste experience! You’ll also find plenty of stalls selling fruit shakes and deserts around here too! 

Foreign Correspondents Club – A Phnom Penh Institution 📰 

The Foreign Correspondents Club used to be the go-to spot for travellers and expats in Phnom Penh. However, it was closed in 2019/2020 for refurbishments and as of 2024, has still not reopened! 

Getting Around Phnom Penh

Public transport around Phnom Penh is very limited. The best way to get around is via tuk-tuk, or if you’re brave enough, a moto taxi. We recommend sticking to tuk-tuks as they offer a little more protection. Bag snatching is uncommon but does happen in Phnom Penh. If you’re on a mototaxi, make sure your bag is well secured to you. If you’re in a tuk-tuk, keep your bag secure in the middle of the vehicle and make sure no straps are easy to grab from the street. 

“Don’t hold your phone too far out while traveling in a tuktuk.”

Chris Macmurdo, South East Asia Backpacker Community

Rather than just hire one off the street, stick to using PassApp or Grab, two of the best Uber alternatives in Cambodia

PassApp Tuk Tuk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
PassApp is the best way to get a tuk-tuk in Phnom Penh!

If you’re not travelling too far, you can walk around Phnom Penh but keep your wits about you. You’ll often be walking in the road, so will need to pay attention to the traffic! 

👉 Read More: How To Get From Phnom Penh Airport to the City 

How to Get to Phnom Penh

From Siem Reap:

Bus: Most travellers arrive in Phnom Penh from Siem Reap by bus. It’s a sixhour journey. Buses can be booked directly at your accommodation, with any travel agent in the city or online using or EasyBook. You’ll generally pay a little more when booking at your accommodation but this often includes pick up from the hotel or hostel! 

Speedboat: A six-hour speedboat journey down the Tonlé Sap River from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap is a hair-raising, exhilarating way to get to the capital. You’ll blast over the massive expanse of water glimpsing floating villages. This journey is dependent on the time of year. During the dry season, the waterways can get too low to allow the boat to safely pass. 

From Bangkok:

Bus: It’s possible to go directly to Phnom Penh from Bangkok. The journey takes 12-15 hours. You may have to swap buses at the border depending on the carrier. Travel agents and hostels in Bangkok can arrange this.

Fly: Low-cost airlines have some great deals at certain times of the year. Try low-cost airlines such as Air Asia or Bangkok Airways.

Where to Go Next:

Siem Reap: It’s home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and largest religious building in the world – Angkor Wat! But is also a buzzing city with great Khmer restaurants, markets and surprisingly vibrant nightlife.

Sihanoukville: A five-hour bus journey from Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville isn’t the traveller favourite it used to be. However, it is the gateway to the Cambodian islands of Koh Rong, Koh Rong Samloem and Koh Ta Kiev

Battambang: Four hours from Phnom Penh, the tree-lined streets and French colonial architecture of Battambang offer a relaxing escape from the hectic capital. Explore Cambodia’s rich history and astounding countryside on day trips from Battambang!


🙏 Staff at Onederz
🙏 Chris Macmurdo | South East Asia Facebook Community
🙏 Jerry McNally | Local NGO Expat

Tim Ashdown | Gear Specialist

After a life-changing motorcycle accident, Tim decided life was too short to stay cooped up in his home county of Norfolk, UK. Since then, he has travelled Southeast Asia, walked the Camino de Santiago and backpacked South America. His first book, From Paralysis to Santiago, chronicles his struggle to recover from the motorcycle accident and will be released later this year.

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