Phnom Penh Cambodia - 7 Top Attractions and Sights

An exquisite blend of French, Chinese and Khmer cultures, the city which has some very dark pages behind, Phnom Penh is thriving and turbulent; with leafy boulevards, imposing Buddhist temples, bustling local markets and picturesque riverfront. By some strange reason, guidebooks often give quite a misleading notion of the city, which makes travellers underrate Phnom Penh. Those who do include Phnom Penh into their travel itinerary, end up staying longer than planned unconditionally falling in love with the capital of Cambodia.

If you are after a traditional sightseeing experience, here are some ideas n what to include into your first date itinerary.

The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

(8.00am to 11.00am, 2.00pm to 5.00pm; entrance fee: US$10)

These two attractions sit side by side and should be visited by anyone with an interest in Cambodian history. The Royal Palace is a collection of buildings that still serve as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. It is a classic example of Khmer architecture, and the complex also contains beautifully landscaped gardens. The Silver Pagoda is so named for the 5,000 gleaming silver tiles that make up its floor. It is home to the Emerald Buddha and a fine collection of artwork and artefacts. Make sure to wear long clothes as otherwise you will be denied entry (knees and elbows covered).

National Museum of Cambodia

(8.00am to 5.00pm, last admission 4.30pm; entrance fee: US$5)

The National Museum houses over 14,000 items from prehistoric times to present, including an impressive collection of Khmer sculptures. The building itself is also an exquisite example of Khmer architecture, complete with a beautifully manicured courtyard garden. Guests should allow themselves at least 1 hour for the visit.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

(7.00am to 5.30pm; entrance fee: US$6 incl. audio tour)

Tuol Sleng is a museum that chronicles the events that occurred in Phnom Penh during the Cambodian Genocide. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot, took over a high school in Phnom Penh and turned it into a secret prison known as S-21. It was to be the largest of many detention centres around the country, with thousands of Cambodians entering the prison, where they were interrogated, detained, and tortured. S-21 is now the Tuol Sleng Museum, which serves as a reminder of the crimes that occurred here between 1975 and 1978. Whilst it is a deeply depressing experience, it is a crucial one, and the audio guide is extremely informative and moving.

Choeung Ek Genocidal Center

(8.00am to 5.00pm; entrance fee: US$6 incl. audio tour)

Between 1975 and 1978, around 17,000 of the detainees at S-21 were taken to the killing fields of Choeung Ek, where they were brutally murdered and buried in mass graves. The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center is now a peaceful place, where visitors can come to learn about and remember the atrocities that took place here. The audio guide is recommended, as it is very informative and includes many true accounts from eyewitnesses and survivors.

Wat Phnom

(8.00am to 6.00pm; ntrance fee: US$1)

This Buddhist temple is located on the only hill in the city, and is supposedly the namesake of the capital. For many years, people have been visiting Wat Phnom to pray for good luck and success in business or school. Highlights of the visit include a gigantic flower clock and an exquisite shrine dedicated to the genie Preah Chau, who is held in high esteem by the Vietnamese, and is thought to provide protection from enemies.

Phsar Thmei (Central Market)

(7.00am to 6.00am)

This Art Deco designed building is a central landmark in Phnom Penh. The main hall is home to stalls selling jewellery, spectacles and watches, whilst the wings house electronics, clothing, household items, and fresh produce. Around the edge of the market there are also a number of cheap food stalls selling a variety of local delicacies.

Olympic Stadium

(6.00am to 10.00pm; entrance fee: free)

The Olympic Stadium is an excellent example of 1960’s ‘New Khmer’ architecture. It includes facilities for a variety of sports and a running track. After 5pm, come along to watch football matches, pétanque duels and badminton games. It’s also a great spot for taking part in some sunrise or sunset musical aerobics!