When it comes to local attractions, Phnom Penh is rather special. Unlike other cities in Asia, you can easily find here two very types of places of interests and/or activities you can get involved in.
The first category relates to what could be called mainstream places: you’ll find them after researching the internet for 10 seconds. Even so, just because they are important, it doesn’t mean they are aggressively modified by the presence of tourists. On the contrary, most of them rather exude an air of peaceful serenity, instead of crowded places loaded with noisy sightseers and flashy cameras.
The second one, however, includes spots few know of when they first come to visit the city. And it’s precisely this set of places that make Phnom Penh special and set it apart from any other city in the vicinity. So here they are, from the most imposing building to the most exotic boat.
Places You Shouldn’t Miss in Phnom Penh
- Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda – This is definitely a must-see. You don’t have to be an expert in architecture, nor do you need to be well immersed in the history of the country to remain completely astonished at the sight of this establishment. What’s striking with this place is the sense of intimacy you have each and every time you visit it.
- Tuol Sleng Museum – Don’t go there if you have a weak heart. Many recommend it, but few actually saw it. It’s a museum showing proof of the genocide that took place in the country between 1975 and 1979, under the Khmer Rouge party.
- National Museum – This is better. Many artifacts here date back from the times of the Khmer Empire. You can find out interesting things about Angkor, see, and even touch rare exhibits. This is a good place to start learning about Cambodia.
- Independence Monument – It’s easily accessible (downtown PP) and it does have a special architecture, but… that’s just about all.
Sites You Should Visit
- Choeung Ek – It’s a place of death and sorrow. Not recommend if you’re travelling with your kids, even if, historically, it’s of utmost importance.
- Mekong Island – A joyful trip to the Mekong Island will give you two concurrent opportunities: experience the local way of life and admire the town from the river.
- Wat Ounalom – This old Buddhist monastery is the heart of Cambodian spiritual life. Don’t expect exotic settings; you will be overwhelmed by tranquility and soon oversee the architectural details of this wat.
…and Things You Should Do
- Visit Wat Phnom – The legends around this wat are too complex to understand during one simple visit. But it’s not just the koki tree legend; it’s the entire atmosphere that makes tourists come back here to pray.
- Blazing trails – Rent a quad motorbike (~$20) to see the outskirts of the city yourself. It’s simple, fast, and you can have a very authentic experience seeing more in less time.
- Street 154 – Aka Hairdressers’ street. Imagine an entire street filled with hairdressers. You should try this; it’s not expensive at all, it’s fast, and it can be extremely funny. They’re actually very talkative, and some of them speak a bit of English.
- Take a Cruise on Tonlé Sap River – It gives you a wholly different perspective on the city.