7 things to do in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, is a city that, contrary to what we think, invites us to discover it. In it we can find details of its French colonial past, details of the country’s spirituality with incredible temples and as unfortunately in the rest of the country, macabre details of its most recent history during the reign of terror of Khemeres Rojos.

All this makes it an ideal city to spend a few days in it, enjoying everything previously mentioned and more. If this appeals to you, below are seven things to do in Phnom Penh:

things to do in Phnom Penh

Admire the French colonial architecture

Although not as widespread as Hanoi or Saigon for example, Phnom Penh was entitled to its share of colonial buildings. The greatest concentration can be found in the city centre, in the streets surrounding the Royal Palace as well as close to the river’s edge. Built during the French domination, most of these buildings are obsolete, but some have been transformed into hotels or offices. There are beautiful examples at the main post office, at the UNESCO office right in front of the Royal Palace, and at the Raffles Le Royal, probably the best hotel in Phnom Penh.

Know the history of the prison S-21 Tuol Sleng

Great horror was experienced in this place, as more than twenty thousand people were tortured and killed. Therefore, the visit is almost mandatory to know the darkest time of Cambodia through images, rooms, and testimonies of survivors.

With the fall of the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh by the Vietnamese army, many of the last prisoners were executed, making for the survival of only 12 people. The testimonies of these survivors were also key to the subsequent trial against the leaders of the genocidal government.

The Museum was founded then, originally a school, conserving a large part of its spaces, such as the individual cells where the prisoners were confined with hardly any space to lie down, or the torture rooms where most of them died after confessing crimes that had not even been committed. These confessions were made only to get rid of the suffering their executioners caused them.

things to do in Phnom Penh

Discover the horrors of the Choeung Ek killing fields

Another place that reminds us of Cambodia’s recent history is Choeung Ek killing fields, a monument created to remember the victims of the genocide who lost their lives there at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Almost nine thousand bodies were found in this place, in common graves that the prisoners themselves dug.

Most of the bodies that were found here passed through the Tuol Sleng prison, suffering all kinds of torture to finally be executed in the killing fields.

It is not a pleasant visit like that of the prison, with the excavations of the mass graves, skulls classified by age and sex, simply to think of the horror that was lived in these extermination camps can hurt the sensibility of many people, but we can get an idea of what Cambodia suffered during those 4 years of the regime.

Tours to the killing fields are also supported by the local community to educate visitors and to show respect towards the victims.

Take a walk along the river along Preah Sisowath Avenue

Preah Sisowath or Riverside Avenue is an area where more local people gather, strolling, playing with children or simply resting on the banks of the Tonle Sap River. It is a perfect area to get out of the traffic chaos that exists in Phnom Penh and be able to relax after a day of visiting the city.

things to do in Phnom Penh

Taste Cambodian food

As in all of Southeast Asia, gastronomy is one of the attractions of Cambodia. Variety, spices, spicy and a lot of flavours. Always highlight the noodles, soups, and rice, but there are two dishes that you cannot stop trying.

On the one hand is the amok, a dish based on curry, coconut milk, and ginger, with a variety of leaves. You will see different types of amok, although chicken, fish or tofu are the most consumed.

The other typical dish is the lok lak, a whole dish based on veal or chicken marinated and cut into small pieces, rice and sometimes accompanied by fried eggs. A dish that despite being very basic, is very tasty.

Make purchases in the central market

This market which was built in 1937 is in itself a monument, with a huge dome under which you will find a large number of stalls and from which emerge several corridors where other stalls of all kinds are concentrated. Clothing, souvenirs, electronics, and crafts are all you can find in the central market of Phnom Penh, also called the Great Market.

things to do in Phnom Penh

Spend half a day cycling away from traffic jams

Renting a bike or even a scooter in town is at your own risk. As a result, you can find agencies willing to give you bikes for a day or half a day in the countryside. You can cycle through the Mekong Islands just north of Phnom Penh. The shortest distance is about 25 km on flat and empty tracks. You can as well discuss with the locals and learn more about their life here, between orchards, vegetable gardens, etc.

In conclusion, Phnom Penh is an excellent city, to say the least. The enchanting sounds and smells would surely remind you that you are in Southeast Asia. Also, Phnom Penh contains a mix of genres and cultures that give the Khmer capital its charm as highlighted above.

things to do in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is full of different adventures around every corner, no matter what your interests there are plenty of things to do. Do you have a favourite thing you like to do that I’ve missed? let me know in the comments you must do thing whilst in Phnom Penh.