If you’re planning to visit the capital city of Cambodia, I made a list of things that you can do and the good news is, if you’re like me, I love to do them for free or at least not on the expensive side.
I spent 8 days to stay in the city and I could say if you don’t plan your activities well, it can be boring and uninteresting.
Phnom Penh is a city most people would either love or hate. Some don’t even consider staying and would rather spend their trips in Siem Reap where the famous Angkor Wat is located.
But I think there’s more than this city can offer and underrated things to be discovered. So I took a mission to experience it myself. I have listed here the top things to do and other free or inexpensive activities you can try while staying in the capital.
Whether you have 24 hours or a week in the city, I’m sure you’ll never run out of activities to dive into.
Phnom Penh is a developing capital I consider in between a bustling big city and a quiet and peaceful countryside. It is not too busy and chaotic like its neighbors Bangkok and Saigon.
I find it a good place to relax though it was not more on the green nature side, just sitting on an open-air sky bar, drinking $1 Angkor beer while overlooking the riverside was quite like a spa I needed to unwind from a hectic life in big cities.
If you want to know where I stayed and where to find the best hotels or hostels in Phnom Penh, I will make a separate post on that. Don’t forget to sign-up for my newsletter to get updated.
Anyway, let’s get right into the things that you can do in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.
Top Things To Do
1. Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
This is the most popular and most visited tourist attraction in Phnom Penh. The palace serves as the King’s official residence and the symbol of the kingdom of Cambodia. Sitting at the south side of the palace is the Silver Pagoda named for its gleaming silver floor.
Tip: Outside the palace, there are so many tuk-tuk drivers who will offer you a ride and I find it pretty annoying. If you don’t want to be bothered, don’t look at them and don’t show any interest. Practice the art of saying ‘no’ and it’s definitely okay to just ignore them.
2. National Museum Of Cambodia
Just next to the Royal Palace is the largest and most significant historical and archeological museum in Cambodia. The museum is open daily from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM and costs $10 (ages from 18 years old up) and $5 (age from 10 to 17 years old).
Visit their website for more information.
3. Wat Phnom
Wat means temple or pagoda and Phnom means Hill or Temple on the Hill. This is the tallest religious structure in the capital. You need to pay $1 to get inside. Don’t forget to do some stretching before heading there as you will do a lot of hill hiking.
4. Independence Monument
Once you arrive in Phnom Penh, you will probably see this monument easily. It stands in an intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevard. Built as a symbol of Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. The classical architecture is inspired by the Khmer temples.
5. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 prison)
To better understand the bloody history of the city, a visit to this prison turned into a museum is a must. Entrance fee is at $5 without audio and $8 if you want an audio guide.
6. Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (Killing Fields)
This was the most depressing and heartbreaking experience I ever had on a tour and I know not everyone is into it. I still even have nightmares and just thinking about how cruel people could be. Take time to understand the importance of this place and you’ll be humbled to know the resiliency and strength of the Cambodians. The entrance is at $6 which includes an audio tour that you can go at your own pace.
7. River Cruise
End your night with a positive feeling and just jump right into the present. The past can be haunting but if you look around the city, there’s an optimistic vibe and what better way to indulge yourself than a cruise of the great Mekong and Tonle Sap. Two rivers that symbolize hope and a vibrant future that lies ahead. There are a variety of options to choose from depending on your preference. Some include a dinner buffet and onboard entertainment.
8. Phnom Penh Night Market
A one-stop shop for shopping, food, and live entertainment. In front of the market are shopping stalls. Remember to bargain as they normally sell it at a higher price. At the back are food stalls where you can either get yourself into some tables and chairs or one of my favorite things to do here is to buy a coconut ice cream and join the locals and foreigners sitting on floor mats like you’re having a picnic at night.
9. Khmer Food Tour
Phnom Penh’s food scene is not as popular as in Bangkok. And I find a lot of similarities between Thai and Cambodian cuisines. But that doesn’t mean there’s not much to enjoy about Cambodian food. You might be surprised at how varied it can be.
Other Free and Cheap Things To Do In Phnom Penh
Most of the activities I have here are either free or won’t hurt your pockets. I arranged them according to the area they’re located so it’s easy for you to plan.
The Riverside & Makara Area
10. Stroll the Riverside
A good way to start or end your day in the city is to take a walk at the riverside. This became my everyday routine while I was in Phnom Penh since my hostel was located right in front of it.
11. Join Zumba or Aerobics Dance at Sisowath Quay
When the sun starts to set, you’ll find a group or two along the riverside dancing to some local tunes or hip American hits. After a lot of eating and gulp of beers, why not shred some pounds by joining a free Zumba by the river.
12. Buy Anything at the Central Market
This huge local market can be overwhelming as it houses almost anything from clothes, everyday household items to fresh produce like meats and fruits. This place is always busy with locals and foreigners alike. If you like inexpensive shopping, this place is for you. As a rule of thumb in Southeast Asian markets, always bargain.
13. See the Monks in the Morning and Offer Alms
Monks are a common sight in the city. Every early morning, they would go around and collect alms for their one-day meal. If you’re unsure what to give you can ask the locals. Normally food like fresh fruits or rice delicacies. Don’t just buy anything on the street.
14. Wat Ounalom
This Temple is considered the most important Wat or temple in Phnom Penh and the center of Buddhist teaching. Entry to this temple is free. However, I suggest you go there in the late afternoon around 4:00 or 5:00 pm as the crowd is not that much. I was able to take some good photos of the temple well-lit by the sunset at the backdrop.
Tip: The moment you get inside the temple there will be some guys who will ask you where you are from and will try to be friendly to offer you tours outside the temple. Don’t be bothered and just say ‘no’. One guy even told me the temple is closed and he can show me alternative attractions in the city. Definitely a no-no for me. So be careful and refuse politely.
15. Self-guided Khmer Architecture Walking Tour
If you want to appreciate the Khmer architecture, you can do so by yourself instead of buying a tour. In my experience, it was pretty safe. Check their website to download the free map here.
16. Nerd Night Phnom Penh
Though I wasn’t able to do this in Phnom Penh because there wasn’t any event at that time. However, back in Saigon, I used to attend the same event. Basically, it’s a rapid-fire public speaking of any topic from their speakers. You’ll learn so much from this. Do check out their facebook page for the updated dates of events.
17. Love Cats? Pay a Visit with our Furry Friends
Just a walk from where I was staying in Phnom Penh, I discovered this cute cafe called CHHMA Catfe. I was greeted by a very cute fluffy babe. Entry to the cafe is $1.25 not including the drinks. The cats are well taken cared of and the place is very clean and tidy. Check their facebook page here to know more.
18. Clean Up the City or Teach English or Any Language to Street Children
I haven’t seen so many less-fortunate street children than in Phnom Penh. Some of them are homeless and some have to give up going to school to help their parents sell stuff to tourists. While it can be heartbreaking of a scene, nevertheless you can be of service by at least teaching them something like English. It’s fun and rewarding at the same time. The children’s genuine smiles are priceless.
19. Try their National Dish Fish Amok at Frizz Restaurant
If there’s one food you shouldn’t miss in Cambodia, that’s fish amok. It’s a classic Khmer dish made from curry and usually served in banana leaf topped with coconut cream. One of the best restaurants to try this savory food is at Frizz Restaurant. Absolutely delicious.
20. Drink Angkor Beer during Happy Hours
Just along the riverside, you’ll find bars and restaurants mushrooming the area. Enjoy a bottle of Angkor beer for just $0.75 and some classic Khmer music late afternoon.
BKK or Boeng Keng Kang Area
21. Meditation Class at Wat Langka
One of the best things I did in Phnom Penh was the meditation session at Wat Langka. They have free classes every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday from 6:00 to 7:00 pm and Sunday from 8:30 to 9:30 am.
Tip: Like in any other temple, make sure to wear proper clothes covering your knees and shoulders. Also, don’t forget to remove your shoes before entering the temple. This is a sacred place where locals come and pray.
22. Free Khmer (Cambodian Language) Class
I’ve been meaning to learn the basic greetings and counting numbers in Cambodian language, so I joined a free Khmer class at Eleven One Kitchen BKK with a group of tourists, locals, and expats. It was an amazing experience. I didn’t only learn but met very nice people.
If you have time, this should be on your list. Check out their facebook page to get updates. Julian, the host of the study group was very friendly and accommodating.
23. Clothing Swap at Eleven One Kitchen Bkk
Right at the same place you can bring your old clothes and swap them with another. You might find some good stuff here.
24. Farmer’s Market Farm To Table
Fancy yourself with locally grown produce and artisan made food products at Mindful Market. They have different activities on every event such as tasting classes, eco workshops, live music, cocktails and a lot more. Check their facebook page to get updates.
25. Watch a Documentary Film at Meta House
Meta House is Phnom Penh’s German-Cambodian Cultural Center. Admission for screenings is free. They have international films and Khmer movies with subtitle. Check out their website for detailed event listings.
Toul Tom Poung Area
26. Movie Marathon at The Flicks
With just $3.50 per day, you can enjoy blockbuster movies, interesting documentaries, foreign and film festival films on the big screen. The place is comfy and fully air-conditioned. They also provide cold drinks and a variety of food options and of course popcorns! Check out their website for the updated list of movies they are showing.
27. Taste the Best Khmer Coffee
Wondering how the best Khmer Iced Coffee in Phnom Penh tastes like? Well, you have to try it yourself. Inside the huge Russian Market is a humble coffee stall with hanging notes of thanks and appreciation from the tourist who have come and tried the much-talked-about coffee. The place is nothing special but I guess the story behind it and a long history of this man selling this coffee are more than any fancy coffee shops can offer. I got a chance to take a photo of the owner himself.
28. Buy your souvenirs at Toul Tom Phoung Market
Also known as the Russian Market, this huge place sells almost anything. Although flocked by many tourists, I find it less stressful to haggle and bustle here and buy your souvenirs as the sellers are friendlier than the other markets I’ve been to.
To sum it up…
I never thought I would be able to do so many things in just eight days of my stay in Phnom Penh.
There are just so many activities that you can discover if you allow yourself to be open-minded and just embrace what the place can offer.
If you are planning to visit this city, try out some of the things I listed here. You won’t regret it, I’m sure. Or if you have been to Phnom Penh what are your favorite things to do? Share your experiences down below.
Don’t forget to share this with your friends. As always, happy travels!