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Top Things to Do in Phnom Penh: A walking guide to exploring the city (Pt 1)

Phnom Penh city

Top Things to Do in Phnom Penh | A walking guide to exploring the city

Phnom Penh is now one of my favored cities, but I still couldn’t tell you exactly why…

There’s many things to do in Phnom Penh.  The city is bustling with activity which waxes and wanes. Drive into Phnom Penh’s city center and you’ll find the scene is bustling, occupied by a wealth of apartment buildings, shops, restaurants and zipping motorbikes.  The heart of the center stands like a French Colonial Chinatown, whose pageantry days are slowly closing in. Buildings are faded with age- but not crumbling- and if you look up, you’ll find an engaging view of apartment balconies accentuated by a clutter of telephone wires, which ensure capable connections.

While Phnom Penh’s style isn’t as advanced as a first world country, it’s surprisingly well-kept, politely cared for and orderly. A youthful agility occasionally springs up through the streets and a slowly budding modernity and nouveau riche chic flows out to its riverside.

You  can see Phnom Penh on foot

Although it’s much cheaper, easier and quicker to hire a motodop for ($1-$2/ride), it can be worthwhile to stroll the city on foot.  Phnom Penh has a hidden style, interesting neighborhoods and disarming life stashed away in its streets. You’ll find yourself stumbling upon some surprising gems when you take to the pavement.

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Top Things to Do in Phnom Penh on foot

1. Independence Monument (& BKK1 aka ‘Foreigner’ area)

Where Sihanouk Blvd meets Norodo Blvd, you’ll find Independence Monument, a 1962 landmark honoring Cambodia’s Independence. Designed by Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, it’s a picturesque monument encased by a fountain. It sits beautifully at the end of a long grassy promenade and  its worth a snap or two in passing or upon a romantic stroll.

Had I not gotten there on foot however, I would never have discovered the gem of a neighborhood southeast of the monument,  known as BKK1 or the  ‘foreigner’ (international) district. It styles restaurants, cafes, boutique shops, hotels, embassies and expat apartments. (map here) I had to rest my tired tootsies and kicked back in a trendy lounge cafe for a bit of AC and homemade cookies. Sipping on my iced coffee, while listening to lounge music and observing the stylish decor, I felt like I was in Paris, Seoul and New York City. Hard to believe it was really Phnom Penh!

Location:  Independence Monument: Sihanouk Blvd meets Norodo Blvd
BKK1 or the ‘foreigner’ district: Streets to stroll are 278 & 282  (running south and parallel to Sihanouk Blvd)

 

independent monument phnom penh

Independence monument  (map here)    

 

2.  Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda  (& Street 240)

From the outside, you can’t miss it. It’s pretty impressive. The Royal Palace (and Silver Pagoda) is a stunning complex of Buddhist temples and buildings, which made up the grand palace of the ex-King of Cambodia. Dress Code: No exposed legs (shorts or short skirts) or bare shoulders. If you are unable to provide appropriate clothing, you can rent a sarong at the entrance

Street 240 (map here) (behind the Royal Palace) is said to provide the best *boutique shopping* from art, Cambodian silk, souvenirs, furniture and fashion.

Location: Entrance on Sothearos Blvd,  Hours: Daily 7:30AM-11AM & 2:30PM-5PM, Admission: $3.00, +$2.00 camera or +$5.00 video camera.
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Phnom Penh royal palace

The grounds of the Royal palace       (Below) Exhibitionskhmer greeting  royal palace phnom penh   (Above) Complex of the Royal Palace houses many buildings and temples.  (Below) Outdoor public  park outside the palace walls.phnom penh royal palace  

 

3.  National Museum ( & ‘Art Street’ )

The National Museum of Cambodia neighbors the Royal Palace and stores over 5,000 historical artifacts from the Angkorian era.

I didn’t go into the museum because artifacts aren’t always my thing; instead, I found myself exploring Phnom Penh’s hip creative edge on ‘Art Street‘ (aka  Street 178 ), where I could take local designer dress shops and cool contemporary art galleries showcasing the funky works of local artists. Hungry from sightseeing, I ducked into one of the trendy restaurants on this street to treat myself to french music and dining elegance. I was delighted to find my dinner bill came out to roughly $5.

Location: The entrance is on Street 13 (closer to Street 178) facing the river. Near the Royal Palace, Hours: 8A-5P daily, Admission:$3
Website: http://cambodiamuseum.info

 

national museum phnom pehn

(Above) National Museum of Cambodia,  Phnom Penh

4.  River walk (aka ‘Pub street’)

If you’re not staying at Boeng Kak Lake or in the heart of downtown’s city center, then a likely spot for tourists and travelers to stay is Sisowath Quay. The river walk is nicknamed ‘Pub Street‘ for obvious reasons; this riverfront location offers a glowing nightlife of  its own. Locals and tourists stroll the riverfront boulevard, where occasional street performances setup a show or one can cross the street to duck into one of the many international restaurants and pubs, nightclubs and tourist hotels. Location: Sisowath Quay Boulevard (Between Streets 154 -118), From Riverside Suites Phnom Penh on St. 144 , the Night market is a 5-8 minute stroll.

 

riverside phnom penh

riverside phnom penh

 

5.  Night market (Psar Reatray)

Sisowath Quay, and Street  108 (map here)  Just north of the river walk, you’ll find the night market. The market attracts both locals and tourists, with food vendors, rows of tented clothing shops, raffle/lottery games and live performances.  Location:  Night Market: Sisowath Quay, and Street  108  (map here) , Open:Weekends, Hours: 5PM -9 or 10PM.

A couple streets down near the neighboring Old Market , the low-lit streets are abuzz with food hawkers as if it’s one long BBQ street cookout. It’s your chance to explore Khmer street food as locals zip up on motorbikes to order their dinner like a drive-through takeout. Location: Old Market (Streets 108-110/between Streets 13-15)

nightmarket phnom penh

Phnom Penh night markets

Phnom Penh night markets   night market streets phnom penh  night market streets phnom penh

 

6.  Central Market  ( Phsar Thmei)

Central Market is perhaps the largest traditional market in Phnom Penh, housing everything from fashion, jewelry to food and various other souvenir shopping (if you’d like to get your nails glammed ‘local style’, you can find salon stalls here). This market is for the serious bargain and souvenir shopper.  The Art Deco style architecture stands out amongst surrounding buildings. It’s a 5 minute walk from Sorya Shopping Mall.  Location: Where Charles De Gaulle, Kampuchea Krom, Street 130 all intersect.

Phnom Penh central market

CentralMarket

 

7.  Sorya Shopping Mall

Sorya is the largest modern westernized shopping mall in Phnom Penh with 8 floors of shopping and fast-food restaurants. If you want to stock up on your favorite snacks, bottles of water or you miss good ole western foods and products, Lucky Supermarket is a large western chained grocery store housed on the first floor. I found a yogurt cafe on the first floor also, which came to be my daily dessert haven. Location: Street 63 and 142, Hours: 8A-9P

Travel tip: Don’t leave your motorbike with the moto parking people as they are said to steal helmets and accessories.

 

Phnom Penh mall

Sorya Mall  

8.  Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Security Prison 21 aka S21)

If there’s one must-see in Phnom Penh, it’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum aka S21.   Cambodia’s history doesn’t get anymore hard hitting than this .If you want to have a greater understanding for Cambodian people, the tragic past they’ve emerged from, this is the museum to visit.  It’s a little graphic at times, but it’s real, eerie and just plain heartbreaking. Read my experience here.

Location:  Corner of Street 113 & Street 350 , Open: Daily, Hours: 8AM-5PM – Closed for lunch), Admission: $2.00

s21 genocide

S21  
s21 camp        

 

9.  The Killing Fields (aka Choeung Ek Memorial)

Now this site isn’t walkable but I listed it, because it’s a popular location you’ll want to visit. You’ll need to hire a taxi or a tour bus service.   Skulls, some grassy burial mounds, a small museum and a few artifacts make up this historical location, where the Khmer Rouge brought people to get executed. After S21, the Killing Fields (aka Choeung Ek Memorial) may not seem as gruesome; nevertheless, its an important part of Cambodia’s history.

killing fields
killing fields
killing fields

 

Accommodations in Phnom Penh

Capitol One Guesthouse

At first Capitol One Guesthouse  looks like a YMCA building in the city center of  Phnom Penh. It’s walking distance from the mall, S21, a lot. It’s a little lackluster and basic.  I got a clean room with bathroom ensuite for $5. I didn’t want to leave and considered staying in Phnom Penh longer just to stay there and rest from my travels for a few weeks.  Walls are a little thin so you can hear people if they’re making a ruckus, but if you were a traveler wanting to hunker down for a bit, this would be the perfect place. Capitol Guesthouse also runs a restaurant, tour agency and bus service downstairs- perfect if you’re looking to fill your itinerary.  Read my review here

Information

Thanks to Canby Publications free magazine for their maps and information. I  discovered these well-known streets upon accident and if I hadn’t stumbled upon their maps later, those discoveries wouldn’t have had a meaning or context.

More info on places to visit in Phnom Penh (click here)

 

What top things to do in Phnom Penh would you recommend?

Next Part Two>> Phnom Penh: What does a street say about its people?

20 Comments

  1. I’ve yet to make my way to Sorya Shopping Mall, but it’s moving closer to the top of my ‘Weekend Exploration’ list after the yogurt comment!
    Definitely adore the stories about the public’s reactions to the escalators when it first opened.
    You’ve done such a great job of documenting things to do in Phnom Penh, Grrrl Traveler! Perfect for backpackers and expat-ers alike. 🙂

  2. Prince Oliver Store says:

    Amazing pictures Christine, wish we could travel over there sometime!!! Greetings from Athens!!!

  3. Jarmo says:

    Great guide to Phnom Penh, I wish I’d find something like this when I was there last year 🙂 I only had few days there, so I just went mostly to the killing fields and S21, thou the pub street was also pretty good

    • @Jarmo: The killing fields and S21 are kinda what I feel are PP’s main jewels, and that sets the history in perspective, so it’s great you got to see them! Maybe you can take a walking tour the next time! =-)

  4. Waegook Tom says:

    Great tips! I’d never really imagined Phnom Penh to be a walkable city, but you’ve gone and proved me wrong! I love just wandering and stumbling across the unexpected. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • @Tom: Thanks and I agree. Wandering and stumbling across things makes you feel like a bit of a discoverer. I always think it makes a place feel more personal. =) Thanks for the comment.

  5. Dave says:

    This is like a virtual tour of Phnom Penh. Great view on the first shot! Where did you take it from? Yes I want to do the same!!

    • @Dave: Thanks. The first shot was actually from one of the top floors of my guesthouse. I’d hang out there a lot looking over the city at night.

  6. What a great walking tour of an underrated city. Cambodia hasn’t always been on my radar but posts like yours make me want to visit. I would love to see The Royal Palace. These buildings have such wonderful architecture and character. I have a weakness for Asian night markets and mega malls too so the fact that they have them is a bonus. =)

    • @Mary: whoops, I forgot to respond to this. Thanks for the comment. You’re right, it is underrated. I believe there’s even an architecture walking tour in the city, to check out even contemporary buildings.

  7. Andrea says:

    The night markets in Asia always look so awesome!! This is a great tour – I hope to get to Cambodia someday – it always sounds so amazing.

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