Just passing through? Perhaps you’ve come from wild beachfront hostels, and whilst nursing your hangover you’ve realised that you’ve absolutely no idea how you’re going to spend your time in Cambodia’s capital (or even why you included it in the first place).
… Have no fear. The rapidly developing Phnom Penh is full of sights, sounds and experiences to savour. Whilst most guide books can point you towards a fairly predictable and safe experience of this imperfect yet vibrant capital, we have what the guidebooks don’t tell you.
If you’re lucky enough to arrive at the weekend, then you make sure to take full advantage of our free weekly roundup of the best things happening in arts, music, film and nightlife from Friday to Sunday.
For you midweek travellers, there is no need to load the bus to Siem Reap just yet! We can tell you exactly what to do.
Day 1 : Morning (7am – 10am)
Breakfast! You can’t run all day without fuel. Whatever your budget, here’s some suggestions.
Embrace the culture: Boeung Keng Kang (BKK1) Market.
Ideal for those on a budget, navigate this narrow, busy market amongst the local Khmer people and you’ll find some stalls to sit and get fresh lok-lok or whatever takes your fancy. For about 8000riel ($2) you can get a large hearty noodle dish filled with spices, veg and local flavours. We’d recommend you at least attempt to learn some basic Khmer, primarily because it’s appreciated and leads to even better service.
Street 380, BKK1. Check out our full review here
The Caffeine hit: Browns
Whilst a mess of Starbucks and Costas do exist in Phnom Penh, we’d highly recommend trying Browns instead. The Phnom Penh born chain has branches littered across the city, but the menu can vary slightly. Their flagship store (also in BKK1) offers much more choice – both for coffee and food – and allows you to watch the coffee production process in a large glass room within the venue. Breakfast will typically be between $3 – $4.50, with coffee prices similar.
#1 st. 98 corner Sisowath Quay, Riverside branch
Lot 369: A Model for Fair Employment
“With typically long hours, low pay and few benefits, working in Cambodia can be tough. Worse, just 10% of Cambodian businesses are officially registered, making it near-impossible to enforce labour laws that protect worker’s rights. Lot 369 is striving hard to buck that trend. They’re properly tax registered, certified by Workers Sabay to offer high standards of pay, annual leave, sickness and maternity benefits, and operate a 5-day workweek (on 6-day pay) to keep employees happy and healthy.”
We did a full write up on them, you can read more here: Lot 369: Proper Coffee, Perfect Brunch AND an Amazing Place to Work
13 St 454, Russian Market (TTP)
Day 1: Seize the day 10am – 1pm
Killing Fiel Go to a Pool first instead- Trust us.
Whilst every guide will have you jumping in the first tuk tuk and heading back out the city to experience the Killing Fields, let us throw a curve ball. Yes you definitely should experience this really important slice of Cambodian history, but not yet. In rainy season, it can take an hour to get out there depending on traffic. Usually the mornings are reliably sunny and blissful so let’s start with something nice before you take on the harrowing yet important cultural experience later.
Here’s a link to our article on the best pools in Phnom Penh, which we’ll continue updating periodically:
A Guide to Swimming Pools in Phnom Penh: Splish Splash Splosh
Ok, if you’re ready for it: s21, Genocide museum
Hidden in plain sight, the old school in BKK3 was converted into a prison and is worth doing before the killing fields. This is where many prisoners were kept during the Khmer Rouge regime, and one of the few survivors is there to meet. He has a fantastic book called ‘Survivor’ that gives even further insight into the horror that the Cambodian people faced and their journey through the genocide. The headset is a must, be prepared to cry, but it’ll transport you into history and give you a deeper understanding of Cambodian and even global history. The rain should hold off until around lunch time too, then after lunch you can continue your trip through history to the killing fields – the taxi/tuk tuk ride will last long enough for the rain to end, usually.
Street 113, BKK2
Top of the hill: Wat Phnom
Almost 30metres in height, Wat Phnom sits surveying the city. This Buddhist temple was erected in 1373 and rebuilt four times (most recent being 1926). It’s a dollar to visit, and there’s a museum next to it costing $2. It’s a nice brief retreat from the surrounding chaos of traffic on the roundabout circling the temple.
ផ្លូវវត្តភ្នំ / Wat Phnom
Day 1: Lunch… or Liquid Lunch? (1pm – 2pm)
Liquid lunch: Kingdom Brewery tour
All of us that live here may posses a soft spot for the local beer of choice- Cambodia. Yet those just passing through may not yet share that affinity. Kingdom brewery do a tour every weekday at 1pm. There’s a severe lack of awesome craft beer in Cambodia, so we find the delicious tastes and array on offer from Kingdom very welcomed. Their tour round the brewery is an interesting experience, topped off by the tastings in their bar at the end. The tour is $15, but includes UNLIMITED beer at the end of the tour, up until 5pm. The bar is lovely, enhanced by a balcony space that on-looks the river. Bottoms up!
Cheap eats: Banh mi & Bros
Another weekday offer, arriving between midday and 2pm unlocks their special meal deal for only $2.50. You get an artisan sandwich, iced tea, a great side salad and also a dessert flan or tart. We recently checked it out, you can read about it in full: Here via our Cheap Eats article.
Preah Trasak Paem St. (63), BKK1
Russian Market: Restore one cafe Vs Nesat Vs Dos Besos
It’s a triple death match over in Russian Market. We couldn’t decide which to recommend, so we’re tipping our hat to three potential choices. Although you’re likely to discover many more excellent haunts here as this is a trendy ex-pat area with money pouring in and new places popping up to happily take said money off their hands.
Restore one cafe has an excellent social cause behind it, The cafe is a training ground for young people at risk. A 12-month traineeship at the cafe equips them for a successful career in the booming hospitality and tourism industry.
Street 123, Russian Market (TTP)
Nesat is a seafood restaurant with a popular Oyster offer and boasting usage of the flaming Asian wok cooking technique. There’s lots of fresh ingredients straight from Kep and Kampot. Could this be the best seafood in the Kingdom?
St 123, Russian Market (TTP)
Dos Besos is our third pick, which truly is delicious Mexican food. (Honourable mention to Agave too, we found it hard to pick just one to recommend). The portions here are huge, the flavours equally huge. Be warned that the XL Nachos shouldn’t be listed as a starter, as we reckon it’s easily enough for 3 to share as a main!
There’s even one burger on the restaurant, which we featured previously: Frazer Vs Burger: Dos Besos Mexicali Burger
33 Street 123, Russian Market (TTP)
Day 1: Excursion (2pm – 6pm)
The Killing Fields
Take a tuk tuk ($15 roughly for a round trip, they’ll wait for you- you can get s21 included with this, well worth getting a full day tuk tuk driver), out to the Killing fields site. The fields are open until 5pm, and again you should invest in using the headsets to properly get the experience. There’s a surreal sense of beauty and tranquillity to the site, making the history even more shocking. Again, pack the tissues. The Khmer recent history is full of horror and sadness, something difficult to imagine living through.
Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
Aeon Mall: Spend Spend Spend
Phnom Penh’s huge sparkling mall has a massive department store, some big brand name stores, a great array of restaurants and some top level attractions. Recently a Michelan star chef has opened up an affordable dim sum restaurant at the mall, and there’s another gourmet burger hotspot that we reviewed previously: Frazer vs Burger: The Elvis @ Fatboy’s . Venture to the top floor and you’ll find an amusements arcade, complete with tickets to be won and exchanged for prizes. There’s also a bowling alley and cinema up there too.
#132,Street Samdach Sothearos, Sangkat Tonle Bassac,Khan Chamkarmon
Kingdom Brewery Tour
Ok, so many that should have been included here rather than as a ‘lunch’ option… but hey, we like to party. Scroll back up.
Day 1: Dinner (6pm – 9pm)
Dinner AND a show: Pyongyang Restaurant
We recently checked out the North Korean state-owned restaurant, which involves a huge menu and an accompanying impressive all-singing, all-dancing show. The talented waitresses juggle dishes and accordion, saxophone, drum solos and much more. We left the politics at the door with this one, whilst it’s a fantastic opportunity for a rare experience (unless you’re set on going to North Korea). Bear in mind that proceeds from the restaurant are fed back to Kim Jong Un, though, and there are a ton of rumours surrounding employees’ freedom of movement – important to know if you’re boycotting NK.
You can read our restaurant review here: A Slice of North Korea: Pyongyang Restaurant. If you’re looking for more information on the political implications, we’d suggest reading the Guardian article: On Pyongyang restaurants around Asia.
400 Preah Monivong Blvd (93)
Street Food delights
There are stalls set up all around the city, we’ll give a nod to the night-market here. Up near Wat Phnom, the night-market opens in the evening and you can sit on rugs enjoying cheap treats. Alternatively, Katy Peri’s pizza stand is located next to Pontoons night club (every Tuk Tuk should know where Pontoons is) – this stand is a hit with the party animals, we’ve yet to discover if previously consuming large amounts of alcohol is what really brings out the flavours of this hot-spot. Finally, there’s a burger van in BKK1 called ‘iBurger’ which always gains glowing reviews. I was sent to check out iBurger for ‘Frazer Vs Burger, but my review at the moment stands as ‘Really drunk. Burger was good. Will go again’. Watch this space.
We’ve visited so many great restaurants, so we weren’t sure how to pick one at random to showcase. Our top tip is Irrawaddi, it’s a Burmese restaurant with affordable, generous portions. We treated it like tapas, which is always our favourite as we get to try loads more food. We always encourage adventurous eating, picking items we don’t see elsewhere. The bamboo shoot soup was a delight, and the mutton curry is highly recommended for the Myanmar flavours.
Street 334, BKK1
Day 1: Drinks & Dancing! (9pm – Late)
Congratulations! You’ve enjoyed a busy day in Phnom Penh. You’ve earned a drink. Go on. Here’s a few ideas for your first night, oh – and there will be more suggestions for tomorrow night, you can do it, you’re a trooper.
Backpacker Street: Street 278
Phnom Penh can be overwhelming to a lot of backpackers, perhaps the city has grown too fast and the guidebooks haven’t been able to keep up fast enough. Don’t worry that’s why we’re here. However, a safe bet for a night out is to head to Street 278, Top Banana and Penthouse offer rooftop views of the street and cheap drink promos. Duplex has a great selection of beers from Belgium, and we absolutely adore their Sangria. As it gets later, people start to pour into Club love until the early hours.
Street 278, BKK1
Keep it classy: Bassac Lane
A narrow alleyway contains a wide collection of themed upmarket bars. Whether you’re getting smoked cocktails in the den, or a glass of wine in the library to get the best view of the occasional live music acts, there’s a trendy bar for everyone. We were told that all bars are actually owned by the same people, whom patiently waited and bought up each venue to create this nightlife attraction.
Bassac Lane, 12301
Pontoon, and thereabouts
Open until silly o’clock (we often go straight to breakfast from here), Pontoon is a large nightclub hotspot visited by locals and expats a like. There’s a cover charge to get in, unless you arrive after 4am. Across the street is Reggae Reggae, a fantastic rooftop spot for a sundown session, the dancefloor here can be great fun when the city’s ready for a party. The ‘All Sports Bar’ is advertised as 24 hour, and will do it’s best to show any sporting occasion you want – they’ll even let you try and find a stream via youtube or google if they’re struggling. Madhouse also gets a mention, with a very bare decor, it’s all about the music – think late night pounding techno and energetic dancing.
80 Jayavarman 7 St. (172),
Well done. You’ve made it through the day. Get some rest, then check out day two here: 48 Hours in Phnom Penh (Day 2)
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What’s On Phnom Penh