The Ultimate Phnom Penh Travel Guide

Exploring Phnom Penh Where to Stay How to get to Phnom Penh

What to expect when visiting Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is Cambodia’s economic, cultural, and historical centre, as well as its main travel hub. From the capital, you can take buses to practically anywhere in the country. There are also functioning, but infrequent, railway services connected to Kampot and Sihanoukville.

As a city, Phnom Penh still maintains much of its 1920s French colonial architecture, though some of the buildings have sadly become worn down and dilapidated.

The roads, as we’ll uncover in more detail below, are excitingly chaotic and the general atmosphere flowing through the busy streets is as addictive as it is immersive.

Because travel links are so accessible here, many travellers begin in Phnom Penh and immediately venture to other corners of the country without seeing what the city has to offer, which is a wasted opportunity.

Phnom Penh is a city you have to experience, warts and all.

Hustle and bustle — Phnom Penh style

With Phnom Penh’s population exceeding 1.5 million, there’s no rush hour — expect the streets to be riddled with motorbikes, cars, buses, and tuk-tuks from sunrise to sunset.

The city’s residents are also a law unto themselves when it comes to the rules of the road. Speeding is the norm, road signs might as well not exist, and congestion is but a mere obstacle course for motorcyclists.

Car horns, engine revving, and angry shouting will become your inharmonious travel symphony conducted by the famous Phnom Penh ‘road orchestra’.

So if you’re thinking about visiting one of the many attractions or historical sites within the city, make sure to give yourself plenty of time — the traffic can slow your journey time by around an hour depending on how severe the roads are.

Above all else, make sure you’re safe out there. The roads can be hazardous. We don’t recommend you ever hire your own motorbike and naively brave the streets of Phnom Penh — the locals are hardened, so you’re better off putting a little faith in your own tuk-tuk driver’s ability to keep you from seriously hurting yourself.

Keeping your belongings safe

Cambodia is one of the poorest countries in the world, where 14% of the country’s population lives in poverty. A high number of incidents involve theft and pickpocketing, and Westerners are often the victims.

Therefore, when you’re out and about, the best way to keep your belongings safe is to store them in your hotel room or locker. Don’t go out with expensive jewellery or accessories, and certainly don’t carry more than $30 in your wallet.

As a general rule of thumb, travel by tuk-tuk or taxi as much as possible and avoid unknown areas. If you’re on a tuk-tuk, make sure your baggage is out of reach from bag snatchers who are trained to steal bags from tuk-tuks in the time of an eye blink.

Luckily, it’s generally safe to walk in the main streets of Phnom Penh and it’s fine to walk short distances to nearby restaurants and bars.

Bearing the scars of Cambodia’s dramatic history

Phnom Penh isn’t just busy streets and traffic jams. What the city lacks in proper road rules, it certainly makes up for with its culture and history.

The country saw the 600-year rule of the Khmer Empire, the French colonisation in the 1920s, and the violent atrocities conducted by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime against the Cambodian people in the mid-to-late 1970s.

The violence of the Khmer Rouge regime is specifically chronicled in a number of historic sites across Phnom Penh, most notably the Choeng Ek Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S21 Museum).

In both these sites, you’ll learn how the Khmer Rouge took hold of the country after the Cambodian Civil War and how the subsequent death of 2 million people still affects the Cambodian people to this day.

If this sounds like something you are ready for, the cheapest and easiest way to travel between these two sites is either by tuk-tuk or an organised tour operator.

We recommend visiting the S21 Museum first. You’ll be given an audio guide that shares the story of how the prisoners were interrogated and tortured before they were brought to the Killing Fields to be executed in the vilest, most inhumane ways imaginable.

It’s an intense experience, and the history points to the resilience of the Cambodian people.

Phnom Penh-Cambodia

Our favourite places to stay in Phnom Penh

Sla Boutique Hostel

Sla Boutique hostel is located just around the corner from the Royal Palace and there are many street food stalls nearby. The staff are very helpful and willing to arrange joint rides for guests to S21 or the Killing Fields. In the dorms, curtains and lockers are provided for extra privacy.

Double Bed from $11

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Onederz Hostel

Located along the lively riverside area, you’ll find plenty of restaurants, bars, and street food options around Onederz Hostel. The clean and comfortable rooms are perfect to get a rest, while the rooftop bar invites you to enjoy a cold beer and socialize with other guests!

Standard Double Room from $26

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TAO Riverside Residence

As the name reveals, TAO Riverside Residence is located along the river and sits just 500m away from the Royal Palace. The Residence offers modern, riverfront accommodations. These spacious apartments include kitchenettes, super comfortable beds and excellent Wifi connection. (Hint: Perfect time to upload all the pictures from your trip!)

Deluxe Double Studio $60

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How to get to Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh City on map

The best way to go around the city centre is to join a bike tour, but you can also explore on foot. Pay a visit to the Royal Palace or join a sunset cruise over the Mekong. When visiting the outskirts of town, tuk-tuk is the way to go.

Another great side of Phnom Penh is its cuisine. It has a large number of great restaurants with French influences. One food experience you shouldn’t miss is the handmade noodles from David’s restaurant. Seeing the chef prepare the noodles is a complete show on its own!

Leaving fromDurationPrices fromSee details
Phnom Penh Int’l Airport30 minutes-1 hourfrom $0.40Phnom Penh Airport to Phnom Penh
Siem Reap45 minutes-8 hoursfrom $10Siem Reap to Phnom Penh
Sihanoukville30 minutes-7 hoursfrom $8Sihanoukville to Phnom Penh
Kep3-4 hoursfrom $8Kep to Phnom Penh
Battambang5-6 hoursfrom $8Battambang to Phnom Penh
Kampot2.5 hours-4hrs 40mfrom $7Kampot to Phnom Penh
Ho Chi Minh1hr + travel to/from airport-6 hoursfrom $12Ho Chi Minh to Phnom Penh

About the author(s)

Based in Bali, Maarten’s passion for travel is undeniable. In 2016, he decided to quit his job as a stock analyst and started doing what he always dreamed of: travelling through South East Asia and helping other people plan their trips. When he is not working on Gecko Routes, you’ll find him surfing in the ocean or exploring the best gems of Indonesia.