November 4, 2020

City Guide: Ways to Experience Phnom Penh Like a Local

If you want to have a thorough exploration of Cambodia, there are many cities that should make it to your list. Without a doubt, it should include its bustling capital—the heartbeat of Cambodia, the city of Phnom Penh. There’s a lot to see and do in this sprawling capital that is spread out beside the Tonle Sap and Mekong riverbanks, featuring an endless array of back alleys and central boulevards. You can see a wide variety of beautiful structures that personify its long and colourful history, a product of the harmonious blend of both ancient and French colonial influences.

Honestly speaking, a day or two in Phnom Penh does not allow you to fully explore the city. Give it four to five days to see most of its attractions and get off the beaten track to experience the city like a local. But before we reveal the ways to do that, here is a shortlist of some of the most interesting facts about Phnom Penh.

Interesting facts about Phnom Penh you may not know about

1. Find a delicious tarantula kebab in the city

Phnom Penh: some tarantula kebabs

Do you like trying exotic food? Then, you might want to try Phnom Penh’s delicacies that include a tarantula kebab! Yes, it’s not just any ordinary bug or insect but the scary tarantula. If you want to know how it tastes, just think ‘chicken’!

2. You Can’t Find a McDonald’s store in the city

If you want to have a burger or a happy meal, don’t bother looking for one because there’s no McDonald’s store in the city. However, there are other fast-food chain options here like KFC and Burger King. Plus, there’s a lot of local delicacies to try that’s being sold on the sidewalk and in the stalls.

3. Phnom Penh has a very active nightlife

Phnom Penh: a cocktail on the table

Coming to Phnom Penh means having the opportunity to experience its vibrant nightlife, with more than one destination added each year to its list. Whether you want a quiet evening with drinks while overlooking the river or a livelier place with music and booze, there’s always something to suit your likes. Consider going to the Eclipse Sky Bar located on the 23rd floor of the Phnom Penh Tower whose fully open-air setting is going to amaze you. It’s open 24 hours a day, so if you visit in the late afternoon, you can enjoy the magnificent view of the sunset.

Ways to experience Phnom Penh Like a Local

Now, let us help you plan your itinerary by giving you some points on how to experience the city like a local.

1. Watch the Apsara and traditional Khmer dance

traditional Khmer dancers in costume

Cambodia’s arts and culture is beautiful, and it can be seen through its Apsara and traditional Khmer dances. Watch a performance of these dances at the National Museum of Cambodia, hosted by the Cambodian Living Arts, which is an organisation that preserves traditional Khmer dances that began in the 18th century. Surviving master artists train and pass on their knowledge to the younger generations. You’ll surely be fascinated by the performance of live singers and musicians clad in traditional Khmer costumes.

2. Spend a day shopping

Phnom Penh: arts and crafts on display

What excursion is complete without going on a shopping spree? When in Phnom Penh, a day out in the shopping areas is a must especially with its unique offerings that can only be found here. There are souvenir shops where you can buy trinkets, jewelry, clothing, flowers, and native ornaments to give to family and friends. The Central Market is highly recommendable for all types of visitors where you can be elbow-to-elbow with the huge crowds, photograph the unique scene, or haggle with the vendors.

You can also visit the Kravan House, established in 2003 with the aim of helping mine victims and family groups. If you love quality silk clothing, accessories, and souvenirs, this is a good place to be at because it puts your money to good use. Of course, for an authentic feel of Phnom Penh’s traditional market, you should go to the Old Market, which has been in its current location since the French colonial times. You can find here a wide array of stuff from fruits and vegetables to textiles and motorcycle parts.

3. Take the kids to the Children Park Koh Pich Amusement Park

Phnom Penh: Family at the amusement park

If you are tagging the kids along on your vacation, make sure to set aside a day to let them have fun at the Children Park Koh Pich. Your kids will surely love you more when they see all the rides including a rollercoaster, a big wavy floor section, booths, and a roller-skating area. It may not be like Disneyland, but it surely is a great place to bring the family together because even adults will love the activities here.

4. Visit Mekong Island

a lake with huts

After exploring the sights in the city, it’s time to escape the hustle and bustle by heading to Mekong Island located some 15 kilometres from the city centre. Here, you can see views of rice paddies, fruit orchards, and vegetable farms that reveal the beautiful cultural and agricultural side of Phnom Penh. Not only that, but hosted on this 10-hectare island are several centres of traditional handicrafts in Cambodia including pottery, silk weaving, dyeing, and woodcarving.

5. Join an exciting cooking class

Phnom Penh: cooking class

Since Phnom Penh’s cuisine is well-known, why not take a cooking class to learn some of your most favourite Cambodian dishes? The Frizz Restaurant offers a class on Khmer cuisine including its history. It’s also a good way to meet other tourists and share your creations over wine and stories.

6. Ride a horse

Phnom Penh: an equestrian

If you’ve always wanted to experience riding a horse in an equestrian centre, then, this is your chance to fulfill that. The Cambodian Country Club Equestrian Center opened only in 2003 in the Northbridge International School. With an international-standard riding school and club, adults can enroll in riding lessons or simply join riding sessions if they don’t have the time for lessons. Aside from that, you can watch showjumping events and exhibitions and have your kids join riding camps.

7. Go restaurant hopping

a buffet of food in a restaurant

If cooking is not one of your strengths, then, you can stick to just tasting and sampling the culinary delights and flavours of Phnom Penh. There are numerous cafes, restaurants, and bistros all over the city including in old colonial houses and alleys. We highly recommend trying the Boat Noodle, which is situated in an old wooden house with various large and small rooms that are filled with Cambodian antiques. Each of the rooms gives you a unique surprise, including those that have low tables where you can lean on a pillow and really relax while dining. Make sure to try the leafy garden with many water features.

Of course, Phnom Penh is also famous for its street food. So after restaurant hopping, try their sidewalk food. We can guarantee that your wallet will not be exhausted because dining in Phnom Penh is cheap.

8. Go sightseeing

Phnom Penh: trees in the Killing Fields site

As a tourist, it is always a must to see the destinations and attractions Phnom Penh is known for. It brims with temples, markets, and historical sites. Make sure to include in your itinerary the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Independence Monument, Oudongk, Phnom Tamao Zoo, Sisowath Quay, Ta Prohm Temple, the Killing Fields, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Wat Langka, and Wat Ounalom.

Indeed, Phnom Penh is a wonderful Asian city that deserves to be explored. After you’ve done all the things mentioned above, only then will you realize that there is so much more to the city than just the Killing Fields.


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