3 essential things to do in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is the vibrant and lively capital of Cambodia. It is a sort of provincial charm and tranquillity with French colonial mansions and boulevards separated by tree lines amidst monumental Angkorian architecture. Most travelers just spend a day here without noticing that there are a lot of things to do in Phnom Penh. So this is how you should consider having more days in this bustling city during your Cambodia tours.

S21 Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Field

Located 10km south of the city center, S21 Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and the Cheoung Ek Killing Field are must-not-missed sites once you start your Phnom Penh tour. This is evidence of the felony and brutality of Pol Pot’s communist Khmer Rouge during the 1970s. In 1975, Phnom Penh’s residents were forced to leave their house and properties; moved to the countryside where people lived the primitive life. Children were separated from parents and worked as slave labor while being brainwashed to believe in the conception of Khmer Rouge. This tragic event wiped out nearly 2 million people – over 20 percent of the Cambodian population.

 

The Choeung Ek killing tree
The Choeung Ek killing tree

From 1975 to 1978, about 18,000 men, women, children and infants who had been detained, interrogated and tortured for months at S-21 (Security Prison 21) were transported to the extermination camp of Choeung Ek. The mass grave contains nearly 9000 bodies with fragments of human bones, scattered clothes. 8000 human skulls were arranged by age and gender, are visible behind the clear glass panels of the Memorial Stupa.

 

Memorial Stupa
A huge number of skulls inside the Memorial Stupa

“First they killed my father”

One of those kids who had to leave for the countryside back then is Loung Ung. She and her siblings are the childhood survivors and were only reunited after Vietnam penetrated Cambodia and destroyed Khmer Rouge. Loung Ung then published an autobiography named “First they killed my father”, which later turned into a movie directed by Angelina Jolie. It told an unforgettable story of her family which was shattered and both of her parents died during the harsh time. This is a really touching story that was highly rated since it refects the true horrors back then.

This costs 16 USD/person includes the audio tour. You can visit both places for half a day or combine with the Silver Pagoda and National Museum to make it a full day Phnom Penh city tour.

>>Suggested Phnom Penh day tour: Phnom Penh City Highlights Tour

Koh Dach Silk Island

Koh Dach or Silk Island is a picturesque island located on the bank of Mekong River. It is only 6km away from the center of Phnom Penh. It is best to visit this place in the dry season because during the monsoon, the entire island can be underwater.  The handicraft production is one of the reasons that people love traveling to this island. The most famous is the silk weaving. The commune of Koh Dach involves 5 villages, known as Koh Dach, Kbal Koh, Lvea, Chong Koh and Neah village. The prominent occupation of the local villagers consists of planting a sub-product crop of corn, sesame, bean, and banana; planting the fruit trees; manufacturing mosquito net, silk krama; and running small businesses.

 

Weaver in Koh Dach island
Weaver in Koh Dach island

You will be embarking on a local boat/ferry heading to the island within just 10-15 minutes then walk; or more interesting riding a bike around the villages. It is because this is famous for its typical rural life without a touch of urban development providing the vibe of a sleepy, tranquil island. Here and there you can see friendly villagers, smiling faces, weavers doing their craft, etc.

Phnom Penh street food

Every place has its own unique cuisine and tasting that signature food is sort of learning the local culture. There are some mouth-watering street dishes you must try when coming to Phnom Penh.

Fish amok

This is quite a famous snack on the street and makes sure you buy fish amok from the food stalls are full of locals – it will assure the food quality. This is a type of curry fish (with a lot more herbs and spices as many other specific Asian food) that is steamed to infuse it with flavor and leave the fish so tender. It is usually served with banana leaf as a small “bowl” and a little of coconut milk on top.

 

Fish amok
Fish amok

Kralan or so-called sticky bamboo rice

To make this dish, rice is mixed with beans, minced coconut, and coconut milk; then putting in the bamboo stick and roasted over fire. Thus it is crispy outside and so soft inside. Kralan is a famous snack for vegetarians and you can see it a lot in the night market.

 

Kralan
Kralan is cooked by roasting over fire

Balut

Balut (spelled standardized as balot) is a developing bird embryo (usually a duck) that is boiled and eaten from the shell. It originated from the Philippines and is commonly sold as street food in many South East Asia countries. Many foreigners are scared of this dish because it looks not really pleasant. It tasted like a hard-cooked egg. Mild, eggy, and chewy, with a slight meatiness like boiled chicken breast. You could see the developing duck, but the bones were still cartilage and negligible to the chewing effort.

 

Balut
Balut

So in general, to experience a lot of things to do in Phnom Penh, you should manage to have a couple of days there. If still, you do not have any idea for your Phnom Penh tour in your mind, consult a travel agent is more like a safe option and help you enjoy the place to the most.

Suggested Cambodia itinerary including Phnom Penh

 

Daniel Nguyen – Travel Specialist

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