Pol Pot’s vicious reign has left deep scars all over Phnom Penh and the whole of Cambodia. The areas that were once the focal points of the Khmer Rouge’s brutality have now been turned into historical tourism sites where you can see firsthand the damage and suffering Cambodia has endured.

While I appreciate the historical significance of sites like the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum, and I have nothing ill to say about anybody who would travel to see these places, these attractions are just not for me.
The reason can be summed up pretty easily—
I don’t like to be depressed when I’m traveling.
Staring at evidence of death, genocide, and torture makes me depressed, irritable and tired. I have the utmost respect for Cambodians, their strength and resilience, and all that they went through.

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Official flag of the Khmer Rouge

But, I know what happened during the Khmer Rouge, and I have no desire to see it.
But not to worry! Phnom Penh is full of fun happy things to do. There are plenty of opportunities to dive deep into Cambodian culture, and experience all Phnom Penh has to offer, without putting a serious damper on your day.
Here’s my list: 7things to do in Phnom Penh that won’t dampen your day

  1. The Royal Palace

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The run down:

  • Price is $6.50 USD to get in
  • The palace is closed everyday from 11 AM until 1:30 PM
  • Wear long pants, long shorts, or a long skirt, or you will have to rent clothes there.Make sure your shoulders are covered
  • Don’t take pictures inside the temples
  • Guide price is around $10 USD and I highly recommend getting a guide
  • The Royal Palace is family friendly

Similar to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh is a complex of architectural masterwork, inspired by Buddhism, Hinduism, and French colonial rule.


The buildings and temples have a very Buddhist appearance to them, but evidence of Hinduism can be seen in the coloring of the temples, the statues, and the massive mural depicting the story of the Ramayana around the perimeter of the palace.

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View from inside the royal complex

The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh is a gorgeous sight to behold, and is located right in the heart of the city. Just go, it’s a slam dunk.

2. The National Museum of Phnom Penh

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  • Cost $5 USD per person
  • Hours 8 AM-5 PM everyday
  • Guide cost $7
  • Family Friendly

Just a hop and a skip away from the Royal Palace is the National Museum. Inside you can find a vast collection of Khmer artifacts and massive stone statues estimated to be from as early as the 11th century.

The National Museum is a great way to take a walk through Khmer history. I don’t recommend getting a guide unless you are huge into Khmer history because most artifacts have an English plaque next to them.

I really enjoyed the National Museum, but if history and ancient statues sounds boring, it’s a safe bet you can skip out on this one.

3. Wat Phnom The Giant Lawn Clock

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Just a walk away from the National Museum and you’ll bump into Wat Phnom, also known as the spot with the giant lawn clock.

 

Naga protecting the steps up to Wat Phnom

Enter the park and walk up the giant stone steps to find an ornate temple at the top that you may find locals praying in. Take a spin around the grounds, it’s a beautiful area, and best of all, it’s free.

4. Take a Walk Along the Riverfront

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Along the riverfront area of Phnom Penh is a gorgeous park walkway. Watch people paint pictures of the city, locals sell knick-knacks, children gamble over a shoe game, and soak in the views of the sun over the Mekong river. It’s free, it’s fun, and it’s a great way to get a real feel for the city. There’s also a host of good restaurants along the riverfront, and for another fun activity that won’t dampen your day, stop in and…

5. Eat some Happy Food

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Traditional Cambodian Set: Amok, Spring Rolls, Chicken, salad, fried morning glory…happy

Most of the happy restaurants are found along the riverfront area of Phnom Penh. While most people will recommend eating the happy pizza, and that certainly does have it’s benefits, I highly recommend trying the traditional Khmer food instead.
Traditional Khmer food is incredible– a delicious mix of oyster sauce, curry powder, and seasoning that is sweet, but not quite as sugary as Thai food– it’s nothing short of a flavor miracle.
And guess what… You can still order the Khmer food happy style if that’s how you want to roll.

6. Take a Sunset River Cruise

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The sunset over the Mekong river is breathtaking. We organized a sunset cruise through our hostel for $5 a person.Although it didn’t come with a dinner buffet, or live music like some of the other cruises, we did get a free beer (plenty enough for me!) and as promised, an amazing view of the sunset over the Phnom Penh skyline.

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The sunset river cruise was my favorite thing we did in Phnom Penh.

7. Hit the Phnom Penh Night Market

If you’ve traveled in Southeast Asia, then you’ve definitely had your fair share of night markets. Truth be told, I could probably go the rest of my time in Asia and be ok with never walking through another market.
But if you’re into sampling the local street food, and you like the busy hustle and bustle then wait for sundown and head near the palace to find the Phnom Penh nightmarket.
Although I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of travelers getting sick from the street food in Cambodia, I can honestly say, I never had so much as a stomachache while we were there.
So for my vote, the street food is good to go. But if you have a touchy system, you might want to stick to the sit down restaurants.

 

Conclusion

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So there you have it, my list happy activity list, for Phnom Penh.

Did I leave something off the list though? Did you do something awesome in Pnom Penh, and you feel like sharing? Comment below and let me know! I want to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for reading, and happy travels,

J.G 🙂

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