Anyone who has traveled to Southeast Asia knows that Phnom Penh isn’t considered one of the region’s top destinations. Most travelers either skip Phnom Penh altogether and head straight to the incredible beaches in the south or the stunning temples in the north. Or they spend a fleeting 24 hours in the city.
Those who do take the time to venture to Cambodia’s capital either really love it or really hate it. Ever since I first visited Phnom Penh back in 2006 I’ve been a big booster of the city. Hell, I even up and moved there in 2016. And even though I had a bit of a rough go adjusting to expat life in Phnom Penh, I still love that city and highly encourage travelers to take a chance on it.
Phnom Penh has so much more to offer than just the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. And while I highly suggest that travelers visit these two sites – they really do offer a good insight into the city’s tragic history – I’m here to say that Phnom Penh has a cool, fun and quirky side to it too. There’s actually a lot going on in the city, especially if you know where to look. Luckily I lived there for six months so I learned a thing or two (…or five) about all the fun things to do in Phnom Penh!
5 Things to do in Phnom Penh
1. Check out the street art on Street 93
Street art is so new to Phnom Penh that most tourists don’t even know it exists. But it does in fact exist, especially on Street 93. This was literally one of the first places I visited when I moved to Phnom Penh in the summer of 2015. If you’re at all into street art then Street 93 is a must.
Street 93 is located in the Boeung Kak Lake area, basically a five-minute tuk tuk ride from the touristy riverside area. This neighborhood has a pretty sad history and was once one of the more shady areas in Phnom Penh, but thanks to the efforts of a bunch of artists, it has been given a colorful makeover in recent years.
Over the past few years artists have slowly trickled into the area and now the streets, buildings and walls are covered with art. There are some seriously impressive murals there created by both international and local artists. If you’re interested in learning more or want to see some pretty pictures I wrote a full post about the street are on Street 93.
2. Go to Katy Peri Peri Peri’s Chicken and Pizza
I know this one sounds a bit bizarre, but anyone who has spent any time living in Phnom Penh knows exactly what I’m talking about. Kati Peri’s Pizza is basically a wood-fired oven plopped on the back of a tuk tuk, but it is an institution among Phnom Penh’s expats.
Based on name alone it might not sound all that legit but it is arguably the best, cheapest and cheesiest pizza in Phnom Penh. You can either roll up after a drunken night on the town or you can get them to deliver right to your hotel! Keep in mind they only deliver after 10 pm, which is probably why they’re regarded as the best drunk food in town. My favorite is the 4 Cheese Pizza (partially because I’m obsessed with cheese but also because I’m a vegetarian) . So cheesy, so good and so cheap!
3. Go to a comedy show
I would have never known that Phnom Penh had a comedy scene had it not been for my friend and fellow travel blogger Jen from Two Can Travel. She lives in Phnom Penh and her husband Stevo just so happens to be a hilarious comedian who has performed in cities across the world.
As a comedy lover I was thrilled when they invited me to one of his shows at an expat hangout called Meta House. It turns out that Phnom Penh is home to an up and coming comedy scene. Seriously, who knew? Comedians from all over the world perform regularly around the city. So if you’re in the mood for a good laugh and a glimpse into the expat scene check out Meta House’s website to see when the next “Verbal High” event is.
4. Check out White Building*
*UPDATE: White Building was reportedly torn down in 2017.
Also known as the Tonle Bassac Commune, White Building is by far my favorite building in Phnom Penh. And lucky for me, I lived right across the street from it. I literally walked past it every day and probably took hundreds of photos of it in the half a year I lived in Phnom Penh. The long lane of apartments was originally built to house athletes for a major Olympics-like sporting event in 1966, but was ultimately used as budget housing.
Back in the day White Building was an impressive, modern white structure, hence its nickname. But as you can see it has been neglected throughout the years and at one point became another of Phnom Penh’s notoriously dangerous neighborhoods. Things have changed a lot lately, however. Because of Phnom Penh’s recent construction boom the highly prized land is now owned by giant corporations, and White Building’s residents are coping with threats of forced evictions.
It’s a controversial place and its story is sadly all too common in Phnom Penh. If you want to learn more about White Building head here. The building is fascinating and what makes it even more interesting is that it’s actually home to many of Phnom Penh’s artists. It is also a photographer’s dream (not that I consider myself a photographer) with its mildewy exterior, crumbling facade and colorful laundry drying in the windows.
5. Sample some seriously unique local delicacies
Phnom Penh definitely has its fair share of, shall we say, different foods. My first experience with Cambodia’s strange street foods came when I was entering the country on a bus from Thailand back in 2006. A little boy sitting next to me was munching away on something crunchy and delicious smelling. When I turned to check out what he was eating I was taken aback when I realized that it was deep-fried crickets. I’m sure the look on my face was priceless.
It turns out eating bugs is very common in Phnom Penh (and Cambodia in general). Go to any local market and you’ll find baskets full of deep-fried creepy crawlies, from plump ants to giant tarantulas.
Another popular street food is fertilized duck embryos (similar to balut in the Philippines). During last year’s Water Festival I got a kick out of watching a group of teenage girls sit in a circle near the riverside, thoroughly savoring egg after egg as they gossiped.
I personally never had the courage to try any of these foods but for all of you adventurous eaters out there, why not give it a try?
Have you been to Phnom Penh? Do you have anything to add to this list?