While my family was in Cambodia, we had the chance to visit many different tourist attractions in both Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Some were amazing and some were a little disappointing. I decided to write a piece that discusses the good and bad, hoping to help those decide whether they should go, or no!
Where: Phnom Penh, Cambodia Entrance Fee: Free
One of the first attractions we visited was the Central Market to take a look at souvenirs for friends and food. This market was surrounded by a big dome building and contained hundreds of booths of clothes, paintings, wood carvings, etc. I was pleasantly surprised to see how much variety there was at this market! We saw a woman selling combs of honey with bees literally flying around her stall! We also saw men unloading long blocks of ice and cutting them, shredding them, etc for sale. The place was so big that you could literally travel around for an hour and not see it all. They also had everyday things like jewelry, toiletries, and food stalls. For amazing prices too! We ended up making three trips here during our vacation because they had the cheapest souvenirs that we could find and had toilet paper when we couldn’t find it at Circle K or elsewhere. They also had the best pho I had in Cambodia for only $2. Totally worth it. We heard also about the Russian Market but didn’t get a chance to visit.
Verdict: Go or No? Go!! There is so much to see and this is where the locals get their goods. This means that everything is cheap and you can get a closer look at the culture of Phnom Penh.
Angkor Wat and other temples
Where: Siem Reap Entrance Fee: Adult $37/one day and FREE for kids under 12
Angkor Wat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located roughly 7 hours (by bus) from Phnom Penh and is the largest religious monument in the world. Many think that Angkor is a single temple; but it is actually a Buddhist-Hindu complex with nine different temples, Angkor Wat being the largest and best-preserved. We took a sleeper bus from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap for $15 a person and visited only for a day. We were pleasantly surprised to find that our 11-year old could enter for free and we spent over 6 hours traveling over 3 different temples: Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Prohm Temple. It was an amazing experience to be climbing all over these temples that were almost 1,000 years old and it was one of those memories you never forget. If you would like more information about this site, you can visit my other post dedicated entirely to Angkor Wat and get a few tips to do Angkor right!
Verdict: Go or No? Absolutely go! 50% of Cambodia’s tourism industry is due to this monument. It is so important, it is on Cambodia’s flag! It will be your most expensive day in the country, but it is well worth the money. Definitely take a few days to explore all of Angkor!
Cambodian Dance Show
Where: Phnom Penh & Siem Reap Entrance Fee: $12-$80 per person
While we were in Siem Reap, we also visited a cultural Cambodian dance show. It was a nice experience and we got to watch 5 different dances that are fairly typical for these kind of dance shows. We had seen some advertisements for shows in Phnom Penh but they were only an hour. The show in Siem Reap included a buffet dinner and then the hour show for $12. There were other shows that were much more expensive, but we chose the cheap one because we are a family of 3! I had never been to a cultural show like this in another country and I thought it was a perfect way to end our Angkor Wat trip. The ladies were stunning and the gentleman dancers were very fun to watch. They also had a photo opportunity at the end for those who wanted a picture with the dancers.
Verdict: Go or No?: If the price is right, go. I saw many different shows that were $30 a person or all the way up to $80. For five dances (most of them had around this number) I would never pay that much. The National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh has a dinner/dance combo for $30 that has a much larger show. They also do dance workshops at the same location for $15/adult or $8/child if you aren’t heading to Siem Reap for those interested in a more unique experience.
The Golden Temple
Where: Phnom Penh Entrance Fee: Free
When we were walking around Phnom Penh, many tuk tuk drivers were telling us all about the temples we could visit to in Phnom Penh and they kept mentioning the Golden Temple. He even mentioned that it was “free today” and since there was a Buddhist celebration the next day, we figured that it was just perfect timing. We took the 10 minute drive via tuk tuk and came to a temple that was literally golden. The whole place was painted the purest gold color and was certainly a sight to look at. The inside was completely different, with all the walls and pillars painted in magnificent colors depicting Buddha. Each painting was different and had a story behind it. Our tuk tuk driver took us around and explained a few of the more famous ones to us, although he did not know them all. There were a few locals sleeping within the temple or creating decorations for the next days’ festivities. It took us about 10-15 minutes to tour the whole facility, it definitely shouldn’t be considered a day trip.
Verdict: Go or No? Honestly, no. This was not the most exciting temple I have seen in Cambodia especially after Angkor. It was a very small and was not too exciting. If you are into artwork, you may want to make a stop here!
Where: Phnom Penh Entrance: Free
We found out about this temple in a very similar way that we found out about the Golden Temple. The same tuk tuk driver took us to the Monkey Temple after the Golden Temple and we were excited because they said there were monkeys in the middle of Phnom Penh! We headed there and noticed that the temple was not nearly as well-kept as the Golden temple. The temple was a little decrepit, had no one around, and had a bunch of little boys running around without parents. The temple itself was closed and we couldn’t go inside to see anything like at the Golden Temple, which was disappointing. We did get to see a few monkeys but they were really fat because the locals sell fruit/soy beans to tourists to feed their 5 monkeys. I was surprised because we had a LOT of tuk tuk drivers try to get us to this site and I was expecting a monkey haven in the middle of the city.
Verdict: Go or No? No. Just no. We were there and gone within 10 minutes. EVEN IF IT IS THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN SEE MONKEYS! Don’t let yourself be tempted to go and feed these poor monkeys. Head to Angkor instead!
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Where: Phnom Penh Entrance Fee: $8/adult and $6/kid w/audio tour
Tuol Sleng (also known as S-21) was a secret center where people were tortured by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. It was a high school before they converted it to a center, which struck me pretty hard being a high school teacher. During this time, thousands of men, women, and children were brought in and tortured to gain information about the enemies of the Khmer Rouge. The audio tour was extremely emotional as they guided you around the complex. We heard stories from the survivors, former staff of the center, and family members that had lost relatives at the center. Nothing was left out. There were pictures of the dead and there was a room that had the skulls of those lost during this time. It was extremely emotional, especially the story of a young woman named Bophana who was tortured and killed for love. This might not be the best tour for young kids, even my 11-year old was a little perturbed and didn’t finish (he didn’t make it to the skull room at the end). It was an emotional ride and we ended up not continuing on to the Killing Fields that are located outside the city. At the end of the tour, we saw one of the few survivors answering questions and signing his book. We had heard about him throughout the tour, so it was amazing to put the face to the name.
Verdict: Go or No? Absolutely go! Unless you have small children or can’t handle the complex emotions, I 100% suggest this tour for everyone that goes to Phnom Penh. As a teacher, this was one of the best and most immersive tours I have ever been on.
The Royal Palace
Where: Phnom Penh Entrance Fee: $10/person
A small walk from our hotel, G-Eleven was the Royal Palace. We had tried at least once earlier in our trip, but they are closed between noon-2pm. The second time we were there we finally got in and made the choice not to hire a guide. I definitely regret not getting a guide because I feel we missed out on more of the experience and the history. We got lost a few times and the map was not as clear as I had hoped. For example, the Silver Pagoda is not a pagoda like what I would see in China, but an entire temple filled with artifacts. This caused a lot of walking back and forth that I wish we could have avoided. But the home of the King and Queen of Cambodia was beautiful. There were murals around the complex and that were gorgeous, but have no idea what they meant! The best part was the Silver Pagoda and looking at all the artifacts such as jewelry, Buddhist statues, and gifts from other royalty. Due to getting lost, I do not think we saw everything but I was impressed by what we did see.
Verdict: Go or No? Go! Definitely get a guide, but it was a good time even without one. It wasn’t overly expensive, we got to see some beautiful architecture, and it was right next to Riverside so you can get an expensive bite to eat at the restaurants next to the river.
Mekong River Cruise
Where: Phnom Penh. Entrance Fee: $12.00-120.00
I wanted to add this last one to tourist attractions even though I did not get to actually go on this attraction. I really wanted to but couldn’t convince my exhausted family to join on another adventure! There were a ton of different cruise packages on the Mekong River. Anywhere from $12 for a 1.5 hour night cruise or a $120 for a 17-hour cruise to Siem Reap. I had talked to another tourist that said they enjoyed their cruise and got to see the Silk Island, a local village with their own silk farm. This is just another option for fun around Cambodia and can be done cheaply if you choose the right cruise!
Verdict: Go or No? Live my dream for me and go! I still feel a little FOMO for not getting to go on a cruise. I would have picked a cheap sunset cruise or night cruise, but just a chance to see Phnom Penh from the water.