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Why Phnom Penh Is One Of The Best Cities In The World


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Mildrid Braden



Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered. Nestled on the banks of the mighty Mekong River, this vibrant city offers a unique blend of rich history, captivating culture, and modern development. With its warm climate, friendly locals, and a plethora of attractions, Phnom Penh has rightfully earned its place as one of the best cities in the world to visit or even live in.


Stepping foot in Phnom Penh is like stepping back in time. The city’s history is deeply intertwined with the ancient Khmer Empire, French colonialism, and the more recent struggles of the Khmer Rouge regime. Tangled within its streets are remnants of the past – from majestic temples to poignant museums – reminding visitors of the resilience and strength of the Cambodian people.


But Phnom Penh is far from being stuck in the past. It is a city that is constantly evolving, with a buzzing energy that can be felt in its bustling markets, lively street corners, and trendy cafes. The blend of old and new creates a unique atmosphere that captivates both locals and tourists alike.


One of the factors that makes Phnom Penh truly special is its people. The locals are known for their genuine warmth, hospitality, and ever-present smiles. Whether you need directions or simply want to strike up a conversation, you’ll find that the Cambodian people are always ready to lend a helping hand and make you feel welcomed.


So, if you’re a history buff, a food lover, an adventurer, or simply someone looking to immerse yourself in a dynamic city with an extraordinary blend of tradition and modernity, then Phnom Penh is the perfect destination for you. This article will take you on a journey through the highlights of this captivating city, showcasing why Phnom Penh is undeniably one of the best cities in the world.


Rich History and Culture

Phnom Penh is a city steeped in rich history and culture, with a heritage that dates back centuries. As the capital of Cambodia, it is home to numerous historical sites and landmarks that offer deep insights into the country’s past.


One of the most iconic landmarks in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace. Built in the 19th century, this grand complex showcases exquisite Khmer architecture. Visitors can explore the Silver Pagoda, which houses a stunning emerald Buddha statue adorned with diamonds, as well as the Throne Hall, where official ceremonies are held.


Another must-visit site is the haunting Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, also known as S-21. This former high school turned prison was a center of torture and execution during the Khmer Rouge regime. Walking through the halls, visitors can gain a harrowing glimpse into Cambodia’s dark past and pay tribute to the victims of this tragic era.


To further delve into the country’s history, a visit to the National Museum of Cambodia is a must. This beautiful red sandstone building houses a vast collection of Khmer art and artifacts, including intricately carved statues, ancient ceramics, and religious artifacts.


Phnom Penh also celebrates its vibrant cultural heritage through colorful festivals and traditions. The most significant festival is the Khmer New Year, known as Chaul Chnam Thmey. During this time, the city comes alive with music, dancing, and various traditional ceremonies.


The food scene in Phnom Penh is also a testament to its rich culture. From street vendors serving up steaming bowls of noodle soup to upscale restaurants offering authentic Khmer cuisine, there is no shortage of culinary delights to explore. Don’t miss tasting local favorites like fish amok, a fragrant curry steamed in banana leaves, and num banh chok, a traditional Khmer breakfast dish of rice noodles topped with a fish-based curry sauce.


Phnom Penh offers an immersive experience that allows visitors to truly understand the country’s history and cultural heritage. Whether you’re exploring ancient temples, visiting poignant museums, or savoring local delicacies, the city’s rich history and culture are sure to leave a lasting impression.


Vibrant Street Food Scene

When it comes to tantalizing your taste buds, Phnom Penh’s vibrant street food scene is unrivaled. The city’s bustling markets and street corners are filled with a multitude of food stalls and vendors, offering a diverse array of delectable dishes that will leave you craving for more.


One of the most iconic food experiences in Phnom Penh is sampling the local street food staple – the infamous “banh mi”. This Vietnamese-influenced baguette sandwich is packed with flavor, filled with succulent grilled meats, fresh vegetables, and a variety of sauces and condiments. You’ll find locals and tourists alike lining up at street stalls, eagerly waiting to sink their teeth into this mouthwatering delight.


Phnom Penh is also renowned for its delicious and flavorful noodle dishes. For a hearty and satisfying meal, try “kuy teav” – a traditional Cambodian noodle soup made with pork or beef broth, rice noodles, and an assortment of toppings such as bean sprouts, fried garlic, and fresh herbs. Another noodle dish not to be missed is “nom banh chok” – rice noodles topped with a fish-based curry sauce and garnished with fresh vegetables and herbs.


If you’re feeling adventurous, wander through the night markets to discover a plethora of unique and exotic street foods. From fried insects such as crickets and spiders, to grilled skewers of meat and seafood, there is something to satisfy every adventurous palate.


Aside from the mouthwatering dishes, the street food scene in Phnom Penh also offers a glimpse into the city’s vibrant culture. As you sample the local treats, you’ll immerse yourself in the lively atmosphere of the markets, with their bustling crowds, the sounds of sizzling grills, and the enticing aroma of spices and flavors filling the air.


Whether you’re a self-proclaimed foodie or simply seeking an authentic culinary experience, Phnom Penh’s vibrant street food scene is sure to leave you with a taste of the city’s rich flavors and a memory of the delightful culinary adventure.


Stunning Architecture

Phnom Penh is a city that boasts a diverse array of stunning architecture, reflecting its rich history and cultural influences. From ancient temples to French colonial buildings, the city’s architectural landscape is a captivating blend of old and new.


One of the most awe-inspiring architectural wonders in Phnom Penh is the majestic Royal Palace. This opulent complex showcases traditional Khmer architecture, with its intricate detailing, towering spires, and lush gardens. The stunning Throne Hall, where royal ceremonies take place, is a highlight not to be missed.


Another architectural gem is the iconic Wat Phnom. This Buddhist temple, situated on a hill, offers panoramic views of the city and features a unique blend of Khmer and Chinese architectural styles. It is a place of tranquility and spirituality, with lush greenery and ornate sculptures that tell stories of ancient legends.


Phnom Penh’s architectural charm is also influenced by its French colonial history. The French Quarter, with its wide boulevards and elegant buildings, showcases a blend of European and Khmer influences. Stroll along the riverside promenade or visit the Central Market, and you’ll be captivated by the beautiful colonial-era buildings that have been impeccably preserved.


For architecture enthusiasts, a visit to the Phnom Penh Central Railway Station is a must. This striking yellow building with its distinctive Khmer design elements is a testament to Cambodia’s past as the hub of the railway system. Though the trains no longer run, the station stands as a reminder of Phnom Penh’s historical significance.


In recent years, Phnom Penh has also embraced modern architecture, with sleek high-rise buildings dotting the skyline. The Vattanac Capital Tower, standing as the tallest building in the city, is an impressive sight to behold. Its sleek design and modern aesthetic are a testament to the city’s growth and development.


Whether you appreciate ancient temples, colonial-era buildings, or modern skyscrapers, Phnom Penh’s stunning architecture offers something for everyone. Exploring the city’s architectural gems is a journey through time, allowing you to appreciate the beauty and craftsmanship that has shaped the city’s identity.


Affordable Living

One of the many reasons why Phnom Penh has become increasingly popular among expats and digital nomads is its affordable cost of living. Compared to many other capital cities in the region, Phnom Penh offers a high standard of living at a fraction of the price.


Housing is one of the most significant factors contributing to the affordability of living in Phnom Penh. Whether you prefer to rent an apartment or a house, you’ll find a range of options that fit different budgets. From modern and luxurious residences to more budget-friendly accommodations, there is something to suit every expat’s needs and preferences.


When it comes to dining out, Phnom Penh offers a wide variety of options to satisfy any palate, at prices that won’t break the bank. You can indulge in delicious local street food for just a few dollars, or enjoy a meal at a mid-range restaurant for a fraction of the cost compared to other major cities around the world. Additionally, fresh produce and ingredients for cooking at home are also affordable and readily available in local markets and supermarkets.


In terms of transportation, Phnom Penh offers a range of affordable options. The city has a reliable and inexpensive public bus system, as well as tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis for shorter distances. Renting or buying a motorbike is also a popular choice among expats, as it provides convenience and flexibility at a low cost.


Furthermore, the cost of healthcare in Phnom Penh is significantly lower compared to many Western countries. The city has both public and private healthcare facilities that offer quality medical services at a fraction of the cost, making it an attractive destination for retirees and long-term visitors.


Another aspect that contributes to the affordability of living in Phnom Penh is the availability of leisure and entertainment options at reasonable prices. Whether you enjoy exploring historical sites, visiting museums, or indulging in spa treatments and wellness activities, you’ll find that the cost of entertainment and leisure activities in Phnom Penh is relatively affordable.


Overall, Phnom Penh offers an affordable and comfortable lifestyle that allows individuals to stretch their finances while still enjoying a high quality of life. With affordable housing, dining options, transportation, healthcare, and leisure activities, living in Phnom Penh provides excellent value for money and is an attractive choice for those seeking a more cost-effective place to settle down or work remotely.


Friendly Locals

Phnom Penh is renowned for its warm and friendly locals, a characteristic that adds an extra layer of charm to the city. Cambodians are known for their genuine hospitality and welcoming nature, making visitors feel right at home from the moment they arrive.


As you wander through the streets of Phnom Penh, don’t be surprised if you’re greeted with warm smiles and friendly greetings. Cambodians are known for their kindness and willingness to assist others. If you ever find yourself in need of directions or recommendations, locals are more than happy to lend a helping hand.


Interacting with the locals can provide a deeper understanding of the city and its culture. Strike up a conversation with a vendor at a local market or engage in a friendly chat with a tuk-tuk driver, and you’ll find that Cambodians are open, friendly, and eager to share their stories and experiences.


One of the best ways to experience the genuine hospitality of the locals is through participating in community activities or attending local events. Whether it’s joining a traditional dance class, partaking in a cooking workshop, or celebrating a local festival, you’ll find that the locals are delighted to share their culture with you and make you feel like part of the community.


Furthermore, the warm and friendly nature of the locals extends beyond interactions with tourists. Expats and long-term residents often comment on the sense of community they feel in Phnom Penh. Whether it’s through joining social clubs, sports teams, or volunteering opportunities, you’ll have ample opportunities to connect with both locals and fellow expats, forming lasting friendships and support networks.


Phnom Penh’s friendly locals play a significant role in creating an inviting and welcoming atmosphere for visitors. Their warmth, generosity, and genuine hospitality help to forge connections and create unforgettable experiences, making Phnom Penh a city that is not only beautiful but also filled with genuine human connections.


Beautiful Natural Landscapes

Phnom Penh, often known for its bustling city life, also offers breathtaking natural landscapes that showcase the beauty of Cambodia. From picturesque rivers to serene lakes and lush green spaces, the city provides a tranquil escape for nature lovers.


One of the most mesmerizing natural attractions in Phnom Penh is the stunning Mekong River. As one of the world’s longest rivers, the Mekong flows gracefully through the city, offering enchanting views and opportunities for boat rides and cruises. Taking a leisurely boat trip along the river allows you to witness the vibrant river life and admire the scenic surrounding countryside.


The Royal Palace complex is also home to a serene oasis known as the Royal Palace Gardens. This lush green space provides a peaceful retreat from the bustling city. Stroll through the well-maintained grounds, featuring meticulously manicured lawns, vibrant flowers, and calming ponds, creating a serene atmosphere to relax and unwind.


For nature enthusiasts, a visit to the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, also known as the Killing Fields, offers a unique opportunity to pay tribute to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime and embrace the tranquility of nature. Nestled amidst fields and trees, this somber memorial offers a somber reminder of Cambodia’s history, as well as a quiet space for reflection.


Phnom Penh is also home to several beautiful lakes, providing scenic spots to enjoy nature. One notable example is Boeung Kak Lake, which was once a popular tourist spot. Although much of the lake has been developed into a residential area, it still offers picturesque views and serves as a gathering place for locals and visitors alike.


Just a short drive from Phnom Penh, you’ll find stunning natural landscapes waiting to be explored. The nearby Udong Mountain, with its rolling hills and ancient temples, offers panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. In addition, the picturesque Silk Island, also known as Koh Dach, is a serene retreat known for its silk production and scenic countryside views.


Phnom Penh’s natural landscapes serve as a reminder of the country’s breathtaking beauty. Whether you’re seeking tranquility on the river, exploring serene gardens, or embarking on a short excursion to nearby natural wonders, the natural landscapes of Phnom Penh offer an escape from the urban hustle and a chance to reconnect with nature.


Exciting Nightlife

As the sun sets, Phnom Penh transforms into a vibrant city that comes alive with an exciting and diverse nightlife scene. Whether you’re looking to party the night away or enjoy a more relaxed evening, Phnom Penh offers something for everyone.


For those seeking an energetic and lively atmosphere, the city is dotted with bars, clubs, and lounges that cater to various tastes and preferences. From trendy rooftop bars overlooking the city skyline to bustling nightclubs playing the latest hits, the nightlife in Phnom Penh offers a vibrant and energetic experience.


Riverside is one of the popular areas for nightlife in Phnom Penh. Here, you can find a mix of bars, pubs, and restaurants lining the riverfront. Enjoy a cold beer or sip on a refreshing cocktail while taking in the beautiful views of the Mekong River. The atmosphere is lively, with live music, street performances, and the sound of laughter filling the air.


Bassac Lane, located in the trendy BKK1 neighborhood, is another hotspot for nightlife in Phnom Penh. This narrow street is lined with small bars and hip lounges, each offering its own unique ambiance and style. It’s a great place to mingle with locals, expats, and travelers, enjoying the vibrant and pulsating energy of the city.


For a more laid-back evening, Phnom Penh also offers a range of options. You can enjoy a leisurely dinner at one of the many riverside restaurants, feasting on delicious Khmer cuisine while enjoying the calming river breeze. Alternatively, you can unwind in one of the cozy jazz bars, where talented musicians serenade the crowd with soulful tunes.


For those seeking a cultural experience, Phnom Penh is home to traditional dance performances and live music shows. Immerse yourself in the rich Cambodian culture as you watch graceful dancers in traditional costumes perform intricate moves or enjoy live music that blends local and international sounds.


Phnom Penh’s exciting nightlife scene extends into the late hours, ensuring that there is always something happening regardless of the time. Whether you’re dancing the night away, enjoying a quiet drink with friends, or experiencing the cultural performances, the nightlife in Phnom Penh offers an exhilarating and memorable experience.


Thriving Art and Music Scene

Phnom Penh is a city that celebrates creativity and artistic expression, with a thriving art and music scene that continuously evolves and captivates visitors and locals alike. From contemporary art exhibitions to live music performances, the city offers a vibrant and diverse cultural experience.


Art enthusiasts will find plenty to explore in Phnom Penh. The city is home to numerous art galleries and studios that showcase the works of local and international artists. Whether you’re interested in traditional Khmer art, contemporary paintings, or experimental installations, there is something to cater to every artistic taste.


One of the leading institutions for contemporary arts in Phnom Penh is the renowned Sa Sa Bassac gallery. This contemporary art space showcases thought-provoking exhibitions, highlighting the works of talented Cambodian artists who push boundaries and challenge conventions.


For a deeper appreciation of culture and art, the Cambodian Living Arts organization offers immersive experiences, including traditional dance performances and craft workshops. This nonprofit organization aims to preserve and promote Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage, providing a platform for artists to showcase their skills and talents.


In addition to visual arts, Phnom Penh also has a thriving music scene. Whether you’re a fan of jazz, rock, electronic, or traditional Khmer music, you’ll find venues that cater to diverse musical tastes. The city is home to live music venues and bars that host talented local and international musicians, providing a platform for them to showcase their skills and entertain audiences.


For a taste of traditional Khmer music, catch a performance by the renowned Cambodian Living Arts ensemble. They bring to life the beautiful melodies of classical Khmer music, blending traditional instruments and enchanting vocals to provide a mesmerizing cultural experience.


Phnom Penh also celebrates music festivals that bring together local and international talent. The renowned Phnom Penh Jazz Festival showcases the best of jazz music, while the Water Festival, held annually on the Tonle Sap River, features boat races, fireworks, and live music performances.


Phnom Penh’s thriving art and music scene not only showcases the talents of local artists and musicians but also offers visitors and residents a platform to immerse themselves in the city’s vibrant cultural fabric. Whether you’re exploring art galleries, attending live music performances, or participating in art workshops, the creative energy of Phnom Penh is sure to inspire and leave a lasting impression.


Convenient Transportation

Phnom Penh offers a range of convenient transportation options that make getting around the city a breeze. Whether you’re exploring the city center or venturing out to nearby attractions, you’ll find reliable and affordable modes of transportation to suit your needs.


One of the most common modes of transportation in Phnom Penh is the ubiquitous tuk-tuk. These three-wheeled motorized vehicles can be found throughout the city and offer a flexible and convenient way to navigate the streets. Tuk-tuks are a popular choice for short distances, providing a fun and open-air experience as you zip through the bustling streets.


For longer journeys or a more private mode of transport, taxis and ride-hailing services are readily available in Phnom Penh. Companies like Uber and Grab operate in the city, offering a safe and reliable option for getting around. Taxis are also readily available, either hailed on the street or booked through a phone app.


Phnom Penh also has a well-maintained public bus system, which is an affordable option for traveling longer distances within the city. The bus network covers major routes and key areas, providing an economical and efficient way to get around.


Motorbike taxis, known as “motos,” are another popular mode of transportation in Phnom Penh. They are ideal for navigating through traffic-clogged streets and can take you to your destination quickly, especially during peak hours. It’s important to note that motos can be a more adventurous option, so do ensure to wear a helmet and negotiate the fare before hopping on.


For those interested in exploring beyond the city limits, Phnom Penh offers convenient transportation options for day trips and excursions. Renting a motorbike or hiring a private car with a driver allows you to venture out to nearby attractions such as the Killing Fields, Silk Island, or the beautiful countryside surrounding the city.


Overall, Phnom Penh’s convenient transportation options make getting around the city a hassle-free experience. Whether you prefer the charm of a tuk-tuk, the convenience of a taxi or ride-hailing service, or the affordability of the public bus system, you’ll find a mode of transportation to suit your preferences and budget.



Phnom Penh, with its rich history, vibrant culture, and captivating attractions, stands as one of the best cities in the world to visit or even call home. From exploring ancient temples and museums that elucidate the country’s past, to indulging in the vibrant street food scene and immersing oneself in the city’s stunning architecture, Phnom Penh offers a wealth of experiences to satisfy all interests and desires.


The city’s affordability, coupled with the warm and friendly nature of the locals, creates a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. Phnom Penh’s beautiful natural landscapes, including the serene rivers, lakes, and green spaces, provide an escape from the urban hustle and a chance to reconnect with nature.


Phnom Penh also boasts an exciting nightlife scene, with its bars, clubs, and live music venues offering lively experiences that cater to diverse tastes. The city’s thriving art and music scene showcases the creativity and talent of local and international artists, providing a rich cultural experience.


Convenient transportation options make navigating the city and exploring its surroundings a breeze. From tuk-tuks and taxis to public buses and ride-hailing services, Phnom Penh offers an array of convenient and reliable modes of transportation.


In conclusion, Phnom Penh is a city that offers a unique blend of history, culture, affordability, natural beauty, vibrant nightlife, and artistic flair. Whether you’re a history enthusiast, a food lover, an adventure seeker, or simply looking for an authentic cultural experience, Phnom Penh has something to offer everyone. With its warm climate, friendly locals, and an unforgettable atmosphere, Phnom Penh stands tall among the best cities in the world, inviting you to explore and create lasting memories.