Phnom Penh Travel Guide for Foodies
FOOD & DRINK YOU MUST TRY IN PHNOM PENH
For breakfast through dinner, many locals enjoy a bowl of nom banh chok – a fresh rice noodle dish we enjoy during our Phnom Penh Evening Tour! The noodles are served with a green curry and topped with bean sprouts, green beans, cucumbers and other fresh local greens. They taste as good as they look!
Beef Lok Lak
Beef lok lak, or stir-fried beef in brown sauce, is a stir-fry with onions, cucumbers, and tomatoes. The best part is dipping the beef in a classic local sauce made of lime juice, salt, and pepper. Sometimes the meat is served with lettuce leaves for you to make wraps. Go ahead and eat with your hands!
Fish Amok is arguably one of the most famous Cambodian dishes. Often served in a banana leaf, fish amok has a thick, custard-like curry, flavorful without being overly spicy. The base consists of coconut milk, coconut cream and an anchovy fish sauce which has lemongrass, lime zest, turmeric and dried chilies. Why most of the world has never heard of this dish is beyond us!
Unique Fruit Salads
Spicy fruit salads are a unique Cambodian twist on fresh salad. Our Phnom Penh Evening Food Tour includes a stop for fresh mango salad (nhoam svay) – a combination of unripened mango and local herbs and flavors like red onion, basil, Asian coriander, and mint; and then tossed with fish sauce, sugar, and peanuts. Other variations include papaya salad (bok lahong) with green beans, tomatoes, shredded carrots and dried shrimp and chilies, as well as banana flower salad (nhoim troyong chiek) with garlic, peppers, cucumber, and carrots.
Cambodian sandwiches (num pang) are similar to the Vietnamese Banh Mi – a fresh baguette toasted and piled high with meats, pate or sardines and some pickled veggies. Much like in Vietnam, the sandwiches will vary from city to city, but they’re always tasty. Just look for a street cart with baguettes piled high and you’ll know you are in the right place!
This is not the veggie dip that you grew up with! Crisp and fresh vegetables are served with a spicy and sour fermented fish dip (prahok) – it’s an acquired taste, but definitely something worth trying and one dish that all Cambodians can agree to love!
A popular street snack, the squid (ang dtray-meuk), is prepared with lime juice or fish sauce, before being grilled or skewered and served with a Cambodian sauce made of garlic, fresh chilies, fish sauce, lime juice and sugar. Grilled squid can be found at many street vendors, our favorite is outside the Russian Market during the evening.
Khmer Pancakes & Salad
Another tasty food that we take you to try on our Phnom Penh Evening Food Tour! The pancakes (num banh chiao) are made from rice flour, coconut milk, turmeric, eggs and salt, and are fried up fresh to order. They are similar to Vietnamese pancakes, but are a lot bigger! Locals load these large pancakes up with bean sprouts, carrots, onions, and meat, usually minced pork and shrimp. On the side you will get a fresh salad. Add some peanut sauce, and throw on some toppings of your choice such as fish sauce, vinegar, garlic, peanuts or chilies if you prefer a little bit of heat!
Try Something Adventurous!
Feeling brave? Ready to step out of your comfort zone? Cambodia also has offerings for those with more of an adventurous palette. Balut, or chicken embryo in an egg, Red Tree Ants with Beef, or Fried Crickets are just a sample of foods to try if you’re feeling up for something a little more.. interesting.
OUR FAVORITE RESTAURANTS IN PHNOM PENH
Tom Yum Kung Restaurant
An unassuming little spot for Khmer and Thai food, Tom Yum Kung is delicious and cheap. The service can be a bit slow at times, but the wait staff is pleasant and the food makes it worth your while! Sit upstairs on a hot day, as the AC is usually more effective up there. We recommend ordering the sticky rice with mango for dessert! Click here for location.
A bit more pricy, Khmer Surin is a comfortable restaurant full of lush green plants with attentive waitstaff and prompt service. Enjoy a side of serenity with your meal, away from the bustle of the city! We recommend trying their fish amok. Click here for location.
Authentic Khmer dishes while offering up unique options not commonly found elsewhere, Mok Mony is a cute little restaurant on a quiet street with good service. There is a nice courtyard and inside seating area with AC. It may prove a little hard to find, but is worth the effort. We recommend trying the espresso ribs! Click here for location.
THINGS YOU MUST DO IN PHNOM PENH
Join a Lost Plate Tour!
Obviously! But really, take our guest’s word for it and join our Phnom Penh Evening Food Tour. It’s not just a food tour, it’s an adventure through the city. Eat the best local food you might not try otherwise, hear about the history of each dish while getting to know each restaurant owner, and get away from the tourist traps in your own tuktuk, all while enjoying a cold one… or three. #yummy
Stroll through the Royal Palace
Although it’s not entirely open to the public, the royal palace does have a large area that you can visit, including the beautiful silver pagoda and gardens. Construction dates back to 1866 and is in the traditional Cambodian architecture style. Wander around the scenic palace and gardens – a great place for beautiful photographs.
Go Market Hopping
There are plenty of opportunities to shop ’til you drop in Phnom Penh. Shop under the art deco style dome of the Central Market, haggle and barter your way through the Russian Market for souvenirs and trinkets, or, if you’re up for a little more of an adventure and less concerned with the shopping aspect, go straight to Orussey Market and wander around the cramped indoor space – but don’t expect to see any English signs!
Go on a Grasshopper Cycling Tour
Take an early morning bicycle ride through peaceful and scenic villages located just outside of Phnom Penh, accessible by a ferry ride. With the expertise of a local guide, wind your way leisurely through the Mekong islands. Lunch is included during the tour, as is water and fruits to keep you refreshed and hydrated throughout your ride! Visit Grasshopper Tours and book online.
Enjoy a River Cruise
There are many river cruise options available in Phnom Penh, both daytime and evening. Phnom Penh Urban Adventures has several different tour offerings that include river cruises. The Mekong River Half-Day Tour includes traveling by tuk-tuk to Silk Island, seeing firsthand how silk is woven on hand looms, meeting the local villagers, trying traditional Cambodian snacks, and finally, enjoying a sunset cruise along the Mekong River.
Take a Day Trip to Tonle Bati
Tonle Bati is a lake area about 30 km away from Phnom Penh. Many locals head to the spot on the weekend to enjoy picnics and to take a dip in the lake, so weekdays will be a less busy time to visit. Outside of the scenic lake, there are two ancient temples, Ta Promh and Yeay Peov, and a pagoda, Wat Tonle Bati, which was built in 1576. There are several companies that offer tours of Tonle Bati and surrounding areas – check out Euro Khmervoyages or Holiday Destination for two such options.
Get a Massage
Self care is in! There are many wonderful massage places in Phnom Penh to suit every budget. From high end relaxing spa experiences to affordable massages with a unique twist, the opportunities are plentiful. We recommend Bodia Spa for those looking for a high-end spa experience or Champei for those looking for a more typical western spa experience on a mid-range budget. Those looking to work some knots out while less concerned with the typical spa experience may enjoy the Seeing Hands Massage Center. Staffed with blind people, this massage center has about eight beds in one room – definitely not for those looking for some privacy while they receive treatment. #treatyoself
Grab a Drink With a View
There are a handful of really cool rooftop bars around the city. Le Moon Rooftop Bar is one such spot, overlooking both the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers. It offers a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere to sip on a cocktail and enjoy the open air. Another great open-air bar is Sundown Social club – outdoors but not super high up, it overlooks the Russian Market. For cheap happy hour cocktails and an unbeatable view, check out Penthouse Rooftop Restaurant & Bar. Popular with expats, backpackers and locals alike, the drinks are cheap and there are lots of Cambodian snacks to pair with your drink.
Learn about Cambodia’s History
We would be remiss not to recommend that tourists take in the somber and historical Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum. The history of Cambodia is one that includes unrest and visiting the areas that commemorate the victims provides a context for Cambodia as it is today. The Killing Fields invite reflection and introspection, and visitors can walk the now quiet and peaceful area, led by an audio guide. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is another important historical stop dedicated to remembering the victims of violence at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. Visitors pay a minimal fee (approx $8 USD), and audio guides are also included here. These are harrowing experiences that are nonetheless a major part of understanding Cambodia’s past and present.
WHERE TO STAY IN PHNOM PENH
Raffles Hotel Le Royal
For higher-end travelers, we recommend Raffles Hotel Le Royal. Originally opened in 1929 as the Hotel Le Royal, Raffles Hotel Le Royal is a beautiful mix of Khmer, French Colonial and Art Deco architectural styles. Right in the heart of Phnom Penh, the historical hotel has rooms with balconies overlooking the gardens or the two swimming pools in the courtyard below. Find out more here.
The Plantation Urban Resort & Spa
The Plantation Urban Resort & Spa is a beautiful and convenient option for travelers with a mid-range budget. Located just behind the Royal Palace, the plantation is somewhat of an oasis in the city. The building is a restored French mansion from the 1930’s that has undergone extensive renovations and additions. The hotel boasts a beautiful pool in the courtyard, offers free breakfast during your stay and also has a full-fledged spa with many amenities. For details, click here.
Okay Boutique Hotel
For budget-conscious travelers, our final pick is also located in the city center. Okay Boutique Hotel is a new hotel in Phnom Penh. The hotel is reasonably close to the airport, with free wifi and a large outdoor swimming pool. The Royal Palace is just a short walk away, and the hotel serves tasty and authentic Cambodian cuisine in the restaurant. The reception desk is staffed 24 hours a day and the hotel staff is happy to help guests arrange car or bicycle rentals, or assist in any other queries you may have during your stay. More details here.
TIPS FOR PHNOM PENH
Prep for your Food Tour
Plan for the basics: arrive hungry, dress for the weather, and don’t bring any large bags to ensure a comfortable ride with less hassle. Read our full FAQ Page for more insider info and tips!
Phnom Penh Summary
You’ve probably read all about Phnom Penh in preparation for your trip, but we think there’s a lot of special things that the city can offer to visitors! As the capital city, over 1.5 million Cambodians call Phnom Penh home. It sits on the banks of the Mekong, Tonle Sap, and Bassac rivers, and has a mix of Khmer and French Colonial architectural influences. There is so much to see – and so much to eat! See how the locals live by joining one of our Phnom Penh Food Tours.
Climate & Weather
The weather in Phnom Penh is tropical and consistently warm all year round, varying a few degrees throughout the seasons. Like most tropical climates, Phnom Penh has a rainy season and a dry season. Expect serious rain and high temperatures if visiting between May to October, and drier, cooler days between November and April (though April can still get some hot days).