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Phnom Penh Tours: 11 Best Day Tours for History, Culture & Food

Thinking of signing up for a tour in Cambodia’s capital? This guide to Phnom Penh tours shows you 11 of the best full and half-day city tours, history tours, alternative tours, and food tours.

Phnom Penh is a city with a notoriously complex history and a recent past that’s difficult to broach. It also has a completely underrated food scene – and a wonderful ‘hidden’ side that not many tourists get a chance to experience.

Most people tend to zip through Cambodia’s capital city on their way to or from Siem Reap. If you have limited time, a Phnom Penh tour could be just the thing you need to gain a deeper understanding of Cambodian history, life and culture in a short period.

This guide to Phnom Penh tours brings together 11 of my favourite full-day and half-day itineraries. No matter your interests or budget, I guarantee you’ll find something on this list that piques your curiosity!

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Phnom Penh reading list

Things to look for when choosing a Phnom Penh tour

Here are some of the key points I recommend you consider when choosing a tour in Phnom Penh.

  • Is the company locally owned? Supporting a Cambodian owned tour company – or at least a company that employs local guides – is an easy way to give back.
  • Group size: Is the number of participants capped? Will the tour be intimate, or will it be a large group? There are advantages to having a smaller tour group.
  • Additional fees: What’s included in the price and what’s not? Most tours don’t include entrance to attractions such as the Royal Place or the National Museum. Prices are steep ($10 a pop), so make sure you consider whether or not you want to spring for this before you book the tour.
  • Flexibility: Is there room to move in the itinerary, or is the day packed full? If the weather turns bad (not uncommon in Cambodia, where it can start pouring at the drop of a hat!), is there a Plan B in place?
  • Pick up/drop off from your accommodation: It is included? Not all tours offer this. If the itinerary starts some distance away from your accommodation, you’ll have to factor in the extra time and cost to get to the meeting place.
  • Vehicle type: If transport is included, is it in and air-conditioned van, or will you be riding in a tuk tuk?
The best Phnom Penh tours – including city tours, off-the-beaten-track tours, tours for food, nature, culture, DIY, and many more.

What to wear on your Phnom Penh tour

Loose, lightweight clothing is the way to go in Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap. If you’re visiting temples or sacred areas, or even just smaller villages on the outskirts of the city, it’s a good idea to cover your shoulders and knees (both ladies and men). Cambodian culture is quite conservative, so you’d do well to dress appropriately if you’re visiting local markets. Long sleeves will help keep the sun and the bugs off, too.

I always recommend carrying a lightweight cotton scarf (ladies) or a buff (men) in Cambodia. It could come in handy for covering your shoulders in temples, covering your mouth if the road is dusty – and a million other uses.

A wide-brim hat is absolutely essential at any time of year, and especially if you’re going to be out in the middle of the day.

What to bring with you

  • Your camera! It’s generally safe to bring out your camera in Phnom Penh – just use caution if you’re in a crowded area or near Riverside (notorious for pick pocketing).
  • Reusable water bottle & re-hydration tablets. Don’t contribute to Cambodia’s plastic waste problem. Bring an insulated water bottle and ask your guide where you can re-fill it.
  • Small change (preferably riel). This will come in handy if you stop by a local market or a local temple, where it’s customary to leave a small donation. Whatever you do, please don’t give money to children on the street.
  • Insect repellent & sunscreen. Essential if you’re going to be spending time outside as part of your tour. If your tour extends to dusk, you’ll need repellent with deet to keep the mosquitoes at bay.
  • Rain jacket & fold-up umbrella for the rainy season.

Tipping your guide & tour etiquette

Tipping is not mandatory or even commonplace in Cambodia, but it is very much appreciated. Gratuities are not normally included in the price of a pre-organised tour. If you’re satisfied with the service, it’s good practice to tip your guide. 10% is a reasonable amount to aim for – or more if you think your guide went above and beyond.

Don’t forget your driver! A small tip ($2-5) for your tuk tuk/van driver or boat captain is also appropriate. You may also choose to tip at any restaurants or cafes you visit as part of the tour as well. You can ask your guide for advice about this.


Best Phnom Penh tours

Here are 11 of my favourite Phnom Penh tours. Each of these itineraries can be done in a day or less, and offers participants a unique perspective on Cambodian history, culture, food, nightlife or spirituality.

Highlights of Phnom Penh

If you only have a day or two in Phnom Penh to see the sighs – or even if just prefer to have a local around to bounce questions off – a guided tour of the capital is a fast way to learn a lot about Cambodia. You can find specialised history-focused tours in the next section. This section is all about Phnom Penh tours that hit the city’s major highlights, mostly focused around the Riverside precinct.

French colonial architecture in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh Small Group City Tour

This 6-hour tour by tuk tuk or van provides a comprehensive introduction to Cambodia’s capital. If you want to tick off all the must-see (the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields), this is the best option.

Hotel pick up and drop off is included, and groups are limited to 12 people. Note that entrance fees must be handled on the day and are not rolled into the tour price.

Click here to check prices and availability.

National Museum, Russian Market & Wat Phnom

This full-day tour similarly focuses on the city’s highlights, but looks at Cambodian history through a different lens: that of art and culture. It kicks off at the National Museum, where you’ll get an introduction to the Khmer Empire through the various artefacts on display. The museum is famously lacking in English didactics, so having a guide here is imperative.

Instead of heading to the Royal Palace, the tour takes you south to Phnom Penh’s trendiest expat neighbourhood, Tuol Tompoung. Here, you can browse the atmospheric Russian Market and maybe pick up a souvenir or two (just be aware that most offerings are quite touristy!). The tour concludes back up at Riverside at Wat Phnom, the city’s most important shrine. Private hotel transfer and all entrance fees are included in the price of this tour.

Click here to check prices and availability.


History focused Phnom Penh tours

Cambodian history can be confronting and honestly quite difficult to face. It’s the last thing many people want to delve into when they’re on holiday.

Hard as it may be to process, I strongly believe all visitors to the Kingdom should take the time to learn about the Khmer Rouge period and honour those who fell victim to the brutal regime. It helps to put everything into perspective, and will give you a renewed appreciation for the strength and resilience of this nation and its culture.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

Killing Fields & S21 Hop On Hop Off

This 4.5-hour tour covers Phnom Penh’s two most notorious Khmer Rouge sites: Choeung Ek Killing Fields, and the Genocide Museum (S21 Prison). There are morning and afternoon departures depending on your preference.

Entrance fees, the Choeung Ek audio guide (100% recommended) and a guide at S21 must be covered at your own expense. Indeed, the main benefit of this tour is air conditioned transport between the two sites (a 40-minute-plus drive in either direction). The low price reflects this.

Click here to check prices and availability.

Phnom Penh’s Past

Run by Urban Adventures, this 4-hour history tour visits the same locations but takes a much more hands-on approach.

As well as Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields, your local guide will also show you lesser-known sites related to the Khmer Rouge and Cambodia’s civil war, including a bullet-pocked building where journalists took refuge in 1975. Another benefit of this tour is that your English-speaking guide will accompany you inside S21 and narrate the museum. From what I understand, guides are quite open about speaking candidly. The tour concludes with a sit-down snack for that purpose exactly.

Entrance fees to the two museums are also included in the price.

Click here to check prices and availability.


Best tours to discover Phnom Penh’s hidden gems

Phnom Penh is an incredibly diverse city that’s emerging from its turbulent past with voracity. Every time I go back, I’m always blown away by how quickly the landscape is shifting – for better or for worse.

Amidst all this change, there are so many terrific hidden pockets in Phnom Penh – local neighbourhoods, street art precincts, and my favourite wet markets in Southeast Asia. These locally guided Phnom Penh tours are a great way to get off the beaten path and unlock the ‘real’ city with a local as your chaperone.

The best Phnom Penh tours – including city tours, off-the-beaten-track tours, tours for food, nature, culture, DIY, and many more.
Two cyclo drivers in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh Private Welcome Tour with a Local

Is this your first visit to Cambodia? I remember the first time I set foot in Phnom Penh – it was overwhelming to say the least! This completely customisable 2-6 hour tour is designed to allay your trepidations and help you fall in love with Phnom Penh.

Led by ‘lokafyer’ local guides, tours centre around the neighbourhood where you’re staying. They’ll show you where to eat, how to get around, and open your eyes to any gems you may have missed. After you book, a short Q&A is sent to gauge your interests and help match you with a personalised lokafyer. It’s designed to be a walking tour, but you can opt for tuk tuk if you prefer. Culture, politics – nothing is out of bounds when you’re talking with a lokafyer. I highly recommend this tour for solo travellers.

Click here to check prices and availability.

Hidden Phnom Penh City Tour

This afternoon tour is all about discovering Phnom Penh’s backstreets. It’s a mixed itinerary of walking, tuk tuking and riding in a cyclo – the city’s most time-honoured form of transportation. In between visiting must-see Wat Phnom and Independence Monument, you’ll touch on local markets and other hidden corners, sampling street food and Cambodian coffee along the way.

This tour is a great choice for solo travellers or anyone who loves street photography. It’s run by Grasshopper Adventures, one of Cambodia’s most reputable tourism providers.

Click here to check prices and availability.


Phnom Penh food tours

Phnom Penh is a melting pot in the truest sense of the word. It’s where all of Cambodia’s diverse regional flavours come to play.

This is one of the best places in the country to try local Khmer food. A food-focused tour of the capital will give you an invaluable insight into local produce and cooking techniques, and debunk the myth that Cambodia doesn’t have a cuisine worth trying once and for all!

The best Phnom Penh tours – including city tours, off-the-beaten-track tours, tours for food, nature, culture, DIY, and many more.
A typical Cambodian food stand in Kampong Cham.

Small-Group Evening Street Food Tour

If you’re planning a visit to Southeast Asia, there’s a pretty high chance you’re into street food. Phnom Penh’s street food scene isn’t the same as Thailand or Vietnam’s, but it’s definitely worth investigating (and by investigating, I mean chomping your way through).

This all-you-can-eat dusk street food tour takes you to street food hot spots around Central Market, Independence Monument and Wat Phnom. Transport is by tuk tuk. There are more than enough opportunities to graze along the way – just make sure you leave enough room for the sit-down dinner and dessert at the end.

Click here to check prices and availability.

Mekong River Sunset Cruise with BBQ

One of the loveliest ways to spend an evening in Phnom Penh is cruising on the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers at sunset. Now try that on a boat that used to belong to a Cambodian Prince, and you’re really in business.

The only thing that could make this better – unlimited finger food and drinks. As the champagne flows, your guide will show you through floating villages and point out the city’s most prominent colonial buildings. Hotel pick up and drop off are included.

Click here to check prices and availability.


DIY & creative Phnom Penh tours

If culture is your thing, these Phnom Penh tours focus on experiential learning by exploring Cambodia’s diverse and deeply rooted art forms.

The best Phnom Penh tours – including city tours, off-the-beaten-track tours, tours for food, nature, culture, DIY, and many more.

Cambodian Dance Workshop

Join a professional dancer in the leafy grounds of the National Museum for a crash course in classical and folk dance. Over 90 minutes, you’ll learn all you need to know to perform on stage with live musicians.

Costumes are provided, and the class focuses not only on dance but also on strength, posture and flexibility. It’s a great workout. There’s an equal focus on learning the significance of the moves and the history of Cambodian Apsara. The 90-minute workshop is open to all ages and a fun choice for families with kids.

You can also try a version of this tour in Siem Reap.

Click here to check prices and availability.

If you’d rather just watch, you can book tickets for the nightly Cambodian Living Arts dance show, Plae Pakaa, here.


Best Phnom Penh tours to escape the city

Captivating as it is, the traffic, the heat and the frantic pace of Phnom Penh can start to feel oppressive after a few days. If you have more time in the capital, I highly recommend one of these Phnom Penh tours to escape the concrete jungle and get out into Cambodia’s gorgeous green countryside.

Phnom Penh.

Mekong Islands Rural Half-Day Bike Tour

Led by Grasshopper Adventures expert guides, this half-day, all-inclusive tour on mountain bikes takes you to one of the most fascinating parts of the city: the Mekong Islands. Over 25km you’ll see the rice paddies, meet local families, and do a few river crossings on Phnom Penh’s ‘extremely authentic’ car ferries.

Cycling around the islands was one of my favourite weekend activities when I lived in Phnom Penh – it’s quite literally a breath of fresh air. You’ll be amazed how quickly the landscape changes from harsh concrete to verdant pastures.

Click here to check prices and availability.

Round-trip Cruise to Oudong

Cambodia’s former royal capital, Oudong, is a convenient day trip from Phnom Penh. If you go DIY, you’ll need to either cycle or travel by tuk tuk. This alternative tour from the new capital to the old takes the scenic route, up the Tonle Sap river on an open-deck boat.

Cruise through fishing villages and past beautiful countryside on your way to the Oudong hills. An Asian BBQ feast awaits you at your final destination, along with a chilled bottle of French white.

Click here to check prices and availability.


Where to stay in Phnom Penh

My top choice of accommodation in Phnom Penh is The Balé, an exquisite riverside resort located 20 minutes north of the Royal Palace. Come for the Mekong infinity pool – stay for the cheeseboard breakfast!

If you’re on a budget or you’re looking for something different, check out more options in my comprehensive Phnom Penh accommodation guide.

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