More: 10-step guide to Siem Reap
But most live well below the poverty line, with 40% of Cambodia's population surviving on less than $1.25 a day according to non-government organization ActionAid.
Though violent crime is rare, petty theft is common.
Multiple locals share stories of having their iPhone 5s yanked out of their hands mid-text or a carelessly laid bag snatched from the seat of a tuk-tuk by a passing motorbiker.
At popular tourist spots like the Grand Palace, tourists still need to walk a heart-wrenching gauntlet of amputees and child beggars before they can enter.
The first page of a local magazine targeted at tourists has an arresting full-page ad sponsored in part by UNICEF, reminding visitors that "children are not tourist attractions."
It's part of a campaign to educate about the harm of "orphanage tourism," in which visitors pay to visit local institutions, thereby creating a market for more orphans.
But for visitors who can handle a side of grit, Phnom Penh is definitely worth a few days of exploration -- even if it's just for a stopover on the way to Siem Reap.
In the end you might just find the capital gives those old Angkor ruins a bit of competition in your mental Cambodia highlight reel.
More: Inside Cambodia's stunning new temple discoveries