For many travellers, Phnom Penh is nothing but an afterthought of the main attraction of the temples of Angkor. While there’s no denying that the temples of Angkor are the highlight of the tourism in Cambodia, the lively riverside and the cosmopolitan capital of Phnom Penh is no less charming. When I planned Phnom Penh, my original idea was to stay for only one night, but I ended up adoring the town so much that I overstayed for almost a week.
So, in my view, Phnom Penh definitely requires between 4 to 5 days. But if you’re short on time, and have no more than a couple of days to spare, this itinerary will help you plan your journey to Phnom Penh better.
Day 1 In Phnom Penh
To understand the country’s dark past and its people’s resilience, a visit to Phnom Penh’s Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is a must. Kickstart your day by getting a bargained tuk-tuk ride in under 10 dollars to The Killing Fields, which is about 9 kilometres south of the city centre. A heart-wrenching audio tour at Killing Field will take you back in time and explain how over two million people suffered and died during Pol Pet’s failed regime. Be prepared to witness mass graves littered with bones and a stupa which still contains some 8000 human skulls.
After The Killing Fields, head straight to visit Toul Sleng Genocide museum – a former school that the Khmer Rouge used for torturing over 17,000 people before they were finally sent to The Killing Fields.
Although many people would not find it a cheerful way to spend a couple of afternoons in Phnom Penh a visit to the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum help you understand Cambodia and its people better. So I’d definitely advise it!
Entry fee for Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum both, is 3 dollars each, with another 3 dollars for an audio tour headset.
The visit to Killing Fields and Genocide Museum will take a bigger chunk of your day’s activity. Once done with both and ready to see another side of the city, head to Phsar Tuol Tom Pong, otherwise known as the Russian Market. The reason why it is being called the Russian Market is that of the Russian expat population that shopped here in the 1980s. Come here to shop for souvenirs, fake antiques, silks, jewellery and discounted brand-name clothing.
In the evening, head to the riverside of Sisowath Quay. Take a stroll along the riverside and give your everning a slow start. Walk along the promenade in front of the Royal Palace (this is where you’re coming tomorrow) down along the riverfront. Here you can find cheap eats on the street – mostly selling barbecue skewers. If you prefer to eat at a table, there’s a choice of Khmer, Thai, Indian and pretty much everything else you can imagine – with food to suit all budget. Do not forget to sip a few 50 cent beers during happy hours.
Day 2 In Phnom Penh
Start your day learning a little more about Cambodia’s history, by making a quick visit to the National Museum of Cambodia. The entry to National Museum, however, is not free and costs 3 dollars. But given the exquisite relics, art and sculpture that the museum holds, 3 dollars is definitely not a big price.
Once done, head to the Royal Palace, which is located right behind the National Museum. If you’ve previously travelled to Thailand, and have visited the Royal Palace in Bangkok, you will notice similarities immediately. Phnom Penh’s Royal Palace is not as luxurious as the palace in Bangkok but worth the tiny 6 dollar admission fee.
Explore the splendid regal buildings and the Silver Pagoda inside the Royal Palace, before finally leaving for the Phsar Thmei (also known as the Central Market). Here you will find everything, from jewellery to dry fruits to Bowler Hats, but be prepared to negotiate harder as the prices are always told much higher initially. There is a nice food court right in the central market for some quick Khmer style munchies.
Do not, also, forget to get a ride in Cambodia’s very peculiar manual rikshaws. They’re different and fun!
For the evening, you can head back to the usual Sisowath Quay, or check out one of the only few rooftop bars in the city, including the two popular Le Moon and Eclipse Sky Bar. If, however, you’re heading to Bangkok next, I’d recommend dropping the idea of visiting a roof-top bar in Cambodia as they are better in Thailand, and rather just wander around the riverfront and drink a few rounds of beers before the happy hours come to an end.
Suggested Read: How Much A Holiday Costs In Cambodia