For many travellers, Phnom Penh is but an afterthought of the main attraction of the temples of Angkor. While there’s no denying that they are the highlight of tourism in the country – the lively riverside, cosmopolitan capital is no less in charm. For the city is lovely, and its many traditional and cultural sites make it an amazing spot to spend a few days.
Where in my view, the ideal time to explore Phnom Penh is definitely between 4 to 5 days, if you’re short of time, and have no more than a couple of days to spare, this itinerary would surely come in handy:
To understand the country’s dark past and its people’s resilience, a visit to Phnom Penh’s Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genoside Museum is a must. Kickstart your day by getting a bargained deal 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.
Once you’re back in town, from The Killing Fields, 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 by visiting Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genoside Museum, it makes for a hallowing and a memorable experience. Entry fee for Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genoside Museum both is 3 dollars, with 3 dollars more for an audio tour headset.
The visit to Killing Fields and Genoside Museum will take a bigger chunk of your day’s activity. Once you’re done with both and are 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 the Russian expat population that shopped here in 1980s. Come here to shop for souvenirs, fake antiques, silks, jewellery and discounted brand-name clothing. Though everything is supercheap and discounted here, vouching for the product authenticity, could be a dodgy deal.
In the evening, head to the riverside of Sisowath Quay. Take a wander, and give your everning a slow start. Walk along the promenade from 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.
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 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 the similarities to Phnom Penh’s Royal palace immediately. It’s 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 hard as the prices seem to be higher, and the traders tougher. There is a nice food court right in the central market for some quick, Khmer style munchies.
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 such as Le Moon or Exlipse Sky Bar. If you’re heading to Bangkok next, I’d recommend to leave the skybars to Thailand and rather wander towards 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]
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