phnom-penh-guide

Phnom Penh: What To See & Do | Complete Guide

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Many people visit Phnom Penh on their way to the Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap. If you’re searching for an itinerary that covers all the must-sees in Phnom Penh, I’ve got you covered! Spending 1-2 days in Phnom Penh is enough time to explore the vibrant city and my itinerary will ensure you don’t miss out on anything. Let’s make every minute count in Phnom Penh!

Best Time to Visit
November to March

Time Zone
UTC+7

Local Currency
Cambodian Riel (KHR), USD also widely accepted

Where to Stay
Phnom Penh Hotel Deals

Travel Insurance
Recommended; Get Quote

Why visit Phnom Penh?

Phnom Penh, the vibrant capital city of Cambodia, is a must-visit destination for travelers exploring Southeast Asia. As the largest city in the country, it serves as a hub for international flights and is well-connected to other cities in Cambodia. Its central location also makes it an ideal starting point for exploring the country’s many attractions, from the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in the north to the stunning beaches of Sihanoukville in the south.

Phnom Penh has a rich history and culture, having served as the capital of the Khmer Empire and later the French Protectorate of Cambodia. Visitors can explore its many museums and historical sites, including the Royal Palace and the Killing Fields memorial. Additionally, the city is known for its delicious cuisine, bustling markets, and vibrant nightlife.

Phnom Penh Itinerary: Arrival Day

This is your arrival day in Phnom Penh, and you will most likely arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport. It’s a small airport, and getting through immigration is usually a breeze.

Traffic can be hectic in the city, so keep that in mind when planning your transportation. During rush hour, which typically happens in the mornings and evenings, expect delays and heavy traffic.

Getting into Phnom Penh City / To Your Hotel

I recommend booking an airport pick-up service, especially if it’s your first time in the city or if you have a lot of luggage. This way, you can avoid the stress of navigating public transportation or haggling with taxi drivers. You can easily book your airport pick-up service with various companies, such as Grab or PassApp, through their mobile applications.

With this service, someone will greet you holding a sign with your name at the arrival terminal. From there, you will be driven directly to your hotel or any other drop-off location of your choice. It’s a hassle-free and safe way to start your trip in Phnom Penh.

Once you’re at your hotel and you’re checking in, you’re ready to explore! You likely don’t have too much time of the day left depending on your arrival time.

Where to Stay in Phnom Penh

My stay at Patio Hotel & Urban Resort in Phnom Penh was truly excellent, and I recommend it to anyone planning a visit, particularly solo female travelers. From the moment I arrived, I was captivated by the hotel’s charm and elegance. The rooftop pool, overlooking the city skyline, provided a tranquil retreat where I could unwind and soak up the sun.

The location of the hotel was a true advantage. Within a short 10-minute walk, I found myself immersed in the vibrant atmosphere of Central Market and the historic beauty of Wat Phnom.

With its inviting ambiance, outstanding amenities, and impeccable service, it’s no wonder that Patio Hotel & Urban Resort is a favorite among guests. The combination of its prime location, luxurious facilities such as the outdoor swimming pool and spa, and the warm and attentive staff make it an exceptional choice for anyone visiting Phnom Penh. My experience was nothing short of exceptional, and I wholeheartedly recommend this hotel to create unforgettable memories during your stay in the city.

Phnom Penh Night Food Tour

Joining a food tour in Phnom Penh is the perfect activity to kick off your Cambodia trip. You’ll learn about Cambodian food and what dishes to order for the following days of our trip.

On this food tour, you’ll zip past iconic landmarks on a tuk-tuk and explore the heart of Cambodian culinary culture. You get to indulge in fresh rice noodles, flavorful curries, and traditional dishes like crushed eggplant and prahok. Discover the importance of rice in Cambodian cuisine and savor succulent roasted meats. The tour ends at a rooftop bar with a local craft beer or cocktail. It’s a mouthwatering adventure that offers a deeper understanding of the country’s rich heritage.

Phnom Penh Itinerary Day 1

Welcome to your first full day in Phnom Penh! Today is all about exploring the history and culture of this city. The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are a must-visit, and you can also explore the National Museum of Cambodia to learn more about the country’s rich past. You can end your day at the Wat Phnom, one of the oldest temples in the city, and enjoy the sunset from the top. Let’s start exploring!

The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are two of the most magnificent and culturally significant landmarks in Phnom Penh.

The Royal Palace is the residence of the King of Cambodia and a symbol of the country’s sovereignty. It was built in the 1860s and is a blend of Khmer and French architectural styles. The Palace is a stunning example of traditional Khmer art and design, featuring intricate carvings, stunning murals, and breathtaking gardens.

The Silver Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha, is located within the grounds of the Royal Palace. This temple is so named for its silver tiled floors and houses a number of priceless treasures, including a golden Buddha statue adorned with over 2,000 diamonds, and a life-size solid gold Buddha statue that weighs 75 kg.

Visitors to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda can marvel at the incredible art and architecture on display and learn about the rich history of Cambodia‘s monarchy. The complex is also home to a number of other buildings and pavilions that are open to the public, including the Throne Hall, the Moonlight Pavilion, and the Khemarin Palace. The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are not to be missed on any visit to Phnom Penh.

Hours: daily 9am to 5pm

National Museum of Cambodia

Next up, you’ll just walk across the street over to the National Museum of Cambodia. This is another must-visit attraction for anyone interested in the country’s rich history and culture. Built in traditional Khmer style, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of Khmer art, including sculptures, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects.

Visitors can take a self-guided tour through the museum’s four galleries, which are arranged chronologically to tell the story of Cambodia‘s artistic and cultural development from the prehistoric era to the present day. One of the highlights of the museum is the stunning collection of Angkorian-era statues, including a 6th-century bronze Vishnu and a 9th-century Shiva from the Baphuon temple.

The museum’s exhibits are well-curated and informative, with English-language descriptions providing context and background information. Visitors can also opt for a guided tour for a more in-depth experience.

Hours: 8am – 11:30am, 1:30pm – 5pm

Mekong Riverfront

After the museum, you can walk over to the Mekong riverfront at Royal Palace Park. This is a fantastic place to explore as a tourist. It’s full of life and offers a vibrant atmosphere that’s hard to resist. There are street vendors selling mouthwatering Cambodian street food that will tempt your taste buds. And let’s not forget the stunning sunsets that paint the sky in breathtaking colors—it’s truly a sight to behold.

However, like any busy tourist spot, it’s important to be cautious. Unfortunately, there are pickpockets and scammers around, so it’s crucial to keep an eye on your belongings. Stay aware of your surroundings and be careful not to fall for overly persistent street vendors who might try to take advantage of your excitement. By staying alert and using common sense, you can fully enjoy the lively charm of the Mekong riverfront without any unpleasant incidents.

Wat Phnom

This historic temple sits atop a small hill and is surrounded by a lush park that offers a peaceful escape from the bustling city. The temple itself is said to have been built in the 14th century and has undergone several renovations since then.

Visitors can climb up the stairs to the temple and admire the intricate architecture and design of the structure. Inside, you will find several shrines and statues, as well as intricate paintings that depict stories from Cambodian folklore and mythology. The temple is an important place of worship for locals and visitors can observe the daily rituals and offerings made by devotees.

One of the main attractions of Wat Phnom is the large statue of the founder of Phnom Penh, Madam Penh. The statue stands tall in front of the temple, and visitors can take photos and pay their respects to this iconic figure.

The surrounding park is also worth exploring, with its beautiful gardens, ponds, and statues. Visitors can enjoy a leisurely stroll or relax on one of the many benches scattered throughout the park. The park also provides a great vantage point to take in the stunning views of the city skyline.

Entrance to the temple
Statue of Madam Penh
Locals praying in the temple

Go Shopping at the Russian Tuol Tompoung Market

If you’re looking for a unique and bustling market experience in Phnom Penh, make sure to visit the Russian Tuol Tompoung Market, affectionately known as the Russian Market. This vibrant marketplace holds a fascinating history and offers a treasure trove of goods that will captivate any visitor.

Originally frequented by Russian expatriates during the 1980s, the market has evolved into a must-visit destination for tourists seeking a taste of local culture. From colorful textiles and intricate handicrafts to antique furniture and dazzling jewelry, the Russian Market boasts an impressive array of items.

As you wander through the narrow aisles, you’ll be greeted by friendly vendors showcasing their wares and bargaining for the best prices. It’s a perfect spot to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of Phnom Penh, explore unique finds, and take home souvenirs that tell a story.

Whether you’re on the hunt for a traditional Cambodian silk scarf or a one-of-a-kind piece of art, the Russian Market promises an exciting and authentic shopping experience that will leave you with cherished memories of your time in Phnom Penh.

Hours: 6am – 4:30 pm, closed Wednesdays

Enjoy a Khmer dinner at Malis Restaurant

Now it’s time to dive into the local cuisine! And there’s one place that truly stands out when it comes to experiencing the rich flavors of Cambodian cuisine in Phnom Penh: Malis Restaurant.

This renowned eatery not only offers a delightful culinary experience but also holds a special place in the country’s gastronomic history. Established by renowned Cambodian chef Luu Meng, Malis is dedicated to preserving and elevating traditional Khmer dishes. The restaurant’s elegant setting and warm ambiance create a welcoming atmosphere that enhances your dining experience.

From delectable fish amok, a signature Khmer dish, to mouthwatering prahok ktis, a creamy curry, each dish at Malis is carefully crafted using locally sourced ingredients and time-honored techniques. The restaurant’s commitment to authenticity and exceptional taste has earned it a reputation as one of the finest dining establishments in Phnom Penh.

Hours: 6:30 am – 10:30 pm

Phnom Penh Itinerary Day 2

Cambodia’s dark history, marked by the Khmer Rouge regime’s reign of terror, is a somber chapter that has profoundly shaped the nation’s culture. To gain a deeper understanding of Cambodia‘s past and its resilient people, it is essential to visit sites like the Killing Fields and S-21 prison, where the atrocities committed are vividly depicted, allowing visitors to pay homage to the victims and reflect on the importance of peace and humanity.

The Killing Fields & Choeung Ek Memorial

About 30 minutes outside of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, lies a place of profound historical significance for the Cambodian people: the Killing Fields & Choeung Ek Memorial. It’s an extremely sad but oh-so-important place to visit to truly understand the life of Cambodian’s today.

When walking through the serene fields, the haunting remnants of Cambodia‘s dark past sits heavy in the air. You can truly feel that something horrible happened here. Each step of the audio-guided walking tour reveals chilling reminders of the Khmer Rouge regime’s atrocities, reminding us of the countless lives lost during their reign of terror.

The memorial stupa, adorned with the skulls and bones of victims, stands as a poignant symbol of remembrance and a stark reminder of the horrors inflicted upon innocent souls. It was a somber and emotional experience, yet one that holds immense importance in understanding Cambodia‘s history.

Some of the things mentioned in the audio guide are extremely graphic and I even had to turn it off at certain points – it’s A LOT. But I really urge you to visit this place when in Phnom Penh – it’s so important not to forget and to never let history repeat itself.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Also called the S-21 prison, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum goes hand in hand with a visit at the Killing Fields. Before many of the victims arrived at the killing fields, they were held and tortured at this prison.

Again, very graphic details are on display here – and it’s a difficult place to visit but one that shouldn’t be missed. Especially harrowing are the mug shot photographs of each individual prisoner taken right after their arrival to the prison. Many of them just children.

Visiting the Killing Fields and the S-21 prison are mentally draining – that’s why I recommend taking it a bit easy after you’ve seen both places.

Get a Massage at Samantha Spa

After visiting the darker side of Phnom Penh, you should treat yourself to some TLC. I came across this lovely massage parlor Samantha Spa and had one of the best massages of my life there.

I made a reservation for a 60-minute traditional Khmer Massage a few hours before my intended visit via the messenger on Google Maps.

Highly recommend!

Go on a Mekong Sunset Cruise

What better way to end your trip to Phnom Penh than a fancy Mekong sunset cruise? Sail along as the sun sets, revealing stunning views of the city, including the Royal Palace and Diamond Island. With the Mekong sunset cruise below, you can enjoy unlimited drinks, a fruit platter, and a witty tour guide who will entertain you throughout the journey.

It’s the perfect way to unwind and create memorable moments on the water.

Have fun in Phnom Penh!

As you can see, there’s a lot to see and do in Phnom Penh. Follow this guide and you’ll see the most important sites of the city – and a bit more!

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Linda

Linda has been living in Asia since 2012 and loves sharing her travel and life experiences on her website. She currently works remotely in Online Marketing and also teaches various English classes in South Korea.

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