Phnom Penh, or the City of Four Faces, is the capital of Cambodia. However, many travellers believe that the only sight worth seeing here is the infamous killing fields. As a result it gets missed off many itineraries which is such a shame. There is so much to do and see in and around this growing city that you should definitely consider including it on your Cambodian, or South East Asian trip.
We thoroughly enjoyed our few days here and you will too. Our luxury accommodation at the Frangipani Hotel totally helped (I mean who doesn’t love a roof top pool and buffet breakfasts?!). But the culture, the cuisine and the general atmosphere of this place will attest to it’s nickname, the Charming City.
day 1 -Arrival PM
Once you’ve settled in to your accommodation (check out our review of the Frangipani if you’re looking for ideas) you’re ready to hit the city.
Head straight to the Buddhist temple, Wat Phnom. It sits in the city’s centre, on an artificial “hill”, and is the tallest religious structure in the city. Famous for its stairway leading up to the main chapel, this is a great way to start your visit. (P.S. it only costs $1 to get in!).
Enjoy your first evening in Phnom Penh with a lovely meal and a few drinks.There are so many different places to choose from of all cuisines, you won’t have to search for too long. If you’re staying at the Frangipani like us, hit the roof top pool and a happy hour cocktail.
day 2 -first morning
Start the day sombrely, by jumping in a tuk-tuk (believe me, it won’t take long to find one) and grab a lift to Choeung Ek (Killing Fields). You should be able to get a return trip for somewhere in the region of $10-$15 depending on your negotiation skills. This is a historical and cultural site, marking just one of many locations at which the infamous Khmer Rouge committed astounding atrocities against the Cambodian people. Get yourself an audio guide and stroll around the strangely peaceful and serene site. It’s not enjoyable as such, but interesting and definitely something you should do if you want to get a true understanding of the country’s very recent suffering.
If you’re after more depressing facts, then you can head to S21 – the Tuol Sleng Genocide museum. However, if you’ve only got 48 hours in Phnom Penh we would suggest lightening things up a bit and instead visit the Russian Market. It’s souvenir shopping time; from your classic flowy elephant trousers all the way to a 4ft stone carving of Buddha. (no idea how you’re supposed to get them home!). It’s big, it’s a tad claustraphobic as it’s all under cover and it’s relatively dark. It’s easy to get lost so take your time. When you eventually find your way out, it is surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants.
Now it’s time to rub shoulders with the royalty. Well, not quite; As a symbol of the city the Royal Palace complex which also includes the Silver Pagoda is a must see on any Phnom Penh itinerary. The actual palace itself is comparable to the Grand Palace in Bangkok, just a lot smaller. However, at $6.50 entry per adult it may be considered a tad expensive for what you get.
You can only go inside a few of the buildings, mostly having to make do with glimpsing in windows. In the silver pagoda, the vast majority of the solid silver floor tiles (hence the name) are hidden under carpet and there are no signboards or information. Our advice would be to hire a guide if you want to get a better insight into the country’s regal history. Either way we would still say go for it!
We would suggest spending the rest of your afternoon simply walking around the city. Head down the river (Tonle Sap) on the Promenade and then head inland and back up. Explore the various neighbourhoods, stumble across local markets and generally just watch as real life happens.
For your last evening in the city grab a couple of tickets to the Cambodian Living Arts performance which is held in the grounds of the National Museum. An organisation which has restored some of the traditional performing arts, almost lost under the Khmer Rouge regime, these shows are a must see if you’re in Phnom Penh. You can book online here , buy a ticket from just outside the National Museum or on the door. Shows start at 7pm Monday to Saturday.
day 3 – final morning in phnom penh
For your last morning in the city, hail another tuk-tuk and ask for Central Market. This is Asian shopping at its best. Located inside and around a massive Art Deco style building, there isn’t anything you can’t buy here. Whether you’re looking typical souvenir tat, high-end jewellery or you want something freshly cooked to eat, it’s all here. If you don’t want to buy anything you can still easily spend an hour just walking round taking it all in.
Have you been to Phnom Penh? What did you get up to whilst you were there? Is there anything we’ve missed which you think is a must do? Get in touch in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.