Phnom Penh in Three Days : A City Guide
When I first arrived in Phnom Penh, I spent the week visiting the tourist known spots, trying to see as much as I can within a short amount of time. Although most friends have cautioned that there’s nothing much to see in this sleepy city, I beg to differ. I took the time to plan, read up local pocket guide books (free ones from cafes and restaurants) before deciding on where to explore, hitting the historical sites first before opting for some local shopping activity.
Since I’ve received emails of late asking about where and how travelers can maximize their time in Phnom Penh, I’ve put together this helpful list for planning purposes. However as always, before you arrive in any city during your travels, it’s always good to pin down what are the things you like to do so that you can enjoy your trip.
Day 1: Stay in the city.
1] Phnom Penh Royal Palace – Stay in the city on your first day to Phnom Penh and visit the iconic and grand Palace which is home to the Khmer Royals. See the Moonlight Pagoda where traditional dances take place during Royal ceremony, the Silver Pagoda and the colorful mural walls. Take a stroll in the park and enjoy the lavish compound like a Princess.
2] Feed Pigeons at the Royal Palace Grounds – Just outside the Palace is a large grassy area facing the Riverside. This is where most locals spend their early mornings and evenings, either having picnics with their family or feeding the pigeons. I brought friends here one time and we got a pack of seeds ($1), threw them to birds and ran when they flocked down on us. You can get some interesting photo opportunity here catching the birds flying from the roofs of the Royal pavilion.
3] Wat Botum Pagoda & Park – Just beside the palace is the Wat Botum Pagoda and park. This is where local teens gather to practice their dance routine in the evening. The Vietnam-Cambodia friendship monument can also be seen here, a symbol of peace after the war in the country. From here, you can see the Wat Botum Pagoda, also known as the Temple of the Lotus Blossoms with its tall, pointy roof top.
4] Riverside Cruise – Ditch the tuk tuk and take a walk on the Riverside along the Mekong River. Watch locals play their favorite sports and peek at the local street snack vendors. Eat with caution though and avoid if you have weak stomach as the food preparation are often questionable. Go all the way to the north side, where the Riverside Pier is located and take the boat out to catch the sunset of both sides of the city (Chroy Changvar and Phnom Penh).
Day 2: Must-See historical landmarks.
1] Cheong Ek Killing Fields – The Choeung Memorial or The Killing Fields is one out of 300 that can be found in the entire Cambodia. This location is also the largest of its kind with 20,000 including foreigners executed and murdered during Pol Pot and his Ultra Communist Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979.
2] The Toul Sleng Genocide Museum – Also known as the Toul Sleng Prison Museum or S-21, this was once a high school until the Pol Pot regime took over and turned it into a torture prison. Walk around the school compound and inside the classes to see evidence of the regime.
3] Wat Phnom – Located on a hill near the Riverside area is Wat Phnom, where locals are known to visit for prayers and offerings. It is also where Lady Penh found 4 statues of Buddha in a tree and turned this place into a shrine. Climb to the top for a view of the city and walk around the park to see the blooming flower clock.
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Day 3: Shop & Eat Local.
1] Admire the architectural of Central Market (and shop there!) – The most popular shopping place in Phnom Penh is the Central Market which is also known as Psar Thmei. It has an indoor and outdoor area filled with stalls from eateries to souvenirs. Although I mostly come here to buy fish and vegetables, travelers will be able to find something local to bring home to their loved ones. More markets can be found here “8 Traditional Markets to Visit in Phnom Penh.“
2] Get a good massage – After all the long walks and tuk tuk rides, you deserve a good foot massage. Go for the local ones along the Riverside or visit Bodia Spa for the Khmer massage that will give you a peaceful sleep at night.
3] Night Market – Visit the Phnom Penh Night Market for a taste of local food and items. It is located along the Riverside, surrounded by plenty of restaurants and bars. I usually come here for the coconut ice cream, the picnic setting (buy food and sit on the large mat to eat) and the cheap t-shirts. There’s also a stage where locals sing and dance for the audience in the evenings.
4] See the city from above – Phnom Penh has a flatland topography and this makes for an interesting view above the city. Have dinner or drinks at D22 Dining & Bar before going up to the Eclipse Sky Bar on the roof top of Phnom Penh Tower. There are very few towers in the city and at the moment only this tower has a viewing area.
Here’s a map for places of interest in Phnom Penh.
Other helpful tips to Phnom Penh:
- Thinking of visiting Phnom Penh, check-out HotelsCombined to find the best hotel deal for your stay. You’ll be surprised with the good rates that they’re offering, even for short and long term travel days.
- Get to know the best coffee places in the city here “Places for Good Coffee” for a more relaxing stay.
- Eat at Halal restaurants, read “Halal Eats in Phnom Penh” or go for vegetarian options which are plenty in this city.
- If you have more time to explore outside Phnom Penh, check out this list of “Cambodia Bus Trip Wish List” for some inspiration.
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.