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Planning to spend 2 days in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and looking to see as much as possible? There are so many things to see in Phnom Penh and the surrounding area. This 2-day itinerary will help you make the most out of your stay in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh is a city with both a rich and tragic history that travelers can begin to understand by taking in the eclectic French, Buddhist and Art Deco architecture as well as visiting the National Museum of Cambodia and hearing the harrowing stories told at Tuol Sleng and the Killing Fields.
While it’s important to highlight that Phnom Penh is a city on the rise – with a buzzing nightlife scene, breath-taking pavilions, parks and pagodas and a collection of chic hotels – it is also impossible to ignore, and vital to remember, the city’s dark past.
A trip to Phnom Penh is likely to be emotional, entertaining, heart-breaking and heart-warming in equal measure, and it will certainly be a destination that will stay with you for a lifetime.
The Best Time To Visit Phnom Penh
In general, Cambodia is a fairly year-round destination, with a warm, tropical climate making it lush, and temperate throughout the year. While this tropical weather does bring in daily downpours during the main rainy season, you can avoid these by visiting during the dry season between October and April (May and June are usually ok too).
As Phnom Penh is a city, it can get uncomfortably warm during the hottest months of the year (March-June), with daily temperatures reaching around 35°C. So, you’ll need to plan accordingly depending on your personal preferences to heat/rain. As long as you dress appropriately (lightweight trousers and tops and a waterproof coat) then you should be ready for every eventuality and be comfortable enough to enjoy everything that this fascinating city has to offer.
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2 days in Phnom Penh – a comprehensive itinerary
2 days in Phnom Penh: Day One
1. Wat Phnom
As we were staying at the Sunway Hotel, it was easy for us to start our day at Wat Phnom, the tallest religious structure in the city. Wat Phnom is an exquisite Buddhist temple complex that lies in the heart of Phnom Penh and is a must for any visit to the city.
Wat Phnom is thought to have stemmed from a small shrine created by Daun Penh (or ‘Grandmother Penh’), a woman who found four bronze Buddha statues inside a koki tree next to the river. The shrine was protected and revered by local people and, in 1437, was raised even higher by King Ponhea Yat.
The Wat complex contains a grand stupa, a large pagoda, intricate statues, staircases and shrines and many paintings and sculptures that tell stories of Buddhism and local history.
2. Central Market
From Wat Phnom, we moved on to the Central Market, an iconic Art Deco building that houses hundreds of stalls selling their wares. The building itself is an interesting contrast to the more typical Asian temples and towers that you see around the city, and the concoction of items sold within are even more interesting still. From flowers and fruit to silk, silver, souvenirs, and snacks, the Phnom Penh Central Market really does have it all.
It’s fun to peruse the items at your leisure before choosing to politely barter for any items you wish to purchase. There are some real bargains to be found so take your time and enjoy the experience.
3. National Museum Of Cambodia
Once you’ve had your fix of shopping, it’s time to learn more about Phnom Penh and the country as a whole with a visit to the National Museum of Cambodia. Cambodia has had a tumultuous history, with the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge had decimated almost all cultural artifacts and around one-quarter of the population in the late 1970s.
It’s almost unfathomable to think that such a genocide can have occurred just over 40 years ago, but it is important to learn about the struggles that the country faced to understand more about the city of Phnom Penh as it stands today.
Many museum workers and curators were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime and much of the fine art collection was destroyed or damaged. It was, therefore, difficult to collate the works of Cambodia culture and heritage and as such, the pieces displayed in the museum today are a source of great pride and identity for Cambodian people.
4. Royal Palace
After admiring the works displayed in the National Museum of Cambodia, you’ll want to enjoy some lunch before taking in the sights of the Royal Palace and the Mekong River in the afternoon.
The Royal Palace located on the river banks of Phnom Penh is still the royal residence of the King of Cambodia but visitors are able to explore the grounds and the exquisite buildings on site. Some of the highlights of the Royal Palace include the Throne Hall, the Moonlight Pavilion and the Silver Pagoda.
You’ll want to give yourself a couple of hours to fully explore these royal sites and gardens as each temple and pagoda is different to the next.
5. Silver Pagoda
The Silver Pagoda is situated on the south side of the Royal Palace and boasts some national treasures such as the Emerald Buddha and the near-life-size Maitreya Buddha, which is encrusted with almost 10,000 diamonds! It is known as the Silver Pagoda thanks to its interiors being inlaid with around 5000 silver tiles which make it glisten and shimmer in the most magical way.
The Silver Pagoda also features a range of detailed murals, intricate spires, and manicured gardens.
6. Independence Monument
To top off your architectural sight-seeing day, you’ll want to head over to the Independence Monument which represents the country’s split from France in 1953. The monument has a beautiful lotus-shaped stupa and is worth seeing both in daylight and at night when it is lit up by pretty up-lights. The Independence Monument was created by Cambodian citizen Vann Molyvann and was designed to combine both religious and secular features.
A great way to finish your first day in Phnom Penh is to enjoy a Mekong River Cruise at sunset. A leisurely cruise along the river allows you to take in both the city’s top attractions from a new angle, as well as watching daily goings-on as you pass by typical floating villages en route.
The cruise takes you along both the Tonlé Sap and the Mekong rivers and serves up a selection of buffet food and unlimited drinks to savor while you travel.
Enjoying the cruise at sunset ensures that the city is bathed in golden light which makes it ideal for evening photography opportunities.
2 days in Phnom Penh: Day Two
1. Killing Fields
Day two is likely to be a fairly intense day as you visit the two most important sites in the history of the Khmer Rouge. You can visit the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng in either order and you’ll want to hire a tuk-tuk driver or tour guide to take you between the two.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are located around 15km outside of the city of Phnom Penh and were the site of thousands of executions of Cambodian people during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. Today, the Killing Fields are used as a memorial to the people who died, with an insightful audio-guide allowing you to understand more about the devastating history while also remaining quiet and respectful of the site.
The site hosts 129 mass graves of people who were brought from Tuol Sleng to be killed, and it is a really harrowing reality to even begin to comprehend.
A good way to learn about the Khmer Rouge Regime and to visit the Killing Fields that are located a bit outside of the city center is by a guided tour.
2. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, or S-21, is a former high-school that was converted into a prison of interrogation during the rule of Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot. The prison saw over 17,000 people pass through its doors, being meticulously photographed upon entering. These photographs are now displayed throughout the rooms of the museum, showing the faces of those who were murdered throughout this horrific regime. Only seven people who entered S-21 lived to tell the terrifying tales of the Khmer Rouge, and their stories are portrayed within the museum.
While Tuol Sleng is not your typical tourist attraction, it is absolutely imperative that all travelers go to the museum to hear the history of Cambodia and to understand the importance of ensuring atrocities like this do not happen again.
3. Tuol Tompoung Market
After visiting the Killing Fields and S-21 you may need some downtime to reflect on the horrors that you have heard about, so feel free to take your time to adjust before continuing your exploration of the city.
When you’re ready, head over to the Tuol Tompoung Market (also known as the Russian Market) for a more relaxing afternoon of shopping and snacking on delicious Cambodian delicacies. Again, this market features a whole host of items, and you could spend hours surveying the stalls.
4. Check Out One Of The Sky Bars
Last but by no means least you’ll want to check out one of Phnom Penh’s many great Sky Bars. Thanks to the city’s young population, Phnom Penh really comes alive at night and the Sky Bars such as the Sora Sky Bar are a wonderful place to see it light up.
The Sora Sky Bar is located on the 37th floor of the Rosewood Hotel and has a vibrant atmosphere as well as an excellent cocktail list which makes it the perfect place to round off your second day in the city!
Tips on visiting Phnom Penh
While Phnom Penh is, on the whole, a pretty safe place to travel to, there are some travel tips that it’s worth keeping in mind during your trip to ensure your health and safety throughout.
- Always drink bottled or boiled water, or use a reliable water filter bottle to avoid stomach discomfort during your trip. Please make sure you check the seal on shop-bought water bottles to ensure they haven’t been tampered with.
- Keep valuables and travel documents in your in-room Safety Deposit Box when they are not in use.
- Try to wear cross-body bags or money wallets to keep your valuables close to you at all times. It is important to hold these close to you while walking and traveling on public transport to avoid the possibility of robbery by snatch thieves.
- Please remember to wear appropriate clothing at all times, especially when visiting temples, palaces, and pagodas. This includes long trousers or skirts and long-sleeved tops (covering knees and shoulders) for both men and women.
- Be vigilant when crossing the road as traffic can be somewhat chaotic within the city and vehicles may come from all directions.
- Be careful when purchasing food and drink from street vendors. While many of these are safe and hygienic, it is important to ensure food is cooked correctly and that filtered water is used for ice cubes so that you avoid an upset stomach. Please be aware of your own constitution and digestive system as you don’t want to miss out on exploring due to illness.
Where To Stay In Phnom Penh
The Sunway Hotel in Phnom Penh is a grand, four-star hotel that offers Western comforts and an excellent central location. Situated on a tree-lined boulevard in the city’s CBD, the Sunway Hotel is perfectly placed for exploring the nearby Wat Phnom Pagoda, Central Market and the National Museum of Cambodia.
The Sunway provides guests with a choice of spacious rooms and suites and also boasts a spa and fitness center, a restaurant and business facilities for those who require on-site services.
This two-day Phnom Penh itinerary allows you to discover the harrowing history of the country while also still enjoying the pristine pagodas, bustling markets and stunning landscapes around the city. Phnom Penh has a really great mix of old and new, history and happiness and really is a must for all those traveling through South-East Asia!