By Mario Ng
Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, has much to offer visitors. While some try to squeeze this city into two days, three days in the capital fit just fine for most without sacrificing important places of interests.
Below lies our version of a 3-day itinerary of Phnom Penh, so you get to enjoy the city at a nice pace, without ever feeling too rushed or hectic. For sure, it suits families, couples, and solo travellers just fine! To find out more about each attraction, be sure to click on them to find out more within straitstravellers!
As most travellers generally feel a little jet-lagged on the first day, we like to travel the first day at a slower pace. The first day is also all about discovering the cultural aspects of Phnom Penh.
First stop: The Royal Palace
Possibly the grandest place in the city, the Royal Palace is where the King lived and continues to live, ever since it was built in the 1800s. A good time to visit is in the morning, before the weather gets too warm and humid, and also just before the tourist crowd comes in.
Be in awe by the amazing structures, including the Throne Hall and Royal Pavilion, while stupas are a common sight. Look out for the statue of King Norodom riding a white horse, who was known for having a fond appreciation of the arts.
The Royal Palace
Second stop: National Museum of Cambodia
A good follow-up to The Royal Palace will be the National Museum of Cambodia, just next door. Encompassing a collection of over 10,000 different items, art and culture enthusiasts will be ecstatic! The museum contains treasures that spans the entire period from the prehistoric era up till the Khmer empire.
Take note though that it is not air conditioned, so be prepared and drink lots of water! In the middle of the museum is also where you get to enjoy nature and take a breather!
National Museum of Cambodia
Third stop: Plae Pakaa
Plae Pakaa is a cultural show performed every night at the National Museum of Cambodia. It is conducted by locals with a love for the arts, whose intention is to showcase Cambodian heritage to the audience. It tells stories about local folklore and myths, giving visitors a glimpse of Cambodian culture. Starting at 7pm every night, make sure you book your tickets early! Note that they sell tickets in the day at the National Museum of Cambodia, which works out perfectly!
Plae Pakaa located at the National Museum of Cambodia
Fourth stop: Sisowath Quay
The life of the city, Sisowath Quay is where all the action is. Restaurants and bars litter the entire stretch and it is not difficult to find a nice spot for some drinks and to relax. It is also a good way to end your first day in Phnom Penh. Facing the river, you might just get to see some fireworks if you are lucky! Or if it is a national holiday!
The second day is really about understanding the country’s past, and to have some time to reflect about it. The night ends with a night market, and you really see the resilience of Cambodians.
First stop: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)
Arguably one of two important sites in Phnom Penh, this museum is an important reminder to everyone just how fragile peace is. A key location during the Khmer Rouge era, this is the main prison in Phnom Penh, and the most well-known in Cambodia, for the regime to torture and extract information from the prisoners. Out of the 17,000 people locked up, only seven survived.
For those who might not know, the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. Led by Pol Pot, the regime closed schools and hospitals, and removed their currency. The population was also chased away from cities, forcing them to live in the countryside, where most were forced to produce crops, and were also given unrealistic targets to achieve. Anyone deemed to be an enemy of the state was most likely arrested to be tortured and killed, with United Nations estimates between 2 and 3 million killed during the 5 years.
It is a solemn place and you should prepare yourself mentally before starting your tour.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)
Second stop: The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
An essential follow-up to the S-21 Prison, this site explains what happened to those prisoners that survived the tortures, which were quite numerous. They were sent to sites like this to be killed. Among those who were killed included women and children of all ages, including infants and toddlers. In total, there were 8,895 souls that were lost at this Killing Fields.
Note: Many good tour agencies combine the 2 sites together to form a half-day tour, so you do not have to worry about time and transport. If you are really keen to explore the 2 sites thoroughly, be sure to hire your own tuk-tuk driver so you can take your time to visit them.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Third Stop: River cruise along Tonle Sap
As you reach the end of the second day in Phnom Penh, it is good to take stock of what you have seen so far. What better way to do it than via a sunset cruise along the Tonle Sap, quite literally the river of life for many Cambodians.
Choose your preferred boat company and board it! Some offer basic cruises while the higher-end companies provide food as well. Kanika Cruises does a fantastic cruise with food and beverages at reasonable prices. As you sail down the river and the sun sets, you get to see Phnom Penh in its glory. The city lights up as night begins, and the famed nightlife at Sisowath Quay begins!
River cruise along Tonle Sap
Fourth Stop: Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey)
Located just at the other end of Sisowath Quay, this is Phnom Penh’s most well-known night market. Cheap clothes such as jeans, tees, dresses, belts, and the likes are for sale. How much you pay depends on your bargaining skill. Of course, the more you buy, the more likely the vendors are willing to offer you a discount.
The food stalls also sell cheap yet delicious food, so you don’t have to worry about where to get a night snack. Try their barbecued food, which is sinful and tasty!
Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey)
As your time in Phnom Penh comes to an end, you should really celebrate with some shopping! We recommend some unique markets for your shopping pleasure!
First Stop: Central Market
This huge market sells almost everything. And by that, we mean almost everything! Besides the usual “touristy” stuff like tees and backpacks, get set to purchase a brand new set of china for your home. Or, you might need some new pairs of shoes. Whatever it is, the possibilities are endless. Fake watches, perfumes, and electronics are all for sale. Some jewellery? You got it!
Second Stop: Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Poung)
A somewhat similar, yet entirely different experience from Central Market, Psar Toul Tom Poung is quite far off from the main attractions of Phnom Penh. But you will be happy that you came here. Cramped with stalls selling mostly touristy stuff, you see many stalls selling similar products. A walk down a lane might see five to six stalls selling tees, while another lane would have three to four stalls selling paintings.
The beauty of it all though, is that you get to bargain hard. Note that most vendors would have first quoted you a “tourist” price, so you don’t have to be too concerned that you are squeezing them too much. Of course, as long as you are comfortable paying a given price, you don’t have to bargain anymore! The vendor will only be too pleased!
Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Poung)
Third Stop: Olympic Market
The final stop of this 3-day itinerary in Phnom Penh is something “un-touristy”. While it is a large market located in a 4-storey complex, it is really not quite for the usual tourists. It is a place where vendors sell their goods wholesale. This means you see visitors from around Asia buying products in bulk to sell in their own countries.
However, the ever-entrepreneurial Cambodians are not going to reject business. Hence, if you fancy something and want to purchase only one piece of clothing, go right ahead! Items for sale include utensils, Korean ladies’ fashion, and toiletries. If you have the ability, buy some preserved food, like dried shrimps or mushrooms, back to your country!
While you may not have covered every single thing Phnom Penh has to offer, this 3-day itinerary is certainly one of the most complete ones you can get that allows you to visit the city at a comfortable pace! If you are looking at what you should eat while travelling in between places in Phnom Penh, check out our favourite eateries in Phnom Penh, here!
Published by Mario Ng
Mario enjoys travelling around the world but finds himself visiting the same cities again and again. At this rate, it is unlikely he will travel "around the world" any time soon. He also has a dream to spend one year catching all the Formula 1 races live.