Nestled along the banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh is a vibrant city that boasts a rich history and a unique cultural heritage. Once known as the “Pearl of Asia,” this bustling capital of Cambodia is home to stunning architecture, mouthwatering cuisine, and a warm and friendly population. From exploring the stunning Royal Palace to wandering the bustling streets lined with vendors selling everything from fragrant spices to glittering jewelry, Phnom Penh is a feast for the senses. Despite the scars left by a turbulent past, this city has emerged as a vibrant hub of creativity and innovation, attracting visitors from all over the world who come to experience its unique blend of ancient traditions and modern charm. Whether you’re looking to immerse yourself in local culture or simply soak up the lively atmosphere of a bustling Southeast Asian metropolis, Phnom Penh has something for everyone!
Best Time to Visit Phnom Penh
The best time to visit Phnom Penh, Cambodia is during the dry season, which runs from November to March. During this time, temperatures are cooler and there is less rainfall, making it more comfortable for sightseeing and outdoor activities. December and January are particularly popular among tourists, so expect bigger crowds and higher prices during this time.
The rainy season in Phnom Penh runs from May to October, with September and October being the wettest months. While the city can still be visited during this time, it’s worth noting that heavy rainfall can lead to flooding and transportation disruptions.
A Few Facts About Phnom Penh
- The city’s name, Phnom Penh, comes from a legend about a woman named Penh who discovered four Buddha statues on a hill and built a temple to house them. “Phnom” means hill in Khmer, so the city was named after the temple on the hill.
- Phnom Penh was once known as the “Pearl of Asia” for its beautiful French colonial architecture and lush gardens. Sadly, much of this was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime, but efforts are underway to restore the city’s historic buildings and green spaces.
- The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh is home to the Emerald Buddha, which is made of crystal rather than emerald. It was a gift from Thailand in the 19th century and is considered one of the most sacred objects in Cambodia.
What to do in Phnom Penh in 24 Hours
If you have 24 hours to spend in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, there are plenty of things you can do to make the most of your time. Here’s a suggested itinerary for a day trip to Phnom Penh:
Start Your Day With a Visit to The Royal Palace of Cambodia
If you’re looking for a breathtaking start to your day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, check in at your hotel, and then a visit to the Royal Palace is a must. Located in the heart of the city, this stunning palace is a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in Cambodia’s rich history and cultural heritage.
The palace complex is a sprawling collection of buildings, courtyards, and gardens, all of which are adorned with intricate carvings, golden roofs, and beautiful murals. Inside, you’ll find a treasure trove of artifacts and works of art, including the magnificent Silver Pagoda, which houses an emerald Buddha statue and a floor made entirely of silver.
Head Over to The National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Cambodia is the perfect place to continue your day in Phnom Penh. This stunning museum houses a vast collection of artifacts and exhibits that provide a fascinating insight into the country’s history and artistic traditions. From ancient Khmer sculptures and ceramics to more recent works of art, the museum offers a comprehensive overview of Cambodia’s cultural legacy. The museum’s beautiful Khmer-style building is itself a work of art, with intricate carvings and a tranquil courtyard that provides a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Take a tuk-tuk to The Central Market
This bustling marketplace offers a wide range of goods for sale, including clothing, accessories, souvenirs, and local delicacies. Remember to haggle for a good price as bargaining is a common practice in this market. After you’ve worked up an appetite from all the shopping, be sure to visit one of the many street food stalls nearby for some delicious lunch.
The Central Market is a great place to try some of Cambodia’s most popular dishes, such as fish amok or beef lok lak! The Central Market is not just a shopping destination, but a cultural experience that gives visitors a glimpse into everyday life in Phnom Penh.
Make Your Way to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
This museum is housed in the former S-21 prison, which was once a notorious Khmer Rouge torture and execution centre during the 1970s. As you walk through the museum, you’ll see haunting exhibits and photographs documenting the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime, including the imprisonment and execution of thousands of innocent Cambodians.
The museum serves as a reminder of the importance of human rights and the need to prevent genocide from happening again. While it can be a difficult and emotional experience, visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is an essential part of understanding Cambodia’s history and honouring the memory of those who suffered during this dark period. You can book the tour in advance.
Take a Stroll Along the Tonle Sap River
After the somewhat sobering experiences, for a relaxing and scenic experience in Phnom Penh, taking a leisurely stroll along the Tonle Sap River is a great option. This river flows through the heart of the city and offers stunning views of the city skyline and the surrounding landscape.
Along the riverbank, you’ll find a variety of restaurants, cafes, and bars, where you can stop for a refreshing drink or a bite to eat while enjoying the views. In the evenings, the riverbank comes alive with lively street performances and entertainment, making it a great place to soak up the local culture.
End Your Day With a Dinner Cruise on the Mekong River
For a memorable and romantic experience in Phnom Penh, consider ending your day with a dinner cruise on the Mekong River. As you glide along the river, you’ll be treated to stunning views of the city’s landmarks and skyline, all while enjoying a delicious meal of local and international cuisine. Along the way, you’ll also have the opportunity to see the city come alive at night, with its vibrant lights and bustling activity. Some dinner cruises even feature traditional Cambodian music and dance performances, adding to the overall cultural experience. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply looking for a unique way to experience the city, a dinner cruise on the Mekong River is a perfect way to end your day in Phnom Penh.
Unwind in One of the Many Bars
Phnom Penh has a range of options for those looking to party and have a good time. One popular spot is Eden’s Bar, formerly known as Coin Cafe, which is located in BKK3. Another area to check out is Street 244, where there are a variety of bars and hotels. Juniper Gin Bar, located near the riverside, is a great option for those looking for a trendy spot with a good cocktail selection. For those seeking a place with excellent food and cocktails, Oskar Bistro is highly recommended, albeit slightly pricey.
Where to Stay In Phnom Penh
The Peninsula Hotel & Residences
3 Keo Chenda Street, Phnom Penh
The Peninsula Private Residences Phnom Penh is a luxurious 5-star hotel located in the heart of the city. This elegant property features spacious and beautifully decorated apartments that are equipped with modern amenities, including air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and high-speed Wi-Fi. Guests can enjoy breathtaking views of the city and the Mekong River from their balconies. The hotel offers a wide range of facilities, including an outdoor pool, a fitness centre, a spa, and an on-site restaurant serving delicious local and international cuisine. The Peninsula Private Residences Phnom Penh is the perfect choice for travellers looking for a comfortable and upscale stay in the heart of the city.
Aquarius Hotel and Urban Resort
#5A Street 240, Daun Penh, Phnom Penh
Aquarius Urban Resort is a trendy and modern hotel located in the heart of Phnom Penh, just a short distance from the popular Riverside area. The hotel features stylish rooms and suites, decorated in bright colours and equipped with modern amenities like air conditioning, flat-screen TVs, and free Wi-Fi. Guests can relax by the outdoor pool or indulge in a massage at the on-site spa. The hotel’s restaurant serves a range of Asian and international cuisine, and the rooftop bar offers stunning views of the city. With its prime location and contemporary design, Aquarius Urban Resort is a great choice for travellers looking for a comfortable and stylish stay in Phnom Penh.
La Chronique Hotel
Street 135 corner 446, Sangkat Toul Tumpoung1, Chamkar Mon, Phnom Penh
La Chronique is a stylish and modern boutique hotel located in the heart of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The hotel offers luxurious and comfortable accommodation with a range of amenities to ensure a comfortable stay. Each room is tastefully decorated and equipped with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a minibar, and a private bathroom. The hotel’s restaurant serves a variety of delicious dishes, and there is also a bar and lounge area where guests can relax with a drink. Other amenities include free Wi-Fi throughout the property, a 24-hour front desk, and luggage storage.
Day Trips From Phnom Penh
Ek Killing Fields
This site was once a former orchard and Chinese cemetery that was transformed into one of the Khmer Rouge’s most notorious killing fields, where thousands of innocent Cambodians were executed and buried in mass graves. Today, the site serves as a memorial to those who lost their lives and a reminder of the importance of remembering and honouring their memory. As you walk through the fields, you’ll see the mass graves, the “Killing Tree,” and the memorial stupa filled with human skulls and bones. Although the Choeung Ek Killing Fields is a sombre and melancholic site, touring it is an essential aspect of comprehending Cambodia’s past and commemorating those who perished during this tragic era.
Oudong Stupas & Silver Smith Village
A visit to Oudong Stupas and Silver Smith Village offers a unique opportunity to explore Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage and witness the country’s traditional arts and crafts firsthand.
The Oudong Stupas, also known as the Oudong Mountain, is a sacred hill with several magnificent stupas and temples that serve as a testament to the town’s rich history and cultural heritage. Climb the stairs to the top of the hill to explore the pagodas, enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, and learn about Cambodia’s history! The Silver Smith Village is a charming village that is famous for its traditional silver crafting. Watch the skilled artisans at work, creating beautiful pieces of jewellery, sculptures, and other decorative items using traditional techniques that have been passed down through generations!
Phnom Penh to Siem Reap Cruise
Take a boat or a private transfer to the beautiful Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a bustling city in the northwest region of Cambodia, known for its close proximity to the magnificent Angkor Archaeological Park. It’s a popular destination for tourists who want to explore the ancient ruins of Angkor, the world’s largest religious monument. The city itself is vibrant, with a mix of modern restaurants, bars, and shops alongside traditional markets and local street food vendors. The city’s rich history and cultural heritage are evident in the many temples, museums, and traditional performances that can be found throughout Siem Reap. See our one-day itinerary for Siem Reap here!
Extra Tips for Visiting Phnom Penh
- Avoid basic offering taxis at the airport in order to avoid scams, especially if you appear foreign. Instead, the best option is to use Grab due to their fixed prices and efficient service. For shorter trips, TukTuks are commonly used and can be booked through apps such as Grab or Passapp.
- A local SIM card can be purchased either directly at the airport or in the city for less than $10, although data charges will need to be paid on a weekly basis.
- It is recommended to book your activities in advance, preferably a month prior to your arrival if you plan to visit Phnom Penh in November. This is because the city is likely to be crowded with locals during this time because of the Cambodian Water Festival, which is also a national holiday.
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Romi is a llama coach from Split, Croatia. This sounds made up but it’s true. She lived in Toronto, Canada for about ten years, give or take, but she wasn’t working with llamas. She was working in PR, restaurants, daycares, one yoga clothing store. She doesn't know how she got that job as she has never done yoga at that point. She taught English in Colombia and Vietnam. Traveled the world for two years. Then she got into writing. Actually, she was always writing, but then someone paid her to write. Then more people paid because they saw she was making them money. Then it became a thing she does for a living. And here we are now. Specializing in travel, real estate, and digital nomad guides, familiar with SEO, and always ready to learn something new so she can branch out and take over the world.