When we bought our tickets to Phnom Penh we did not do any research on what was there to do and see in the city. Luckily Phnom Penh is a great hub to explore Cambodia and get a taste of what the country is about. In this guide you will find a complete 2 day itinerary of things to do and see in Phnom Penh.
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The official name of Phnom Penh in the Khmer language translates into the ‘City of four faces’ which hints to the fact that Cambodia’s capital lies on four rivers.
It is where during the horrible years of the Khmer Rouge over 2.4 million people were killed by a regime thankfully long gone. Today tourists visit Pnom Penh to not only pay tribute to victims but also to enjoy the architecture of a city that once was praised as the ‘Pearl of Asia’ and as the most beautiful French built city in Indochina.
➳ Find all: Hotels in Phnom Penh
Note that the official currency is Riel, but the US dollar is equally accepted and we found tourism based companies even preferred it. Everything tourism is run in USD but you can also pay with local currency normally, while things are generally cheaper than the US or Europe, but if it seems touristing it is probably over price in terms of the food and souvenirs.
Things to do in Phnom Penh Walking Map:
What to do in Phnom Penh in 48 hours:
Day 1: Learn about Cambodian history
Between 1975 to 1979 was the cruelest and bloody period in Cambodian History. During this period of time a third of its population was killed off. If history is something that is of high interest to you then you should visit the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng “S21” Prison.
Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Around 17,000 men, women, children and infants who had been tortured and killed at S-21 were transported to then a longan orchard who became the extermination camp of Choeung Ek. Here, one can further learn of all the horror and atrocities that happened decades ago.
Perhaps most famous part of this site are more than 8000 skulls, arranged by sex and age, visible behind the clear glass panels of the Memorial Stupa erected in 1988. Admission to the Killing Fields includes an audio tour available in several languages.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are open daily from 7AM to 5:30PM. Tickets including an audio tour are $6.
The site is about 7.5km south of the city limits. Budget on about US$10 for a remork-moto (tuk-tuk; drivers may ask for more).
Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes
Tuol Sleng Museum is a testament to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. In 1975 Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and was turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21).
The school became the largest center of detention and torture in the country. The Khmer Rouge meticulously took photographs of over 17,000 prisoners who were later killed.
Today, in the museum you can see thousands of these photographs. Have in mind, that visit to this museum is to say the least a rather depressing but important experience.
Tuol Sleng Museum is open daily from 7AM to 5:30PM. Tickets are $3 per person with the option of an audio tour for $3 and guided tour for $6.
Day 2: Explore downtown Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh dates from the 19th century and it consists of a complex of buildings of which some are closed to the public since it is the official residence of King Sihamoni. The main attraction is Throne Hall compound with its 59m-high tower and Silver pagoda. The palace stretches on a total of 174,870 square meters and is a remarkable structure on the riverfront with Khmer and slightly French architectural features.
The Royal Palace is open daily from 7:30AM to 11AM and 2PM to 5PM. Tickets cost $10 (25K) per person. Avoid during midday due to hot sun and there are little shades.
National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Cambodia is a home to the world’s finest collection of Khmer art and design including sculpture, ceramics and ethnographic objects from the prehistoric, pre-Angkorian, Angkorian and post-Angkorian periods. Taking photographs is only allowed in the museum’s courtyard where you can enjoy some peaceful time while resting, after going through 1,877 works of art which are on display in the museum galleries.
The National Museum of Cambodia is open daily from 8AM to 5PM. Tickets cost $10 per person.
Buddhist Institute and library were founded in 1930 as the principal Buddhist institution of the government of Cambodia. It was located in Wat Ounalom until 1999 when in moved to its current location. A collection of over 30,000 titles were destroyed during the years of the Khmer Rogue. The Institute is now re-established and was moved to the Sihanouk Boulevard.
Built in 1958, the 20 meters high Independence Monument was erected to commemorate Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953. It has a shape of a lotus and in the evening the monument is illuminated by red, blue and white floodlights, the colors of the Cambodian flag. It has the statue of king and gardens down below.
Norodom Sihanouk Statue
East of Independence Monument is a statue of the former king, statesman and father of the independent nation. King Father Norodom Sihanouk died a national hero in 2012.
Wat Botum Temple and Park
Wat Botum or Temple of Lotus Blossoms is named after a former lotus pond on the site and is located south of the Royal Palace complex. It is one of the rare original pagodas and as such among more important ones in Pnom Penh. It also serves as a burial site of many politicians and important persons of the city.
Temple grounds are adjacent to the Wat Botum Park where one can visit a golden stupa commemorating the sixteen people killed by grenades thrown outside the old National Assembly on March 30, 1997.
Further south, there is a Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Monument, built in 1979. by a communist regime commemorating the former alliance. The monument features a Khmer woman holding a baby and two armed Vietnamese liberation soldiers referring to the Vietnamese liberation of Phnom Penh from the Khmer Rouge in January 1979.
Today, in the park different concerts are held, people go to exercise, do aerobics and play takraw (foot juggling with a rattan ball) or simply walk around the park.
A Stroll on Sisowath Quay
Sisowath Quay is the city’s 3 km long riverside promenade running along the west bank of the Tonle Sap River. It is definitely a touristy area of Phnom Penh, but nevertheless very relaxing where you can visit local shops, have lunch or dinner at nice restaurants and cafe bars.
Within the Royal Palace, you will find the Silver Pagoda, also known as Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The name comes from the pagoda’s floor which is covered with five tons
of gleaming silver. The staircase that leads to pagoda is made of Italian marble and together with a life-sized solid-gold Buddha embellished with 2086 diamonds and two smaller bronze and silver Buddhas add to the extravagant look and feel of this pagoda.
The pagoda remains one of the rare places in Cambodia today where the richness of Khmer civilization can still be seen and appreciated. Photography is not permitted inside the Silver Pagoda. Also, noteworthy is a big mural on walls enclosing the silver pagoda complex depicting the classic Indian epic of the Ramayana (known as the Reamker in Cambodia).
Wat Ounalom was founded in 1433 and is known as the center of Cambodian Buddhism. It is named after a hair from Buddha’s eyebrow (ounaloum) which is conserved and kept in a building behind the main temple.
Comprised of 44 structures, this wat is a home to the head of the country’s Buddhist brotherhood and to a large number of monks. Here you can learn of the struggle and battering prominent monks and Buddhism as a religion went through by the Khmer Rouge.
Wat Ounalom is open daily from 6AM to 6PM.
Wat Phnom is situated on the only ‘hill’ in town with an impressive entrance via the grand staircase guarded by lions and serpents. People come here to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs. If the wish is fulfilled, they come back with garlands of jasmine flowers or a bunch of bananas.
Wat Phnom also has a museum of its own with old artifacts. There will be more beggars here than in other wats and children selling birds in cages. If you pay for a bird to be set free, but the bird will ultimately return since they are trained to do so.
Wat Phnom is open daily 7AM to 6:30PM and the museum is only open to 6PM. Tickets to the temple are $1 and to the museum are $2.
Kien Khlean Pagoda
Off the beaten track, this hidden jewel is praised as an underrated tranquil hideaway and one of the most beautiful pagodas in the city.
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