How many days in Phnom Penh?

How many days in Phnom Penh?

Phnom Penh is the capital city and main transport hub of Cambodia. We found it to be quite modern, developing very quickly and reminded us of a smaller Bangkok.

We were also pleasantly surprised to discover a busy gay scene in Phnom Penh with many bars and clubs.

Posing with the owners and staff at Space Hair Salon & Bar

Posing with the staff of Space Hair Salon & Bar

You could easily spend a week in the Cambodian capital city and not be bored. For those pushed for time, 2 days is definitely more than enough to get a taste of Phnom Penh, a feel for Cambodia and its bloody history. If you have more than 2 days to spend in the city, check out Two Scots Abroad post about unique things to do in Phnom Penh.

Taxi selfie on our way to Phnom Penh

Our taxi selfie arriving to Phnom Penh from the airport with our friend Johan

Unfortunately the terrible and bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot between 1975-1979 over shadows Cambodian history mainly because around a third of its population was killed off in this short period.

DAY 1: LEARN ABOUT CAMBODIAN HISTORY

In Phnom Penh, a day should be devoted to exploring the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng “S21” Prison.

#1 The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

This is one of the many horrific places where the Khmer Rouge soldiers literally beat to death (bullets were considered too expensive to use) almost 3 million of the then 8 million population between 1975-9.

It is harrowing and extremely sad to experience. But we think important that everyone visits to get an idea of how badly the Cambodians suffered.

One of the most visually awful things was the “Killing Tree”, against which infants were battered to death then thrown into the burial pit behind, while happy Communist sounding revolution music blasted loudly from the speakers to drown out the cries to people outside becoming suspicious. All ‘batterings’ happened at night when it was dark and easier to hide.

The Killing Tree at the Killing Fields

The Killing Tree at the Killing Fields was one of the worst things we’ve seen: babies were beaten to death against this tree

#2 The Tuol Sleng (S21) torture prison

The S21 is a former school turned torture prison where people arrested by the Khmer Rouge were tortured until they made false confessions about made up allegations against them before they were taken to the Killing Fields to be killed. They didn’t know they would be killed – this was all in secret.

It was all part of a ‘cleansing’ ideal of the Khmer Rouge to rid society of all intellectuals, the middle class, priests etc. So anyone with any form of education was regarded as a threat to the regime and would be arrested, tortured then beaten to death.

As with the Killing Fields, a visit is a must but it is of course very sad and will affect you. One of the things that affected us most was this (translated) sign of rules prisoners had to abide by when arriving at the prison:

Translated sign of rules at the S21 prison

A translated sign of rules at the S21 prison, which prisoners see on arrival

Practicalities of visiting S21 and the Killing Fields

  • The entrance fee at the Killing Fields was $6 per person and includes an excellent audio guide.
  • The entrance fee to S21 was $2 per person and free for students.
  • The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are located around 8km Southwest from Phnom Penh and S21 is more centrally located in town.
  • We were a group of 4 and paid $20 between us for a tuk tuk to take us to the Killing Fields, S21 then bring us back.
Our tuk tuk selfie

Our tuk tuk selfie with our friends Johan and Jess who joined us for our Cambodia trip

#3 Sunset dinner cruise on the Mekong River

After an intense day, it’s time to relax and end the day with a sunset dinner cruise on the Mekong river with Phocea Mekong.

  • We paid $25 each (plus $5 tips each to the guide) and were lucky to have the boat all to ourselves (we were 4).
  • The price included a variety of appetisers like spring rolls, barbecued meats, vegetables and an open bar! Desert included a large plate of fruit and a bird made of apple slices:
Stefan with fruit bowl

Stefan with fruit bowl including a bird made from apple slices

DAY 2: SHOPPING AND PALACES

Today is devoted to exploring more about Khmer history at the Royal Palace, National Museum and later some shopping.

#1 The Royal Palace

  • After breakfast, head to the Royal Palace, where the King of Cambodia officially resides.
  • It is open daily from 8am to 5pm and costs $6.50 per person. The earlier you go, the more likely you are to avoid the large tour groups.
Sebastien admiring a plumeria flower

Sebastien admiring a plumeria flower inside the Royal Palace gardens

#2 The National Museum

  • The National Museum is located next to the Royal Palace so makes a logical stop after your visit there.
  • It showcases Khmer artwork, sculptures, ceramics and a variety of ethnographic objects.
  • It is open daily from 8am to 5pm and entry is $5 per person.
Posing with the guard near the National Museum

Posing with this young guard near the National Museum

#3 Lunch at the Sugar & Spice cafe

  • The Daughters of Cambodia is a NGO helping victims of sex trafficking of Cambodia and they have two cafes called Sugar & Spice (located at #65 on 178 Street) and Sugar & Spice Garden Café (at #130A on 430 Street).
  • Both are open daily (except on Sundays), from 9am to 5:30pm. Prices are reasonable and you eat knowing you are helping out a good cause.
The Daughters of Cambodia cafes

The Daughters of Cambodia Sugar & Spice cafes in Phnom Penh

#4 Shopping at the Russian Market

  • The Russian Market is a large bazaar every visitor should visit at least once during their visit for souvenirs and discounted brands.
  • It got its name from the predominantly Russian expat community in the 1980s that used to shop here in their numbers.
  • Now it’s full of excited tourists and backpackers like this one shopping for chic and stylish (!) outfits and (ahem!) accessories:
Stefan shopping at the Russian Market of Phnom Penh

Stefan shopping for accessories for his next outfit at the Russian Market

#5 Dinner at the Friends Restaurant

  • Friends is a restaurant owned by a NGO called the Tree Alliance. Their mission is to assist street children obtain skills to make a better life for themselves.
  • The food is excellent and as with the Daughters of Cambodia, what you pay goes to an excellent cause.
Stefan with the staff at Friends restaurant in Phnom Penh

Stefan posing with the excellent staff at the Friends restaurant in Phnom Penh

#6 Drinks and a night out in town

  • Head over to one of the many popular bars in Phnom Penh, particularly one of the drag queen shows like at 2 Colours Bar (at #225 on Street 13) or Rainbow Bar (at #134 on Street 136).
  • If you meet Aaron at 2 Colours, he may even dress you up and let you join in the show as Sebastien found out when he tried to channel Idina Menzel and perform “Let It Go”…
Sebastien as Elsa from Frozen

Sebastien dolled up as Elsa from Frozen ready to channel Idina Menzel for his performance

WHERE TO STAY IN PHNOM PENH?

Tourism in Phnom Penh is booming, so you will not struggle to find good quality accommodation. Below are the places we recommend because we stayed there, but you find plenty more on www.tripadvisor.com.

#1 Budget accomodation in Phnom Penh

THE ARTIST GUESTHOUSE   Book online

  • Well located near the Royal Palace, the national museum and the riverside.
  • Walking distance to the gay bars and clubs like 2 Colours.
  • Prices start from $35 / £23 a standard double room, with breakfast included.
Stefan dressed up at Two Colours gay bar

Stefan dressed up as a Cambodian Princess at Two Colours gay bar

AURA THEMATIC HOSTEL   Book online

  • Great if you are on a budget as a solo traveller or as a group of friends. We managed to stay one night in this hostel (but it wasn’t for Sebastien’s high luxury standards).
  • Centrally located close to the national museum, and the riverside.
  • Prices start from $15 for a bed, breakfast included.

#2 Mid-Range accomodation in Phnom Penh

VMANSION BOUTIQUE HOTEL   Book online

  • Lovely little property near the Royal Palace, nicely decorated, with very friendly staff.
  • Has a swimming pool, which is great after a day of sightseeing.
  • Prices start from $68 / £46 for a double room with breakfast included.

MYSTERES AND MEKONG PHNOM PENH LODGE   Book online

  • Little hideaway round the corner from the Royal Palace.
  • Very friendly French owner and his helpful staff.
  • Prices start from $74 / £50 a night with breakfast.

#3 High end stay in Phnom Penh

WHITE MANSION BOUTIQUE HOTEL   Book online

  • A romantic oasis in Phnom Penh, with very large room and a great swimming pool
  • Close to all attractions and the best restaurants in town
  • Prices start from $149 / £100 for a double room with breakfast included.

You can read more about our experiences discovering food in Cambodia and watch our Cambodia travel video:

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6 Comments

  1. Great information to refer before I’m going to Cambodia!!!

    Reply
    • Thanks WeiLe

      Reply
  2. Awesome job with this guide- super helpful and insightful! Just started planning a spur of the moment trip which is only a week and a half away, and so was happy to come across your wonderful blog. Cheers!

    Reply
    • Thanks for reading Monica 🙂

      Reply
  3. Very helpful. I know very little about this country, but looking forward to our side trip from Vietnam .

    Reply
    • You’re gonna love it

      Reply

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