“Guys, how many days should I stay in Phnom Penh?”
…is a question we get asked a lot by our readers. And the answer is, it really depends on how much time you have on your hands to explore Cambodia. We came here expecting to stay for a few days but ended up staying for a few weeks!
Phnom Penh is the capital city and main transport hub of Cambodia. It's famous for the Killing Fields – a harrowing memorial dedicated to the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. Most come to visit this then quickly move on to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat. For us, we extended our trip here because we quickly fell in love with the bustling Cambodian capital. It's a very cool, modern, city, similar to Bangkok but on a much smaller scale.
At the end of the day, it depends on how long you've got for your Cambodia trip. We think you could easily spend a week (or two!) in Phnom Penh and never be bored. However, for those pushed for time, we think two days is more than enough to get a flavor of the city and learn about the country's sad history.
Advice for LGBTQ travelers to Phnom Penh
We loved Phnom Penh a lot. Not only are the hotels and guesthouses we stayed at super welcoming towards LGBTQ travelers, but there is also a surprisingly large gay scene. Phnom Penh has a large LGBTQ ex-pat community which has helped make the place more diverse, international, and accepting.
When is the best time to visit Phnom Penh?
We think Phnom Penh can be visited at any time of year. There is no “ideal” time to go or months to avoid.
In terms of weather, the dry season takes place between November to April. At this time of year, the sky is usually clear blue. However, this is also the peak tourist season, so hotels are at full price, and tourist attractions are heaving with package tourists. Being so close to the equator line, Cambodia is tropical and hot for most of the year. The average temperature goes from around 95°F (35°C) in the day to around 70°F (21°C) at night.
But as we said, no matter what time of the year you come to Phnom Penh, you will love it, that's for sure!
How many days in Phnom Penh?
We think that two days is enough to hit the main sights. However, if you have a bit more time, we think 3 days / 2 nights is much better and more relaxed.
For those flying into Cambodia from the USA or Europe, you should also factor in time to relax and adjust to the jet lag, so adding a day for that isn't a bad idea. One thing we definitely recommend is saving your visit to the Killing Fields for your 2nd (or 3rd day). It's a very emotional visit, definitely not the first thing we recommend you do when you've just stepped off the plane and are still jetlagged.
Arriving in Phnom Penh soon?
Getting from Phnom Penh International Airport into the city can be quite a mission, with so much traffic that it can take up to an hour to get to your hotel. But if you pre-book a private transfer you can just sit back and relax in air-conditioned comfort without needing to worry about organizing a taxi or navigating public transport.
How to get around Phnom Penh?
Most get around the city center by tuk-tuk. It's an inexpensive and super fun way to travel around the city. To give you an idea, a ride across town will cost in the region of around $3. We recommend agreeing on the fee with your driver beforehand.
For longer trips, such as to the airport, we recommend getting a taxi. The airport is around 6.5 miles (10km) from the city center, taking around 30-60 minutes subject to traffic and costs around $15-20.
Motorbikes (moto taxis) are another way of getting around, but we skipped them for safety reasons. Phnom Penh also has an excellent public bus system, which is very cheap.
If pushed for time, a taxi is your best bet. Either get your hotel to arrange one for you, or use the Grab app. A trip across town by taxi never cost us more than around $3-6.
Where to stay in Phnom Penh?
There is a wide range of excellent accommodation options for all budgets in Phnom Penh, which we set out below based on our first-hand experience.
Ideally, you want to be aiming to stay somewhere for 2-3 nights to really get the most out of your trip in Phnom Penh. However, if you arrive early on day 1 and time is super tight, you can still squeeze it all into one day and stay for just 1 night.
White Mansion Boutique Hotel
In a nutshell
- A romantic oasis in Phnom Penh
- Great swimming pool
- Spa services available
- Close to all attractions and the best restaurants in town
When they call this place “White Mansion” they aren't kidding!
The White Mansion Boutique Hotel is located in what used to be an American Embassy, so the whole building is stunning, stately and elegant. The rooms and suites are very spacious, some with lovely private balconies overlooking the city.
There's a 20-meter long swimming pool and the grounds are filled with luscious leafy green plants which make it feel more like a secluded tropical paradise than a hotel in the middle of a city! At night it's lit up with romantic fairy lights and the perfect spot for a cocktail. The location means you are ideally situated to visit the most famous attractions in Phnom Penh, while also being walking distance to many excellent restaurants.
The White Mansion has a French-style café called Le Café, which serves breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and cocktails for hotel guests as well as people not staying there. The food is delicious, a mix of French pastries, Khmer cuisine and international dishes.
Guests can have relaxing massages and spa services in the comfort of their rooms. The staff here are just wonderful, so friendly and helpful. On top of all that, the hotel is even pet-friendly, so if you're traveling with a cat or dog they will be just as comfortable and well-looked after as you are!
Prices at White Mansion Boutique Hotel start from $149 per night:
VMANSION Boutique Hotel
In a nutshell
- Lovely property near the Royal Palace
- Secluded swimming pool
- Very friendly staff
- Super romantic bathtubs!
VMANSION Boutique Hotel is a charming and romantic hotel located right in the heart of Phnom Penh. It's walking distance (or a short tuk-tuk ride) to Wat Phnom and just a few streets away from the Royal Palace.
All the rooms are gorgeous here, with beautiful Cambodian-style furniture, different color schemes and spacious bathrooms. If you stay in one of the one-bedroom suites then you'll get to enjoy the incredible bathtubs with little windows into the bedroom! What can we say, we love a romantic bath…
There's a small but charming swimming pool with pretty plants surrounding it and lounge chairs to work on your tan. While the entire hotel is a bit on the small side, that just means you'll have more personal attention from the lovely staff, and who can say no to that? The service is definitely one of the highlights here, all the staff are simply lovely. Also, the size just makes the hotel seem more cosy and welcoming in our humble opinion.
You can enjoy yummy meals and drinks at the on-site restaurant/bar, with ample portions of everything plus plenty of choices. Even though it's located close to many attractions it's still in a quiet spot, so you can really relax during your down time, perhaps by the pool.
Prices at VMANSION Boutique Hotel start from $68 per night:
The Artist Residence
In a nutshell
- Excellent budget option
- Well located near many attractions
- Some rooms with balcony bathtubs
- Bright and colorful rooms with breakfast included
If you're on a tight budget, or just don't want to waste money on a room you won't be spending much time in while exploring, then the Artist Residence is a fantastic choice.
This quirky hotel is almost slap-bang on top of Phnom Penh's Royal Palace, so it's ideal for exploring the best of the city. What it might lack in terms of luxury it definitely makes up for with colorful and comfy lodgings that have all you really need from a home base while traveling.
The Artist Residence is also great if you're traveling with a group, offering split-level duplexes with space for up to four adults, as well as more intimate choices if you're alone or traveling as a couple. The deluxe double rooms come with a private balcony, complete with a bright bathtub on the balcony for you to enjoy! All the rooms also have a small kitchen, washer, dryer and separate bathroom.
When it comes to meals, a good breakfast is included in the rate and you can also eat in the restaurant on the ground floor at other times of day. Otherwise there are many choices in the surroundings for dining, plus you can save more money if you self-cater using the little kitchenettes.
Prices at The Artist Residence start from $35 per night:
Day 1: Hit Phnom Penh's main attractions
Our first-day itinerary will focus on hitting Phnom Penh's main attractions, which are mostly located in the city centre within walking distance of each other. We suggest starting around 9am and setting aside a few hours for a lunch break in the middle. And pace yourself: if you don't hit all the sights, it's ok! It's far more rewarding to enjoy the experience rather than rushing it to see everything.
Handy tip: if you're tight with time and/or want a deeper insight into Cambodia's history, we recommend joining a Half-Day Phnom Penh tour of the Royal Palace, National Museum and Wat Phon.
Wat Phnom: The hill of Phnom Penh
Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple (called a Wat in Cambodia) sitting on top of the only real hill in the capital city. The story goes that a wealthy old lady called Doun Penh found a floating Koki tree in the river which had four different Buddha statues and one of Vishnu inside it. She then got the villagers to build a temple on the hill to house them, which was the first Wat constructed on Wat Phnom hill. The temple itself has been rebuilt several times over the years, but is very beautiful, especially the grand statues of lions and naga guarding the eastern staircase. Locals come here to make offerings and pray for good luck, plus there's a small shrine to Doun Penh herself.
- Open: 7am until 6pm every day
- Cost: $1 for tourists to enter the temple
- Location: In the middle of a large roundabout coming off the Norodom Boulevard
- Getting there: You can walk down Norodom Boulevard from any of the hotels we have mentioned, or hire a tuk-tuk to get there faster
The National Museum
The National Museum is located next to the Royal Palace which makes it logical to visit both together. The museum showcases one of the world's largest collections of Khmer artwork, sculptures, ceramics and a variety of ethnographic objects. There's more than 14,000 items on display, dating from prehistoric times all the way up to the height and aftermath of the Khmer Empire. Even the building is stunning, a graceful traditional terracotta structure with a beautiful courtyard garden.
- Open: Daily from 8am until 5pm
- Cost: $5 per person
- Location: 13 Preah Ang Eng Street
- Getting there: A short walk from any of our recommended hotels and a tuk-tuk ride back from Wat Phnom
Lunch at Friends the 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 what you pay goes to an excellent cause. There's options for vegetarians, as well as meat or fish dishes and even a giant creepy crawly bugs burger if you're an adventurous eater! Just make sure you leave room for dessert as well as their divine smoothies or cocktails – a cheeky frozen daiquiri is perfect for those hot Cambodian days…
- Open: Every day from 11am until 11pm
- Cost: Meals start from $4.75
- Location: House 215, Street 13
- Getting there: It's literally just around the corner from the National Museum so it's a quick walk
The Royal Palace
After lunch, head to the Royal Palace, where the King of Cambodia officially resides. Obviously you can't visit the parts where the royal family lives, but there are still sections of the palace you can see, along with the beautiful formal gardens. There are always lots of locals relaxing on the grass, feeding birds and placing offerings. You can go inside the beautiful golden-spired Throne Hall and there's a small building to the left where you can see replica outfits worn by King Norodom Sihamoni during his coronation.
- Open: Daily from 8am to 5pm
- Cost: $6.50 per person
- Location: Across the road from the National Museum on Samdach Sothearos Boulevard
- Getting there: Walk back to the National Museum and then across the road!
The Silver Pagoda
Within the Royal Palace complex is the Wat Preah Keo Morakot temple, which translates to temple of the Emerald-Crystal Buddha, and is also called the Silver Pagoda. It's called silver because the floor is covered in five tonnes of silver tiles although most of them are covered. There are also lots of stunning statues on display, like the Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat-crystal, and a life-sized solid-gold Buddha adorned with 2,086 diamonds!
- Open: 7.30-11am & 2-5pm
- Cost: Included in the entrance price for the palace
- Location: To the right of the Royal Palace if you're facing the river
- Getting there: Just walk across from the palace!
Dine at Chez Gaston
After a day of exploring and walking amongst all those stunning buildings, head back down behind the National Museum to Chez Gaston, one of the best French restaurants in the city! What can I say, sometimes I really just need some homemade foie gras and a glass of good red wine… There's a set menu that changes daily, with entrée, main, dessert and a glass of house red or white. Even if you don't choose the set menu, everything is very affordable, delicious and authentically French.
- Open: Every day from 5.30pm until 11.30pm
- Cost: $13.50 for the set menu but other items start at $3 for a small salad etc.
- Location: 12Eo, Street 178, between the National Museum and Tonle Sap River
- Getting there: Walk back through the Royal Palace complex
Take in the view of Phnom Penh at Sora Skybar
Finish off a busy day with a relaxing and romantic cocktail at the best sky bar in Phnom Penh. The Sora Skybar is on the rooftop of the luxurious Rosewood Hotel, offering unparalleled views over the city. They make amazing cocktails, have an extensive whiskey “library” and even have a menu of cigars to enjoy! The after sunset menu (served from 7pm – 9pm) is more limited but you should definitely try the ‘Romeo & Juliet' cigar and cocktail bundle for $19, while listening to DJs playing smooth music.
- Open: Every day from 5pm until midnight
- Cost: Cocktails and spirits from $9, wine and beer from $8 per glass
- Location: The roof of the Vattanac Capital Tower at 66 Monivong Boulevard
- Getting there: Hail a tuk-tuk for a short ride back to near Wat Phnom
Day 2: Delve into Cambodia's haunting history
Brace yourself: our second-day itinerary is a pretty emotional one! This day is dedicated to visiting the harrowing Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng “S21” Torture Prison. It's a harrowing and somber experience but one we think everyone needs to see. The terrible and bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot between 1975-1979 overshadows Cambodian history because around a third of its population was killed off in this short period of time!
Heads up – there are several excellent guided tours of the Killing Fields and Torture Prison that you can pre book when planning your trip.
Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Center 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 it's 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.
- Open: Every day from 7.30am until 5.30pm
- Cost: $6 per person and includes an excellent audio guide
- Location: About 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from Phnom Penh's city center in the Khan Dangkao district
- Getting there: You can visit as part of a tour that includes Tuol Sleng, get a tuk-tuk or make use of a shuttle bus that visits both sites
Lunch at the Daughters of Cambodia Cafe
UPDATE: Daughters of Cambodia is sadly closing its doors from February 25th, 2024 until further notice.
The Daughters of Cambodia is an NGO helping survivors of sex trafficking in Cambodia by teaching them new skills and providing jobs. There's also a café on-site which serves delicious smoothies, cakes and other food for breakfast, lunch or a snack. Their gooey chocolate brownies, in particular, are so good! Prices are reasonable and you eat knowing you are helping out a good cause.
- Open: Every day from 9am until 5.30pm
- Cost: Treats start from $3
- Location: #63C, 456 Street
- Getting there: It's back in the city and close to your next stop but you'll need either a tuk-tuk or other transport to get there from the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
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.
- Open: Every day from 8am until 5pm
- Cost: $5 per person and $3 for children between 10 and 18 years old
- Location: Street 113, Sangkat Boeung Keng Kang 3
- Getting there: You can walk here from the Daughters of Cambodia Visitor Center, get a tuk-tuk, join a tour or use the shuttle bus option we've mentioned!
The Russian Market
If you have time and are feeling it (visiting Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek can be pretty harrowing) then we suggest a trip to the Russian Market next. This bustling bazaar could be the perfect palate cleanser after the darker sites you've visited earlier, and it's definitely a crazy, colorful destination! It's only called a Russian market because the many expats (a lot of whom were Russian) shopped here during the 80s, but it's filled with discounted name-brand clothing, souvenirs, handicrafts and antiques.
- Open: 6am until 4.30pm every day
- Cost: Free to visit and the prices for buying depend on your haggling skills!
- Location: The corner of Street 163 and Street 440
- Getting there: It's walking distance from S21 or a short tuk-tuk ride
Sunset dinner cruise on the Mekong River
The best way to finish off your two days in Phnom Penh is to enjoy a sunset dinner cruise down the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. You'll get to enjoy a delicious dinner served on the boat, catered for by some of the city's top restaurants, and with vegetarian options. Seeing the sun set and the city's lights come on from the water is a beautiful way to end the day, especially with a cocktail in hand and your love next to you!
- Starts: 5.30pm
- Cost: from $87
Plan your trip to Phnom Penh
We've put together some handy hints and tips to help you plan your own trip to Phnom Penh. Read on to find out everything the gay traveller should know before they go.
Travel insurance: We would never travel without having adequate travel insurance to protect us and we highly recommend all travelers do the same before heading to Phnom Penh! You never know when you may miss a flight, lose your luggage or get sick. Travel insurance gives you the comfort of knowing you'll be able to claim this back. We recommend Heymondo Travel Insurance because their cover is comprehensive, affordable and it is extremely user friendly. We've been using them for years and always had a great experience.
How to get there: You can fly directly into Phnom Penh's international airport from destinations like Bangkok, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, and Yangon, but if you're coming from Europe or North America you will likely need to transfer somewhere in between.
It's also possible to get buses from Vietnam and Thailand if you're traveling overland. Depending on traffic, it can take more than an hour from Phnom Penh airport to get into the city. We prefer to pre-book a private transfer so we don't need to worry about haggling or navigating public transport in a foreign language while juggling luggage. The driver will meet you at the airport and whisk you to your hotel in air-conditioned comfort!
Visa requirements: Visitors from many countries are able to visit Cambodia visa-free for up to 90 days, so long as you have at least six month's validity remaining on your passport. Other nationalities need to organize an e-visa, but you can do that easily online. Make sure you check your personal visa requirements before making any travel plans for Phnom Penh.
Getting around: Phnom Penh is a sprawling city, often very hot and chaotic. The easiest (and most fun!) way to get around is by tuk-tuk, although you can also hail a taxi, moto-taxi or get a bus. We personally think the tuk-tuks are the best option and definitely safer than the moto-taxis.
Vaccinations: All travelers to Cambodia should be up to date with routine vaccinations like measles, mumps, chickenpox, and Covid-19. Most travelers should also be vaccinated for hepatitis A and typhoid. Some travelers may also need vaccinations for hepatitis B, cholera, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, yellow fever, and rabies, depending on what you'll be doing. Check the CDC website for the most up-to-date info and consult your doctor or travel nurse before heading to Phnom Penh.
Currency: The currency used in Cambodia is called the Cambodian riel, or just riel, and uses the currency code KHR. In terms of conversions: $1 is worth around 4,000 riel, £1 is around 5,100 riel and €1 is around 4,600 riel.
Tipping culture: Cambodia doesn't have a strong tipping culture, so you will never be expected to tip. A service charge is often included on restaurant bills and locals will sometimes round up the bill and leave the change. You can tip if you really feel like it, and it won't be refused. We recommend using 10% as a good ballpark figure to calculate a generous tip.
Internet access: There are free WiFi access spots in Phnom Penh. Most hotels, restaurants and cafes will also provide free WiFi. We recommend getting a SIM card at the airport when you arrive. They are cheap, easy to set up and will ensure you always have internet access wherever you are in the country.
Accommodation: We love using Booking.com to research accommodation options in Phnom Penh. It has a comprehensive list of choices and usually displays the best online prices compared to all the other online booking engines we've tried. We also like it because most listings offer a free cancellation, which is super handy when you want to be flexible with your travel planning.
Sightseeing and adventure: For all the best tours and activities in Phnom Penh, we recommend checking out GetYourGuide. They always have a fun list of experiences for every destination, which are affordable and very easy to book online.
When to visit: The best period to visit Phnom Penh is between November – January, when the weather is the driest, least humid and coolest. However, this is also the peak tourist season, with the most crowds and highest prices. March to May are the hottest months when it can get stiflingly hot and humid. If this is an issue for you, avoid these months. The rest of the year is wet season, which can be very unpredictable and bring monsoons, so it's not great for traveling.
Phnom Penh Itinerary map
Here's our map of Phnom Penh which includes all the hotels, restaurants, bars and sightseeing highlights we've mentioned in this post. Use it to plan your own amazing trip to Phnom Penh!
For more inspiration:
- Make sure you try some of the best traditional Cambodian foods while you're there
- Read these interesting facts about Cambodia that you might not have already known
- Check out our gay travel guide to Siem Reap
- Read our interview with local boy Aaron about gay life in Cambodia
- Check out our gay travel guide to Vietnam if you're headed there too
- As well as our gay travel guide to Thailand