Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia is less likely the same as others. The city is livable but not too chaotic. Skyscrapers in the city of Phnom Penh are not as many as skyscrapers in other cities in South-east Asia. Nonetheless, Phnom Penh’s history, culture, delicious Khmer authentic cuisine are the main reasons why many expats love Phnom Penh city. Here is an article to help you plan out a day in Phnom Penh in order to discover this great destination.
How to Spend a Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
5:30 am : Catch sunrise along the riverbank
When we are talking about watching the sunrise, most people often think about the sunrise watching spots, which are located on the top of the mountain or at the beach. Believe me or not when I say that you can watch the sunrise in a busy city. In the city of Phnom Penh, you can watch the sunrise not from the rooftop of your hotel, but in front of the Tonle Sap river, in front of the Royal Palace.
You can catch the sunrise on the west bank of the Tonle Sap river, along the Sisowath Quay. There are always a lot of old people jogging and exercising along the river bank every morning. However, it is not getting crowded yet, so you can enjoy the sunrise in the city peacefully. It might be a little bit hard for night owl to get up early in the morning to enjoy the sunrise and the morning view, but believe me it is worth it.
7:00 am : Enjoy breakfast at Phsar Kandal:
Not far away from the riverbank, there is a famous local market, known as Phsar Kandal. Phsar Kandal is an ideal place to try local cuisine. There are a wide range of typical local breakfast, such as Kuy Teav (rice noodles), noodle, Bai Sach Chrouk (pork rice), Pho, Num Banh Chok (Khmer rice noodle) etc. If you are a coffee lover, do not forget to try Cambodian coffee with sweetened condensed milk. But if you prefer some non-caffeine drinks, you should definitely try refreshing iced lemon tea. Breakfast in local markets is so affordable, that it could only cost you around 4 USD for breakfast or even less.
8:00 am : Bike tour around the Royal Palace and Alley 240 ½
After you finish your breakfast, now is time for some exploring. You can rent a motorbike that is available in some bike rental shops along the Sisowath Quay for your travelling. You can bike around the Royal Palace Phnom Penh and the National Museum which is located near the Palace, and along the riverside before the heat of the city rises. Then, you should continue your journey to the Alley 240 ½. Alley 240 ½ has been keeping its fame among expats and tourists in the past few years. The street has boutiques, handmade products, liquor stores, souvenir stores, wine bars and pubs. Additionally, there are a lot of western restaurants and cafes with creative menus as well.
9:00 am : Exploring the Royal Palace – Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace Phnom Penh is the must-see site for every tourists who visit Cambodia. Royal Palace is the official residence of the current king of Cambodia, His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni. There are a number of pavilions inside the Royal Palace, such as the Throne Hall, Phochani Pavilion, Moonlight Pavilion and Silver Pagoda etc. Exploring the Royal Palace Phnom Penh gives you a deep insight into Cambodian culture and history. In addition, there are a lot of royal jewelry displayed inside the Royal Palace of Cambodia, so it is a great chance for you to actually seeing value jewelry of the royalty. I recommend you to hire a tour guide or use audio tour, while visiting the Royal Palace.
10:30 am: Visiting the National Museum of Cambodia
After visiting the Royal Palace, you should visit the National Museum of Cambodia if there is still time available. The museum is located next to the Royal Palace. Therefore, it takes you no time to travel from the Royal Palace to the National Museum. The National Museum is the main museum in Phnom Penh as well as the whole country. It houses the world’s best and largest collections of Khmer art, including sculptural, ceramics, bronzes and ethnographic objects. Additionally, visiting this museum will make you well-equipped with some knowledge ahead of a trip to Angkor Wat.
11:30 am : A small break at the Museum Cafe – Phnom Penh
There is a cafe in the compound of the National Museum in Phnom Penh, which is known as the “Museum Cafe” . After a long morning, you should take a break and have some drinks at this cafe. Beside coffee, fresh fruit juice and smoothie are served as well.
12 pm : Having lunch at Chinese House Restaurant
What was your first thought when you hear the word “Chinese House Restaurant”? You might think about Chinese food, but nah! Chinese House is a European-Asia restaurant and cocktail bar. The restaurant is located along Sisowath Quay, which is not so far away from the National Museum. Chinese House is the city’s most beautiful remaining buildings. The buildings remained from the French colonial, which was owned by a wealthy Hokkien trader in the past.
The restaurant consists of a dining area, an outdoor garden, and a cocktail lounge. Unlike its name, Chinese House does not only offer Chinese food. It offers western menu as well. Food, drink, and the services of this restaurant will not disappoint you and it will give you energy to continue your day in Phnom Penh.
1 pm : Visiting Phsar Thom Thmei (Central Market)
After having a big lunch, it is time to lead to one of the most iconic architectures in Phnom Penh, Phsar Thom Thmei. Phsar Thom Thmei or known in short as Phsar Thmei (Central Market) is a cross-shaped building with a huge dome hall in the center. The market has four wings and each is categorized and sells different local products.
There are hundreds of small shops, including jewelry, clothing, souvenirs, and electronics etc. In addition, there are many many food stalls in the market, which sell lots of Khmer authentic food. If you want to get refreshing in the hot afternoon, some fresh fruit juices and some fresh fruit shakes are the best choices for you, which can be found on a small store on the west side of the Phsar Thmei facing the Kampuchea Krom Blvd.
2 pm : Check out Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
Approximately 3 kilometers from the Phsar Thmei, there is a museum which showcases about the darkest time of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 to 1979. It is true that Phnom Penh is a city of culture and beautiful history, however, it also consists of a tragic past. Toul Sleng Genocide Museum was the largest prisoner’s camp in Cambodia, which detained and tortured approximately 17,000 people during the the Khmer Rouge regime.
The victims in the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum were innocent people, which later on were tortured to death. When Toul Sleng was discovered in 1979, among 17,000 people there were only 12 prisoners alive. Visiting the museum at this time, you can catch up the dialog forum “Survivors’ Voice”, which is a program shown at 2:30 pm. Additionally, you understand more about this tragedy , you should hire a tour guide or use an audio guide.
4 pm : Go a little shopping or show off your painting skills
So now if you want to escape the city’s heat, you should go a little shopping in the mall, Aeon Mall Phnom Penh. Aeon mall Phnom Penh is located along Sothearos Boulevard. It is the first mall in Phnom Penh, which offers you world class shopping experience. You can find many international brands in Aeon Mall Phnom Penh, including Puma, Mango, Levi’s, Adidas, Lyn to name just a few. The mall has a large supermarket that you can find a lot of local and international products. Furthermore, inside Aeon Mall, there is an extensive food court that you can find a big selection of cuisines from all around the world. Additionally, there is a movie theatre, a bowling alley, gaming centre and a karaoke on the second floor of the mall.
However, if you do not like shopping, there is an alternative for you. If you are an art lover or simply want to experience new things, The Art Bar is the right place for you. The Art Bar is an art studio that offers you a unique way to express your creativity. You can show off your painting skills by choosing their sip and paint program. The studio provides you painting materials and they also serve you alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages. If you have never hold a brush before, do not worry! The Art Bar has its own artists to guide you step by step along the way. Moreover, they offer pottery and jewelry making sessions as well.
5 pm : Sunset boat trip at Phnom Penh Riverside
Watching the sunrise this morning in front of the Tonle Sap River is a great experience, isn’t it? So why not enjoy the sunset in Phnom Penh once? There are a lot of boats along the Tonle Sap River and Mekong River in the evening. Let’s hop on one of the boats along the river to enjoy the sunset. It lasts approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Most of the boats offer buffet dinner and all kinds of soft drinks and hard drinks. You now can enjoy 1 hour and 30 minutes boat riding, watching the sunset peacefully along the river in Phnom Penh, with unlimited beer and soft drinks for 15 USD. The prices are varied based on the durations of the boat ride and the offered services.
6:30 pm : Try exotic street food in front of the Royal Palace – Phnom Penh
After a romantic, sunset watching boat ride, now let’s get some exotic Phnom Penh street food. There are a lot of street food along Sisowath Quay, in front of the Royal Palace Phnom Penh. Have you ever tried tarantula? If no, now is the chance to try it. You can find deep fried Tarantula or “Ah Ping” along the street in Phnom Penh. Moreover, there are a lot of mobile carts that sells many edible insects, such as silk worms, crickets, snails etc, which are already cooked and ready to serve. You might not have the guts to try all of these insects. But once in a while, you should try something new.
7 pm : Watch Cambodia Living Art Performance
I keep mentioning about the rich culture and tradition of Cambodia, here is the chance for you to watch the live performance of the famous Cambodian traditional music and dance. Cambodia Living Art is an organization that has been operating in Cambodia for 20 years with the main purpose of supporting the arts sector in Cambodia.
Cambodia Living Art Performance sits in the compound of the National Museum of Cambodia. The performance showcases a wide variety of Khmer folk dances and classical dances, including one of the most beautiful Cambodian ballet “Apsara Dance”. Watching the live performance of the Cambodian folk dances and classical dances for 60 minutes is like taking a journey through the 2,000 years Cambodian culture.
8 pm : Visit Phnom Penh’s Night Market
Phsar Reathrey or Night Market is situated by the riverfront. The atmosphere of the phsar is so relaxing, and you can chill around the phsar and do some souvenir shopping there. A huge array of street food is available there, and you can have your dinner in the night market. Moreover, there is a huge stage in the center of the phsar, which let you enjoy the street food while listening to music.
9 pm : Exploring the neighborhood : Bassac Lane – Phnom Penh
The neighborhood along the riverfront, Bassac Lane is the most liveliest place during the night time in Phnom Penh city. This neighborhood covers with a lot of bars and pubs where you can grab some drinks and enjoy the night. It is the best way to end your exhausting browsing day. Once it used to be a quiet back-lane of houses, but now it has become a bustling place where you can get great cocktails, food, and live music. If it happens to be on Thursday, don’t miss out Samai Distillery. Every Thursday, Samai Distillery welcomes the crowd to sample their range of creative cocktails. In addition, they have DJs, who are going to give you a good night out.
You might also want to find out more about Bassac Lane!!
Phnom Penh is a small busy city. Unlike other cities in South-east Asia, Phnom Penh is less busy and chaotic. Culture and history make up this beautiful city. It is considered to be the most underrated city in Asia. If you open your mind and accept the truth of this city, you are going to fall in love with Phnom Penh for sure. Even if you have only a day in Phnom Penh, it will surely amaze you in a way that you have never imagined.