36 Hours in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

If your headed to Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia but short on time, here are a few suggestions of what you can squeeze into just 36 hours to maximize your time.

Daughters of Cambodia

Daughters of Cambodia

Photo by Jeremy Maz

This place is an awesome stop to enjoy a cup of tea, munch on a snack, eat, and buy some souvenirs all for a great cause. Daughters helps women and men that were forced into the sex industry find a safe way out. They employ many young men and women to work making their handicrafts for their gift shop and also working behind the counter at Daughters. These young men and women are taught great employment skills and a second chance to fit back in society. We enjoyed some delicious tea and shopped around for gifts. To learn more about this great cause check out Daughters of Cambodia here.

Friends N Stuff

Friends is another great place to check out while helping others. Friends is an organization that helps the youth of SouthEast Asia who are at risk of being exploited. The kids are given training experience and education. We love the gift shop that is filled with handicrafts made by the children. They have a great selection of gifts from jewelry, wallets, clothes, and more. We also loved the tapas restaurant next door to the shop. The food was AMAZING and we highly recommend it. Our favorite was the pork quesadilla and the pineapple mango chili margarita. Learn more about Friends here.

Shop the Markets

We actually only made it to the Russian Market and were a little disappointed. We found the stalls filled with knock offs and home supplies. Since we are backpacking we cannot carry stuff for a home and we are not into knock off Nike golf shirts. The Central Market is said to be much better. We did not have enough time to go here, but wish we could have at least checked it out. (Maybe Scott doesn’t mind if we miss a market or two…haha)

National Museum

Learn and explore more about Cambodia’s history at the National Museum. The museum mostly contains preserved artifacts and history of Angkor Wat. The building itself is beautiful and worth seeing. If you have already gone to the National Museum in Siem Reap then you can probably skip this stop.

Royal Palace

Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

Megan looking at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh

Walk through the elaborate and ornate palace of the king of Cambodia. The truly impressive architecture will have you in awe. If you’re lucky like us, maybe you will see a few royal monkeys hanging out on the grounds. Although the palace and the surrounding buildings are beautiful, we found it disappointing only because there were a lot of places we could not see and they allow absolutely no photography inside the buildings. Still, if you love gold, old architecture, and palaces it is worth a peek.

Tip
Make sure girls and guys have tshirts and long shorts on. They do not accept cardigans or shawls as a coverup of the shoulders and will make you buy a royal palace tshirt at the entrance! If you only have short shorts ladies get a sarong just for the palace.

Sunset at the Mekong River

Head to the Mekong for sunset and enjoy a draft Angkor beer or a cocktail during happy hour. Food is a bit more expensive along the river, especially at the nice hotels. But it is definitely worth checking out one of the nice hotel’s view just for a drink. Our picks would be FCC Hotel or directly next door on the third floor at the River Front Bar.

The Killing Fields

Skulls at Killing Fields

Skulls at Killing Fields

This is one of the more somber tourist sites you will see, but educational and worth a visit. This is located about 17km outside of the heart of the city and is one of the locations the Khmer Rouge used to kill around 20,000 innocent people. Their bodies were left hundreds of people high in shallow pits whose remains still wash up from the dirt daily. This was an eerie site and you did have to watch your step because you may step on a bone or old clothing coming out of the ground. Coming to something like this lets you appreciate how resilient this country is and gives you a chance to acknowledge the millions of lives lost during the Khmer Rouge.

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Torture room

Torture Room at Tuol Sleng

In the heart of Phnom Penh resides an old school used as a prisoner and torture camp for those captured during the Khmer Rouge. This location was kept secret during the regime of Pol Pot. Thousands of innocent people were brought here when arrested by the communist party for fictitious crimes against the state. Men, women, the elderly, and children were all held prisoners here and tortured until they confessed to things they never did like being a spy for the CIA or KGB. After any confession the prisoners were basically signing away their execution. What’s more chilling is there are still blood stains in the torture chambers and photos of how each room was found by the Vietnamese Army with dead, tortured bodies inside. The Khmer Rouge also took mugshots of all its prisoners on arrival; their pictures are posted throughout several rooms. You can see the terrified, hopeless, or hopeful look in peoples eyes which is heart wrenching. Even though this part was emotional and hard to witness, it’s a great way to honor and acknowledge all the lives lost. Again, a somber atmosphere but a great way to recognize the history of this resilient country.

We were lucky the day we visited because 2 of the 7 survivors from Toul Sleng were sitting outside with their books telling their stories. It was fascinating to see someone who survived this horrible place and also brave enough to come back and share their story.

To learn more about one of the survivors and the Khmer Rouge check out this nice piece from the Huffington Post.

 Wat Phnom 

This temple is located in the heart of the city and is worth a quick visit. Wat Phnom is a Buddhist temple and is famous for it’s giant clock in front made out of a bed of flowers. Be mindful during your visit here as well as anywhere you go. We saw someone get their iPad stolen here.

Special Note
Phnom Penh is famous also because people can rent military weapons and pay a buttload of money to blow up a live cow. Not cool. Please don’t support this type of business, cows are food not things to blow up for no reason. Let your tuk tuk driver know you are not interested before going on a day long tour. They will try to take you!

Overall, Phnom Penh was a great city to spend a short amount of time in. We tried to see as much as we could at a comfortable pace, but still did not see all there is to offer. When we come back we will spend more time roaming the city.

Did we miss any of your favorite spots in Phnom Penh? Share or comment below what you liked about Phnom Penh.

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  • Lydia@Lifeuntraveled.com

    We stayed 5 days in Phnom Penh and I really liked it (I would’ve stayed longer)! Unfortunately, Friends wasn’t open for lunch on the day we went so we missed out (the menu was very tantalizing though!). I didn’t like the Russian Market either, I stepped in for a few minutes then abruptly left. There are also a lot of knock-offs at the Central Market but it was the most organized market I had ever seen in SEA! I was actually looking for a bra at the time but couldn’t find one that I liked….lol!