Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city is an enthralling tapestry of streets that weave into each other, spilling over with motorbikes carrying entire families, street vendors, children playing tag, tuk tuks ambling along and men squatting over a game of local chess. Sitting on the quiet banks of the Tonle Sap, this vibrant city that is rushing full steam ahead into the future, still holds much of Cambodia’s dark past. Often looked over by hasty travellers on a highlights tour, there is plenty to be seen and done in Phnom Penh. With that in mind, we’ve created this 72 hour guide for you.
Delve into Cambodia’s history and try undertaking the gut wrenching task of wrapping your head around the Khmer Rouge Regime, a chapter in time so dark that it is surprising how unknown it is to most. Start the day at the former Tuol Svay Pray High School, which was converted to a torture interrogation and execution centre in 1976 by the Khmer Rouge Regime and re-named S21. Allow for two hours of slowly making your way through the rooms and courtyard.
Literally retrace history’s steps and continue your day by following the path the prisoners were taken on by grabbing a tuk tuk to take you the roughly 17.5 kms journey to Choeung Ek, otherwise known as the Killing Fields. A peaceful place today, it was used as a mass burial ground for systematic executions between the years of 1975 and 1978. Admission tickets come with an excellent audio guide in multiple languages. Make sure you don’t miss the memorial Stupa that was erected in 1988. Many tourists tend to go first thing in the morning, so the afternoon gives you more time and space to soak history in.
When you feel it is time to leave, tuk tuk your way back to the city and take some time to unwind from the day. For dinner tonight you should head over to the unmissable Romdeng Restaurant. Set in a beautiful colonial building, this social enterprise serves up traditional Cambodian cuisine with a creative twist. Try the spiders, we dare you!
After breakfast, slowly make your way to Phsar Tuol Tom Pong, better known as the Russian Market for some souvenir shopping and people watching. Take your time to meander around the inner maze, snack on some fresh fruit or noodles and friendly haggle over select souvenirs. For lunch head over to L’Orchidée Restaurant, a small charming restaurant with a reputation of serving both highly creative Asian and Western cuisine. Stars of the menu include Fish Amok, Fillet Beef Lok Lak, Spicy Sichuan Fish, and Sweet and Sour River Prawn. Next, tuk tuk your way to the Royal Palace and follow that up with the National Museum where there is a wonderful richness of archaeological artefacts on display well worth a look.
When you’re done, take a stroll along riverside, a lovely promenade that exposes a mishmash of Khmer buildings with nods to the past French influence, ever present street vendors, impromptu aerobic classes and, of course, the gently flowing river to your right. Finish the night off with a cocktail – or two – at Le Moon rooftop bar, conveniently located right on riverside.
Treat yourself to a good breakfast at French restaurant Khema. Follow that by a highly enjoyable cyclo or walking architecture tour with Khmer Architecture Tours (we recommended you book in advance as they can be quite busy) where you’ll learn more about Cambodia’s modern architecture. Grab something light to eat and a cold coconut from any street vendor and relax into the afternoon. A bit of self-indulgent shopping follows at Maison Apsara, where you can visit the workshop and create your own care products with natural ingredients from Koh Kong So, how to spend your last hours in The Penh? Around six o’clock catch the sunset at Sora Sky Bar on the rooftop terrace of Rosewood Hotel (leave your flip flops at the hotel and don some nice footwear for this one), and dine at Malis for Khmer cuisine or Topaz for French. Then go bar hopping from one tiny joint to the next down Bassac Lane, where you can catch a glimpse of the trendy expat scene.