Updated as of January 2020
Summary: This blog shares a budget travel guide for Phnom Penh, Cambodia with a DIY itinerary that is good for 2 to 3 days; estimated budget is 86USD per person which covers expenses for entrance fee, food and transportation only. All needed details for each Phnom Penh top attraction are laid out in the post including operating hours, entrance fee, location and information on how to get there. Further, this Phnom Penh blog is intended for first-time backpackers and budget travelers, either solo, family or traveling in group.
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PHNOM PENH AT A GLANCE
The capital of Cambodia, PHNOM PENH, was once hailed as the “Pearl of Asia” until the 70’s when Khmer Rouge wreaked havoc and totally devastated the peaceful life of Khmer people resulting to one of the biggest genocides in history with around 1.6 million reported death toll.
From its period of brutality, it took more than a decade before the Kingdom of Cambodia regained its balance and fully restored its monarchy. Nowadays, Phnom Penh and its sister provinces are slowly rebuilding its former glory – from landscape, political affairs to its economy and culture.
Pay a visit, enjoy the addictive energy of its food culture, and take in a real sense of Phnom Penh as it works on its desire to get to its feet and begin to stride again in progress and development.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT PHNOM PENH
- Phnom Penh has acquired several monikers over the years due to its urban landscape and architectural design, from being the “Paris of the East” to the “Pearl of Asia”. Its name however is inspired from Wat Phnom, a 14th-century Buddhist temple that sits atop a hill in the city proper.
- The Kingdom of Cambodia had been a colony of France from 1863 to 1953, and only became an independent country thereafter under the leadership of King Sihanouk.
- The genocide that happened during Khmer Rouge resulted to a young demographic profile with around half of Cambodia’s population younger than 15 years old.
FAQs WHEN TRAVELING TO PHNOM PENH
How many days to spend in Phnom Penh? – If you are keen at seeing only its major attractions, 2 days would be enough for a travel itinerary. You can spend the first day going to the Killing fields and S21, then allot the second day to its markets, temples, and other city attractions.
Is it safe to travel to Phnom Penh? – The Phnom Penh I visited was bustling especially after school and office hours, yet it felt safe despite that I was alone walking around its streets. People were generally friendly, happy and helpful. Even so, I still recommend to take extra caution when going around its remote areas at night time.
Do I need a Visa to visit Phnom Penh?
Here is a list of countries that do not require a Visa upon entry to Cambodia:
- Brunei, free entry for 14 days
- Indonesia, free entry for 30 days
- Laos, free entry for 30 days
- Malaysia, free entry for 30 days
- Philippines, free entry for 21 days
- Seychelles, free entry for 14 days
- Singapore, free entry for 30 days
- Thailand, free entry for 14 days
- Vietnam, free entry for 30 days
All else, tourists need to secure a Visa upon arrival. Visa application can be done at the immigration or online.
For tips on how to avoid touts and scammers when crossing to Cambodia via its land border, read this separate blog: The good, the bad and the ugly side of Cambodia.
When is the best time to visit? Weather wise, Phnom Penh is a year-round destination although it is best visited during its cool months from November to January when nature is at its best and tourists can freely walk around its streets without worrying much of its dominantly humid climate. However, this period is also the high season when people tend to crowd at its major attractions and prices are higher than usual (though still affordable even by Asian standard).
What are the common scams in Phnom Penh? Two common scams that proliferate in Phnom Penh is the food scam whereby a local who appears impoverished asks for a meal at a restaurant with an insanely high-priced food items, and the baby milk scam whereby a woman with a baby asks help for her baby’s milk and takes you to a mini-store with again overly priced tin of formula. The scammers are way too creative and you might fall into the trap. When you encounter them, learn to say no politely.
What is the accepted currency? The official currency of Cambodia is Riel, however US dollar is more preferred especially in major establishments. Transactions are mostly on a cash basis, but the use of credit cards is also acceptable in restaurants and hotels.
How is the mobile data and signal strength? For most of its areas, cellular and internet connectivity in Phnom Penh are strong using a local SIM card like Cellcard or Mobitel.
What is the tipping policy in Phnom Penh? Tipping is not imposed in any establishment in Phnom Penh, however given that the country does not enjoy the lavish life of a first world, sharing a tip in exchange of an excellent service would definitely go a long way.
What is the power socket used in Phnom Penh? Most establishments in Cambodia use type A socket that can support flat prongs, and a 220V, 5-0Hz electricity.
HOW TO GET TO PHNOM PENH
Phnom Penh is accessible by air both via domestic and international flights, and by land from neighboring provinces and countries.
By Air: Getting to Phnom Penh by a direct flight at Pochentong airport is possible from these countries:
- South Korea
- United Arab Emirates
At Phnom Penh International Airport, you can take a taxi or motorcycle at the arrival lobby to get to your accommodation. Please note that taxis are usually not metered and would cost around 7USD for a 20-minute ride, while motorcycle can be chartered for 3USD to the city proper.
By Land: There are several bus companies that offer direct trips to Phnom Penh from different neighboring destinations as listed below. The most recommended among these buses are Giant Ibis and Mekong Express due to its facility and service.
- Battambang, Cambodia
- Siem Reap, Cambodia
- Sihanoukville, Cambodia
- Kampot, Cambodia
- Poipet, Cambodia
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
- Vientiane, Laos
Find tickets for bus, trains, ferries and planes to Phnom Penh and book online using the search box below:
How to get around Phnom Penh?
There are plenty of options to get around Phnom Penh. If you are in a hurry, the best way to get to your destination is by taxi which can be expensive when you are on a shoestring budget. Cost per kilometer on a taxi is around 0.75USD. A cheaper alternative is a remork or moto (similar to tuk tuk), a large trailer hitched at the back of a motorcycle. Fare for short distance travel is around 1,000KHR or 0.25USD. You can charter a remork for a day tour at around 5 to 8USD. If you only plan to just wander around the city on a broad daylight (as I don’t recommend doing it at night), walking is pretty much the best alternative. The city of Phnom Penh has interesting sights in almost all of its corner and walking would help better appreciate them.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN PHNOM PENH
Phnom Penh is a vital stop to learn the history of Cambodia. Here are some of the best tourist spots that you can visit in 2 to 3 days for this historic venture.
Wat Phnom is the only raised landscape in the vastly flat Phnom Penh. The hill where it beautifully sits atop rises to a 27-meter elevation with well drawn-out steps for tourists to easily walk on.
Wat Phnom, the very namesake of Phnom Penh, was constructed around 14th century, and since then, has been considered as one of the city’s most important Buddhist temples as it shares stories of the early life of Buddha through its architectural designs and details.
Wat Phnom is located at Norodom Boulevard, Phnom Penh. To get there by public transport, take any of the buses from lines 1 to 4; these buses move around Wat Phnom. Fare is 1,500KHR or 0.37USD. Entrance fee to the temple is 1USD which can be purchased at the ticket office found at the base. Don’t forget to remove your shoes when entering the main worship area. Visiting hours is from 8:00AM to 6:00PM.
The Independence Monument was constructed to signify Cambodia’s independence from the French colony in 1953. The monument is lotus-shaped, akin to central tower of Angkor Wat, stands 37 meters tall and is installed at the intersection of Sihanouk and Norodom boulevard.
The Independence Monument is the very center of all activities during national holidays. It is adorned with flowers, and is lighted up in hues of blue, red and white (the colors of Cambodia’s flag) at night time displaying its gorgeous architectural design to people walking and driving around the park.
Other notable attractions near Independence Monument at Sihanouk Boulevard are the Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk (few steps to its west), the Cambodia-Vietnam Monument (few walks further on its northwest), Wat Langka (few steps on its east) and the Royal Palace (10-minute away on foot to its north).
ROYAL PALACE OF CAMBODIA
The beautiful Royal Palace of Cambodia is the very seat of residence of the King of Cambodia since 1860. Its design is a mix of Khmer, Thai and French architecture and spans to an area of 174,870 square metres.
The Palace is divided into 4 main structures: the Throne Hall which serves as a meeting place for guests of the King and venue for religious and royal ceremonies, the Silver Pagoda which prides as the keeper of the Emerald and Golden Buddha statues, the Khemarin Palace which used as residence of the royal family, and the Inner Court.
The Royal Palace is open daily from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. Entrance fee is 10USD. To get there, you can go on foot as it is only a few walks away from the city center or go by tuk tuk.
TUOL SLENG (S21 GENOCIDE MUSEUM)
Tuol Sleng or S21 Genocide Museum was a school-turned-prison where Cambodians who were thought of enemies of the country were detained, tortured and eventually killed. Of the estimated 12,273 detainees at S21, only 7 were known to have survived.
Visiting S21 is an experience clout in somber, something that tourists have to prepare on, as you will embark on a harrowing journey of Cambodia’s dark past through a guided audio tour with full display of photographs and sparse cells that heavily manifest the brutal life of the enduring victims.
At the site, you will get a chance to meet one of the seven survivors who wrote a book embodying his experience. Tuol Sleng is located at street 113. To get there, you can charter a remork for 10USD. Opening hours is daily from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. Entrance fee with guided audio tour is 6USD.
Some of the detainees from Tuol Sleng were sent to Choeung Ek to be killed on a blindfold by soldiers who would push their dead bodies into a pit. It is said that there were a total of 17,000 men, women and children who were executed at the Killing Fields.
The dead bodies were dug out in 1980 and were placed in a memorial stupa that created the sites centerpiece for tourists and locals who find interest in learning the dark history that took place at the site. Every year, on May 9, a memorial ceremony is held at the Killing Fields to commemorate the death of the victims.
Choeung Ek Killing Fields is situated 17 kilometres south of Phnom Penh. A remork ride will take for about 30 to 40 minutes and costs around 15 to 20USD. Entrance fee is 6USD including the audio tour.
CAMBODIA NATIONAL MUSEUM
The National Museum of Cambodia that is designed in Khmer style houses the best collection of pre and post-Angkorian artifacts that account to around 1,800 pieces.
Among the most notable items in the collection are the Vishnu head that was excavated at Angkor Archeological park, the different statuary pieces of Buddhist and Hindu sects, and the art pieces of Khmer people.
The National Museum is located at Preah Ang Eng Street 13 and can be reached on foot from the Royal Palace in 5 minutes. Visiting hours is daily from 8:00AM to 5:00PM. Entrance fee is 10USD.
Wat Ounalom is the center of Cambodian Buddhism that serves as the headquarter of 500 monks who help in spreading out the spiritual teachings and philosophies of the Buddhist faith. The temple was constructed in 1443 to enshrine the ounalom or eyebrow hair of Buddha.
Some of the highlights around Wat Ounalom are the image of Samdech Huot Tat, a Buddhist patriarch who was executed during the Pol Pot era; the 30,000 volume of Buddhism-related texts, and the century-old stupas and shrines.
Wat Ounalom is situated at the riverfront of Tonle Sap, a nearby place from the Royal Palace which can be accessed by a remok or on foot in few minutes. Admission to the temple is free. Opening hours is daily from 6:00AM to 6:00PM.
The Phnom Penh Olympic Stadium was designed by Vann Molyvann and was completely constructed in 1964 as the main venue for the Southeast Asian Peninsular Games which was cancelled due to political concerns in Cambodia at the time.
The stadium has the capacity of up to 50,000 people. Among the facilities that are still usable at the Sports Complex are the swimming pool and diving boards, an indoor volleyball court, and tennis court. The Olympic Stadium is open for public and can be reached by a remok for 5USD, from the city center.
PSAR THMEI (CENTRAL MARKET)
The central Psar Thmei market with a yellow-tinged color and a distinctive dome shaped-roof was built in 1937 in Art Deco style. Nowadays, the market has become a favorite spot for travelers on a budget as it sells almost everything on an affordable price – from fresh fruits, vegetables, local delicacies to jewelries, electronics and textiles.
The Central Market is located at street 126 and can be reached by a remok for 5USD from the city center; travel time is close to 10 minutes. The market is open daily from 7:00AM to 6:00PM.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN PHNOM PENH
The capital of Cambodia is never an underdog when it comes to tourist activities. Start your stay by exploring the Royal Palace and the nearby Sisowath Quay – watching boat races from the promenade during the Water Festival is such a thrilling experience you want to embark on.
If you are not yet done dipping into the Khmer culture on your Royal Palace exploration, kick off a heritage walk from Wat Langka, the Independence Monument to the Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk and the Cambodia-Vietnam Monument. You can end it up with a visit at the National Museum.
By all means, sample the local foods available at the Central or Russian Market. You might even find some cheap souvenir items at both places for your family and friends back home.
Lastly, visit the Killing Fields and S21. It is not easy nor a pleasant experience but if you want to understand Phnom Penh in a deeper sense, you got to see and hear the harrowing past that made all Khmer people resilient and enduring more than ever.
PHNOM PENH DIY ITINERARY
Here is a sample DIY itinerary for 2 days that would cover the best sights of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The proposed budget assumes a party of two and will set back an amount of 86USD+ per person which includes expenses for food, transportation, and entrance fee.
Things to note for this sample Phnom Penh DIY itinerary:
- Except for the Killing Fields and S21, all attractions in the Top Attractions list are accessible by bus, which comes in 4 different lines. To get the most of this transport system, download the “Stops Near Me” app which would show all the bus lines and stops in English version.
- If you opt to walk from one city attraction to another, as they are only 5 to 10-minute walk away, make sure to lather on some sunblock and bring a bottle of water to keep yourself from exhaustion. Phnom Penh is humid and hot for most of the year.
DAY ONE (budget per person: 38USD)
|City Walk Tour||4:00PM||1USD|
|Wat Botum Park||–||–|
|Statue of King Norodom Sihanouk||–||–|
|Back to Hostel||9:00PM||–|
Look for more Klook discounted tours for Phnom Penh and other major destinations in Cambodia using the search box below. Type the destination and click “search”.
DAY TWO (budget per person: 48USD)
|Lunch at Central Market||12:00PM||10USD|
|Tuol Sleng or S21||2:00PM||11USD|
|Back to Hostel||4:00PM||2USD|
WHERE TO STAY IN PHNOM PENH
If you are looking at staying in Phnom Penh for a short period of time, it’s best to choose an accommodation near Daun Penh District where most of the heritage sites are found.
Here are some of the top-rated yet affordable accommodations in the area:
Other recommended hotels in Daun Penh district:
- Sla Boutique Hostel. Click here for rate and availability
- Viva Boutique Hostel and Pub. Click here for rate and availability
- RS III Location Hostel. Click here for rate and availability
- Okay Palace Hotel. Click here for rate and availability
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