How to have an unforgettable stay in Phnom Penh

With breathtaking architecture, waterside attractions and unique traditions, Cambodia's capital city Phnom Penh offers an unforgettable immersion into a rich cultural history.

A picture taken across the street of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh.
  • Yuen Yiying
  • August 2018

If you only have 24 hours in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, check out this one-day itinerary that gets you straight to the best sights in this breathtaking city.

The best time to travel to Phnom Penh

A little girl rowing a bout at Tonle Sap, Cambodia.
A little girl rows a boat along the Tonle Sap river in Phnom Penh.

9am: Stroll along the Sisowath Quay

Centrally located where the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac Rivers meet, Phnom Penh opens in new window is a constant flow of activity. After a leisurely breakfast, get a glimpse of life in Cambodia’s capital by strolling along the Tonle Sap river, where you can catch locals doing morning exercises and snacking on street food, or opt for a scenic cyclo (three-wheeled bicycle) ride. If you can get here early enough, set up in front of the Royal Palace to watch a stunning sunrise.

Where: From St 104 to the Royal Palace

A picture of people gathered around the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Silver Pagoda in the royal place is a must if you only have a day in Phnom Penh.

10am: Visit the Royal Palace

This is where the royal family has stayed since the 1960s, and parts of the estate are open to the public for an entry fee of KHR 25,000 (SGD $8.90). The 59m-tall Throne Hall opens in new window, designed to host royal functions and receive dignitaries, beautifully exemplifies Cambodian architecture, but just nearby, the Silver Pagoda almost steals the show with its Italian marble steps and floors paved with solid silver tiles. Adding to the grandeur of the locale, an emerald-hued crystal Buddha figure sits serenely inside, next to another standing Buddha sculpture studded with diamonds.

Where: Sotheraros Blvd

Arial view of a cruise ship on Tonle Sap River, Cambodia.
A popular tourist attraction is the Phochani Pavilion at the royal place.

12pm: Lunch with a dose of art

Have lunch at Plantation opens in new window, an award-winning hotel that used to be a French administration villa. Afterwards, walk around the lotus pond to admire artworks by international and local artists along the corridors. You could also pop into the funky gift shop for trinkets and clothes made by Cambodian artisans.

2pm: Souvenir shopping

Cambodia was once a French colony, and remnants of its European past can still be seen in many of its structures, such as the cross-shaped Phsar Thmel opens in new window (Central Market), lined with stalls selling food and sundries. Located by the 15th-century Wat Ounalom monastery and near the riverside, the building also serves as an informal terminal – at the northwest wing, it’s easy to hitch a taxi to cities such as Battambang, Siem Reap and Kampong Cham.

A picture of Toul Sleng prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was the site where the Khmer Rouge carried out countless atrocities.

3.30pm: Experience a grim moment in history

Around 15 minutes away by car, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was the site where the Khmer Rouge carried out countless atrocities. An estimated 17,000 people came through the doors of this former high school, but only seven were known to survive. Largely unaltered since 1979, the former prison now pays a sobering tribute to its past inmates. Admission is USD $2 (SGD $2.85), or USD $6 (SGD $8.55) for a guided tour. The Choeung Ek Killing Fields, located a 30-minute ride away, reveal more about this dark, and frighteningly recent, period.

A picture of Phochani Pavilion, a dance theater of the royal palace in Cambodia.
The Hotel Sokha is in full view of the river cruise in Phnom Penh.

5.30pm: Catch a sunset cruise

Once you’ve had time to process the solemn museum, shake off the gloomy haze and admire how far the city has come, with a relaxing sunset cruise. Phocemekong Cruises is one of the more popular operators and offers several options. For the full works, which includes a leisurely barbecue dinner, go for the two-and-half-hour Sunset Cocktail Dinner Cruise at USD $28 (SGD $40) per person.