Cambodia | Phnom Penh in a Day

Phnom Penh National Museum Garden

After having spent around ten days travelling Thailand we planned to go to Phnom Penn, the capital of Camobia, for a couple of nights. While it is clear that Phnom Penh is not the wealthiest of places, it is most definitely filled with a huge amount of history and culture. We stayed there for two nights but only had one full day in the city, so here is my Phnom Penh one day itinerary:

Transport in Phnom Penh

To get around to each place in Phnom Penh, there isn’t actually any public transport so I would highly recommend hiring a driver for the day. Our hotel was able to organise this for us and it worked out to be really affordable between four of us (I can’t actually remember how much it cost from the top of my head, but it was definitely cheap). So our driver picked us up from the hotel at 8am and drove us to each place while waiting around for us in between.

Just as a little heads up, the roads here are awful. Most people are riding on motorbikes and there are clearly no rules on the road. I saw motorbikes with four children on the back on their way to school, women breastfeeding, men sat on awkward bamboo structures on their way to work at building sites, and multiple near misses. It gets a little crazy, but I guess you can say that is all part of Phnom Penh’s charm, right?!

Choeung Ek Killing Fields

Phnom Penh Killing Fields Memorial

The first stop of the day was the Choueng Ek Killing Fields. This is one of the many sites in Cambodia where the bodies of over a million people were buried during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. It is a little bit of a journey from the city centre (around 15km), which is why we started our day here first.

We all decided on getting an audio guide, which was only $6. The guide talks you through each area of the site and is filled with deeply saddening stories from those that survived the reign of the Khmer Rouge. It explains each and every aspect of the Killing Fields as you walk your way around, and just gives you a better knowledge of the atrocities that happened there. It is hard to write about how it actually feels to walk around listening to the stories from those that survived this reign of terror, as you can’t quite believe that everything that happened there is real – it is just so horrific.

Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21)

Phnom Penh S21 Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Next, we headed to the Tuol Sleng Museum, also known as S-21 Genocide Museum. Again, when we paid our entrance fee ($6) we also picked up audio guides ($3), which allow you to walk through each area of the museum at your own pace.

Converted from a high school, this execution centre was one of around 150 located in Cambodia. As you walk through each room and learn more about what happened to the thousands of innocent people that passed through the gates, it feels quite surreal. You can’t quite comprehend how absolutely awful the reign of the Khmer Rouge was. Each prisoner that came through the detention centre was documented, with their photographs displayed on the wall and the audio guide telling you stories of their past and how they tragically ended up in such a horrific place.

If you are heading to Cambodia, then I highly recommend a trip to Phnom Penh to visit both the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum. It is hard to believe that the genocide took place so recently, so literally everyone you see will have been affected by it in some way or another.

Phnom Penh National Museum

Phnom Penh National Museum Garden

After a morning spent learning about the history of Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Regime, we headed to the Phnom Penh National Museum. Admittedly, it felt a little difficult to concentrate after some of the stories we had just heard and the sights we had seen, so we slowly wandered our way through the National Museum.

It was about midday when we got here so we stopped for a spot of lunch in the café, which had a wide range of paninis and pasta dishes. All of which were very reasonably priced.

Central Market

Next up on the Phnom Penh itinerary was the Central Market. Situated in 1920’s art deco style building, the market is definitely somewhere you will want to visit. It sells everything from food to jewellery, souvenirs, clothing and so much more. It is absolutely massive, so make sure you take your time wandering through each little corridor of the market. Also, be sure to make the most of haggling if you find anything you want to buy. It is part of the culture there, so it can be expected and you can get some absolutely great pieces.

After the market, we were ready to head back to the hotel to rest up ready to go out in the evening. It was extremely hot that day, and we were all feeling slightly exhausted…

Phnom Penh is an absolutely great city to visit. It is so important to learn about the history of Cambodia while you are visiting, and also to experience the culture of the place. It is definitely worth a visit – even just for a day.