Cambodia is a nation rich with history and ripe with beauty, and Phnom Penh offers travelers an ideal starting point to experience the best of both. With three days to spend in the Cambodian capital, you can see the city’s top attractions, learn about the Khmer Rouge, and explore a bit beyond the city. Here are some suggestions.
Day 1: Phnom Penh City
For your first day in the city, get oriented with a sightseeing tour around town. Go shopping at the Russian Market (the largest in Cambodia), stroll the manicured gardens of hilltop Wat Phnom Temple, and marvel at the ornate architecture of the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. Choose between a half-day morning tour and a full-day tour that includes an exploration of the Khmer Rouge history in the afternoon. Whether you go with a guide or on your own, you won’t want to miss the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, which together tell the story of the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s. If you’d prefer to explore the Cambodian capital at your own pace, consider the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus, which stops at major city landmarks, as well as the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Refuel with an evening food tour through the city by tuk-tuk.
Day 2: The Mighty Mekong
The Mekong River and vast Tonle Sap Lake are critical to life in Cambodia. Today’s your opportunity to spend some time on the water to get a feel for day-to-day life in rural Cambodia. For a full day of activity, opt for a Mekong River cruise from Phnom Penh. Hop off at Silk Island to learn more about the area’s silk-weaving heritage, and soak up the unique landscape of Tonle Sap, the biggest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. For a more intimate look at life on the river, spend the afternoon with a local fisherman learning how to throw nets to snag catfish and giant freshwater Mekong prawns. Whether or not you catch anything, you’ll still enjoy a simple seafood dinner prepared right onboard. If you haven’t yet sampled some traditional Khmer food, tonight is a good opportunity to do so.
Day 3: Cambodian Day Trips
Phnom Penh makes an excellent base for exploring other areas of Cambodia. Animal lovers might want to escape the heat and support a good cause with a visit to the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center to observe rescued pileated gibbons, Siamese crocodiles, and Malayan sun bears. Those interested in Angkorian temples will find a quieter alternative to Siem Reap on a day trip to Phnom Prasith and Phnom Reap temples, while nature lovers can opt to spend a day hiking the trails of Kirirom National Park. Another popular option is a trip to Mt. Oudong with its reclining Buddha statue at Phnom Baset. No matter which option you choose, you’ll be back in Phnom Penh in time for a relaxing dinner at a riverside restaurant or for a cultural performance at the National Museum of Phnom Penh.