Only have a day or two in Phnom Penh before heading out to the next destination? Have no fear. The best things the capital city has to offer can easily be tackled in a day or two.
When one reaches the National Museum, it’s hard to realize it is the right place for there is no visible sign. However, the slough of tourists shuffling in and out of the side gate make it more obvious. And the line of tour buses waiting outside.
For a measly US$3.00 one gets to view many of the ancient relics preserved after a recent tumultuous Khmer history. As far as museums go, the National Museum is the best in Phnom Penh. Unfortunately, no pictures are permitted inside the museum. Afterwards, make sure to walk around the small shops and cafes on the streets nearby. Or one can also head down to the iconic Riverside, where the Tonle Sap River meets the Mekong. Or head next door to the Royal Palace.
Royal Palace/Silver Pagoda
Right next door to the National Museum is the Royal Palace, situated on Preah Sisowath Quay. If one has been to the Grand Palace in Thailand, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh will pale in comparison. Nonetheless, the low admission price of US$6.25 a person makes the trip worthwhile. Plus, seeing iconic sites always gives good insight into a nation’s culture/history.
Moreover, unless a tour guide is hired, prepare to have no idea which building is which. There are essentially no signs or descriptions on any of the buildings. For instance, I had no idea I had seen the Silver Pagoda until sifting through photos later on.
Following, make sure to walk along the Riverside.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Nicknamed S21, this school turned prison during the Khmer Rouge is an eye-opening experience for many. As a museum today, S21 showcases the atrocities caused by the Pol Pot regime.
Housing a plethora of documented photographs and weapons used on detainees, it is not for the faint of heart. Out of the thousands of Cambodians who made their way to the prison, only twelve survived to share their experiences. And from those twelve, one survives to this day.
Admission price is only US$2.00.
Killing Fields (Choeung Ek)
Located about 12 kilometers outside the Phnom Penh city center, the Killing Fields was where prisoners from S21 were brought to be…well, killed.
The ride is bumpy and on dusty backroads. If traveling via tuk-tuk, make sure to bring a face mask– especially during dry season. Also, the included audio guide makes the experience much more vivid for it features victim accounts. Without question, it is sobering
Admissions is US$5.00, including the audio tour.
Silk Island or Koh Dach
If pressed for time, making way to Silk Island may not be feasible. A trip to this small island by ferry will take about half a day. But the rural atmosphere and quiet dirt roads makes one feel as though they traveled far outside bustling Phnom Penh. Note: It is also only plausible to visit with tuk-tuk, motorbike or car. It is definitely not a walkable island.
Once there, visit one of the many houses with silk looms on the ground level. Handmade silk scarves and blankets can be purchased at a reasonable price. Also, take time to venture around one of the farms. Silk Island offers the perfect contrast to the busy and sometimes overwhelming Phnom Penh streets.
Image of Phnom Penh Riverside courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. All other images my own.