As many visitors to Cambodia tend to visit Angkor Wat, most fly into Phnom Penh for a layover, but it would be a shame to miss all of what this welcoming land has to offer. Even as an overnight stay, Phnom Penh is a wonderful stopover in spite of the somewhat lengthy journey from the airport to the city center, which can take around an hour. Many of Phnom Penh’s main attractions can be visited in one day, although a leisurely exploration is recommended if you have the time. From Phnom Penh’s many markets and malls, the sights of the Royal Palace, and watching hundreds flock to the Olympic Stadium at night, there is plenty to do in Cambodia’s capital that is often neglected. Read on to find out how you can make the most of your 24 hours in Phnom Penh!
From the tourist-orientated to the authentic Khmer experience, there are many markets for you to discover in the heart of Cambodia. To get the famous Angkor Beer t-shirts, you will want to head to the Central Market, which is full of clothes, artwork, jewellery, and other souvenirs, but be prepared to bargain and barter for your purchases. At the Central Market there is also a section dedicated to fresh meat and vegetables; sometimes you can even see ladies pulling off honeycombs from beehives, and there is of course the never ending path of flowers that the many florists sell.
Just a few blocks away is the Orussey Market, which is almost a complete contrast, but easily is the most resourceful market in the city. If you’re looking for something specific for a cheaper price, this is the place to visit. Prices for jeans, cardigans, dresses, and shirts start at 10,000 KHR (2.50 USD), and food, trinkets, and even gardening tools can be found aplenty here at an affordable rate. One of the highlights of Orussey Market are the tailors working on making uniquely styled dresses, shirts, and trousers suited to your requirements. The minimum cost of clothes being made is around 40,000 KHR (10 USD), depending on the item of clothing you wish to have made. The best tailors are actually found surrounding the market itself, but if you have a grip of the language you’re able to take a look at their previous work before deciding to part with your money.
On the other side of Phnom Penh is the Toul Tom Poung Market, another favourite for tourists, which sells Cambodian silk, western-style clothing, footwear, and other general necessities like fresh produce and supplies. These markets are the most well-known out of the many within Phnom Penh, with the Orussey Market having the best deals and selection. Other smaller markets dotted around the city include Boeng Keng Kang Market, Kandal Market, and the Night Market on Riverside.
The religious flair of Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh, akin to Bangkok’s Grand Palace, is a must-visit to take in the sights of Cambodia’s Royal Family history, not to mention getting exclusive access to King Sihamoni’s official place of residence. Some of the sights (as of 2016) are undergoing renovation, but the main attractions are in full view for visitors to see. For tourists the entry fee is 24,000 KHR (6 USD), but for the locals it’s free, as with all sights in Cambodia.
Inside the Royal Palace, not only can you find the main attractions, being the Silver Pagoda, the Palace itself, and the paintings and replicas of Angkor Wat, but also a mini gallery that includes the history and heritage of the Palace. The tour around the Palace grounds takes between 1 - 2 hours and it’s recommended you take an umbrella or hat along with some sunscreen, as there aren’t many places to keep out of the sun.
Other sites near the Royal Palace include Wat Phnom, a series of shrines, and a pagoda hidden among the trees in an abyss of silence; Wat Ounalom and the Independence Monument, are all photo-worthy places to explore. Like in Angkor Wat, Monks can be seen regularly around these areas, especially at the more religious sites, and are welcome to offer a blessing to you in exchange for a donation.
The beauty of Phnom Penh at night
If you’re after a fitness fix, then head to the Olympic Stadium. Despite Cambodia never hosting the Olympic Games, the capital has its own stadium named after the competition, which sees hundreds of locals and expats flocking to both in the early hours and when the sun sets - the coolest times of the day. Khmer dancing and aerobics are the most common sights you’ll see. If you want to join, in it’s between 1,500 - 2,000 KHR (0.37 - 0.50 USD) for a fitness session lasting for 3 hours, but you can drop in and out at any time.
Many people also run laps around the stadium, play volleyball, football, basketball, and take part in martial arts. Even if you don’t wish to join in, you can take a look at the history behind the Stadium and its architecture; once serving as use for the Khmer Rouge.
The nightlife in Phnom Penh is also very cosmopolitan, with many bars to visit for cocktails. Top picks around the city include Che Culo, serving some of the nicest cocktails around under a lovely vibe, Chinese House being a bar further away than the others, and many of the bars that line Bassac Lane near the Independence Monument.
Enjoy the wonders of Cambodia's most underrated city
Phnom Penh definitely has its highlights, which are often overlooked as tourists usually favour Angkor Wat in Siem Reap. However, a trip to Cambodia is never complete without a tour of the capital. From the Royal Palace to the nightlife that never fails to impress, Phnom Penh is an ideal stopover destination, or stay to explore for a few days to take in some of the local flavours, sights, and shopping experiences. Explore this underrated city in the centre of Southeast Asia and don’t feel bad about avoiding this cultural gem again.
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