Phnom Penh is the capital city of the Kingdom of Cambodia. This was once a French colony and was known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’. The city has quite a few attractions to keep a tourist busy for two or three days. However, if you have just one day to spend in Phnom Penh, the five attractions covered in this article provide a colorful mix of history, religion, culture, and entertainment. I am not including Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and Choeung Ek Killing Fields in the top five attractions. Some other online resources might include them but in my opinion these two places should not be considered tourist attractions. Visiting them will only make you sad. You may read about the history of Khmer Rouge and decide for yourself if you must go there. I have not and will not go in the future also. (Read my Phnom Penh Travel Guide here)
The featured image that you see above is the Independence Monument. You may see this from a tuk tuk while going to or coming from NagaWorld. It’s in the middle of the road and you just do not need to stop to see it, unless you want to. Oh, in case you are wondering, I have not included this as one of the top 5. (Suggested reading: Cambodia Travel Guide)
With all that out of the way, let us see the top 5 tourist attractions in Phnom Penh:
1. Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda (First suggested stop of the day)
The Royal Palace is the official residence of the King of Cambodia. It is a complex and has several buildings in it, including the Silver Pagoda. The construction of the complex started in the year 1866 and the buildings in it were built over time, some having been rebuilt even in the 1960s. The most prominent buildings in the complex are the Throne Hall, the Royal Pagoda & Stupa, the Moonlight Pavilion, and the Khemarin Palace. Other buildings in the complex include Phochani Pavilion (Dance Hall) and Napoleon III Pavilion. Not all are open for tourists, and it will be possible to see some of the buildings only from outside.
The complex opens daily from 8:00am to 11:00am and again from 2:00pm to 5:00pm. Foreign tourists have to buy an entry ticket to get in and it costs 7* USD per person. If you need the services of a tourist guide, you need to pay an additional 10* USD per hour (Entry ticket price and guide fee may change. Be prepared to pay the prevailing fee at the time of your visit).
Keep at least two hours to see the complex. At the entry, you may have to wait in a queue to buy an entry ticket. For the afternoon session that starts at 2:00pm, there is usually a queue of tourists waiting outside the entry gate. If you are there during summer months, be prepared for intense heat and if your visit is during the rainy season, carry an umbrella. Better go early in the morning.
2. National Museum of Cambodia (Second suggested stop of the day)
The National Museum of Cambodia is the largest museum of cultural history in the country and is a must see for tourists. It is located close to the Royal Palace Complex, at the corner of streets 13 and 178. The museum has a very large collection of Khmer art that includes sculptures, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects. Another attraction of the museum is the evening Apsara Dance Show. The show has a weekly off day and is also closed during lean season. If you are lucky, the show will be open during the day of your visit. It requires a separate entry ticket, and if you have not seen an Apsara show before, this may be your opportunity (You may read about the Koulen Restaurant Apsara Show in Siem Reap here).
The museum opens daily from 8:00am to 5:00pm, and the last entry ticket is sold at 4:30pm. Foreigners have to buy entry ticket whose price is 10 USD for ages 18 or above, and 5 USD for ages 10 to 17. Children under the age of 10 are admitted free. Photography of the exhibits is not permitted but visitors can take pictures of museum exterior and the courtyard.
3. Wat Phnom – The City Temple (Third suggested stop of the day)
Wat Phnom is, as the name suggests, the temple of the city. It is a Buddhist temple, and also a place to get a glimpse of the local life. It’s an old temple, dating back to 1372, and is the central point of Phnom Penh. Climb those stairs, 27 meters, and go inside the temple. You may like to say a prayer, or watch others say theirs. There are astrologers in the temple who can tell your future, if only you understand the language or maybe your guide can translate it for you. Going there along with a local makes the experience best, otherwise go on your own.
The temple is open every day from 7:00am to 6:00pm, and there is an entry fee for foreigners. It is just 1 USD, and you may feel that perhaps they could have avoided the entry fee for this place.
4. Riverside – A Walk Along the River (Fourth suggested stop of the day)
The riverside or officially Sisowath Quay is the entertainment center of Phnom Penh, that is, if you do not consider the next top attraction – NagaWorld, as one. The riverside, along the intersection of Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers, is an ideal place to spend some time in the evening. There are countless pubs, bars, restaurants, cafes, and massage shops across the road from the riverbank. The breeze is magical, and the atmosphere is festive. Come take a walk here or sit on one of the benches for a while. You will really feel like you are on a holiday.
5. NagaWorld Casino and Entertainment Complex (Last suggested stop of the day)
Whether you have been to a casino earlier or not, you must see this one. This is Macau and Las Vegas packed into one group of buildings that has two huge casinos – Naga 1 and Naga 2, hotels, restaurants, bars, night clubs, a nice spa, and lots of other things that solo male travelers like. The casino is built on the theme of Macau casinos, but the gaming currency is USD. Hence you are able to play 1-cent slot machines here and they have lots of those. You may find the latest slot machines here from Aristocrat, SG, Ainsworth, and more. Table games start at 5 USD, though most tables such as Blackjack will require a minimum bet of 10 USD. That is cheap. Some drinks are free – such as soft drinks, tea/coffee, and water. Read my NagaWorld Casino Guide here for more info. You may also like their spa that offers an all-in-one spa session for 78 USD or so. Read more about The Spa at NagaWorld here.
Read my Phnom Penh Travel Guide here.