Other than the day devoted to genocide, I actually thoroughly enjoyed our time in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
We decided to spend our second 24 hours in Phnom Penh just relaxing and exploring the sites and sounds of the city. Our day started out unassuming enough, with an expansive view of the colorful rooftops of Phnom Penh from the roof of the lovely River Palace Hotel, which overlooks the cityscape on one side, the Mekong River on the other. We were staying as guests, courtesy of AsiaRooms.com, and were really enjoying the views!
Phnom Penh Riverfront Park
The hotel conveniently provides its guests with a free tuk tuk ride into the main part of the city each day, so we had our driver drop us off along the Mekong River waterfront park, which runs for several miles along the river. We decided to take a lazy approach to the day, not rushing to get anywhere by a certain time, nor holding to any expectations of how much we would cram into the day’s activities. Instead, we enjoyed a leisurely stroll along the walkway, taking in the sites and sounds of Phnom Penh at play early in the morning. Children flew kites and played football, while parents kept a watchful eye on their kids.
Veal Preah Man
We then headed over toward the Royal Palace to find out what time the Silver Pagoda would be opening that day. It had been closed for quite awhile as the nation observed a period of mourning following the passing of King Norodom Sihanouk in October 2012.
After nosily strolling around the Palace gates, trying to catch a glimpse inside, we meandered over to Veal Preah Man, a public park lying just north of the Palace. Until the day before we arrived, the King’s remains had been on display here since his passing. His funeral was held just days before we arrived in Phnom Penh. When it’s not being used for funerary purposes, Veal Preah Man is a beautiful park showcasing Khmer architecture that is open to the public.
National Museum of Cambodia
Located diagonal to the Royal Palace and right behind Veal Preah Man is the National Museum of Cambodia and that’s where we were headed next. The museum is not very large and can easily be visited in less than two hours (probably even one hour if you’re a super-fast reader!). I highly recommend visiting the museum as a prelude to visiting the Temples at Angkor as it houses a large collection of Khmer sculptures and helps provide a good overview of both Hinduism and Buddhism as observed at the Angkor temples. For those who are less familiar with the teachings of the two religions, or who know little of ancient Khmer culture (which is probably most of us), it gives a bit of context for what you will encounter throughout the rest of your time in Cambodia.
The Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace
Of all the sites in Phnom Penh (except for the genocide museums), we most wanted to see the Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace. Fortunately for us, it re-opened on our first full day in the city. You can check out some gorgeous photos of it here! If you plan to visit the Silver Pagoda, be sure to dress appropriately. Tank tops are not allowd and pants should cover the knees. I made the mistake of wearing a tank top that day, but fortunately a friendly kid from Chicago lent me a spare t-shirt he was carrying around. The Pagoda is the place of worship for the royal family, so your dress and behavior inside the complex should be respectful.
Wat Phnom Park
Wat Phnom is one of the most beautiful settings in Phnom Penh. This Wat, or temple, is located atop the city’s only hill and is a beautiful place to visit and relax. The temple itself is not much to behold from the outside, but its interior is quite impressive. A visit to the temple and the park made for the perfect way to start winding down our day — and our time in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh Night Market
On our way to dinner, we stopped briefly at the Phnom Penh Night Market, located along the river front, just north of the Royal Palace. The market is separated into two sections. The area closest to the river hosts dozens of tent vendors selling anything from cell phones to tacky t-shirts to Cambodian crafts. The other end of the market is the more lively side, where you will find a variety of delicious Khmer and Southeast Asian food options. Tourists and locals both frequent the market, so it’s a great way to interact with locals without venturing too far off the beaten path, if that’s not your thing. Carpets line the center of the market, so once you get your food, you can enjoy a picnic under the stars!
Take time to relax!
After two days exploring Phnom Penh (one of which was quite depressing!), we were ready to relax and enjoy Cambodia’s beer of choice: Angkor!
We then headed back to the lovely River Palace Hotel, where we enjoyed a relaxing evening in our beautiful room. The hotel offers a number of evening entertainment and relaxation options for guests, including a bar with live music, an exercise center, computer services, and a full-service spa. Although these may be luxuries that you don’t always indulge in while traveling, we highly recommend taking advantage of them while in Phnom Penh. The city can be loud, busy, and overwhelming. Combine that with a full day learning about the horrors of Cambodia’s recent genocide and you may find you could use the extra opportunity to relax. After all, it is your vacation!
We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Phnom Penh and we hope our coverage has inspired you to spend a few days there on your next visit to Cambodia. It provides a wonderful, yet sobering, overview of the country’s history and offers a different perspective on Cambodia than you will find at the touristy town of Siem Reap, the launching point for visiting the Temples at Angkor.
Have you visited Phnom Penh? What would you recommend for anyone planning a visit to the city?
Our stay in Phnom Penh was provided courtesy of the lovely folks at AsiaRooms.com. All opinions are our own.