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48 Hours in Phnom Penh | Insight Guides Blog

48 Hours in Phnom Penh

Two women selling palm wine in Phnom Penh.
Two women selling palm wine in Phnom Penh. Photo: Shutterstock

Sophea, as one of our expert Travel Specialists based in Phnom Penh, has an invaluable knowledge in all things Cambodian. We thought he’d be the perfect person to quiz about the ideal way to spend 48 hours in the country’s capital.  

Day One

In the morning, I head onto the street for breakfast and grab a bowl of Khmer-style noodles. Noodle sellers tend to walk from street to street each morning, distributing their delicious goods as they go like a scurrying, gastronomic postman. If there’s no delivery lady in sight, I settle for a baguette with pâté. The bread in Cambodia is said to be on a par with what you might find in France; a leftover from the times of French occupation.

I then cycle to Koh Pich or ‘Diamond Island’ as it is often known. On the rear of the island, there is a ferry that makes the 10-minute trip across the Mekong to another province called Kandal. It is here that the countryside begins: traffic is almost non-existent and, like most of Cambodia, it’s completely flat and perfect for cycling.

Cycling through the villages along the banks of the Mekong is invigorating and a real way to experience authentic Cambodia. To stay hydrated, I'll often stop at a local market, buy some fresh fruit or have a freshly-squeezed sugar cane juice.

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Street Food in Phnom Penh.Street Food in Phnom Penh. Photo: Shutterstock

When I’m out cycling, I like to take lunch in one of the many small villages; resting at one of the stalls selling a selection of Khmer food. Slightly sweet but super tasty is five-spice pork and boiled egg.

After a few hours of gentle riding, I double back and return to the ferry. Sometimes, to reward my efforts, I stop by a local ice cream shop to taste a new flavour before arriving home to relax a little.

In the late afternoon, I sometimes head to the Olympic Stadium. As the sun begins to set and weather starts to cool, dance classes and sports begin. As I’ve already done my activity for the day, I prefer to watch others. I grab a bag of pickles to eat with some spicy sugar cane, find a good spot, take a seat, and people-watch.

Onto the evening

There are plenty of Khmer BBQ restaurants offering more or less the same delicious fare, so I usually go out for dinner. Typically, friends and I will order raw beef and seafood to cook at the tabletop barbecue.

If we feel in the mood, we'll wash it down with some beer; the good news is it’s always cheap and available, though not necessarily cold. It might be a case of going “Khmer-style” and drinking the beer in a glass with ice. Considered sacrilege in some countries, it’s often the best way to go in Cambodia where refrigeration is often an unpredictable proposition.

The evening can finish at the BBQ restaurant or sometimes we might prolong the fun by going for a dance. The DJ’s in PP usually like to spin a mixture of Western favourites mixed in with Khmer hits – it’s an interesting fusion!

Find more expert advice on Phnom Penh in Insight Guides: South-East Asia and Insight Guides: Cambodia & Laos

The fruit juice stand.The fruit juice stand. Photo: Shutterstock

Day Two

I’m often an early riser, and in the morning I try to head to the riverside as it’s much less crowded compared to the evening. Even at 6am though, there’s plenty to see that visitors tend to miss. As well as the odd jogger, you’re likely to see line dance classes, aerobics and tai chi sessions plus people of all ages using the free exercise machines. If I’m feeling active, I’ll go for a jog as the sun rises over the river or sometimes I just go there to people-watch.

Jumping on a motorcycle taxi (usually a US$1 charge to anywhere in the central area), I like to head across to Orussey Market. This is a huge market which has absolutely everything – from TVs to mushrooms, clothes to a live bird section – if there’s an item you can buy in Cambodia, you can get it here!

For breakfast, I head to Orussey Restaurant, known all over Phnom Penh as one of the best places for Chinese steamed buns.

One of my favourite temples to visit in the city is Wat Ounalom, which most tourists often drive past but rarely enter. Wat Ounalom is one of the country's most important pagodas as it is the centre of Cambodian Buddhism and the Chief Monk resides here. Religious festivals such as Pchum Ben are especially fascinating. 

Just two minutes’ walk from Wat Ounalom is Psar Kandal; it's here that I like to take lunch. I usually indulge in freshly-caught fish with mango and chilli, to make a nice salad. Later in the afternoon, I take a cruise up the river. Phnom Penh locals come here in groups to head out, watch the sunset, and escape to find some cooler air. No one here is using a laptop or thinking of work: they just relax and enjoy the moment as the sun sets behind the fascinating city.

Wat Ounalom Pagoda in Phnom Penh.

Wat Ounalom Pagoda in Phnom Penh. Photo: Shutterstock

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