Sometimes overshadowed by Angkor Wat in Siem Reap to the north, Phnom Penh is filled with history, has a very live cosmopolitan scene, and an exciting nightlife. There are plenty of restaurants to enjoy that house a fusion of French, Khmer and Chinese foods. If you only have 48 hours to spend in Phnom Penh, be prepared to move fast and squeeze a lot in, in order to truly experience this enchanting city.
You will most likely be arriving by bus or plane to Phnom Penh. Head to your hotel, hostel or guesthouse, then refresh and grab some lunch at ARTillery 2. This is an organic cafe that has freshly prepared and locally sourced food. After your nice lunch, get into a Tuk-tuk and prepare for a dark history lesson. Something many people do not know about Cambodia is the Cambodian genocide which resulted in the death of 1.5 to 2 million people from 1975 to 1979. To learn about the genocide there are a few places to visit to educate yourself. The first is Tuol Sleng, which is a former high school used as Security Prison S-21 by the Khmer Rouge. The Killing Fields (known as Choeung Ek), is the place where thousands of people were executed after being tortured at S-21. You are able to visit both of these places, and although sad, it is a very important experience to have while in Cambodia.
After a long somber afternoon of learning, you may want to have a drink to relax. Head to Bar.Sito, a dark cocktail bar hidden down a narrow lane off Street 240. The drink prices cannot be beat (Espresso martinis and negronis for $5), and they play lounge tunes, as well as dance beats. Next go grab some dinner at a local BBQ restaurant. You can order raw beef, vegetables or seafood to cook on the tabletop barbecue in front of you.
If you are in the mood to stay out a bit later, head to the intersection of Streets 51 and 178. This is where expats go to party late into the night. You will find the black-and-white-themed Zeppelin Cafe. Enjoy a $2 gin n’ tonic, and great dumplings while listening to the owner’s vinyl collection. If this is not really your style, another option is to see a Cambodian Living Arts theatre show. This local theater trains musicians, dancers, singers, and gives them props to make a living from their art. There are shows at the national museum from 7-8pm nightly.
After waking up, grab some breakfast at Orussey Restaurant. It is known all over Phnom Penh as one of the best places to have Chinese steamed buns. After filling your stomach, participate in a great morning activity...shopping. The best time to shop in Phnom Penh is in the morning due to the lower temperatures. There are a few different places to shop, the first being Central Market. Here they offer jewelry, clothing, and flowers. This is considered a middle class market. Further to the south west is the Russian Market known as Toul Tumpuong. This is a 3 story structure that sells almost everything from dried fish, knockoff DVDs, silk, Buddha statues and kitchenware.
After shopping all morning you will have worked up an appetite, so head to Romdeng restaurant. Here the food is wonderful, and you will be doing good with your tourist dollars. This restaurant specifically takes former street children and gives them a hands-on training program. They offer regional specialties such as pomelo salad with shrimp, topped with mint and bird’s eye chiles, or their fragrant chicken soup with straw mushrooms and preserved limes. They also offer a Khmer delicacy, fried tarantulas.
Enjoy a relaxing sunset cruise along the Tonle Sap River. This river runs parallel to a touristy area called “the Riverside.” You can find private boats near the intersection of Street 100 and Sisowath Quay. During your sunset cruise you will see fishermen, stilted huts and the newly developed waterfront. Prices for an average boat are around $25 for a two-level wooden boat. If you spend a bit more (around $50) you have a much more comfortable boat with nice sofas, a good toilet and the option of food and drink. If you decide not to eat during your cruise, go to Chinese Noodle house for dinner. With incredible prices and wonderful food, you won’t be disappointed. Try their signature dish of pork and chive dumplings, or one of their amazing hand-made noodle soups. If you still have a bit more energy, then head to Top Banana, a famously known backpacker haven. Their rooftop bar is packed almost every night after 11pm. Take advantage of the lenient alcohol laws and head to Candy Bar, playing hip-hop and rock music, offering food and billiards games 24 hours per day.
Although this is your last morning in Phnom Penh, you still have a bit more time to explore before leaving. Check out of your hotel, grab a quick street food breakfast. Khmer style noodles are a great option. You should see the noodle sellers walking from street to street. If you do not see a noodle vendor, you should also be able to find a baguette with pate. Due to the French colonization of Cambodia at one time, Cambodia still has amazing french baguettes.
Then stop by Wat Ounalom. This is one of the country's most important pagodas as the Chief Monk actually resides here. If you have time, walk over to Psar Kandal. Buy a freshly caught fish with mango, lime and chilli for lunch.
At this point, you may need to head to the airport. Hopefully you will have learned about the horrors of Cambodian Genocide, tried the wonderful Khmer fusion food, tasted cheap but tantilizing cocktails, and experienced exciting nightlife. Go back to your hotel to grab your luggage, and say goodbye to beautiful Phnom Penh.