A weekend in Phnom Penh is enough for most travellers to Cambodia, who see the colourful, cosmopolitan capital of Phnom Penh as little more than a stopover at the beginning or end of a trip. While there’s enough to do to fill a week, a weekend in Phnom Penh is enough for first-timers to get a great taste of the gritty little city.
Our weekend in Phnom Penh itinerary is aimed at helping you to experience the best of the Cambodian capital in two days.
Weekend in Phnom Penh – How to Spend 2 Days in Cambodia’s Capital
Maison d’Ambre is the most stylish accommodation in town – a chic boutique hotel by one of Cambodia’s finest fashion designers, Romyda Keth of Ambre. The Plantation is an urban resort with a stunning swimming pool. Raffles offers history, grandeur and another gorgeous pool. Rambutan is sleek and chic. There’s also a handful of retro vintage sleeps in renovated modernist villas including The Sangkum and Villa Langka. See our Where to Stay in Phnom Penh – from Colonial to Contemporary guide and our recent post on Phnom Penh’s best boutique hotels.
You could kick off the first evening of your weekend in Phnom Penh itinerary as most visitors to Cambodia’s capital do, with sundowners overlooking the riverside at airy Foreign Correspondents Club, a local institution that’s as popular with expats as tourists for its cooling breezes and Tonlé Sap meets Mekong River vistas. Book ahead for dinner at Romdeng (Street 174) to feast on delicious Cambodian food in the courtyard of the lovely colonial-style building that is home to an outstanding hospitality training restaurant. Hop in a tuk tuk to Chinese House to sip a cocktail at the striking bar before heading around the corner to check out Doors for some live music, best when there’s a jazz band or swing dancing scheduled.
Begin the first full day of your weekend in Phnom Penh itinerary by climbing into an endearingly old-fashioned cyclo for the 3-hour Khmer Architecture Tours ‘Central Phnom Penh by Cyclo’ tour led by an architecture student, to appreciate the array of architectural styles in the city, from charming shophouses and hidden Chinese temples to grand French colonial-era edifices and enigmatic modernist originals.
The cyclo tour conveniently finishes outside one of our favourite lunchtime spots, Noodle House (#32 Street 130), where dumplings are handmade and noodles pulled to order. It’s not fashionable, nor fast, but it’s fantastic. A short stroll away, the splendid yellow-painted Art Deco Psar Thmey (Central Market) is a fine alternative if you prefer to sample Cambodian soups, stir-fries or curries.
Take a tuk tuk to the splendid National Museum of Cambodia (Cnr Streets 178 and 13) to admire impressive archaeological relics, including the world’s finest collection of Khmer Empire sculptures, and enjoy the quiet of the leafy courtyard. Mosey along Street 178 to browse beautiful shops, such as Garden of Desire, Senteurs d’Angkor and Daughters of Cambodia, and, if you’re up for more, nearby Street 240, an easy ten-minute stroll away, for even more lovely stores, including Waterlily, Bliss, Mekong Quilts, and Elsewhere. See our Phnom Penh shopping itinerary.
Come 5pm, have a tuk tuk take you to Sundown Social Club for rooftop sundowners overlooking Russian Market. Up for more? Tiny Bassac Lane, off Street 308, is the place to experience Phnom Penh’s liveliest bar scene, a Saturday night essential of any weekend in Phnom Penh itinerary. Hop between the half dozen drinking spots, including The Library, Meat and Drink, Seibur, Cicada, and Hangar 44. When you’re peckish, try one of Phnom Penh’s best French restaurants for dinner, which makes sense, as Cambodia was once a French protectorate and the French culinary influence is still felt in the country. Book Topaz if you fancy fine dining, Khema for fine quality at an afford price, or Bistro Langka for a buzzy French vibe.
Begin the second day of your weekend in Phnom Penh itinerary by making your way to the hilltop pagoda, Wat Phnom, to climb the staircase guarded by mythical naga serpents to have your fortune read and see the statue of Madame Penh. Legend has it that after discovering four Buddha statues washed up by the Mekong, she built a temple to house them on the knoll that would become Phnom Penh or Mount Penh. After, take a tuk tuk to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (Street 113), a former school that the Khmer Rouge transformed into Security Prison 21 or S-21, where they tortured over 17,000 before sending them to the Killing Fields.
From the museum it’s a short ride to atmospheric Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Pong), where you can do a spot of souvenir shopping. The retro Cambodian music and movie posters and art work at the vintage shop of Channthy, lead singer from Cambodian Space Project make fab mementoes (note: Channthy sadly passed away since this article was written). You could slurp a soup or tuck into some pork and rice at one of the busy stalls or stroll to nearby Tex-Mex joint Alma Café (#43A Street 123) for huevos rancheros or Sesame Noodle Bar (#9 Street 460) for the house-made cold noodles with sesame sauce.
Trundle in a tuk tuk back to the riverside to stroll the grounds of the glittering 19th-century Royal Palace, to explore the complex of majestic buildings, including the Silver Pagoda with its diamond-encrusted Buddha, magnificent mural of the Reamker (the Hindu epic Ramayana), and 5,000 silver tiles. A weekend in Phnom Penh would be missing something if it didn’t include a wander along the lively waterfront of Sisowath Quay for some people watching. The promenade is particularly busy late on a Sunday afternoon. Expect to see anything from balloon-sellers dwarfed by bunches of helium-filled animals to saffron-robed monks taking selfies and locals doing dancercise classes. (Watch out for pickpockets; don’t walk near the curb and leave your valuables at the hotel).
Stroll along the waterfront promenade until you spot Amanjaya Suites. Cross the road and head upstairs to alfresco Le Moon bar on the rooftop for brilliant views of the bright lights of Sisowath Quay and the tiled pagodas and gleaming chedi towers of Wat Ounalom, which is enchanting at dusk.
Soak up some of Phnom Penh’s arts and culture. Cambodian Living Arts puts on impressive hour-long shows of traditional drama, opera, and Apsara and folk dancing at the National Museum, while Sovanna Phum does a delightful one-hour shadow puppet show accompanied by a spirited live Khmer orchestra. Meta House hosts art exhibitions, screenings of Cambodian films or films about Cambodia, and live performances and DJs.
The final meal of your weekend in Phnom Penh should be at Chef Luu Meng’s Malis for some of Phnom Penh’s finest Cambodian food, including a long list of dishes you won’t see on other menus. The chef is continually travelling around the country seeking out new recipes. The prahok k’tis is one of the most deliciously authentic we have tried and the spicy Saramann curry one of the richest and most complex we’ve ever sampled.
Toast to a wonderful weekend in Phnom Penh with a cocktail at one of the capital’s many rooftop bars, such as The Fifth Element or Eclipse Sky Bar.
If you’re considering spending longer than a weekend in Phnom Penh, also see our guide to Phnom Penh Day Trips.
UPDATED: January 2019