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A weekend of romance in Phnom Penh

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Getaway Category: Culture & HeritageGetaway Tags: Cambodia, Phnom Penh, and weekend

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  • Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, is a city on the rise. Once known as ‘The Pearl of Asia’ for its rich culture and beautiful French-colonial architecture, the vibrant city came to a standstill when the Khmer Rouge took over from 1975-1979. An estimated one third of the population were killed during that time, and much of Cambodia’s heritage was lost or destroyed.

    Today Phnom Penh is reinstating its place on the world stage, exploding with infrastructure and growth in an attempt to catch up with neighbouring countries Vietnam and Thailand.

    This romantic itinerary for a weekend away in Phnom Penh focuses on businesses geared toward responsible practices that benefit local Cambodians and preserve Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage. Their modern and upscale amenities and Khmer hospitality are sure to impress well-traveled visitors with adventurous spirits. If you want to soak in the culture and charm of one of Asia’s most vibrant cities on the rise, while feeling good about where your tourism dollars go, read on for our guide to A Romantic Weekend in Phnom Penh With a Heart.

    Day 0: Arrival and dinner

    Phnom Penh International airport, newly renovated in 2016, is just 11 kilometres from the main historic centre of the city, where The Pavilion Hotel, our recommended accommodation, is located. You can take a tuk tuk, taxi or a shuttle service provided by your hotel. The Pavilion provides the option of airport pickup in a classic Jaguar XJ6.

    After checking in you are sure to be ready for drinks and dinner. We have two excellent recommendations, each with a unique and important mission attached.

    Dinner and Drinks

    Romdeng Restaurant

    The first is Romdeng restaurant, located on the grounds of a beautiful French-colonial building. The menu offers both classic and modern Cambodian dishes ranging from traditional to fusion, to adventurous. On top of being a top quality culinary institution in Phnom Penh, Romdeng is also a training restaurant for marginalised young people in the city. It is a part of the TREE Alliance which has worked to build the futures of former street children and their families in Phnom Penh since 1994.

    Approximate cost: $20-35 for 2

    Malis Restaurant

    Our second recommendation is Malis. Their aim is to revive Cambodia’s traditional recipes that had been passed on for centuries, but were forgotten or lost in the 1970s under the Khmer Rouge regime. Malis’s Chefs are passionate about restoring Khmer cuisine to its former glory, while educating customers about Cambodian ingredients with their informative and extensive menu. There is a high level of sophistication and attention to detail in the quality of service and presentation.

    Approximate cost: $35-60 for 2

    Nightcap on Bassac Lane

    Bassac Lane is tucked away off of Street 308, right next to Malis Restaurant. When you step into the narrow alley you feel like you’ve been transported to Europe with quaint, quirky bars squeezed in on either side, all serving elegant and delicious cocktails for $3-6. As the night goes on the parties in the bars often spill out into the lane. The area is popular with expats and is still mostly off the radar for travellers. It’s a great place to strike up a conversation with someone new, or enjoy an intimate drink with your partner.

    Day 1 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    9am: Cyclo Tour

    In the early morning to avoid the heat of the day, prepare to be whisked back in time via a truly underrated mode of transportation in our modern age: your own privately chauffeured cyclo.

    The Cyclo Conservation and Careers Association (CCCA) is a locally run organisation in Phnom Penh working to preserve this iconic mode of transportation. The CCCA provides support for cyclo drivers through English language training, medical checks and road safety courses. While a majority of the cyclo drivers’ businesses are from local Cambodians going to and from the markets, the CCCA also offers tours for visitors around the city. Be sure to book ahead at least one week in advance via cyclocca@gmail.com and include the locations you would like to visit on your tour. The estimated cost of the tour is $3/hour per cyclo.

    Below is our recommendation for a morning tour:

    9am: The Royal Palace

    The first stop is Cambodia’s Royal Palace, the official residence of the King of Cambodia. Tickets are available at the entrance, and it is recommended that you hire a local guide inside. The history of the palace is fascinating, and luckily many of the royal and religious relics inside were preserved even after the grounds were ransacked during the Khmer Rouge takeover. Don’t forget to wear clothing that covers your knees and shoulders.

    Tickets: $6.50
    Local guide hire: $10

    10am: Sisowath Quay The Riverside

    After touring the Royal Palace you’ll ride along the bustling Riverside with views of the Mekong River and life along the water. This is a great spot for people watching, as you enjoy the slowed down pace of traveling by cyclo.

    10:15am: Wat Phnom

    Next you’ll visit Wat Phnom, the tallest natural landform in Phnom Penh, which isn’t saying much in this topographically flat city. You can visit the pagoda atop the hill and stroll around the beautiful tree-lined park to view the enormous topiary clock and cultivated gardens. This is one of the best maintained parks in the city, and a lovely place to sip fresh coconut water in the shade.

    Pagoda entrance fee: $1

    10:50am: Cambodia Post Office

    Afterwards you’ll stop at the Cambodia Post Office, a beautifully restored French colonial building in the heart of Phnom Penh’s old French Quarter. You can buy historical stamps printed with Apsara dancers and inexpensive postcards you won’t find anywhere else.

    11am: The National Museum

    The National Museum, Cambodia’s largest museum of cultural history and the country’s leading historical and archaeological museum, is your last stop. The building itself is a work of art, and it’s well worth a visit to learn about Cambodian culture and history through the many relics inside. Tickets are available by the entrance ($5) and guides are also available.

    12:30pm: Lunch at Friends

    This is where your cyclo tour comes to an end. From the National Museum you’ll walk one block down Street 13 to Friends Restaurant, sister restaurant of Romdeng. Friends is also a part of the TREE alliance and trains former street children in the hospitality industry as chefs, servers, and business professionals. Friends specialises in tapas-style Asian dishes and everything on the menu is scrumptious.

    2pm: Shopping, spas and relaxation

    Friends ’n’ Stuff

    After an active morning, shopping and relaxation are in order. Right next door to Friends Restaurant is Friends ’N’ Stuff, selling well-made, handcrafted items, creatively created from recycled materials. 93% of purchases go directly to Friends Programs supporting marginalised youth and their families. There is also a small nail salon inside where you can enjoy a relaxing quick mani-pedi.

    Daughters of Cambodia

    Another worthwhile business is the Hands ’n’ Feet Spa for women, run by Daughters of Cambodia. They offer many relaxing treatments in their lovely setting along the riverside. Daughters is a vocational training centre that offers alternative employment for victims of sex trafficking. There is also a boutique with hand-made items from their operations centre and a cafe serving excellent coffee inside.

    If you’d rather skip the shopping you can head back to the tropical haven of The Pavilion after lunch to relax by one of the pools. This is a great time to take advantage of your complimentary 25 minute massage, or treat yourself to even more luxury with an additional spa service.

    4.30pm: Sunset Boat Cruise along the River

    At 4:30, you’ll take a tuk tuk to the ports for a sunset boat cruise on Le Tonle, The Pavilion’s private boat. You’ll ride up the river to the confluence where the upper and lower Mekong, Tonle and Bassac rivers converge. Your on-board guide offers drinks and snacks and will give you information about the city and answer any questions you may have.

    The boat will dock at the Mekong Floating Bungalows bar and restaurant where you can enjoy a sunset cocktail and a unique perspective of the city. The bungalow is situated along the riverbank, with stilted homes belonging to fishing families off to one side, and undeveloped land with long grass and floating water hyacinth to the other. You also have the option of staying on the Mekong Floating Bungalows for the night.

    Cost: $110 or $165 (including dinner and breakfast) per night

    7:30pm: Dinner at Chinese House

    Tonight you’ll dine at the Chinese House. Located in one of the last remaining authentic Chinese homes in Phnom Penh, the 112 year old building is a unique remnant of Phnom Penh history. Iron Chef Amy serves a bold and flavourful menu of East meets West cuisine that utilises fresh, organic ingredients and is consistently delicious. The drink menu is equally impressive. When you’re there, be sure to look down at the stunning original tile floors, and up at the trap door in the ceiling! You can easily get swept up in the delicious ambiance of the Chinese House, its dark wood and art work hanging from the walls and dotting the space for the remainder of the evening. This is one of Phnom Penh’s most beautiful, hip and glamorous restaurants in the way that heritage buildings steeped in history with dimmed lights can be. How more romantic can it get than this?


    Day 2 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Wat Botum: Temple of the Lotus Blossoms

    Wat Botum, located directly across the street from The Pavilion, is a lovely temple complex and monastery where you can enjoy a morning stroll. Inside the vast compound you’ll see monks going about their daily routines of chanting, washing robes, chatting on cell phones, and living their lives in modern times. There are pagodas, stupas and statues on the grounds dating back to the 15th century. You can walk around inside, however be sure to have your shoulders and knees covered.

    Shopping for a cause

    If you are interested in purchasing any Cambodian textiles, art or souvenirs, take a short walk around the corner to Street 240. There, you can stop in at several social enterprises dedicated to making quality, locally sourced products while providing jobs for Cambodians.

    Mekong Quilts

    Mekong Quilts, founded in 2001, is an income generation project that offers employment opportunities to Cambodian women. Profits from quilts and other products are reinvested into the community through scholarships for children, agricultural training and microfinance programs.

    A.N.D. Fair Trade Cambodia

    A.N.D. Fair Trade Cambodia supports between 60-70 farming families in the provinces who weave for supplementary income. Their signature products include hand-woven pure silk, cotton ikats, jewellery and home-wares, hand-carved from reclaimed local hardwoods.

    Watthan Artisans Cambodia (WAC) is a worker-run cooperative of Cambodian artisans with disabilities. It is a training and production based cooperative that trains new students with disabilities in textiles, handicraft production and wood carving. The cooperative exists to empower people with disabilities to participate in the development of Cambodia and improve their standard of living through training and employment. Their products are absolutely gorgeous!

    12pm: Lunch at the Foreign Correspondents Club

    For lunch you’ll dine at the Foreign Correspondents Club (FCC). This former hangout for journalists is now a central meeting place for travellers and locals to enjoy libations and an extensive menu of Cambodian and international fare. The striking colonial building overlooks the Mekong River, and is a beautiful place to enjoy a delicious meal and good conversation. There are several shops below the FCC selling Cambodian products and art which you can browse after lunch.

    2pm: The Central Market

    The Central Market is an unmissable part of a trip to Phnom Penh. The captivating art deco structure was built in 1937. Inside you can find just about anything your heart desires from clothing to jewellery, house decor, wigs, appliances, plants, art, local food, the list is endless! It is one of the best markets in the city for both locals and travellers to find what they never knew they needed.

    Shop till you drop, or until it’s time to head to the airport for your flight back to Singapore. You can take a tuk tuk to the airport, or book The Pavilion’s Jaguar XJ6 to pick you up. Allow 45 minutes for travel to the airport.

    If you have more time in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Culture, Art and Coffee

    If you’ve got some extra time, Java Cafe is a great spot for coffee and some nosh before your flight. Since 2000, Java Cafe has been supporting local arts and artists in Cambodia. There is a small gallery with rotating exhibitions of Cambodian photography and art inside. Sit upstairs on the balcony to enjoy a cuppa with views of the Independence Monument as traffic flows by below.

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  • Where to stay in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    For this itinerary we have decided to suggest only one option, one that we can get behind and that we know is seriously and deeply committed to the positive and sustainable development of Cambodia.

    The Pavilion Phnom Penh

    The Pavilion Hotel is focused on urban heritage conservation and cultural promotion. The historical buildings on the property include a villa built by Queen Kossamak, King Sihanouk's mother, in the mid-1920s. The architecture is an original combination of Khmer and French colonial styles. Inside the hotel complex you are transported to a tropical, calming oasis, a luxurious feeling amidst the hustle and bustle of city life. The location is the perfect base for seeing Phnom Penh’s most famous historical sites or to take a breather from the dust of Phnom Penh’s streets.

    Prices start at $75 to $110 per night. Book here!

    Mekong Floating Bungalows

    For an extra romantic and amazing stay, choose their sister property, The Mekong Floating Bungalows, a one suite only floating bungalow on the Mekong river bank facing Phnom Penh. You will be the only visitor, with a staff member for comfort and safety. See the sunset fade behind the city with a glass of wine and wake up to the sound of the water, the comings and goings of the river life. A unique and incredible oasis of exclusive and private romance.

    Price start at $110 or $165 (including dinner and breakfast) per night. Book here!

    Getting to Phnom Penh, Cambodia

    Phnom Penh is a quick plane ride from Singapore, taking just over two hours. Silk Air and Jet Star offer several direct flights between the two cities at convenient times. There is a one hour time difference between Singapore and Cambodia, so you will gain an extra hour on your way there.

    If you can leave work in the early afternoon, Silk Air offers a departure at 4:35pm landing at 5:40pm. If you cannot, try for JetStar which leaves on Friday at 7:35pm landing at 8:50pm.

    For your return, Silk Air flies at 6,30pm landing at 9,35pm and JetStar flies back at 9,35pm landing at 00,35am. They also have an earlier flight at 3,25pm but you would miss all the afternoon activities.

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