Phnom Penh is the vibrant bustling capital of Cambodia. Situated at the confluence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap, what was once considered the ‘Gem’ of Indochina. The capital city still maintains considerable charm with plenty to see. It exudes a sort of provincial charm and tranquillity with French colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards amidst monumental Angkorian architecture. Phnom Penh is a veritable oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. A mixture of Asian exotica, the famous Cambodian hospitality awaits the visitors to the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
Here in the capital, are many interesting touristy sites. Beside the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Choeng Ek Killing Fields and Wat Phnom, there are several market places selling carvings, paintings, silk, silver, gems and even antiques. Indeed, an ideal destination for a leisurely day tour. The whole area including the outskirts of Phnom Penh is about 376 square kilometres big. There are currently 2,009,264 people living in Phnom Penh.
The city takes its name from the re-known Wat Phnom Daun Penh (nowadays: Wat Phnom or Hill Temple), which was built in 1373 to house five statues of Buddha on a man made hill 27 meters high. These five statues were floating down the Mekong in a Koki tree and an old wealthy widow named Daun Penh (Grandma Penh) saved them and set them up on this very hill for worshiping. Phnom Penh was also previously known as Krong Chaktomuk (Chaturmukha) meaning “City of Four Faces”. This name refers to the confluence where the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonle Sap rivers cross to form an “X” where the capital is situated.
Phnom Penh is also the gateway to an exotic land – the world heritage site, the largest religious complex in the world, the temples of Angkor in the west, the beaches of the southern coast and the ethnic minorities of the North-eastern provinces. There are also a wide variety of services including five star hotels and budget guest houses, fine international dining, sidewalk noodle shops, neighbourhood pubs international discos and more.
Phnom Penh, like other Asian-City tourist destinations, is in the midst of rapid change. Over the past few years the number of restaurants and hotels have grown considerably and in the last year there had been a huge increase in the number of visitors. Come and see a real original as it won’t be the same in a few years.
Tourist Attractions in Phnom Penh
1. Phsar Thmei (Central Market)
From beneath a shining central golden dome, four pearl-white wings full of busy vendors stretch into numerous corridors and a cloud of sounds, sights, and scents. This art deco relic of the French Colonial architectural era was once believed to be the largest market in Asia, and has continued to operate (except during war time) since it completed construction in 1937. No matter what they are looking for, shoppers are likely to find a bargain here. From burned CDs and DVDs to discount tees, from luscious batik and brocade textiles to gold and gemstones, there is something for every taste to find here.
2. Sisowath Quay
This riverside strip has been an important commercial public region for centuries. Bordering the Mekong River and abutted by the Royal Palace, this area is full of street vendors and shops, restaurants and hotels. It is one of the best locations to watch the boat races during Phnom Penh’s (and much of Southeast Asia’s) famed water festival, which takes place in mid April to celebrate the Buddhist new year. Sisowath Quay has a very westernized, multinational vibe, as it is home to several colonial-style buildings as well as a number of Embassies. For those planning a boat trip to Siem Reap, the ferry terminals leave from here.
3. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Converted in 1975 by the Khmer Rouge Regime from what was once a high school, Tuol Sleng became Cambodia’s most horrifying prison. Of the more than 17,000 people incarcerated of Tuol Sleng in the four years it operated, there are only a few known survivors. After the Vietnamese army uncovered the prison in 1979 Tuol Sleng was turned in to a historical museum memorializing the actions of the Khmer Rouge regime. The museum is easily accessible and a must-see for everyone interested in Cambodia’s horrific past.
4. Royal Palace of Cambodia
With its classic Khmer roofs and lavish decoration, the Royal Palace dominates the skyline of Phnom Penh. Located near the riverfront, it bears a remarkable likeness to its counterpart in Bangkok. The palace has been the home for the royal family during peace times since the 1860’s, when the capital city was moved from Oudong. This complex of buildings has 4 main structures, the Silver Pagoda, the Khemarin Palace, the Throne Hall and the Inner Court. Though half of the compound is considered the king’s residence and is closed to the public, the Silver Pagoda and Throne Hall compounds are popular attractions in Phnom Penh and can be explored freely.
5. Wat Phnom
This hilltop temple in the city is the namesake for the city itself. Legend says that the widow Penh found a tree on the riverbank with four sacred statues of Buddha inside, and created a shrine in that location to protect its holiness. The temple itself is notable more for its historic importance than physical structure, but the park is a pleasant green space and a popular gathering place for locals. For those hoping to capture a little bit of good luck, it may be worth praying for success in business or other ventures the way many Cambodians do here.
6. Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
This best-known of all the Khmer Rouge’s mass graveyards, or killing fields, has become a monument to honor the victims of the atrocity in Cambodia’s dark history. It has been transformed into a Buddhist Stupa, or spire-peaked memorial of relics, created to honor the senseless murder between 1975 and 1979 of the nine thousand people in this field, and the million people nationwide. This is not a sight for the faint of heart; inside the building is an acrylic glass case with over five thousand of the skulls discovered here.