Of course no trip to Cambodia would be complete without visiting Siem Reap and the nearby temples of Angkor, but if travelers have the time they really shouldnâ€™t overlook the capital city Phnom Penh, once known as the â€œPearl of Asiaâ€. And even though it has risen from the darkened ashes of war that took place during the 70â€™s and 80â€™s, it still retains much of the look and feel of Asia from several decades ago.
Royal Palace and
the Silver Pagoda
Very similar in
style to the Royal Palace in Bangkok, this official residence of King Sihamoni
has classic Khmer roofs and elaborate gilding. It is close to the center of the
cityâ€™s action near the riverfront, and within the same grounds you can also
visit the Silver Pagoda, also known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha, which
has a floor covered with more than 5,000 silver tiles. To enter youâ€™ll need to
dress appropriately â€“ no bare legs or shoulders. You can rent sarongs and
t-shirts at the entrance if needed.
National Museum Very close to the Royal Palace, this museum contains the finest collection of Khmer sculpture in the world. There are four pavilions full of works that span a millennia. No photos are allowed inside, but you can take pictures of some fine works which are located in the central courtyard area for a small fee.
Tual Sleng Museum One of the darkest reminders of the horrors from the Khmer Rouge days, this former high school was turned into Security Prison 21 (S-21) by Pol Potâ€™s security forces in 1975. Over 17,000 people were detained and tortured here before being sent to the killing fields of Choeung Ek. Every victim was photographed by the regimeâ€™s record keepers, and many of these black-and-white photos are displayed throughout the rooms of the museum. Granted, it is not uplifting, but like the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, it is good to be reminded of what we all must try to prevent from ever happening again.
Killing Fields of Choeung Ek Like Tual Sleng above, this is a must see, because it is a horrific and important reminder of a dark side of humanity which we must remain vigilant against. The 17,000+ men, women, children and babies who had been sent from S-21 were executed at this former Chinese cemetery located about 10 miles outside of Phnom Penh, sometimes with blunt objects due to shortages of bullets. There is now a Buddhist Memorial Stupa packed full of more than 8,000 skulls that you can view through clear glass panels. These skulls came from the remains that were exhumed from nearby mass graves in 1980, and 49 of the adjacent communal graves still remain untouched.
Central Market (Psar Thmei) This Phnom Penh landmark is an art deco building completed in 1937. The huge dome in the middle is claimed by some to be one of the 10 largest domes in the world. There are four large wings that branch out from the middle, and each contains numerous stalls of goods of all kinds being sold to locals as well as tourists. Itâ€™s an excellent place for browsing as well as for taking some good photos of a traditional market in action.
Wat Phnom Its name means â€˜hill templeâ€™ for a reason â€“ itâ€™s located on the only hill in town. Although the architecture isnâ€™t as grand as its historical importance, it is still an interesting site to see. Legend has it that the first pagoda on the site was built in 1373 (the temple sanctuary has been rebuilt several times since then) to house four statues of Buddha which had been deposited by the waters of the Mekon and discovered by a wealthy widow named Madame Penh. Today many locals go there to pray for good luck, and many other locals go there to add to the somewhat chaotic atmosphere.
Riverfront The riverfront itself is a nice place for a stroll, especially around sunset, and it can be quite a bit of fun indulging yourself a bit with the many bars and restaurants clustered around the area.