Attraction sites in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Home to the Kingdom’s royal family, the Royal Palace glistens in the sun with its golden gilding and stunning Khmer style roofs. Situated along the riverfront, it is Phnom Penh’s premier attraction to both visitors and Cambodians alike. Monks in their saffron robes frequent the adjacent Silver Pagoda, while the park opposite is busy on Sundays with families who come to pay their respects. The Palace is also magnificent when lit up at night.
This small hill, or phnom, at the northern end of the city, gives the Cambodian capital its name. Legend has it that a Khmer woman named Penh, found four Buddha statues floating down the river and an artificial hill with a shrine on top was built to house them. Surrounded by shady trees, many come here to pray for good luck or to sit and escape the heat.
S-21 or Tuol Sleng Museum was the Khmer Rouge’s largest prison, which was once a school, where atrocious interrogation methods and torture took place under the Pol Pot regime. While it is haunting and confronting, a visit to S-21 is an integral part of understanding what happened during that period, where visitors are given the opportunity to meet two of the remaining survivors.
Choeung Ek, 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh, is Cambodia’s most frequented killing field, however many are dotted around the countryside. More than 15,000 people, transported from Tuol Sleng, are believed to have been murdered here, some shot, many simply bludgeoned to death. Many of the mass graves have been left as they were found.
Van Molyvann is Cambodia’s most revered architect known for his striking and modern designs. The guided tour takes you on a journey of his impressive structures and includes visits to the expansive Olympic Stadium, famous White Building and Chaktomuk Theatre. A self-guided walking map is also available which will takes you past the iconic Independence Monument which is not far from the hotel.
High on every traveller’s list is a trip to the Russian and Central Market. The Russian Market to the south of the city is more traditional in nature, with hot tiny corridors packed full of souvenirs, fabrics, bags, shoes and clothes. It is also frequented by the locals for fresh meat, fruit and vegetables.
Built in 1937, the Central Market is housed under a stunning art-deco dome with four wings designed by Van Molyvann. Unlike, the Russian Market it is much cooler and more orderly and is famous for its watch and jewelry merchants as well as electronics and household goods.
There’s nothing quite like cruising down the mighty Mekong on a boat at sunset watching the world go by with an ice cold beer, cocktail or fresh tropical juice in hand. Most visitors are surprised to learn that central Phnom Penh runs along the Tonle Sap, the river that takes you to Siem Reap and joins with the Mekong just south of the Royal Palace. Phnom Penh’s riverside is teaming with bars and cafes and is also a great place for a sundowner.
In the beautiful National Museum of Cambodia you will find an amazing an extensive collection of Khmer sculptures, quartz linga and theatrical costumes. Here Hindu representations of Durga, Vishnu, Lakshmi and Ganesha rub shoulders with a host of Buddhas and bodhisattvas along with a statue of King Jayavarman VII (builder of temples), complete with his 12th century gold regalia.
Experience traditional dance and song through Cambodia Living Arts, a wonderful organisation that has uncovered master artists who hailed before the Khmer Rouge and now pass on their skills to younger students. The magic takes place in a small outdoor theatre in the gardens of the National Museum where apsara dancing, difficult-to-master musical instruments, constume crafting and choreography have been preserved.
Escape the bustle of the city and head over to Silk Island (Koh Dach), a nearby island just up the Mekong River. Choose from a boat or bicycle tour depending on your adventure level. A bicycle tour takes you through quaint villages and rice fields where you will witness silk being weaved on traditional looms under their wooden houses, with others dying and spinning silk on wheels made of bicycle parts.