Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital, sits at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. It was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and French colonialists. On its walkable riverfront, lined with parks, restaurants and bars, are the ornate Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum, displaying artifacts from around the country. At the city’s heart is the massive, art deco Central Market.
Phnom Penh has been the national capital since French colonization of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation's center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security, politics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia.
Once known as the "Pearl of Asia," it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia. Founded in 1434, the city is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. There are a number of surviving French colonial buildings scattered along the grand boulevards.
What to See & Do
The Royal Palace
Including the two magnificent pagodas in the Palace Grounds, the Silver Pagoda and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, are among the few public buildings in Phnom Penh really worth seeing. They were built in the 19th century with French technology and Cambodian designs, and have survived the traumas of the 20th century surprisingly well intact.
The National Museum of Cambodia, contains an excellent collection of art from Cambodia's "golden age" of Angkor, and a lovely courtyard at the centre. A main attraction is the statue of King Jayavarman VII (1181-1219) in mediation pose; other exhibits worth seeing include graceful statues of Hindu gods, ancient stelae (tablets) inscribed in Sanskrit and Old Khmer, and artefacts from a prehistoric burial site.
Wat Phnom, (on a hill at the centre of a small park near Sisowath Quay). Name means "Hill Temple". 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.
Sisowath Quay. An attractive boulevard running along the banks of the Mekong and Tonle Sap. It's fronted by a large, long open space with manicured lawns, palm trees and open pathways, all recently re-done as part of a Japanese funded project to upgrade the flood infrastructure along the river.
Tuol Sleng Prison
A school converted into Cambodia's most important prison in 1975. More than 14,000 people were tortured here before being killed here or at the Killing Fields; only 8 prisoners survived. The museum is easily accessible and a must-see for everyone interested in Cambodia's horrific recent past.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
A former Chinese cemetery, this is where the Khmer Rouge killed many thousands of their victims during their four-year reign of terror. Today the site is marked by a Buddhist stupa packed full with over 8,000 human skulls - the sides are made of glass so the visitors can see them up close. There are also pits in the area where mass graves were unearthed, with ominous scraps of clothing still to be found here and there. It is a serene yet somber place.
Independence and Liberation memorials
Impressive Buddhist-style Independence Memorial, commemorating the departure of the French in 1953, dominates the centre of the city. Nearby is the Stalin-style Liberation Memorial, marking the Vietnamese capture of the city in 1979. The area is especially popular on weekend nights with locals when the multi-coloured fountains are activated and communal music is played.
Cambodia Cooking Class
Classes are held every day on a rooftop terrace.. Begins with a tour around a local market, then return to the restaurant to make at least three different Cambodian dishes
Cruises on the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers
Tourist boats are clustered together on the river along Sisowath Quay just north of the Passenger Port near Wat Phnom. Short river cruises and sunset cruises along the riverfront. A tour cruise typically takes about 1 - 2 hours and runs up the Tonle Sap River along the central riverfront area providing a picturesque view of the Royal Palace, National Museum, and Phnom Penh skyline, and then across the Tonle Sap and up the Mekong River to view floating fishing villages
Mekong Islands Bicycle
Daily 20 km bicycle ride with Grasshopper Adventures, along small trails along the rivers and criss-crossing the islands (4 ferry hops) to explore the lush green countryside around Phnom Penh.
Art Deco covered market near the Riverfront (Sisowath Quay) district. The market is well set out, and sells everything from flowers to video games. It has recently been beautifully renovated and its architecture alone is worth admiring.