Phnom Penh. Capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia and, in more terrifying times, seat of the ultra-communist Khmer Rouge regime which wreaked havoc and caused the nation much pain and loss.
Now, Phnom Penh is the prime example of Cambodia rebuilding itself after the despotic regime of Pol Pot. Progress and change are the key words in describing Cambodia’s over-all scene as businesses start sprouting again in the once completely evacuated capital city.
Tourism is just about the one of the major economies in Cambodia. In an ironic twist of fate, the bloody history they suffered which caused thousands of deaths, has become the biggest draw for tourists to come to the country.
Deep faith and painful loss…these which make up a huge part of the resilient and the still smiling Cambodians way of life and survival will just be two of the things visitors to Phnom Penh will be taught.
Touring Phnom Penh
Taking in the sights that Phnom Penh has to offer would take about two to three days. Most attractions except for the “Killing Fields,” may be found right in the city so visitors may take their time visiting each spot reflecting or perhaps enjoying a bowl full of rice and fish, the traditional Cambodian fare, as they listen to the stories associated with each destination.
Places of interest
Found at the intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk, the Independence Monument (Vimean Ekareach) was inaugurated in 1958 to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from colonial rule. Presently, it also serves as a memorial to those who died in Cambodia’s war times. The monument is mostly sealed off to tourists though this really isn’t a problem as the best view is from the street anyway.
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Just off the riverfront in Sothearos, visitors can visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. As one approaches the complex, what prominently stand out are its high yellow walls and spired Chan Chaya Pavillion.
The Silver Pagoda, is Phnom Penh’s most visited pagoda because of its vast display of historical objects, serving more as a repository for cultural treasures than as a functioning temple, the Silver Pagoda also houses such treasures as the “Emerald Buddha.”
Adjacent to the Royal Palace, the National Museum is to be found. Its distinctive rust red walls are home to over 5000 artifacts including those from the Angkorian Era. One of the pieces kept here is Cambodia’s famous statue of the “Leper King.”
Specializing in Angkorian art history, tourists are advised to visit the museum first before heading on to Angkor Wat for a better understanding of the artifacts to be found there.
A very active temple atop a small hill marks the place where the legendary founding of Phnom Penh took place in 1372.
The wat sees a steady stream of the faithful and visitors all year round but is most busy during the Chinese/ Vietnamese New Year’s Eve.
Elephant rides are available at the bottom of the hill for those wanting to try this unique mode of travel.
One to two hour river cruises run regularly at 2-hour intervals starting at 10:30 am at the Mekong River. Special lunch and sunset dinner cruises are also offered here. Small tourist boats can be found along the riverfront at the north end of street 178.
Mekong Island Tour
For tourists interested in immersing themselves in Cambodian culture but do not have the time to explore the provinces, consider a 1-day trip to the Mekong Island for a packaged but authentic cultural experience. Here, visitors can witness first hand handicraft production, silk weaving and more. A traditional dance and music performance is held at the day’s end.
For a taste of local commerce as experienced by the locals, visitors may visit the Central Market (Psah Thmei), Russian Market (Psah Toul Tom Poung) or the Old Market (Psah Chas).
The central market is housed in a unique art-deco building which has become a city landmark. Here, shoppers are offered everything from t-shirts, post-cards and souvenir items made out of silver, jewels and gold. Also in abundance here are electronic goods, secondhand clothes and flowers.
The Russian market is far less interesting architecturally but has a larger and more varied selection of souvenirs, curios and silks than the Central Market.
Also carrying a good selection of silver, gold and jewels, the Russian Market has in recent times become most sought after for its extremely large selection of bootlegged VCDs, DVDs and software.
The old market mainly offers goods such as fruits and vegetables, second hand clothes, hardware and religious articles.
Getting to Phnom Penh
The majority of tourists to Cambodia arrive at the international airports in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. Overland border crossings with all bordering countries are open. The crossing at Moc Bai, Vietnam is the closest to Phnom Penh.