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Home : Holidays : Southeast Asia : Cambodia : Cambodia, Phnompenh Tourist Destinations

Cambodia, Phnompenh Tourist Destinations

Cambodia's modern capital is a vibrant bustling city nestling majestically on the banks of the confluence of the two mighty rivers of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap. These rivers then split again as the Mekong and the Tonle Bassac at a place known to the Khmers as Chaktomuk, meaning four faces. Phnompenh is a veritable oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. With wide tree-lined boulevards and low-rise buildings Phnompenh still harks back to the colonial days of this former French playground and the many older French colonial buildings, much in evidence, add to the ambiance.

The area surround the Royal Palace has magnificent Khmer towers and remains particularly delightful. There are many open spaces and parks in the center which the locals use for recreation and relaxation. Pedaled rickshaws, called cyclos, still ply the streets as in colonial days and provide an excellent opportunity for sightseeing and people watching as well as the taxi service.

Major Sights and Attractions in/around Phnompenh

Silver Pagoda

Silver Pagoda (or the temple of the Emerald Buddha), formerly a wooden building, was rebuilt in 1962 in concrete and marble. The pagoda is floored with over 5000 silver tiles each weighing 1 kilo. It is famous for its 90 kg solid gold Buddha made in 1907 and an emerald Buddha said to be made of baccarant crystal. Sharing the pagoda are many other interesting artifacts and jewels and was one of the few temples to remain intact during the Khmer Rouge regime. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fee US$ 3 per person. Camera fee US$2. Video fee US$ 5. Photography is allowed in the outside exhibition areas only. Please remember that exposed knees and shoulders are considered disrespectful.

Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

National Museum

Designed by George Groslier and the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens the National Museum was built in 1917 in traditional Khmer style and inaugurated in 1920 by King Sisowat. The National Museum houses the world's foremost collection of ancient Khmer archeological, religious, and artistic artifacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. There are over 5000 pieces and is the repository of the Kingdom's cultural wealth. In addition, the roof space is home to the largest bat colony in the world living in an artificial structure. Every evening these bats flock out of the roof and swarm around in the sky before searching for food. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Photography is forbidden inside.

The Royal Palace

Unfortunately the royal residence, set back from the riverfront, is closed to visitors but is still visible from the outside and well worth seeing, located as it is between the Silver Pagoda and National Museum.

Royal Palace - Phnom Penh - Cambodia

Wat Phnom

Located on a man-made hill twenty seven meters high in the middle of Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom is a revered place of worship for all Khmers and is the namesake of the capital. The original pagoda was built in 1373 to house four Buddha statues said to have been deposited by the waters of the Mekong. The temple is the focal point for many Buddhist ceremonies especially Pchum Ben and his highly revered by Phompenh residents. Wat Phnom has a unique atmosphere and is surrounded by various fortune tellers, mystics, faith healers and elephant rides around the site are available.

Tuol Sleng Museum

Tuol Sleng Museum, known as the Museum of Genocidal Crimes it was used by the Khmer Rouge as a detention and torture center in the late 1970. Today the building houses exhibits, paintings and photographs of many of the victims. Visitors can see the crude cells built in the classrooms and the torture devices used to extract confessions in Stalinesque purges of the regime. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.

Killing Fields of Cheung Ek

Killing Fields of Cheung Ek is situated 15 kilometers south-west of Phnom Penh and made famous by the film of the same name "Killing Field". it was a place where more than 17,000 civilians were killed and buried in mass graves; many of them transported here after detention and torture in Toul Sleng. This place is a chilling reminder of the brutalities of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. In the center of the area is a 17 story glass stupa which houses 8000 skulls exhumed from mass graves. Open daily.

Note: Both Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields exhibits may be disturbing for some and aren't suitable for younger children and adults who are easily shocked.

Markets

Of the more a dozen markets in Phnom Penh many of them are little interest to visitors, selling, as they do, general household purchases in many of the districts of the city. There are, however, several centrally located markets of real interest to shoppers, browsers, and souvenir hunters alike. Be warned that nothing is priced and bargaining is a must.

Central Market is one of the largest and busiest markets in Phnom Penh. Built in 1937 by French architects and surprisingly cool, even in the heat of the hottest day, many interesting products are available. The eastern side, which is the main entrance, has many souvenirs and ornaments on sale from T-shirts to large stone heads. In the center are the many jewelry stores and precious stone vendors as well as a plethora of electronic goods merchants, cloth sellers and other dealers; most of them selling thing considerably cheap.

Toul Tom Pong Market (or Russian Market) is probably the city's best source of objects d'art. Items for sale include wooden and stone carvings, various ritual objects, silverware, and old Indochinese notes and coins. There is a large range of antiquities and curios for those prepared to ferret around the various stalls and there are also gold and silversmiths inside the market who can be seen custom making jewelry. This too is a good source of both Cambodian and Chinese Silk and Clothes. This is one of the most popular markets in Phnom Penh with foreign residents and tourists who can spend many an interesting hour browsing before choosing the perfect gift.

O'Russei Market on the North side of the Olympic Stadium is a typical Cambodian market catering to the every needs of the populace. Here the sights and smells of this market give the visitor  the feel of a local market with many house-wives still purchasing their foodstuffs on a daily basis. This market is full of local character and one can only imagine the banter that takes place between all the vendors and customers. Here, is one of the best selections of the different types of fruit from all over the region, though the choice, naturally, depends on the season.

Olympic Market is probably one of the cheapest markets in town with lots of whole-saling going on here. It was renovated and re-opened in 1994 as a three story modern building with reportedly Cambodia's only escalators.

Mekong Island

A full day trip to Mekong Island is an excellent way to sample the daily lives and traditions of rural life in Cambodia. This ten hectare island has been planned as an authentic showcase of the cultural, zoological, and agricultural diversity and richness of Cambodia. The tour price includes transport, excellent lunch and a captivating show of traditional Cambodian dance. There are also elephant rides available on very friendly Asian elephants.