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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.