Cambodia’s capital city by the river is abuzz both day and night. Sans the mad dash of many Asian cities, PP holds the countryside close while enjoying its growing modern comforts. The city hasn’t forgotten its grim past, but has turned these memories into gold, as tourists find PP’s part in Pol Pot’s regime equally interesting as the city’s colonial heritage.
Best of Phnom Penh
1. Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda
The structures in the two complexes, which sit next to each other, were built between the 1860s and the 1960s. The majestic architecture of the silver-tiled Silver Pagoda and its surrounding buildings make this working royal residence an essential part of your tour.
2. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
A visit to Tuol Sleng, a former high school-turned-Security Prison 21 under the dark reign of the Khmer Rouge, is a must to understand Cambodia’s history. Come with a guide and prepare yourself for a grim encounter with the past.
3. Choeung Ek Memorial
The most famous of the “killing fields” is the site of mass graves and a Buddhist stupa that serves as a memorial to over a million individuals who were killed during Pol Pot’s regime.
4. Independence Monument
Located on a roundabout in the heart of Phnom Penh, the lotus-shaped tower designed by celebrated architect Vann Molyvann is dedicated to Cambodia’s independence from France.
5. Central Market (Psar Thmei)
Completed in 1937, the domed Art Deco building is an icon of the city. Inside its four wings, there are antique and second-hand goods, jewellery, electronics, souvenirs and clothing.
6. Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tom Pong)
Once frequented by Russian expats, the market is now popular with both locals and tourists. A huge selection of inexpensive apparel, handicrafts, silverware and food can be found here. When you’re done, look around for the best iced coffee in town.
7. Nom Banh Chok
Say “Khmer noodles” and this is what you’ll get. Breakfast in Phnom Penh isn’t complete without rice noodles in a soup of green fish gravy, traditional herbs and vegetables, sold on the street by women carrying baskets on a pole.
8. Lok Lak
“Shaking beef” is stir-fried black pepper beef on a bed of lettuce with a lime-pepper dipping sauce, served with either rice of French fries. Eating it is part of the fun—the beef is wrapped around a piece of lettuce before it is dipped into sauce.
9. Cambodian Silk
Machine-made silk using imported threads is a dime a dozen in Cambodia’s markets, but if you have the time to hunt for 100% pure Khmer silk, you will be rewarded with beautiful fabrics and be supporting the remaining weaving communities at the same time.
Cambodian silver is still a good bargain because of the craftsmanship and purity for reasonable prices. Haggle well and you will get a great souvenir.