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Cambodia

The talesofasia guide to Phnom Penh

by Bronwyn Sloan

updated October 7, 2004

Phnom Penh index page
Introduction

Getting there

Staying there
Eating and drinking
Things to do and places to go in and around Phnom Penh

THINGS TO DO AND PLACES TO GO IN AND AROUND PHNOM PENH

Points of Interest

Choeung Ek and Toul Sleng
There are a host of tourist sites in Phnom Penh. The most famous, or infamous, are the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and Toul Sleng. Why most people choose to combine these overwhelming and depressing sites in one day remains a mystery—Choeung Ek is a series of exhumed mass graves, with a stupa at its center filled with the skulls of hundreds of men, women and children. Toul Sleng is the former high school the Khmer Rouge converted into a torture center where around 14,000 people were prepared for their deaths with electric shocks and other atrocities such as having their heads locked inside boxes of scorpions. The victims' photos line the walls, although the skull map of Cambodia has now been removed. The road to Choeung Ek is poor, and that trip will take some time (up to an hour, depending on where your guesthouse is located) as it is some way outside town. The road to Toul Sleng is also bad, but it is inside town limits. There are guides available at the sites, and most tuk tuk drivers and motodops are happy to take tourists to these places. This is a day of death should you choose to combine the two sites in one day, and not for the fainthearted, but important to see to understand the brutality of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime's rule and understand why Cambodia is still struggling to come to terms with this past while the former leaders live out their old ages in peace and at large.

National Museum
The magnificent National Museum building houses thousands of artifacts and works of art from the more glorious periods of Cambodian history. There are more than 5000 pieces on display, and many more in storage. The vast majority on view are from the Angkor period, although there are also impressive examples of work from earlier and later periods. The building itself, with its chambers linked by a central courtyard, is an architectural masterpiece. Entry is US$3 and the building is open every day. There is almost no photography allowed, although post cards and books are available for purchase, and guides are also available and speak a range of languages. Bats no longer inhabit the roof of the museum since renovations in 2002.

Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda (Wat Preah Koh Morokat)
Both are situated inside the yellow walls of the palace compound. The Silver Pagoda is named for the 5000 silver tiles which cover the floor of the vihear. Filled with statues of the Buddha and religious and royal artifacts, the crowning glory is the Emerald Buddha, a green stone Buddha which is encrusted with jewels. The complex was completed in 1866, and the pagoda's outer walls also feature fine turn of the century murals of scenes from the Ramayana. Entry is USD3, plus USD2 to bring a camera inside or USD5 for a video camera. It is open everyday, although it is closed for lunch.

Independence Monument
Every Cambodian capital has one, but Phnom Penh's Vimean Ekareach, or Independence Monument, is the finest. Designed by famed Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, it was inaugurated in 1958 to mark Cambodia's independence of French rule and now also serves as a defacto war memorial. Located at the intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk boulevards, it is a major city landmark, and is lit up at night. A smaller replica of this monument takes pride of place in Kampong Chhnang town.

Wat Phnom
This hillock at the northern end of the city marks the founding point of Phnom Penh and legend has it this is the place where Grandmother Penh brought the statues of Buddha she miraculously found floating down the Mekong inside a Koki tree in 1372 and took it as a sign to construct the hill, which is the highest natural point in the city. The city takes its name from a combination of the word Phnom, which means hill, and her name, Penh. The site is actually a collection of places of worship, with a shrine to Yeah Penh, who is now a neak ta, or powerful local spirit, to one side and an active wat at its peak. The remains of the king who made this the Cambodian capital in 1422, King Ponhea Yat, are housed in the large stupa here. The city's only elephant, Sambo, is usually at the base of the hill to give elephant rides, and the area is full of fortune tellers and vendors selling everything from drinks to lotus flowers, incense and small birds which are freed to bring luck to worshippers.

Russian and Central Markets
These are full of bargains and photo opportunities in Phnom Penh. They open early in the morning and are closed around 5pm, although the best bargains are often available early.

The most distinctive is the art deco style of Psar Thmei (Central Market), with its yellow dome and long arms. The market dates back to 1935 and is the largest in the city, with shoes, clothes, jewelry, souvenirs, seafood, fruit and vegetables, flowers, plants, pet accessories and anything else you can name jostling for space. It can be slightly more expensive than other markets because most tourists pass through here at some point during their visit, but also offers things the other markets do not have and is well worth browsing through.

Psar Toul Tom Poung, or the Russian Market, was supposedly named because it once offered the best selection of Russian goods in the city, although opinions on the real story behind the name vary. Here jewelry, fabrics (including the best selection of silks in the city), souvenirs, Buddha statues, CDs and DVDs, carvings, silverwork and specifically clothes and other goods with labels like GAP and Nike are available at very reasonable prices—much cheaper than in Western countries. This market is a must see for tourists as it has a huge range of everything you could want in a very contained area. Stop and sample the best iced coffee in Phnom Penh at Stall 543 if shopping gets too much and a break is in order.

Phnom Penh Water Park
Located on the Pochentong road towards the airport, this huge complex is hard to miss and is a great place to cool off, especially during the week when the crowds are less intense and entry is cheaper. It features a variety of water slides and games, with limited food and drink stalls on-site and a shady sitting area. The outside of the complex is a running stream where kids especially love to float around in the huge rubber rings provided by the establishment. It isn't exactly cultural, but in the sweltering months of April and May, parents especially may find this place a Godsend.


Phnom Penh index page
Introduction

Getting there

Staying there
Eating and drinking
Things to do and places to go in and around Phnom Penh

Guesthouses, restaurants, tours and more
Cambodia businesses to serve your every need.

Cambodia

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The text appearing on this page is 2004 - 2006 Bronwyn Sloan. For the rest of the website, unless otherwise noted, all text and photographs © 1998 - 2008 talesofasia.com. Commercial or editorial usage without written permission of the copyright holder is prohibited.