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talesofasia guide to Phnom Penh
October 7, 2004
Penh index page
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.
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.
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.
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.
restaurants, tours and more
Cambodia businesses to serve your every need.
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