Cambodia’s capital can be considered an assault on the senses. Once considered the “Pearl of Asia”, the image of Phnom Penh was tarnished by the genocide committed by Pol Pot. But the city has risen from its ashes and is well on its way to development, albeit with the looming presence of corruption. Today, it is considered as one of the hippest capitals in the region, replete with bustling bars, motorcycles whizzing by and an alluring café culture.
Although some people only know Phnom Penh as a gateway to one of the most-visited ancient structures in the world, Angkor Wat, it offers more than just a jump-off point. This was my second time in the city, I did not have enough time to explore it during my first visit because we were there for barely half a day as we were headed to Siem Reap so I made sure I would be able to explore its nook and crannies. If you are headed to the city anytime soon, check the must-see places in Phnom Penh.
One of the country’s most splendid architectural achievements and gleaming in gold, the Royal Palace is home to His Majesty Preah Bat smdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and Her Majesty Preah Reach Akka-Mohesey Norodom Monineath. Built in 1866, the site was specially chosen by a Commission of Royal Ministers and Astrologers because it had significance to the King. It has a Throne Hall located to the left of the main entrance and it boasts a 59-meter tower.
Entrance Fee: US $10 (including the Silver Pagoda)
Opening Hours: 7.30am to 11am and 2pm to 5pm
Located on the south side of the Royal Palace, the official name of the Silver Pagoda is Wat Ubaosoth Ratanaram. It houses several national treasures such as jeweled Buddha statues, the most notable of which is the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia. Dress modestly when visiting the pagoda.
Entrance fee: US $3 per person
Opening Hours: 8am to 11am and 2.30pm to 5pm.
Toul Sleng Genocide Museum
The notorious Toul Sleng Genocide Museum chronicles the atrocities committed by Pol Pot during his reign. The site is a former high school which was used as Security Prison 21 or S-21. Toul Sleng means “Hill of the Poisonous Trees”. It is just one of the many execution centers established by the Khmer Rouge. The grounds have an eerie atmosphere and is considered to be one of the many haunted places in the world. For more on Toul Sleng, check my blog entry here.
Entrance fee: US $5 for international visitors aged 18 years old and up, US $3 for international visitors aged 10 to 17 years old
Opening Hours: 8am to 5pm.
Built in 1958 to commemorate the country’s independence from France in 1953, the Independence Monument stands at the intersection of Sihanouk Boulevard and Norodom Boulevard, at the center of the city. It was designed by Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann. A ceremonial flame on the interior pedestal is often lit by a royal official on special occasions. It looks quite splendid at night with the lights of the city in the background.
Entrance fee: Free
Built in 1372 and stands 27 meters above the ground, Wat Phnom is the tallest religious structure in the city. Legend has it that a wealthy widow named Penh found a large koki tree in the river and inside the tree, she found four bronze statues of the Buddha, so she had a small shrine built on an artificial hill made by the villagers to help protect the statues. Eventually, the site became sacred and is now known as Wat Phnom. People got here to make blessings and to pray and it is also the center of celebration during Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben.
Entrance fee: US $1
Opening Hours: Open daily
Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk
The bronze statue is 4.5 meters tall and is housed under a 27-meter high stupa in the park east of the Independence Monument. It depicts the late king wearing a business suit and it is said that it cost US $1.2 million and took nearly 8 months to complete. Access to the statue was strictly monitored by armed police military during its inauguration in 2013. Norodom Sihanouk died in 2012 in Beijing, China.
Entrance fee: Free