- Place or Religious Monument
- Place or Historical Monument
- Unesco World Heritage
Phnom Penh is quite an unusual city: it has none of the characteristics of the capitals we are used to seeing. I was shocked to see just how busy it is here, with all the motorbikes, cycles and 4x4s picking their way along the streets and roads all the day long
I started my tour in the city centre, visiting the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda – absolutely not to be missed! The building's golden façades gleam and sparkle and give off a quite incredible light.
But I think the best scenes of daily life are those to be seen in the different markets: the Central Market because of its unusual architecture, and the Russian Market for its souvenirs and food.
Another important thing to see when in Cambodia and visiting Phnom Penh is Prison S-21, now the site of the Genocide Museum. I advise taking the tour with a guide, who will be able to provide a detailed explanation of this dark episode in Cambodia's history.
Phnom Penh is a dynamic town, with very heavy traffic. Overloaded tuk-tuks and scooters run about all over the place and make the centre of town very lively. I preferred Phnom Penh to Siem Reap because there are far too many tourists per square yard for me there!
If you want to travel differently you should go to one of the restaurants or shops that are managed by NGOs. Friends, the restaurant of the NGO Friends International, is run by former street children as part of their training programme. You can eat tapas there. Next door, a shop owned by an NGO sells decorative objects, lots of them made from recycled materials, which are ideal if you want to take back eco friendly souvenirs.
In the centre of Phnom Penh I recommend you visit the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, both very beautiful monuments. In the gardens you can take photographs of the monkeys enjoying the hibiscus.
But what I remember most about Phnom Penh was my visit to S-21 and the killing fields, tragic reminders of the grim history of the Khmer Rouge. They were very difficult visits to do but I think they are indispensable if you want to understand Cambodian history. S-21 was a torture centre during the regime but nowadays it is a museum. There are lots of photos showing the atrocities that were committed. One hour by tuk-tuk from the town are the killing fields, or the mass graves of Choeung Ek, where 20,000 people were executed. A big memorial stupa has been erected, which contains shelves upon shelves of skulls of some of the victims.. On the site itself, life has resumed its normal course and the butterflies fly about with no idea of the horrors of the past.
In my opinion, Phnom Penh should not be counted as one of the South-East Asian capitals you absolutely have to see. Nevertheless, the city once know as the "Pearl of South-East Asia" is certainly not without its charms, and in my opinion it does constitute an interesting place to visit for anyone travelling through Cambodia.
Firstly, it contains various buildings dating from French colonial times, and these are certainly worth a look. Then there are the banks of the Mekong River, along which I enjoyed walking at the end of the day. I also still have nice memories of the boat trip I took along the Mekong.
But the thing that without question made the greatest impression on me in Phnom Penh was visiting the Teol Sleng Genocide Museum, which during the time of the Khmer Rouge served as the S-21 torture camp. Those of a sensitive disposition should avoid it, however, as it has a sombre, oppressive atmosphere. Another place to see in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace.