Phnom Penh is a friendly city with a dark past which the people are trying to move on from. You’ll find incredible food, interesting history and fascinating culture. Intrepid travellers will love discovering the many things to see in Phnom Penh.
Amazing Things to See in Phnom Penh
Take a Tour of The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are a wonderful oasis away from the chaos of the city. Within these ornate walls you’ll learn much about Cambodia’s history and meet the locals who love these magnificent buildings as much as the tourists.
The Royal Palace has been the official home of Cambodia’s royal family since 1866, and the regal décor of marble, gold and jewels reflects its importance. Seek out the tiny but beautiful temples, the vast array of gifts from leaders across the globe and grand murals that tell the story of Cambodia’s history.
The grounds are a horticulturalist’s dream. They were inspired by 18th-century Parisian gardens and feature fragrant bougainvillea and stylish topiary. As you wander, gaze up at the decorative palace roof, if the blue flag is flying, the King is at home.
Both the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda are protected by iconic yellow walls which symbolise Buddhism, the official religion of Cambodia. To provide balance, some of the buildings inside the compound are painted white to reflect the Hindu population.
The southern gate of the Palace, the ‘commoner’s entrance’ is where the public can access the Silver Pagoda, a splendid structure also known as ‘Wat Preah Keo’ (‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’).
It was initially built as a wooden temple in 1892 but was re-constructed as the current shimmering silver and bejewelled pagoda in 1962.
The Silver Pagoda was one of the very few religious buildings to survive the rule of the Khmer Rouge, though much of the precious contents were stolen or destroyed in the Vietnamese invasion and following years of violence. Of the treasure remaining, the life-size Buddha and his body art of over 2000 diamonds are the highlights.
Learn the history in National Museum of Cambodia
The National Museum of Cambodia houses a fine exhibition of over 1000 years of design from the Khmer era of Cambodia, the Buddhist/Hindu Empire in power between the 9th and 15th centuries.
It is a traditional Cambodian terracotta building with a pretty, manicured garden to relax in. Visitors are first welcomed by the upper torso of a huge bronze statue of Vishnu in repose, an artefact found in a temple near Angkor Wat.
Other exhibition treasures include an imposing 6th-century carving of Vishnu and an enormous pair of battling monkeys from the 10th century.
Look back at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Elements of Cambodian history are very dark, but anyone truly wishing to understand the country and its people must learn about the chilling regime of the Khmer Rouge.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, set in the former Prison S21, is a horrifying place but is a must-see. The audio tour explains the events in Cambodia that occurred under the despotic leader Pol Pot and visitors can meet survivors keen to discuss their experiences.
Visit Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre
The Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre is a memorial and visitor centre at the infamous ‘Killing Fields’, a haunting former orchard where over 17,000 Cambodians were executed and then buried in mass graves by the Khmer Rouge.
Pol Pot’s brutal regime was in power for four horrific years in the 1970s and they murdered, starved or worked to death 2 million of the 7 million people living in Cambodia at the time.
At Longan Orchard, the remains of 8985 of those who were killed in cold blood were exhumed in 1980. Their skulls are displayed in the Memorial Stupa as a remembrance and as a warning of the need to fight such evil in the future.
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Visit Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre
The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre is much more than an ordinary zoo! It’s a place built primarily for the welfare of animals in need rather than for the entertainment of tourists or for profit.
The centre feels remarkably like the home of the animals, and that they are politely permitting you to visit. They do, however, very much enjoy being hand-fed by their delighted guests!
See rare sun bears, handsome tigers and a three-legged elephant with his lovingly crafted prosthetic foot.
The rescue centre is usually quiet, so it’s possible to merrily zip about the enormous park on the mopeds available to hire.
Enjoy the cuisine on a Phnom Penh Food Tour
A tour of the culinary highlights of Phnom Penh is a delicious way to spend an evening.
The tour guides are entertaining and full of interesting info about how the history and culture of Cambodia have influenced the national cuisine.
Sit in plastic furniture in a bar overlooking the city’s nightlife while slurping the best noodles in town, visit a local restaurant and get sticky fingers munching on roast ribs and then wash it all down with local craft ale or a fruity cocktail designed to blow your head off!
Watch a dance at the Cambodian Living Arts Show
In the gardens of the National Museum, there’s an open-air theatre that plays host to magical cultural evenings full of folk music, ritual dances, and mythology.
The stage on these nights is full of local artists keen to share their talents and traditions. The music is beautifully haunting and the stories of the Cambodian ‘Earth and Sky’ are enthralling.
These types of shows can be cheesy, but this one is charming and vibrant. We adored it! The food they served as part of the ‘Dinner and Show’ deal was excellent too.
Cruise along the Mekong River
Phnom Penh is an exhilarating city, but it can be a challenge for the senses. A gorgeous boat cruise down the mystical Mekong River is the ideal antidote to urban burnout.
Organised river trips usually include a BBQ meal, an in-depth talk about the historic trade in silk, a couple of hours winding down on the beach, a cooling dip in the river and access to a well-stocked bar. Bliss!
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