Unique Asia Travel & Tours
Visit Cambodia, Kingdom of Wonders
Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia

Phnom Penh became Cambodia's capital in 1434 for a first time, after King Ponhea Yat had to flee from Siamese invaders attacking Angkor in 1432. He is said to have founded the Royal Palace and five monasteries, namely Wat Phnom, Wat Botum, Wat Koh, Wat Lanka and Wat Ounalom, all of which survive today. But their buildings are from a much later date. In 1812, during a period of Siamese hegemony, Phnom Penh became the capital again for a short time. In 1863, King Norodom, who signed the treaty to become a French protectorate, finally shifted the capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, welcomed as liberators from the US-backed regime and as harbingers of peace. But within hours the population was ordered to leave the city completely. Buildings were destroyed later on. For four years Phnom Penh remained left as a ghost town.

Phnom Penh is situated at the confluence of Cambodia's 2 most important rivers, the mighty Mekong and the Tonle Sap, and at the fork of the two most important Mekong Delta distributaries at the same time, the southern arm being the Bassac river.

Two million people live in Phnom Penh. Foreign guests can expect an amalgam of Asian tradition, colonial flair and modern facilities. There are very different kinds of attractions in Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh city in Cambodia

Wat Phnom Wat

Phnom Daun Penh is the name-giving monument of the city. A Wat is a monastery, a Phnom is a hill. Indeed, this monastery is situated on the only natural mound close to the confluence of Cambodia's major rivers. The hill is 27 m high. The temple was founded in 1432. It was built to house five Buddha statues, four cast in bronze and one carved in stone. In 1373, they had been floating down the Mekong river in a trunk of a holy Koki tree, when they were found and saved by an old rich widow, who placed them on top of this hill. Her name was Daun Penh, meaning "Grandmother Penh". At the northern slope of the Theravada Buddhist pagoda there is a Chinese sanctuary, too. To the north of the hill is the former French administrative area, with many fine example of colonial style buildings from the beginning of the 20th century, some of them restored.

Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

At the park-like promenade running beside the Tonle Sap, there is Phnom Penh's major attraction, the Royal Palace including the sacred compound of the Silver Pagoda. It is inspired by Siamese temple compounds, Phnom Penh's silver Pagoda can be considered to be a smaller-scale version of the Wat Phra Keo at the Royal Palace in Bangkok. The buildings were ercted in the 19th century with French technology. Surprisingly, they have survived the years of the Khmer Rouge regime well intact.

National Museum

The National Museum is a red building, an ensemble of airy halls encompassing a central courtyard. It houses a collection of masterpieces of ancient Cambodian sculptures, presented in chronological order. The best examples of pre-Angkorian statues can be studied here, those from the earlier periods, from Phnom Da (Funan era) and Sambor Prei Kuk (Chen La era), belong to the most remarkable, too. Much-admired dynamic stone carvings from Koh Ker are in this museum for safekeeping. In the middle of the central courtyard is the original statue of the "Leper King" from the Terrace of the name in Angkor Thom. Phnom Penh National Museum's most famous highlight is the head of a statue depicting Angkor Thom founder Jayavarman VII., now reunited with the body of the original sculptue. The king is portrayed in meditation post.

Central Market

The Art Deco dome of the Central Market is a kind of colonial landmark of Phnom Penh, which sometimes was called "Little Paris of the East". The Khmer name "Psar Thmei" means "New Market". It was built in the 1930s. In this market area you will find silver jewellery, clothing, flowers, video games, souvenirs.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Cambodia's most important Genocide Museum is the central prison of the Khmer Rouge regime, in four blocks of a former school. More than 14,000 prisoners were tortured in Tuol Sleng before being killed here or after deportation to the Killing Fields. Only about two hundred prisoners survived (the numbers 7 or 14 are not accurate). After the infamous "skull map" has been dismantled, the museum is a dignified documentation centre, more informative than the emotionalizing presentation of the Choeung Ek Killing Fields outside town. However, respecting the victims, refrain from taking souvenir photos of skull collections. You should wear respectable clothing; long trousers or skirts and sleeved shirts.

surroundings

There are several rewarding day-trips from Phnom Penh to further destinations in its vicinity, for example to the former capitals Oudong and Lovek. The most popular excursion is to the Angkor-era temples of Tonle Bati and Phnom Chiso. On the way there are the notorious "killing fields" of Choeung Ek, now a memorial and museum offering an audio-guide explaining the Khmer Rouge history and the locations along a memorial round path.

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