When thinking of Cambodia, most peoples thoughts go out to Siem Reap. And that is not surprising, as it’s such an amazing city, with beautiful temples and lovely landscapes. However Cambodia has so much more to offer then just Siem Reap, and Phnom Penh is one of those places.
We have visited Phnom Penh a while ago, but it’s still engraved in my memories. Back home, we did not really get to know a lot about the war that happened in Cambodia. I think half of our history books are about the 1st and 2nd world war, and maybe a chapter or two on the Vietnam war, but I never heard anything about the war that happened in Cambodia, and the amount of people who were killed and tortured during that time. So when we went to Cambodia for the first time and started reading about the history of the country, I was numbed. How was it impossible not to know about this?
So when we went to Phnom Penh I knew we had to visit the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. But off course these are not the only things you can do in Phnom Penh.
Phnom Penh is a charming city, with a pretty river promenade, buzzing markets and beautiful colonial-era buildings. The buildings date back from the 1920’s when Phnom Penh was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina, and therefore known as the “Pearl of Asia”. Phnom Peng is the capital of Cambodia, and is rapidly developing and with 1.5 million people the largest city of the country. Besides this, the city has a very relaxed and laid-back vibe.
When you visit Phnom Penh, make sure to visit the following sites:
Tuol Sleng Museum (a.k.a. S21 Prison)
Prior to 1975 Tuol Sleng was a high school, however it was taken over by Pol Pot’s security forces and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S21). This soon became the largest centre of detention and torture for the country, under the Khmer Rouge Regime. Between 1975 and 1978 more than 17,00 people held t S21 were taken to the the killing fields of Choeung Ek.
The building now serves as a museum and a memorial. Just like the Nazi’s, the Khmer Rouge leaders were meticulous in keeping records of their barbarism. Each prisoner who passed through S21 was photographed, sometimes before and after torture. The museum displays some of these pictures in black and white, and also shows how the prison was set up. The complex has been preserved just as the Khmer Rouge left it.
Tuol Sleng Museum: Corner of Street 113 and Street 350 | Opening hours: 8:00am-5:00pm
During the Khmer Rouge regime, from 1975 to 1978 about 17,00 men, women, children and infants who had been detained and tortured at S21, were transported to the extermination camp of Chueong Ek.
On this site a memorial has been created for all the people who have passed away here. More than 8,00 skulls, arranged by sex and age, are visible behind the clear glass panel of the Memorial Stupa, which was erected in 1988. Today it’s a peaceful place, masking the horrors that unfolded here less than 30 years ago. There is a museum here on the Khmer Rouge leadership and the ongoing trial.
Killing Fields of Choeung Ek: Sangkat Cheung Aek, Phnom Penh | Opening hours: 7:30am-5:30pm.
You van find the Silver pagoda within the Royal Palace Compound. The reason for this pagoda is named the Silver Pagoda, is because the floor is covered with 5 tons of silver. Most of the 5,00 tiles are covered, however if you’re at the entrance they have left some tiles uncovered for the tourists to admire.
Here you will find hundred of royal gifts received by the Royal family over the years, on display. Amonth the treasures are a solid gold Buddha (encrusted with over 9,500 diamonds), and a small baccarat crystal Buddha. Furthermore you will find the Wat Phnom Mondap here, which contains Buddha’s footprint.
Silver Pagoda: Samdach Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh | Opening hours: 07:30am-11:00am and 2:00pm-5:00pm | Dress code: no hats, no short skirts or shorts and no tank tops.
Next to the Royal Palace you will find the National Museum of Cambodia, which has recently been restored and is housed in a graceful terracotta structure, which represents the finest of Phnom Penh’s architecture. The museum comprises four pavilions, facing the inviting courtyard, displaying more than 5,000 works of art, ranging from the 7th to the 13th century. Which include 19th century dance costumed, royal barges, and palanquins.
National Museum: Samdach Sothearos Blvd, Phnom Penh | Opening Hours: 8:00am-5:00pm, last admission at 4:30pm.
So don’t forget about visiting Phnom Penh on your next visit to Cambodia – it’s a beautiful city to visit.