When in Cambodia, the capital city, Phnom Penh, must be visited. It can be overwhelming for some (including the author of this piece), due to the hustle and bustle and frequent robberies. When travelling, whether it be walking, on a motorbike, tuk tuk or car, be sure to hold on tight to your belongings, as the thieves are sly and quick. However, don’t let this deter you from visiting, as there are many beautiful and important historical attractions waiting. The list below can be fitted in around trips to the Russian Market, a walk along the riverside and breaks in the many eateries that Phnom Penh has to offer.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum –Also known as ‘S21’, this museum was formerly a school. It was converted into a prison between 1975 and 1979, when the Khmer Rouge took control over Cambodia. The buildings were enclosed with barbed wire, the classrooms were converted into torture chambers, and an estimated 20,000 Cambodians and foreigners were tortured and/or killed in less than four years.
Although it is not for the faint hearted, this museum really is important to see in order to understand more of the horrific past, and just how far Cambodia has developed, though the scars still remain.
Cost: $3USD or $6USD for an audio tour (recommended)
Choeung Ek – Commonly known as ‘The Killing Fields’, this site is a mass grave of victims from the Khmer Rouge. Most of the victims were transported from Tuol Sleng and executed on the site. There is a memorial stupa on the site, filled with more than 5,000 human skulls. There are also pits from which thousands of bodies were exhumed. Just like a visit to S21, you will leave with a heavy heart.
Choeung Ek is approximately 17km from the centre of Phnom Penh, so it is recommended you take a face mask as you will be driving through some dusty areas to get there.
Cost: $6USD which includes an informative audio tour
Wat Langka – Wat Langka is a gorgeous (and clean) pagoda situated close to the Independence Monument in Phnom Penh. The pagoda was used as a storehouse during the Khmer Rouge era and therefore managed to avoid total destruction. It is quiet and peaceful, and the stupas are kept in a great condition. While you are there you can take a walk over to the Independence Monument and the Statue of King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
Cost: Entry is free
National Museum of Cambodia – This is Cambodia’s largest museum of cultural history, and is home to a large collection of Khmer art. There are many statues that have been removed from Cambodian temples, so if you are interested in Angkor Wat, a visit to this museum is a must.
Although photography is not permitted within the museum galleries, you are able to photograph the museum exterior and courtyard.
Wat Ounalom – This is the most significant pagoda in Phnom Penh. Located close to the riverside, it is easy to get to and can be accompanied by a visit to the Royal Palace. Dating back to 1443, it consists of 44 structures. It was damaged during the Khmer Rouge but has since been restored.
Cost: Entry is free, though you may want to bring some small riel to make an offering.
Wat Phnom - Situated on top of a small mountain, Wat Phnom stands approximately 88 metres above ground and is the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh. Legend has it had a widow found four bronze statues of the Buddha in a tree in the river, then constructed the shrine on the hill to protect the sacred statues. Hence, Wat Phnom was born.
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