When we were researching our trip, people I spoke to about Phnom Penh all seemed to say the same, that the Killing Fields are about all there is to see. But while these are important sites to visit and therefore listed first in this post, Phnom Penh is far more than just the legacy left by the Khmer Rouge.
S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields
It feels strange listing this under the title of “Highlights”, but the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, perhaps better known as S-21 Prison and the Killing Fields, are key sites to see in Phnom Penh. The atrocities that took place under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s are laid bare, and paying our respects was a must for us during our time in the city. I’ve written a separate blog post about the two museums here.
The Royal Palace
The royal residence of the King of Cambodia is as grand as you would expect, with a stunning throne hall at its centre. The grounds and buildings are open to tourists for a fee between 8am and 5pm, where you can see the throne room itself with its rows of glittering chandeliers. You can also see the Silver Pagoda, which houses a green crystal Buddha, and is lined with silver tiles, a small section of which are visible at the entrance to the pagoda.
The National Museum of Cambodia
This beautiful red building with a tranquil courtyard garden houses an impressive collection of Khmer art and sculpture. The museum collection includes a number of pieces from Angkor, which were really interesting to see ahead of our visit to Siem Reap and Angkor itself.
Not far from the Royal Palace and the National Museum of Cambodia is Wat Ounalom. The temple complex has some really beautiful buildings and an impressive golden stupa.
Located in the middle of a busy roundabout just north of the Royal Palace, the grounds of Wat Phnom are actually more peaceful than you would expect. The temple itself sits atop a tall mound in amongst the trees. I loved the main prayer room which has really beautiful paintings lining the walls and ceiling.
Phnom Penh Night Market
This market near the river on Preah Sisowath Quay mainly sells clothes with a few stalls offering souvenirs or more tourist-geared goods, but it’s a great place to get some food. There’s a large area of mats laid out surrounded by food stalls where you can get skewers, dumplings, noodles, fried rice and more. The mats are generally reserved for customers of the neighbouring food stalls so it doesn’t get overcrowded and is a really nice place to enjoy some great food and a lively atmosphere. We tried some sugarcane juice for the first time which was sweet as you’d expect, but surprisingly refreshing. The soft-serve ice cream in a coconut bowl with pieces of fresh coconut was the perfect pudding.
So whilst I wouldn’t necessarily suggest spending a whole week in Phnom Penh, there’s more than just the Killing Fields to see as Cambodia moves on from its past.