Sitting at the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers, Phnom Penh has always been considered one of the nicest and most atmospheric of all the French-influenced cities in Indo-China. Despite the darker days of the Pol Pot era, the city has transformed itself into a thriving economic centre along with many boutique shops, art galleries and restaurants, yet it still manages to retain its old world charm with beautiful ornate palaces, bustling markets, tree-lined boulevards and handsome colonial architecture.
- Reflect on darker days at the Genocide Museum and Killing Fields
- Cruise along the Mighty Mekong River into Vietnam
- Shop for bargains in the markets
- Explore the ornate temples, tree-lined boulevards and colonial architecture
The city also retains a rich cultural legacy with sites including the National Museum, Royal Palace, and Silver Pagoda. Overlooking the river and set on the old site of the former citadel, Banteay Kev, the Royal Palace is a striking building, similar to its namesake in Bangkok. A significant amount of the contents of the Silver Pagoda were destroyed by the Pol Pot regime, but this wonderful pagoda, so named due to the thousands of silver floor tiles, houses some exquisite treasures such as the Emerald Buddha and Gold Buddha. The National Museum is set around pretty garden courtyards and houses the finest collection of Khmer sculpture in the world.
For those keen to get a good understanding of the country’s recent troubled history, then a visit to the Tuol Sleng Prison is a must. Also known as S-21, this former school became a torture centre for the regime and has now been preserved as a museum. Also on the outskirts of Phnom Penh are the Killing Fields, an area where many thousands of men, women and children were murdered and dumped in mass graves – a sobering reminder of the Khmer Rouge’s extreme brutality.
Despite this savage slice of recent history, the city is a delight to visit and its nickname of ‘The Pearl of Asia’ is well-earned.