Phnom Penh (ភ្នំពេញ), the capital of Cambodia (កម្ពុជា), is developing at a rapid pace. With the help of Chinese investors, the city hopes to compete in the future with cities such as Ho Chi Minh City and Bangkok. But then a lot has to be done. For tourists, Phnom Penh is especially nice for a short stopover, but if possible, they leave quickly to explore the country. A pity, because this city has a number of interesting attractions, where you get to know the recent and sad history of the country. Curious about the highlights of this fast growing capital? You can read more about it in this Phnom Penh Travel Guide.
What would you like to know about Phnom Penh, Cambodia?
- History – 5 historical facts – Did you know…?
- Sightseeing – What to do in Phnom Penh?
- Accommodation – Where to stay?
- Transport – How to get there?
5 historical facts – Did you know…?
- According to one myth, Phnom Penh was founded in 1372 when a wealthy widow named Daun Penh found 4 Buddha statues in a tree? She took these images to her house on the hill (phnom) and built a temple on them.
- Phnom Penh became the new capital of the Khmer Empire in 1434? However, from 1505 to 1866 this city was largely deserted and had no significant function in Cambodian politics.
- King Norodom I (1860-1904) settled in the city in 1866, making Phnom Penh the most important place in the country?
- At the beginning of the 20th century Phnom Penh was called the Pearl of Asia? The reason for this was its growing prosperity and the construction of a railway line to Sihanoukville.
- When the Khmer Rouge came to power on 17 April 1975, the city was evacuated and people were forced to farm.
Sightseeing – What to do in Phnom Penh?
How many days do you need to explore the city? Most people opt for 2 full days and in my opinion that is enough. You will spend one day alone to visit two sites related to the Khmer Rouge. This party, which was led by Pol Pot, ruled the country from 1975 to 1979 and has left deep traces in the country. It is estimated that a quarter of the then 8 million population was tortured and murdered, including in Tuol Sleng prison.
Tuol Sleng (ទួលស្លែង): This prison in an old school building in the capital is now a museum. Here you can learn about the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime. An estimated 20,000 people were imprisoned here and tortured inhumanely, sometimes to death. Others were taken to Choeung Ek, or the Killing Fields.
Killing Fields (វាលពិឃាត): 15 km outside of the capital yo can find Choeung Ek, also known as one of the Killing Fields. Here, people were killed in gruesome ways. By means of an audio-guide (in Dutch!), you get an explanation of this place and I can say, it makes a huge impression on you. Through the Facebook group Inside Cambodia, you can make an appeal to discover both locations with other people. You can also find some suitable tuktuk drivers who can take you there.
Royal Palace (ព្រះបរមរាជវាំង): This is the presidential palace of the king of Cambodia. It was built in 1860 and has typical Khmer architecture. The palace is located on the Tonle Sap River at the junction where it meets the Mekong River. During a visit you cannot go into the palace, but rather explore the grounds and gardens.
National Museum of Cambodia (សារមន្ទីរជាតិ): Near the Royal Palace you will find this museum. If you have time to spare, this can be an interesting place. Here you will find mainly objects from the Khmer period (900-1500), some of which you will also find in the temple complex of Angkor Wat.
Accommodation – Where to stay in Phnom Penh?
The best place to stay is near the Tonle Sap and Mekong River. The centre of the city is the area around the Royal Palace and here you will find a lot of nice restaurants and cafes. I stayed in the Maya Papaya Café & Hostel (One Stop). The beds were good, the service of the staff was good and for the rest of the trip through Cambodia, they could arrange transport and pick-up, although this was on the pricey side in my opinion.
Transport – How to get to Phnom Penh?
The airport of the city is called Phnom Penh International Airport. There are no direct scheduled flights from the Netherlands to the city, only with a change in, for example, Qatar or Bangkok. The best means of transport in the city is the bus or Tuktuk. There is a train connection to Sihanoukville and Battambang, but this one runs sporadically. It is best to take the bus or minibus.
Next destination in Cambodia?
The capital Phnom Penh is centrally located in Cambodia. You can go south for the nice places Kep and Kampot or you can go further towards Sihanoukville and the tropical islands. To the east go to the undiscovered Sen Monorom and to the north go to Kratie and Laos. To the north-west, head towards Siem Reap and the beautiful temples of Angkor Wat.
Do you have more great ideas, tips or comments for this Phnom Penh Travel Guide? Then feel free to leave a message below!