Time has flown by since I left Malaysia and it was now time to leave Vietnam and head on to Cambodia. To get there, I opted for the relatively stress-free option of taking the cross-border Mekong Express bus from central Saigon to Phnom Penh, a c.7 hour ride.
Having had my fill of big city life in Saigon, my plan was to spend just one full day in Phnom Penh, before escaping to the quiet, rural town of Kampot. With lots of sights and attractions to see, spread out throughout wider Phnom Penh, the most efficient way of playing tourist was to hire a tuktuk driver for the day. I paid USD18 for mine, though I daresay you might be able to get one for slightly less depending on how good your bargaining skills are!
Here are the attractions of Phnom Penh in one day.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The start of the day was a grim one, with my first stop being the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A former school before the rule of the Khmer Rouge, this site, also known as S-21, was converted into an office designated for the detention, interrogation, torture and killing of prisoners (most of whom had done nothing wrong). Today, the site hosts displays of historic photographs, torture tools, exhibits of prisoner documentation and information on the key figures of the Khmer Rouge. The tiny prisoner cells can also be seen in one of the ex-school blocks. Though deeply unpleasant, I felt that this museum was a necessary stop in understanding the Cambodian war and Khmer Rouge history.
Choeung Ek Memorial (the Killing Field)
Again, not the most pleasant of attractions but a “must see”. “Killing fields” (places of execution and subsequent dumping ground for bodies) are scattered all across Cambodia, though the Choeung Ek site is one of the most infamous. Around 17,000 men, women and children (a lot of whom were sent over after suffering through torturous conditions in Tuol Sleng) were executed here using some very brutal methods. This area has since been converted into a memorial site, where the mass graves can be viewed and the remains of hundreds of victims have been stored in a memorial stupa. Be sure to pay for the audio guide if you visit as I found it to be extremely educational and interesting.
As you head back to the centre of Phnom Penh, be sure to stop by the Russian Market, a sprawling indoor market filled with souvenirs, fabrics, bags and pirated DVDs. The market got its name from the 80’s when it was the market of choice for the vast number of Russian visitors at that time.
The other famous market in Phnom Penh is the Central Market. A visit to this market would be more for the distinctive Art Deco building (which looks very out of place in the city!) rather than to do any actual shopping as the prices here are very high.
This monument was erected to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from foreign rule. It now also serves as a memorial to Cambodia’s war dead. There’s no stopping here, so this is one to just pass by as you head from the Russian Market to the Central Market.
Located on a small hill, this temple marks the founding place of Phnom Penh. “Phnom” means hill, and “Penh” was the name of the Lady who founded the city (Yea Penh)! The temple which has since been constructed is worth a visit (entrance fee USD1).
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Located in the heart of the city, the Royal Palace is pretty hard to miss. The palace grounds are walled off from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the city by distinctive long, yellow walls, meaning that only the spires and roofs of the various building housed within the complex can be seen from the outside. The Royal Palace is the residence of the King and a symbol of the Kingdom.
Also set within the palace grounds is the Silver Pagoda, so named for its silver tiled floor. This pagoda houses numerous pricless Buddhist artefacts (including the Emerald Buddha).
Tonle Sap Riverfront
After exiting from the palace grounds, take a stroll along the Tonle Sap riverfront, as you decide on which restaurant or cafe you want to stop by for a drink after a long day of sightseeing! There always seems to be something going on by the river, so this walk is also a good one to do just to check out local life in action.
Located on the riverfront, this night bazaar is not a traditional market, catering instead to tourists. The stalls here sell mostly clothes and souvenirs, though there are also a good number of food stalls near the back of the market. The market opens from around 5pm every weekend and on most weekdays.