Known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’ in the past, the capital of Cambodia is a city full of rich history and culture. Phnom Penh is situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Tonlé Sap and the Mekong, whilst also being the starting point for a third; the Bassac River.
You will be able to visit this beautiful place during many of our Mekong river cruises as you sail through the breathtaking landscapes of Vietnam and Cambodia. But on arrival in this city, which has a name literally meaning ‘Penh’s hill’, how should you fill your short amount of time?
Learn Of The City’s Sobering Past
It may be a rather depressing way to spend your time in such a beautiful part of the world, but learning about the city’s harrowing past is a sobering experience and involve stories that deserve to be told. The best way to do this is to visit both the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Between 1975 and 1979 the Pol Pot-led Khmer Rouge regime committed a stream of atrocities in the name of communism against the people of Phnom Penh and the rest of Cambodia.
In their quest to turn the nation into one which was entirely self-sufficient, they conducted what turned out to be a mass genocide of thousands of men, women and children who were said to be ‘tainted by capitalism’. The Tuol Sleng Museum was previously known as S-21; a school converted into a prison where people were detained and tortured. The moving stories of people who were kept here are told via the use of black and white pictures and documentary footage of some of the very few survivors.
Further to the south, you will find the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. It was here that over 17,000 people were transferred from the S-21 prison in order to be killed and laid in mass graves. Although many of the bodies were later exhumed after Phnom Penh had been liberated, a large number remain as they were and can still be seen today.
Shop At The Vibrant Central Market
The Central Market has stood proudly in Phnom Penh since 1937 and provides the perfect place to search for bargains and souvenirs whilst you are in town. The French designed, art deco building is a sight in itself and features a yellow-domed structure that stands above the city streets. You’ll be able to find a wide range of things here from local handicrafts to classic souvenirs and even antiques. Additionally, a trip to the market is a great chance to practice your haggling.
There are also many different food stalls which offer the chance to try some of the local delicacies available. One of these is known as Kampot pepper crab and is definitely worth a taste if you get the opportunity. A whole crab is either fried or baked and then smothered in a delicious, spicy peppercorn sauce. A further street food favourite is deep-fried tarantula.
Follow In The Footsteps Of Royalty
The Royal Palace, situated at the point where the Tonlé Sap river meets the Mekong, has been the official residence of the Kings of Cambodian since the 1860s. It is a complex that is made up a number of different villas, pagodas, pavilions and palaces; the oldest of which date back to the 19th century. The complex is split into four different sections and covers an area of roughly 44 acres that is almost all accessible to the public.
One of the main attractions within the Royal Palace is the stunning Silver Pagoda which lies in the south quarter of the complex. The building gets its name from the thousands of silver tiles that line the floor, most of which are now covered, but it is perhaps more famous for the glittering statues that lie inside. Crystal and gold Buddha figures grace the halls, with the latter being life-sized and decorated with nearly ten thousand diamonds. The largest of these stones is in fact 25 carats.
Other buildings within the Palace grounds include the Throne Hall, still used for religious ceremonies; the Khemarin Palace, where the King himself lives; and the open-air stage of the Moonlight Pavilion.
If you would like to visit the vibrant city of Phnom Penh for yourself then we have a range of exciting Vietnam and Cambodia river cruises for you to choose from. Call Fred.\ River Cruises today for more information or submit your enquiry online.