Phnom Pehn is Cambodia’s busy capital which is full of incredible and horrific history. It’s a wonderful place to start your Cambodian adventure and learn more about the Cambodian genocide before the rest of your travels around the country. There is a thriving street-food scene along with many things to see but here’s a pick of the best things to do in Phnom Penh.
Pay your respects at Choeung Ek (The killing fields)
I would highly recommend starting your visit to Phnom Pehn by hiring a rickshaw driver for the day and visiting Choeung Ek. This was the mass grave of the victims who were killed during the Khmer Rouge, which happened between 1975 and 1979. Over 17,000 men, woman and children who were kept and tortured at the S-21 prison were brought here to their death. It’s not an easy place to be but it is important to visit to learn more about the horrific history of Cambodia. It was estimated that 1/3rd of the population was murdered during the genocide. While walking around Choeung Ek you will still see bone fragments and cloth from during that time so always keep to the paths. You will also see a memorial with over 600 skulls of the victims displayed. The skulls are colour coded by sex. You will also see the weapons that the Khmer Rouge used to commit the mass murders.
*Please be respectful when coming here. During my visit about 6 young guys came in drinking, smoking and overall being incredibly disrespectful to all Cambodians, it was so embarrassing.
Learn about Cambodia’s history at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
If you hire a driver for the day they will likely also take you to the S-21 prison, or also known as Tuol Sleng. Here you will see how the victims were kept captured and tortured. You will hear stories via an audio guide of the experiences that these people had to go through. When visiting the rooms, you will still see blood stained walls and floors. You should take your time to hear all the stories. I would even recommend doing this the day after Choeung Ek as it can become a long day and its best to come here fresh to really take it all in.
Marvel at The Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is a beautiful piece of architecture. There are several buildings to explore and see for yourself but the main palace you cannot enter so you have to marvel from the outside. You get to go close and look through the windows to get a sneak peek into the luxurious palace. If you visit on a Sunday, you will see the locals from the countryside coming to pay their respects.
Check out Wat Phnom
Located near the river is Wat Phnom. which is a Buddhist temple that was built in 1372. This is the tallest religious building in Phnom Penh as it stands over 27 meters above the ground. Many of the locals come here to pray for good luck and to give their offering of usually jasmine flowers or bananas.
Visit the night markets
Phnom Penh has a thriving market scene especially the night markets. You can grab some great deals on clothing and knickknacks too. You will also see many delicious food stands all surrounding mats to eat on. I can highly recommend the coconut ice cream! You can grab dinner here for super cheap. There are also performances on sometimes, so I highly recommend coming here and checking it out. Note that the mats are assigned to the different stalls so don’t do what we did and cluelessly sit down on a random mat and get kicked off instantly. We had to move serval times before figuring that out.
Spend the evening trying all the street food sweets
Aligning the streets are many little street food stalls. I had the most delicious chocolate filled pancake doughnut along with crepes filled with orange peel and a sort of marshmallow paste. If you have a sweet tooth, then don’t be scared to get out there and try some of the delicious little desserts from the street sellers.
Where to stay?
Base Villa – This is where I stayed in Phnom Penh. The staff were friendly, the food was good, and they also offered tours for the killing fields and the museum for an affordable price. There is also a swimming pool here so it’s great if you want to cool off and escape the city chaos.
Travelling to Siem Reap? Don’t forget to check out my recommendations on what temples you should most definitely visit.
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