Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh
- Phnom Penh
- Phnom Penh Points of Interest

Phnom Penh

- History of Phnom Penh
The establishment of Phnom Penh as the capital of Cambodia is, historically speaking a retatively recent event. Yet the area has been central to Cambodia's economy and politics for almost 600 years. After King Ponhea Yat abandoned Angkor in 1422, he founded his new capital and five wats at Phnom Penh. The choice of the area at the confluence of two great rivers may have reflected a shift from an agrarian to a trade oriented ecomomy. Later kings moved the capital several times, and Phnom Penh did not become the permanent seat of government until 1866. At the time, the city was little more than a few huts lining the river. Beginning with earnest in the 1880s, French planners built canals to control the wetlands, and constructed roads, buildings and a port. By the 1920s, Phnom Penh was reputed to be the most beautiful city in Indochina. After Cambodia gained independence in 1953 there was a spurt of construction of modern buildings in a much more Cambodian style, but most development ended with the coup of 1970. As the war between the Khmer Rouge and the republican government spread, the city was laid to siege. On April 17. 1975, Phnom Penh fell to Khmer Rouge and was completely evacuated. It remained almost empty until the Khmer Rouge defeat in 1979. People began to return to Phnom Penh and rebuild almost immediately. After the 1993 UN sponsored elections, tourism and commercial investment returned to Cambodia and Phnom Penh, bringing a boom of development in the city that continues today.  

Phnom Penh Points of Interest

- Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields)

(15km southwest of Phnom penh - Take Monireth 8.5km past the bridge at street 271)
From 1975-1979 the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, controlled Cambodia. During their short resign, between one million and two and a half million Cambodians perished, some killed outright, others dying from disease, malnutrition and mistreatment. Many of the dead ended up in 'killing fields' that can be found across the country. The memorial at Choeung Ek just outside Phnom Penh was an orchard and a Chinese cemetery prior to 1975. During the Khmer Rouge regime it became one of the killing fields - this one is the site of brutal executions of more than 17,000 individuals, most of whom first suffered through interrogation, torture and deprivation in Toul Sleng Prison(S-21) in Phnom Penh. Choeung Ek is now a group of mass graves and a memorial stupa containing thousands of skulls. It's about a 20-40 minute drive from the center of Phnom Penh. There are guides available at the site, and a small souvenir shop. Combine a trip to Choeung Ek with a visit to Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. 

- Independence Monument

The independence Monument (vimean Ekreach) was inaugurated in 1958 to celebrate Cambodia's independence from foreign rule. It was designed by the renowned architect, Vann Molyvann. The monument now also serves as a monument to Cambodia's war dead. It is the site of celebrations and services on holidays such as Independence Day and Constitution Day. Trespassing onto the monument is illegal (sometimes). The best view is from across the street anyway.

- National Museum
(Street 178 & street 13, next to the Royal Palace -$3.00-8:00-5:00, open everyday)
The distinctive rust-red National Museum next to the Royal Palace was dedicated by King Sisowath in 1920. Over 5000 objects are on display including Angkorian era statues, lingas and other artifacts. Though the emphasis is on Angkorian artifacts, there is also a good collection of pieces from later periods. Visiting the museum after rather than before a trip to Angkor helps lend context to the Angkorian artifacts. Tour guides are available. Souvenirs and books are available. Photography is limited. Some guidebooks still mention the museum bats that inhabited the rafters, unseen in the day but occasionally spectacular as the let in droves at sunset. In March 2002 the bat left for good, moving on after renovations to the ceiling. 

- Pagoda
In Phnom penh, you are never outside walking distance of a pagoda. Visitors are almost always welcome. Ray Zepp's A Field Guide to Cambodian Pagodas is an excellence introduction to Phnom Penh's pagodas and Cambodian Buddhism.

- Wat Botum, it is the one of the city's original wats, it was founded in 1422 by King Ponhea yat. It took its current name in 1865 and its present structure in 1937. Of photographic note: The wat compound is crowded with ornate stupas. Just northwest of the intersection of Sothearos and Sihanouk.

- Wat Langka is one Phnom Penh's five original wats (1422). First established as a sanctuary for the holy Writings and a meeting place for Cambodian and Sri Lankan monks, the Wat was name is honor of these meetings. Just southwest of the independence Monument.

- Wat Ounalom is another of Phnom Penh's five original monasteries (1422). Until 1999, it housed the Institute Bouddhique and library. On the riverfront about 250 meters north of the National Museum.

- River Cruise
Small tourist boats can be found along the riverfront north of street 178. they offer 1-2 hour cruises along the river in front of the Royal Palace. The view of the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap is geographically unique. Early risers, check out the spectacular sunrise over the river in front of the Royal Palace. 

- Royal Palace and 'Silver Pagoda'
(sothearos between streets 240 & 184 - $3.00/person, $2.00/camera, $5.00 video cam, Open everyday 7:30-11:00/2:30-5:00)
The palace building and silver pagoda are located within the same walled grounds on Sothearos just off the riverfront. Marking the approach, the high yellow wall and spired Chan Chanya Pavillon are the most prominent features from the street. The Royal Palace was build in 1866 under the French protect and King Norodom, though many of the buildings in complex were added over the following decades.

- The 'Silver Pagoda' (Wat Preah Keo Morokat) is the city's most often visited pagoda because of its display of priceless historical objects. It draws its name from the over 5000 silver tiles which cover the floor of the vihear. The vihea serves less as a functioning temple than a repository for cultural treasures such as the "Emerald Buddha', innumerable Buddha statues a Royal Litter and other objects. Rarely seen pagodas, turn of the century paintings of the Ramayana epic adorn the outer wall. Fortunetellers ply their trade in the small temple next to the vihea.  

- Toul Sleng Genocide museum (S-21)
(corner of Street 113 & street 350 - $2.00 - Open everyday, including holidays , 8AM - 5PM - Closed for lunch)
Prior to 1975, Toul Sleng was a high school. When the khmer rouge came to power it was converted into the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. Inmates were systematically tortured, sometimes over a period of months, to extract confessions, after which they were executed ate the killing fields of Choeung ek. S-21 processed over a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge regime. Much has been left in the state it was when the Khmer Rouge abandoned it in January 1979. The prison kept extensive records, leaving thousands of photos of their victims, many of which are on display. Paintings of torture at the prison by Vann Nath, a survivor of Toul Sleng, are also on display. The museum's famous and and controversial 'skull map' is no longer on display.

- Traditional Dance and Shadow Puppet Performances
Cambodia has a long and rich tradition of classical dance, also known as 'Apsara dancing'. Though some of the dances are shared with other cultures in the region, the slow and graceful style of Cambodian dance is unique. Sovanna Phum Art Association hosts traditional performances every Friday eveing at 7:30pm - Danc, show puppetry, circuses, music and more. Shadow puppet workshop. Shadow puppets and traditional musical instruments on sale.  

- Traditional Markets (Phsar)
A trip to at least one traditional market (psar) is a must. If you visit only one or two market, both offer curios, souvenirs and a cultural shopping adventure. Other markets such as the Old Market (phsar chas) have far fewer items for tourists but can still be photographically intriguing. The markets open and close with the sun but are fairly sleepy between 11:30AM and 2:00PM.

- Central Market (Phsar Thmei)
This unique, art-deco building is a Phnom Penh landmark. Prior to 1935 the area was a swap/lake that received the runoff during the rainy season. The lake was drained and the market was constructed in 1935-37. Wet season flooding in the area around the market is a vestige of the old lake. The entrance to the market is lined with souvenir merchants hawking everything from T-shirts and postcards to silver curios and karmas. Inside is a dazzling display of jewels and gold. Electronic goods, stationery, secondary clothes and flowers are also in ample supply. (Psar Thmei means 'New Market', but 'Central Market' has caught on in English). 

- Russian market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung)
This market is of far less architectural interest but has a larger and more varied selection of souvenirs, curios and silks than the Central Market. Like the Central Market, it has a good selection of silver, gold and jewels, but also carry of curios, silks, carvings, etc. It also has a good selection of CDs, Videos, fabrics, and electronic goods. Most of the visitor might want is in the same general area on the south side but the rest of the market is well worth exploring.

- Old market (Phsar Chas)

A local market that is not at all geared to the tourists, It carries such items as fruits and vegetables, second hand clothes, hardware, motorcycle parts and religious items. The dinner rush hour makes for confusing dirty, potentially photogenic scene.   

- Wat Phnom
(intersection of Street 96 and Norodom Blvd. - $1/person)
A small hill crowned by an active wat(pagoda) marks the legendary founding place of the phnom penh. The hill is the site of constant activity, with a steady stream of the faithful trkking to the vihea, shrines and fortune tellers on top, and a constellation of vendors, Visitors and motodups at the bottom. Elephant rides available. The legend of the founding of Wat Phnom is tied to the beginnings of Phnom Penh. Legend has it that in 1372 Lady Penh (Yea Penh) fished a floating Koki tree out of the river. Inside the tree were four Buddha statues. She built a hill ('phnom' means 'hill')) and a small temple (wat) at what is now the site of what is now known as Wat Phnom. Later, the surrounding area became known after the hill (phnom) and its creator (Penh), hence 'Phnom Penh'. The current temple was last rebuilt in 1926. The large stupa contains the remains of King Ponhea Yat (1405-1467) who moved the Khmer capital from Angkor to Phnom Penh in 1422. Look for the altar of Lady Penh between the large stupa and the vihear. She is said to be of particular help to women. Wat Phnom is the buiest pagoda in town the night of Chinese/Vietnamese New Year's Eve.