Phnom Penh has been Cambodia’s capital city since 1866, and it continues to be its economic and political hub. Since the Vietnam War, when the Khmer Rouge forced the evacuation of the city, Phnom Penh has been rebuilt and restored with beautiful Cambodian Buddhist temples, gardens and French colonial villas set amidst a modern backdrop of cosmopolitan restaurants, hotels, and night life.
Phnom Penh is also a frequent point of departure to other Cambodia tourism attractions including the temples of Angkor Wat to the west, Angkor Wat's "gateway", the city of Siem Reap and the beaches of Sihanoukville to the south west.
Phnom Penh City Attractions
Tuol Sleng Museum
Once a Khmer Rouge torture and interrogation facility, the Tuol Sleng Museum was established in 1979 and includes the detailed photographic evidence of this tragic period in Cambodia’s history, when an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned and executed by the Khmer Rouge.
Choeung Ek Execution Area
A memorial “stupa,” built in 1988 on one of the many Khmer Rouge execution fields, includes the skulls of over 8,000 victims of Khmer executions, with many more unexcavated in a remaining 43 pits at Choeung Ek. Every year in May, a memorial service is conducted at the stupa, in memory of the estimated 1.7 million people who died during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace includes the Khmer-style Throne Hall, still used for special ceremonial occasions, and the Royal Treasury and the Villa of Napoleon III, built in Egypt in 1866, and given to the Cambodian king as a gift from the French. The famous Silver Pagoda at the Royal Palace, originally constructed of wood, was enhanced in 1962 by Prince Sihanouk, who had the floor inlaid with 5,329 solid silver tiles, giving the Silver Pagoda its name. The Royal Palace includes many jeweled statues and images, including the Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal, and another Buddha adorned with gold and diamonds.
National Museum of Arts
This museum, north of the Royal Palace, was designed in 1920 by a French architect. It includes many important artifacts and sculptures from the Angkor era and earlier.
Wat Ounalom – Buddhist Temple
The Wat Ounalom temple built in 1443 and enshrining a sacred hair of the Buddha, is considered to be the center of Cambodian Buddhism. When the Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh in 1975, they vandalized the building and murdered the Abbot at the temple, along with many of the 500 monks who were in residence there.