Art Deco buildings standing in the shadows of ever-rising skyscrapers and vintage cyclos cruising alongside imported European sports cars, these are among the striking contrasts of Phnom Penh, the national capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia where Buddhist temples, French colonial villas and the Royal Palace provide photogenic backdrop to international business and a new generation of boutique hotels, chic shopping and cosmopolitan nightlife.
An important stop for our guests wishing to tour the impressive collection of ancient Khmer artifacts from Angkor Wat preserved inside the National Museum and for those seeking insight into the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era, Phnom Penh also serves as the gateway to other Cambodia tourism attractions including the stone temples of Angkor Wat, the thriving contemporary cultural scene in Siem Reap and the palm fringed beaches of Sihanoukville along the southern coast.
Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide
Known as Khmer Rouge Security Prison S-21 during Pol Pot’s genocidal rule from 1975-1979, today the Tuol Sleng Museum reveals with extensive photographic evidence the truths of this notorious torture and interrogation facility from which only seven inmates survived of the estimated 30,000 people imprisoned here.
Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields)
A pleasant 25-minute drive from Phnom Penh leads to this haunting memorial that is in fact only one of many Khmer Rouge mass graves. A Buddhist stupa, or shrine, now holds the skulls and bones of around 8,000 of the more than 17,000 men, women and children brutally executed here, most of whom first suffered through interrogation, torture and deprivation inside S-21 Prison (now the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum) in Phnom Penh. More bones remain buried in the surrounding countryside. Each year in May, a memorial service conducted at the stupa honors the estimated 1.7 million people killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Built in 1866 by King Norodom in the traditional Khmer wing-tipped and gilded style, the Royal Palace is now home to His Majesty Norodom Sihamoni, King of Cambodia. Its grounds open to the public, the Royal Palace includes the cross-shaped, three spire topped Throne Hall that is still used for coronations and other special ceremonial occasions, the Moonlight Pavilion for classical Khmer apsara dancing and the incongruous Villa of Napoleon III, European in style and built of cast iron in Egypt in 1866 then gifted to the Cambodian king by the French king.
The Silver Pagoda is the royal compound’s most famous attraction. Originally constructed of wood, this vihara, or sacred Buddhist dwelling, was enhanced in 1962 by Prince Sihanouk, who ordered the floor inlaid with 5,329 genuine silver tiles. Today the pavilion houses many jeweled statues and images, including the 17th century Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal, and a life size gold Maitreya Buddha adorned 9,584 diamonds, the largest weighing 25 carats.
National Museum of Cambodia
Designed in 1920 by French architects and situated next to the Royal Palace, the National Museum houses the world’s largest collection of Khmer art, removed from Angkor Wat to prevent looting. Here one can linger among the linga, representations of the Hindu deity Shiva, and thousands of other artifacts including an imposing 11th century bronze sculpture of a reclining Vishnu that is considered a monumental example of Khmer statuary.
Contact us to arrange a city tour of Phnom Penh.