Things to Do in Phnom Penh
Catch a performance of the Royal Dance Troupe at the open-air theater in the coronation hall or linger near the balcony, where the current king has been known to make an appearance. The private residence, built in 1866, houses an impressive collection of artwork, and the multi-purpose house of the white elephant, just outside the palace walls, is used for royal births, deaths and weddings. The current king may live in this well-known palace, but visitors can still tour most of its grounds.
A trip to this historic spot just 15 kilometers south of Phnom Penh is not for the faint of heart. Known as The Killing fields, some one million Cambodians were murdered here by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. Nearly 9,000 bodies have been discovered—including former prisoners from Tuol Sleng.
A Buddhist stupa marks the memorial, and visitors can gaze through its clear walls at some 5,000 human skulls—all victims of the bloody regime. Dozens of mass graves are visible and it is not uncommon for travelers to find human bones, teeth or discarded clothing here—particularly after heavy rains—as a large number of people are still buried in shallow graves.
The National Museum is home to one of the largest collections of Khmer art in the world. Well-kept galleries display choice artifacts that pay homage to Hinduism and Buddhism. Even daily objects, like household utensils, and items used in religious ceremonies are on display. Works in the museum, which opened in 1920, are divided into four categories: stone, metal, wood and ceramics. Be sure to check out the bronze standing adorn Buddha, as well as ceramics dating as far back as the Neolithic period.
This giant yellow dome first opened in 1937, and today, more than 70 years later, the Central Market is remains a destination for first-time visitors to Cambodia’s capital city. Here, travelers can wander through hundreds of stalls selling bargain goods, antique coins, clothing, clocks, fabric, shoes, food and traditional souvenirs. A popular spot, heavy rains can flood the grounds, so it’s a better bet in drier seasons.
A 60-foot (20-meter) tall Angkor-style monument built in 1958, the Independence Monument was constructed to commemorate the Cambodians winning back their independence from the French in 1953. Renowned Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann designed the monument; the architecture is patterned after a lotus flower and adorned with five levels of Naga heads, which gives it a very distinctive look. Located in the heart of busy Phnom Penh, the Independence Monument attracts many visitors, not only for its unique architecture, but also for its location: it’s in the middle of a busy intersection and the eastern side features a large, open park that is a popular spot for locals to gather and jog or practice tai chi and aerobics.
More Things to Do in Phnom Penh
Kandal Market, or Phsar Kandal in Khmer, is the “market in the middle,” or “central market” (not to be confused with the other, major Central Market in Phnom Penh). Though Kandal Market does sell goods such as clothes, shoes, bags and jewelry, it’s primarily known as the food market for locals.
There’s no better way to get a real sense of place than by visiting a local market; take a trip to Kandal and immerse yourself in the colors, textures, smells and tastes of Cambodia. From fresh veggies stacked high to jewel-like displays of local fruits (many of which are unrecognizable to westerners) to the large selection of fresh seafood, fish and meat—some of which is still moving—the market can be almost overwhelming to the senses. Fight the slightly claustrophobic feeling and slowly wander the stalls. The men and women who wait patiently for customers will often let you sample fruits and veggies; taste something that looks unfamiliar.
Built in the late 1970s, the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument is a statue located in a large reflecting pool that stands in honor of the former alliance between Cambodia and Vietnam. Located at the Botum Park near the center of Phnom Penh, not far from the Royal Palace, the monument is an interesting piece of history as it was built by the Communist regime that took power after the Cambodian-Vietnamese War and overthrew the leadership of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was the ruling party that caused the atrocities that can be witnessed at Tuol Sleng Prison and the Killing Fields.
Featuring statues of Vietnamese and Cambodian soldiers, along with a woman and baby representing Cambodian civilians, in the "Socialist realist" style developed in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, the monument is situated in a popular park in the middle of the city.
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