A legend has it that the city of Phnom Penh was founded when an old woman named Penh discovered four images of Buddha that had come to rest on the banks of the Mekong River. She housed them on a nearby hill and the town that grew up here came to be known as Phnom Penh or the “Hill of Penh”.
At times beautiful and charming, at times chaotic and unattractive. Phnom Penh is a city of contrasts indeed. Extreme poverty and traces of the shocking past tragedy are not unnoticeable. On the other hand, the town centre presents extraordinary architecture; monumental temples, golden pagodas, colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards manifest the fact that this place was once known as the “Jewel of Indochina”.
These days, Phnom Penh is a mixture of strong religious tradition, cultural heritage and a fast-growing modernity with quite a unique atmosphere and rare things to see. The famous Khmer hospitality, Buddhist culture, blended with French legacy of cafes and patisseries awaits the visitors of the capital city of Cambodia.
SELF GUIDED WALKING TOUR (SIGHTSEEING)
Phnom Penh is a pretty compact city and it is easy to walk around with a map in your hand. Explore the town centre at a slow pace. During such an on foot-tour, you will notice little details which would be otherwise left overlooked.
Begin your day with an early morning walk along the Tonle Sap River starting at the legendary Wat Phnom temple and heading down to the south, towards the Royal Palace. Enjoy the bustling atmosphere of the central riverfront and stop for breakfast at one of the numerous cafes and French bakeries on the way. Visit the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda which is an awe-inspiring temple with jewelled Buddhas. These two attractions are absolute MUST-see. If you are not too tired pop in and see the National Museum and learn about the Khmer culture and history.
Remember to wear appropriate clothes that cover your arms and legs when seeing the temples and pagodas or you will not be allowed to enter (scarfs and sarongs are not accepted)
CITY CYCLO TOUR BY NIGHT
Hire a Cyclo to see the night face of Phnom Penh. You will get a rare opportunity to discover the backstreets of the city from a safe place for a little money. Ask your driver to slow down or stop on the way to take some photos and if you are lucky and he speaks English you might get a free commentary on the features and history of the city.
BAGGING BARGAINS AT THE MARKETS
This is a great activity to do for the shopping lovers. There is surely no lack of markets in Phnom Penh and the most popular ones are probably the Nigh Market, the Central Market, and the most visited Russian Market. It is the place where (mainly Russian) tourists like to shop for souvenirs, handicrafts, wood carvings, silk, and jewellery.
CRUISING THE MEKONG AT SUNSET
Spoil yourself with the 2-3 hour long romantic sunset dinner cruise on the iconic Mekong River. You will get a chance to see the city from a different angle, try the fabulous local gastronomy and experience truly unforgettable moments. Well recommended!
TOUL SLENG GENOCIDE MUSEUM AND CHOEUNG EK KILLING FIELDS
Once you have feasted your eyes with all the splendour of the city, the historical path will lead you to the downside of Phnom Penh. Visiting the Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields is a grim but an essential experience for understanding how far Cambodia has come in the intervening years.
The Toul Sleng Museum, a school converted into a prison camp, is a savage reminder of Cambodian tragic past and If one does not burst in tears, the place definitely gives them goosebumps at least.
The Killing fields is a place where prisoners were taken to be drastically executed and buried in mass graves during the Khmer Rounge era. (see KILLING CAMBODIA)
You can easily see both places in one day unless you get too overwhelmed. The killing fields are out of the city so you will need to hire a tuk-tuk (Best time is in the morning before it gets too hot). The driver will wait for you until you are finished and bring you to the museum in the afternoon. It is located in the town centre so you can just walk back to your hotel. Remember to pack enough tissues too…
WHEN TO TRAVEL
Most travellers visit Cambodia between November and March, during the dry season. However, If you want to avoid the crowds and get better prices, the best time is from May to early October. You might catch some more rain in these months but the temperatures will be quite pleasant.
HOW TO GET THERE
Fly to Phnom Penh
For all international flights check out www.skyscanner.com or www.momondo.com
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