One of my roommates lived in Phnom Penh for almost 2 years and adores the city. However, as a tourist, I can’t say it’s immensely exciting… The city does have many temples a few museums, plenty of cafés, restaurants and French bakeries, but « the beauty that made it a ‘Paris of the East’ before 1970 is now hidden beneath modern day Cambodia, where the wide boulevards and promenades envisaged by the French are mostly used as parking spaces and market stalls.«
I guess Phnom Penh is were Cambodia’s recent History lives the most, as the main tourists sites are directly linked with its dark past.
Once we had found a tuk tuk to bring us around for the day, off we were to discover what is described by many tourists like gut grabbing, tears making experience. The Prison s-21 and the Killing fields. As you may know, or not actually, “the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge, ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and was responsible for one of the worst mass killings of the 20th Century, claiming the lives of up to two million people.
Their Marxist leader Pol Pot, declared that the nation would start again at « Year Zero », isolating the people from the rest of the world by emptying the cities, abolishing money, private property and religion, and setting up rural collectives. Anyone thought to be an intellectual of any sort was killed. Often people were condemned just for wearing glasses (sign of intelligence). Hundreds of thousands of the educated middle-classes were tortured and executed in special centres all over the country. The most notorious of these centres was the S-21 jail in Phnom Penh, Tuol Sleng, where as many as 17,000 men, women and children were imprisoned and killed” > Read more.
The atmosphere there is pretty powerful and the history of it quite sad. Same story waited for us next as we headed to another museum of horror, illustrating the violence of that regime, the Killing fields.
The name is pretty explanatory. These fields were actually camps where masses of people were brought to be killed in the most violent and the cheapest way possible. The Khmer didn’t want to spend money on guns and bullets and they also didn’t want gun shots to be heard, so they dug pits, force the people to kneel and… This place reminds one that it happened not that long ago, as the earth is still giving back bones and shreds of clothes, as if she was throwing them up out of discuss. What is today a huge graveyard, also hosts a huge column of thousands of skulls they found when it all finally stopped. Very impressive and very sad of course.
Later that night we headed to the Phnom Penh Night Market (Psar Reatrey), an absolute must to in Phnom Phen ! It gathers locals and foreigners, around a large choice of great food, sugar cane juice (must try), touristy souvenir stuff and we were lucky enough to have some sort of concert happening. Apparently, they were playing famous Cambodian hits, because it was full of young Cambodians dancing, so we joined in and expectedly everyone was looking at us, dancing with us, it was great! Having diner there is also quite the experience. The food stands are in a spare set up and in the middle, a very large space with loads of carpets to sit down on and eat. Didn’t see that anywhere else. It was really cool!! > See video.
Very methodically, on the second day, went to
- Wat Phnom
- the Royale Palace
- the Silver Pagoda
- walked in front of the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship monument
- the National Museum of Cambodia
⇒ Where to stay:
Phnom Phen Mad monkey Hostels was nice. Nice pool, big rooms, party hostel, which was perfect. Great staff, great set up, even though a bit expensive, but they did have their own bar. That hostel really knows how to work the brand and make you go to each one of the Mad Monkeys over Cambodia, because they make you win prises if you go to all, or if you stamp the number of beers you drink, etc. Great concept!
⇒ Get there and away:
From Phnom Phen, you can go more or less anywhere: Siem Riep, Sihanoukville, Kampot
⇒ More useful links for Phnom Penh:
- Hotels.com – to do, to stay
- TripinAsia – Blog
- Travel Fish – Blog
- Nomadic Matt – Blog (to do, prices)
- Wikitravel – Travel App
- Triposo – Travel App