Phnom Penh is a French-built city, and true to its lineage is one of the most charming cities in this side of Asia. However, it is also distinctly Cambodian, and nothing can show this duality better than the top tourist attractions in Phnom Penh!
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Must-Visit Tourist Attractions in Phnom Penh
One of the most iconic tourist attractions in Phnom Penh, this palace is home to the monarchs of the country. Despite being royal grounds, it was built fairly recently, around the 1860s. Before this, the Kings of Cambodia held their court in Angkor. Starting from a wooden palace a little north of the current site, the Royal Palace has evolved into a beautiful mix of Khmer and European architecture spanning several picturesque buildings such as the Silver Pagoda and the Moonlight Pavilion.
Let’s step away from the gilded present and into a more somber past, as we remember the victims of the Khmer Rouge buried at Choeung Ek. The site is a mass grave with more than 8,800 bodies, all of them victims of Pol Pot’s oppressive regime. The memorial is marked by an acrylic stupa with more than 5,000 skulls. A painful reminder is the fact that the bones of the victims can still be found randomly around Choeung Ek.
Cambodia National Museum
Cambodian history is enshrined in this National Museum, with a collection of several thousand artifacts and artworks from the country’s prehistory to the present. It’s just a walking distance from the Royal Palace. Officially opened in 1920, even the museum’s architecture is a stunning work of art.
Tuol Sleng Museum
Just like Choeung Ek, Tuol Sleng Museum commemorates the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. The site was a former prison, where it is said that approximately 20,000 people had been detained. Aside from being a prison, the site also served as a torture and execution spot for political prisoners. Today, the site details the story of the Cambodian genocide from start to finish, in an attempt to prevent it from happening again.
One of the top tourist attractions in Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom is also the tallest religious structure in the area standing at almost 90 feet. This is also the central point of the city. The latest structure was built in the late 1920s. It’s impossible to miss the large bronze Buddha at the center of the altar, surrounded by paintings of the Buddha’s many reincarnations!
Also located near the Royal Palace, this is the center of the Mohanikay Order and also of Cambodian Buddhism. This 44-structure temple is the most important of its kind in Cambodia. First established in 1443, the central attraction of the wat is what is presumed to be an eyebrow hair of the Buddha.
Commemorating Cambodia’s independence from France, this lotus-shaped stupa is located at Norodom boulevard at the city center. It is the center of all national holidays, with a royal or high-ranking official lighting the ceremonial flame in the stupa’s pedestal.
Cambodia’s history may have lent it a bad rap for most people, but try to visit its capital and you will surely be won over!