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Phnom Penh Attractions & What to See – Cambodia Travel Blog

Posted by: Ms.Alex on 2015-09-05 09:50:08

Royal Palace in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Phom Penh is a city full of attractions and memorable places to visit. The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda are magnificent while the National Museum of Arts houses a priceless collection of artifacts and historical items in a country where history was all but effaced, making them even more valuable as links to the past.

Speaking of which, in the midst of all this colourful splendor, grim reminders of the past are waiting to be visited for those with a wish to learn from it.

Phnom Tamao Zoo

Phnom Tamao Zoo in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

If you plan to take a vacation in Phnom Penh, then be sure to take a tour to Phnom Tamao Zoo and Wildlife Rescue Centre (PTWRC) – the country’s largest zoo and wildlife sanctuary that is located about a 45-minute drive outside town. Opened in 2000, Phnom Tamao Zoo is more a wildlife rescue centre than a zoo, serving as a safe refuge to rare and endangered animals rescued from the clutches of poachers, traffickers and illegal wildlife traders. Its residents now include more than 1,000 animals plus hundreds of exotic birds and reptiles. Managed by the Ministry of Agriculture’s Forestry Department with support from WildAid and Free the Bears Fund, the zoo occupies about 1,200 hectares land out of a 2,500-hectar forest protected area of Phnom Tamao that enjoys picturesque surroundings comprising mountains and ancient temples such as Phnom Tamao Temple and Thmor Dos Temple. As you step into the zoo, you’ll be welcomed by a small pool festooned with pelicans and storks. Adjacent to the pond are two small enclosures featuring crocodiles. The walk-through enclosures make for closer interaction with inhabitants such as boisterous gibbons and monkeys, freely wandering deer, hairy-nosed otters, peacocks and iguanas, among many others.

One of the most attractive sections of the zoo is the sun bear enclosure that is run by the Free the Bears – an Australian organization whose key objective is to conserve, protect and improve the lives of bears. With a huge enclosure consisting of swimming pools, toys and hammocks, it is the largest sun bear sanctuary in the world, including Asiatic black bears as well as Malaysian sun bears that have been saved from the black market, hotels and restaurants.

Good to Know about Phnom Tamao Zoo

Phnom Tamao Zoo is situated in Tro Pang Sap village, about 35km southeast of Phnom Penh. It is easily accessible from National Road No 2, and a five-kilometre trail off the main road leads to the zoo.

In addition to buses, motorized rickshaws are available from the capital to reach here. To get better idea about the residents of the zoo, you can hire the services of English-speaking guides.

National Museum of Arts

National Museum of Arts in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

The National Museum of Arts is the country’s largest archeological and cultural history museum. It enables you to have a glimpse into the cultural side of Cambodian history dating back to the 4th century. Inaugurated in 1920 as the Musée Albert Sarraut during the French colonial period, its opening was initiated by George Groslier – a famed author and historian – and architect as well as the first curator of the museum. In 1951, the French conceded the control of the museum to the Cambodians when it came be known as Musée National de Phnom Penh. Later in 1966, Chea Thay Seng became the museum’s first Cambodian director. It barely survived serious damage during the devastating Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, and the museum and its precincts underwent a major refurbishment in the 1990s with contributions from the Australian Government and other patrons.

Backed by the Cambodian Department of Museums, the museum’s role is now not just confined to preserving its exhibits that include one of the largest collections of Khmer artifacts in the world, but also to oversee other museums in the country.

National Museum of Arts Highlights

Housed within an impressive red sandstone structure, The National Museum of Art stands out as a fine illustration of the traditional Khmer architecture. With over 14,000 interesting exhibits to its credit, the museum is truly a treasure trove of artifacts portraying Khmer or Angkorian culture and history. Its exhibits comprising bronze/wood sculptures, ceramic items, ethnographic items and stone articles are categorized into four brackets: prehistoric, pre-Angkor, Angkor and post-Angkor exhibits. One of its most spectacular exhibits is the eight-armed statue of Lord Vishnu that dates back to the 6th century. Another remarkable attraction is the image of King Jayavarman VII in a meditation posture that can be seen in the West Gallery displaying art works from Angkor Wat. Visit the museum’s Bronze Gallery to take a peep into bronze-casting methods practiced during the Angkorian period from the 6th to 13th centuries. Found next to the Bronze Gallery is a rare repository of post-Angkorian era Buddha images. There is also a gallery that exhibits a selection of sandstone sculptures dating back to the 6th century. The museum is equally noteworthy for its impeccable, verdant garden courtyard with four lotus pools. In the centre of the courtyards is a renowned statue of the Leper King or Lord Yama – the Deity of Death according to Hindu mythology. Further, the porticos that bound the garden courtyard is notable for its stone works, bas reliefs, ornamental door lintels and significant stele containing old Khmer as well as Sanskrit inscriptions – most dating from between the 6th and 11th centuries.

Adjacent to the museum is the Royal University of Fine Arts whose origins trace back to the École des Arts Cambodgiens that was founded in 1918 under the supervision of George Groslier to train students in the art of bronze casting, traditional drawing, furniture making and sculpture modeling, which is still continued here.

Good to Know about National Museum of Arts

Located a few blocks away from the Royal Palace on Street 13 in Phnom Penh, the museum is open from 08:00 to 17:00. Admission charge is nominal and entry is free for children and school groups. The museum does not permit photography within the galleries. However, visitors are allowed to take pictures of the courtyard and exterior.

The services of French and English speaking guides are available. Alternatively, you can purchase a booklet that provides relevant info on locations of the museum’s most prominent exhibits. Items such as postcards, replica sculptures and books on art and culture can be bought from the store found at the main entrance.

Independence Monument

Independence Monument in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Independence Monument, or Vimean Ekareach – as it is referred to in Khmer, is a majestic structure that dominates Phnom Penh city centre. Independence Monument was primarily erected to mark the liberation of the country from the French who ruled Cambodia for almost a century from 1863 to 1953. Built in 1958 and inaugurated in 1962 during the regime of Sangkum Reastr, this monument also serves as a proud testament to commemorate people who sacrificed their lives for the welfare of the country. The monument is captivating for its cool, serene atmosphere, which in turn makes it a much sought-after destination. A stunning illustration of traditional Angkorian architecture, Independence Monument was designed by Vann Molyvann – a distinguished Cambodian architect – in the model of a lotus that largely takes after stupas seen at Angkorian Wat. Perhaps the salient characteristic of this 20-metre tall, reddish-brown stone memorial is the multi-headed snakes that titivate the five levels of lotus bud. Its intricate designs are best highlighted in the late afternoon, as shadow creeps across the floors. Nevertheless, a real visual treat is at night when the monument as well as its surroundings including the fountain is illuminated by blue, red and white floodlights – the colours that embody the Cambodian flag. Every year, Independence Monument becomes a centre of activities during national festivities such as Independence Day and Constitution Day, falling on November 9th and September 24th respectively. The ceremonial flame ignited by a royal official in the monument’s interior plinth marks the beginning of the spellbinding national celebrations. War heroes are venerated on this special occasion by placing floral wreaths on the monument’s stairs. On the eastern part of the monument towards the Sihanouk Boulevard is a well-laid open park that is perfect to indulge in a variety of activities such as jogging, walking or simply savouring the cool breezes.

• Location: Located in the centre of a roundabout at the intersection of boulevards such as the Sihanouk and the Norodom, Independence Monument is just few blocks from the key landmarks of the city, such as Wat Phnom, Royal Palace and Sisowath Quay.

Phnom Penh Central Market

Phnom Penh Central Market – Cambodia

Central Market – also referred to as Phsah Thmei, meaning ‘New Market’ – is one of the major landmarks in Phnom Penh. Whether you’re a shopping enthusiast who wants to gauge your haggling skills or a tourist interested to be a part of bustling crowd or just want to explore the amazing architectural wonders of the city, then Central Market is a place not to miss out during your stay in the city. Designed by Desbois and erected in Art Deco style, Central Market was the largest of its kind in Asia when it was opened in 1937 during the French colonial era. This expansive market actually stands on former swampland. Recently, Central Market underwent a renovation with funds from the French Developmental Agency and was reopened in 2011. Central Market is truly an engineering marvel that largely reflects traditional Southeast Asian architecture featuring an enormous yellow-painted central dome with four wings extending to huge hallways, each of which teems with an array of shopping stalls. In fact, the major plus point of this lively market is its well shielded, properly ventilated structure that enables both sellers and buyers to engage in the trade while not being affected by monsoon rain or blazing heat. Speaking of the items sold here, they are almost endless with a wide assortment of goods, from men and women’s clothing, jewelry, gemstones, flowers and shoes to souvenirs and food items such as seafood, spices and vegetables. Just name a product, and it’ll be readily available here. On the eastern side of the building is the main entrance where you’ll come across shops that have items such as ornaments, T-shirts and souvenirs on sale. Likewise, head over to the market’s central area that holds numerous jewel stores, gold as well as silver jewelry collections. Further, the market has a slew of shops that especially deal in electronics, clothing and second-hand items at incredibly cheap prices. Above all, don’t forget to sample the distinctive food items available here. One of the specialty dishes is the creamy coconut pudding that is particularly great to relish on a hot muggy day. • Opening Hours: from 05:00 – 17:00. • Location: At the meeting point of Kampuchea Krom and Street 63.

• Remarks: Its southwest door leads you to a bus stand while the northwest to a taxi rank.

Mekong Island (Koh Dach)

Mekong Island (Koh Dach) – Cambodia

If you wish to take a break from the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh and venture into a world of peace and tranquility, then a visit to Mekong Island about 15km north of the city centre will be just right for you. Bounded by views of rice paddies, vegetable farms and fruit orchards, Mekong Island not only serves as a venue for an enjoyable daytrip or picnic but also enables you to experience the country’s authentic culture at its best. This island occupies an area of about ten hectares of land and is one of the prominent centres of traditional handicrafts in Cambodia, with artisans engaged in silk weaving, pottery, woodcarving and dyeing in its villages. Perhaps the key highlight of Mekong Island is its cohesive village communities that represent the rural ethnicity of this country. In other words, the island stands out for its unspoiled surroundings, where houses are erected on stilts and people lead a simple lifestyle while earning their livelihood primarily from agriculture, fishing and silk weaving. One of the not-to-miss communes of the island is Koh Dach, sometimes dubbed as the country’s silk weaving centre, as there are thousands of silk weavers producing quality silk under their stilted houses’ dappled space. For a fun experience, be sure to try to weave silk on spinning wheels made using bicycle parts, in addition to buying silk fabric directly from producers. Besides silk, Koh Dach is known for its fresh crops and fruit produce such as beans, corn, bananas and sesame. Koh Dach is also home to pagodas including Ampor Phal, Kra Pumpich and Sa Maki Kbal Koh. Another activity that you can enjoy here, especially during summer, is swimming at the beach at the northern part of the island. Lined with thatched picnic huts and food stalls, this beach also provides a perfect backdrop for a cool, memorable day out.

Likewise, if you are on the lookout for something refreshing during your trip to Mekong Island, then a bike ride through the beautiful orchards and quaint farmland is highly recommended. Above all, a tour to Mekong Island is incomplete without enjoying its sunset views. Specialized boat cruises are available to take in the sweeping vistas of the sunset at the convergence of three rivers – the Mekong, the Tonle Basac and the Tonle Sap.

How to get there: One of the best ways to access Mekong Island is to take a cruise boat from Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh. It usually takes 2.5 hours per round trip, and the cruise will include visiting the handicraft centre at Koh Dach, sunset views and Khmer snacks. Alternatively, you can hire a tuk-tuk from the city to the Japanese Bridge, from where you can continue your journey to the island by ferry.

Apsaras Dance Shows

Apsaras Dance Shows in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Phnom Penh is not as active as Siem Reap when it comes to Khmer performing arts. However, some of the performing arts schools in the city are open to the public during the day, allowing visitors the opportunity to observe dancers in training. Among these, a must-see is the Sovanna Phum Art Association. Started in 1994 by a group of students, cultural shows are staged every Friday and Saturday night at 19:30. These include shadow puppet theatre, classical Apsara dancing and folk and mask dances. On sale at the gallery at the theatre are shadow puppets made from leather, musical instruments and more. Another fine theatre to visit is the Chatomuk Theatre at Sisowath Quay.

• Location: Sovanna Phum Art Association at 111 Street 360 (corner of Street 105) and Chatomuk Theatre at Sisowath Quay.

Wat Ounalom

Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

A visit to Wat Ounalom allows insight into the spiritual teachings, philosophies and history of Buddhism in Cambodia. Perhaps the most prominent and oldest of five pagodas in the country, Wat Ounalom is the centre of Cambodian Buddhism and serves as the abode of the Patriarch of the Mahanikai School of Buddhism. As the name indicates, King Ponhea Yat – meaning ‘Eyebrow Temple’ – was built in 1443 to enshrine an eyebrow hair (ounalom) of Lord Buddha, and the shrine was once home to more than 500 monks as well as the Buddhist Institute’s library that held in its collection over 30,000 titles. But the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979 caused serious sabotage to the Wat’s valuable cultural artifacts and book collection as well as taking away the lives of the majority of monks who lived there during this period. Nevertheless, Buddha’s eyebrow miraculously survived and is still the focal point of the Wat. Later, Wat Ounalom provisionally housed the Buddhist Institute, prior to its shifting to a much larger area on the Sihanouk Boulevard in 1999. Tucked away in a quaint setting, Wat Ounalom consists of a cluster of 44 buildings. Erected in 1952, the main temple is the modern recreation of the original shrine that was constructed in the 15th century. It is spread over three levels and has to its credit an interesting collection of magnificent paintings and cultural relics that throw light on the life of the Lord Buddha. Found behind the main temple is Chetdai – the 500-year-old stupa, where Lord Buddha’s eyebrow hair is preserved. Dating back to the Angkorian era, this amazing stupa is also striking for its four bronze images of Buddha in sitting posture, each of which faces a cardinal direction. Additionally, the walls that bound this ancient stupa are graced with several figures of Hindu gods – the most significant being the image of Lord Vishnu, Garuda the mythical bird, and Lord Yama on his buffalo.

Another highlight of Wat Ounalom is the image of Samdech Huot Tat – the fourth Buddhist patriarch who was executed during the Pol Pot era. It is placed at the main temple’s northeast corner. Further, the monastery of the Supreme Patriarch is seen to the north of the main temple. Above all, the serene, natural surroundings of this Wat are as endearing as its collections and features.

Good to Know about Wat Ounalom

Lying on the Tonle Sap riverfront, Wat Ounalom is close to the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. It is open daily from 06:00 – 18:00 and entry to the Wat is free. • Address: Samdech Sothearos Blvd, Central Phnom Penh.

• Tel: +85512773361.

Sisowath Quay

Sisowath Quay in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Sisowath Quay is a striking three-kilometre-long boulevard, located along the intersection of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. This is perhaps the most bustling area in the city, with a row of boutiques, bars, cafes, restaurants and luxury hotels. Nevertheless, Sisowath Quay has a cool, relaxing atmosphere allowing both Cambodians and tourists to enjoy a delightful getaway there. This esplanade enjoys a strategic location, being at the meeting point of almost all roads that lead to the city’s key highlights. The area buzzes with locals, joggers and ramblers in the early morning and Sisowath Quay also becomes lively after the sun goes down during when it takes on an almost carnival atmosphere. The promenade is almost deserted during the daytime, especially in the afternoon. On the western side of the Sisowath Quay is the Royal Palace that is still the residence of Cambodia’s king. Built in 1866, the Royal Palace holds such attractions as the Throne Hall, with its Khmer architecture and the Silver Pagoda, also referred to as the Temple of Emerald Buddha. Another major landmark that is easily accessible from Sisowath Quay is the National Museum – a great place to explore one of the world’s largest collections of Khmer cultural and historical artifacts. Likewise, a short walk from the promenade takes you to the acclaimed Wat Ounalom. For art lovers, Sisowath Quay presents an array of options by way of Colours of Cambodia – a must-visit locale if you are passionate about handicraft items and Happy Painting Gallery with its interesting ensemble of pictures based on the lives of people in Cambodia. Further, this is a shoppers’ haven and topping the list of shoppers’ favourites is perhaps silk, and one of the best places to buy this material as well as linen is Kravan House. There are ample restaurants, cafes and bars to serve almost anything you wish to take a bite of or sip, whether it’s authentic Khmer, Mexican, French Indian or Italian dishes. A highly favoured place for both foreigners and locals is the Foreign Correspondents Club or the FCC. It offers Khmer and western cuisines, in addition to a variety of signature cocktails in its horseshoe-shaped bar.

From releasing live birds from cages to getting your fortune told by one of the many fortune tellers that line the esplanade, to making the most of the music and vibrancy at one of the many nightclubs or sport-themed bars, you can enjoy all of this at Sisowath Quay.

Good to Know about Sisowath Quay

Stretching from the Street 104 area to Street 178, Sisowath Quay is about 10 kilometres from Phnom Penh International Airport. Tuk tuks and taxis are widely available.

Located close to Street 104 is Phnom Penh Port, from where ferries depart to Siem Reap on a daily basis. Further, bus companies such as Mekong Express operate here to major destinations across the country.

The Royal Palace

The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

The Khmer-style Throne Hall was built in 1866, to serve as the residence of the King of Cambodia, his family and foreign dignitaries, as a venue for the performance of court ceremonies and rituals and as a symbol of the Kingdom. South of the Throne Hall are the Royal Treasury and the Villa of Napoleon III, built in Egypt in 1866, for the opening of the Suez Canal, and was later presented to the Cambodian king as a gift.

The famous Silver Pagoda, originally constructed of wood in 1866, was expanded in 1962 by King Sihanouk who had the floor inlaid with 5,329 solid silver tiles, hence its name. Inside the Palace grounds, traffic noise is thankfully blocked off by the high walls and the various Royal buildings sit in tranquility amidst the manicured tropical gardens.

Phnom Penh Royal Palace

The most revered image is the Emerald Buddha, made of Baccarat crystal and dating back to the 17th century. Behind it, another Buddha statue was cast in 1906, utilizing 90 kg of gold, and decorated with 9,584 diamonds. Cabinets along the perimeter contain gifts presented to royalty and dignitaries. Along the inside of the recently restored 600-metre external wall is a colourful mural depicting scenes from the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. The settling of the Royal Palace at Phnom Penh was a comparatively recent event in the history of the Khmer and Cambodia. Historically speaking, the seat of Khmer power in the region was near Angkor, north of the Great Tonle Sap Lake from 802 AD until the early 15th century. After the Khmer court moved from Angkor in the 15th century, it first settled in Phnom Penh in 1434 and stayed for several decades and by 1494 it had moved on to Basan, and later Lovek and then Oudong.

• Location: Samdech Sothearos Boulevard between 184th Street and 240th Street.

Tuol Sleng (S21) Museum

Tuol Sleng (S21) Museum in Phnom Penh – Cambodia

Cambodia’s tragic past can be seen less painfully through the perspactive of time and its war museum, if not the most cheerful place in the world, can be extremely instructive in terms of coming to grips with what actually happened during those terrible years.

No less instructive is the burial and execution grounds at Choeng Ek where thousands of exhumed skulls are on display.

Tuol Sleng – S21 – Museum

Tuol Svay Prey High School was originally built as a secondary school in 1960, during the reign of Preah Batnorodom Sihanouk. The Khmer Rouge converted it into a torture and interrogation centre to extract “confessions” of anti-government sentiment. Many victims were women and children incarcerated along with the ‘suspected’ father. Documents recovered indicate that over 17,000 persons had been imprisoned there between1975 and 1978, of whom only seven are known to have survived. The others, once the ‘confession’ had been extracted under torture, were transported to Choeung Ek for execution. Records show that the highest figure was on 27 May 1978, when 582 persons were sent to their death. The museum was established in 1979 after the Vietnamese invasion, and the Khmer Rouge’s meticulous photographic records of their victims are exhibited as tragic testimony to those who suffered and died in their hands. Tuol Sleng reopened in 1980 as a historical museum memorializing the genocidal crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime. It is open to the public and thousands of Cambodians and foreigners have visited it, bizarrely attracted to the testimony of man’s inhumanity to man. The life of a prisoner was extremely difficult. Upon their arrival, the inmates were photographed and required to give detailed information of their background extending from their childhood until the date of their capture. Then they were then required to strip to their underwear, after which all of their possessions were confiscated. After being read a list of prison rules, the prisoners were taken to their cells and shackled with chains fixed to the walls or the concrete floors. The prisoners slept directly on the floors without any mats, mosquito nets or blankets and were not allowed to move unless they asked for permission.

• Location: Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located at the former site of S-21 in Phnom Penh./.

Tours in Cambodia

• Impressive Cambodia – 7 Days/ 6 Nights
• Charms of Cambodia – 5 Days/ 4 Nights
• Angkor Magnificence – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Highlights of Cambodia – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Cambodia Spotlights – 4 Days/ 3 Nights
• Siem Reap to Angkor Wat – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Tour in Siem Reap & Angkor Wat – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Highlight Ancient City – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Classic tour in Phnom Penh – 3 Days/ 2 Nights
• Siem Reap & Angkor Wat tours – 2 days/ 1 night