Phnom Penh Capital City
ភ្នំពេញ Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the bank of Tonle Sap and Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since French Colonisation of Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation's centre of economic and industrial activities, as well as the centre of security, politics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia.
Phnom Penh, litterlly means "Penh's Hill" takes its name from the present Wat Phnom (Hill Temple). Legend has it that in 1372, a wealthy widow named Lady Penh found a Koki Tree floating down the Tonle Sap river after a storm. Inside the tree were four bronze Buddha statues and a stone statue of Vishnu. Daun Penh (Grand Lady Penh) ordered villagers to raise the heigh of the hill northeast of her house and used the Koki wood to build a temple on the hill to house the four Buddha statues, and a shrine for the Vishnu image slightly lower down. The temple became known as Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which is now known as Wat Phnom.
Things to do in Phnom Penh
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: In 1975 the Khmer Rouge turned this former high school into a notorious killing center. Some 17000 were killed at Tuol Sleng, which was later referred to as Security Prison (S 21). It was one of at least 150 other death camps run by the regime.
The prison, which reopened as a museum in 1980, held numerous leaders of the communist party, as well as doctors, teachers and other educated Cambodian citizens. Prisoners were subject to months of torture. Because the Khemer Rouge kept diligent records, including thousands of photographs, rooms at Security Prison 21 are lined floor to ceiling with black and white photos and the prisoners killed there and the torture they endured.
Choeung Ek (The Killing Fields): A trip to this historic spot just about 16 km 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 9000 bodies have been discovered - including former prisoners from Tuol Sleng.
National Museum: Over 5000 objects are on display including Angkorian era statues and other artifacts, most notably the legendary statue of the leper king. Visiting the museum after a trip to Angkor helps lend context to the Angkorian artifacts.
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda: the palace and silver pagoda sit together behind crenellated walls of the royal compound on the river front. Within the grounds street sounds are silenced and royal buildings rise like ornate islands from the manicured gardens. Next door, the silver pagoda houses a collection of priceless Buddhist and historical objects including the 'Emerald Buddha'.
Wat Phnom: This small hillock, the only one in the city, is crowned by a photogenic Buddhist Wat and marks the legendary founding place of Phnom Penh. The hill is the site of constant activity with a steady stream of the faithful trekking to the pagoda and fortune tellers at the top.
River Cruises: Options for the river cruises include 1) a short 1-2 hour cruise along the riverfront , available any time of day; 2) an evening cocktail or dinner cruise along the riverfront ; 3) 2-4 hour cruise to Mekong Island and Silk Island.
Silk Island (Koh Dach): For those with an interest in Cambodian silks, setaside a half-day for a boat trip to a rural weaving village on Koh Dach, a nearby island up the Mekong river. The village is typical rural village, dedicated entirely to silk weaving with hand looms under most of the houses.