(Popular: AAA)
Phnom Penh City
Royal Palace and ‘Silver Pagoda’ AAA
(Sothearos between Streets 240 & 184 - Open everyday, 7:30-11:00 / 2:30-5:00 The Palace buildings and Silver Pagoda are located within the same walled grounds on Sothearos just off the riverfront. Marking the approach, the high yellow wall and spired Chan Chaya Pavilion are the most prominent features from the street. The Royal Palace was built in 1866 under the French protectorate and King Norodom, though many of the buildings in the complex were added over the following decades.
The ‘Silver Pagoda’ (Wat Preah Keo Morokat) is the city’s most often visited pagoda because of its display of priceless historical objects. It draws its name from the over 5000 silver tiles which cover the floor of the vihear. The vihear serves less as a functioning temple than a repository for cultural treasures such as the ‘Emerald Buddha’, innumerable Buddha statues, a Royal Litter and other objects. Rarely seen in Cambodian pagodas, turn of the century paintings of the Ramayana epic adorn the outer wall. Fortunetellers ply their trade in the small temple next to the vihear.

Wat Phnom AA
Intersection of Street 96 and Norodom Blvd. A small hill crowned by an active wat (pagoda) marks the legendary founding place of the Phnom Penh. The hill is the site of constant activity, with a steady stream of the faithful trekking to the vihear, shrines and fortune tellers on top, and a constellation of vendors, visitors and motodups at the bottom. Elephant rides available. The legend of the founding of Wat Phnom is tied to the beginnings of Phnom Penh. Legend has it that in 1372 Lady Penh (Yea Penh) fished a floating Koki tree out of the river. Inside the tree were four Buddha statues. She built a hill (‘phnom’ means ‘hill’) and a small temple (wat) at what is now the site of what is now known as Wat Phnom. Later, the surrounding area became known after the hill (Phnom) and its creator (Penh), hence ‘Phnom Penh.’ The current temple was last rebuilt in 1926. The large stupa contains the remains of King Ponhea Yat (1405-1467) who moved the Khmer capital from Angkor to Phnom Penh in 1422. Look for the altar of Lady Penh between the large stupa and the vihear. She is said to be of particular help to women. Wat Phnom is the busiest pagoda in town the night of Chinese/Vietnamese New Year’s Eve.

Independence Monument AAA
(At the intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk) The Independence Monument (Vimean Ekareach) was inaugurated in 1958 to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from foreign rule. It now also serves as a monument to Cambodia’s war dead. It is the site of celebrations and services on holidays such as Independence Day and Constitution Day. Trespassing onto the monument is illegal (sometimes). The best view is from across the street anyway.

National Museum AAA
Street 178 & Street 13, next to the Royal Palace - 8:00-5:00, open everyday. The distinctive rust-red National Museum next to the Royal Palace was dedicated by King Sisowath in 1920. Over 5000 objects are on display including Angkorian era statues, lingas and other artifacts, most notably the legendary statue of the ‘Leper King.’ Though the emphasis is on Angkorian artifacts, there is also a good collection of pieces from later periods, including a special exhibition of post-Angkorian Buddha figures. Visiting the museum after rather than before a trip to Angkor helps lend context to the Angkorian artifacts. Multi-ligual tour guides are available. Souvenirs and books available. Photography is limited. Some guidebooks still mention the museum bats that inhabited the rafters, unseen in the day but occasionally spectacular as they left in droves at sunset. In March 2002 the bats left for good, moving on after renovations to the ceiling. The museum borders Street 178, aka ‘Artist’s Street’ which is lined with several art galleries and souvenir shops. The Reyum Gallery is of particular note, exhibiting the works of contemporary Cambodian artists.

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21) AA
Corner of Street 113 & Street 350 - Open everyday, including holidays, 8AM-5PM - Closed for lunch. Prior to 1975, Toul Sleng was a high school. When the Khmer Rouge came to power it was converted into the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. Inmates were systematically tortured, sometimes over a period of months, to extract confessions, after which they were executed at the killing fields of Choeung Ek. S-21 processed over 17,000 people, seven of whom survived. The building now serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge regime. Much has been left in the state it was when the Khmer Rouge abandoned it in January 1979. The prison kept extensive records, leaving thousands of photos of their victims, many of which are on display. Paintings of torture at the prison by Vann Nath, a survivor of Toul Sleng, are also on display. The museum’s famous and controversial ‘skull map’ is no longer on display.

Central Market (Psah Thmei) AA
This unique, art-deco building is a Phnom Penh landmark. Prior to 1935 the area was a swamp/lake that received the runoff during the rainy season. The lake was drained and the market constructed in 1935-37. Wet season flooding in the area around the market of the market is a vestige of the old lake. The entrance to the market is lined with souvenir merchants hawking everything from T-shirts and postcards to silver curios and kramas. Inside is a dazzling display of jewels and gold. Electronic goods, stationery, secondhand clothes and flowers are also in ample supply. (Phsar Thmei means ‘New Market’, but ‘Central Market’ has caught on in English.)

Russian Market (Psah Toul Tom Poung) AA
This market is of far less architectural interest but has a larger and more varied selection of souvenirs, curios and silks than the Central Market. Like the Central Market, it has a good selection of silver, gold and jewels, but also carries huge selection of curios, silks, carvings, etc. The Russian Market offers the largest selection of bootlegged VCDs, DVDs and CDs of all of the traditional markets. Most of the CD vendors are located on the south side near the southeast corner of the market. It’s also a good place to buy fabric for business and casual cloths to take to the tailor. Most of what the visitor might want is in the same general area on the south side but the rest of the market is well worth exploring. Food and drink stands in the middle of the market for hygienically adventurous visitors.

Phnom Penh Outskirt
Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields) A
15 km southwest of Phnom Penh - Take Monireth 8.5 km past the bridge at Street 271. From April 17, 1975 until January 7, 1979, the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge (i.e. Red Khmer) regime, led by Pol Pot, controlled the whole of Cambodia. Under the Khmer Rouge regime the country was known as ‘Democratic Kampuchea.’ During the short reign of the Khmer Rouge, between one million and two and a half million Cambodians perished, some killed outright, others dying from disease, malnutrition, neglect and mistreatment. Many of the dead ended up in various ‘killing fields’ that can be found scattered across the country. The killing field were essentially ad hoc places of execution and dumping grounds for dead bodies. The memorial at Choeung Ek just outside Phnom Penh was an orchard and a Chinese cemetery prior to 1975. During the Khmer Rouge regime it became one of the killing fields - this particular killing field is the site of the brutal executions of more than 17,000 men, women and children, most of whom first suffered through interrogation, torture and deprivation in the S-21 Prison (Toul Sleng) in Phnom Penh. Choeung Ek is now a group of mass graves and a memorial stupa containing thousands of skulls. It’s about a 20-40 minute drive from the center of Phnom Penh. There are guides available at the site, and a small souvenir shop. For sake of historical context, combine your trip to Choeung Ek with a visit to Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.