Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh is both the capital of Cambodia as well as its largest city. Known to tourists primarily for the nearby Killing Fields and the horrific Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh has more than its fair share of heart-wrenching venues to visit. While these are the main draws in the city, there are plenty of other places that prove to be a bit easier on the emotions- the Central Market, numerous wats and temples, interesting museums- all ways to balance out the emotional ledger. Regardless of what else you see and do, a visit to the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum are moments that will stay with you for a long, long time.
Overland buses run from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, and there are numerous daily flights- domestic and international- from the Phnom Penh International Airport. Buses also run between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, and then on to Bangkok, Thailand, but most people advise to skip the long, bumpy ride and find a cheap flight on Air Asia or some other local airline.
Things to do in Phnom Penh
- Visit the Killing Fields- No, it’s not an uplifting, light-hearted afternoon in the Cambodian countryside. Quite the contrary. The Killing Fields are one of the most overwhelmingly powerful places in all of Southeast Asia, if not the world. The horror is palpable, the evil constant. The numbers of those murdered and buried in the mass common graves will never be known, but the haunting memorial bears testament to the terrifying deaths those innocent, helpless people suffered.
- Take in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum- another gut-wrenching site that is a Must See, this former High School-turned-torture center now bears testament to the horrifying things that happened there under the Khmer Rouge Regime.
- Check out the Central Market- after all of that, you will be emotionally drained. The Central Market is a good place to recover your senses. Friendly vendors vie for your attention, there are innumerable stalls filled with interesting things to look at, and the live food area is something totally uniquely Cambodian- just the thing to take your mind off of everything else.
- Walk around the grounds of the Royal Palace- a nice park area with stunning examples of Cambodian architecture, this is a good place to get some photos and some culture.
- Hang out by the lake- Boeng Kak Lake is situated in the northern part of the city, and is a good place to just chill out for awhile. Take a book, take a picnic, take you iPod, and just relax.
- If you’re traveling overland to/from Vietnam, make sure you have crisp, clean currency to pay the applicable visa fee at the border. There’s nothing worse than having the Immigration Official tell you they won’t accept your money, and then finding yourself out of options and stuck at the border. Not fun.
- Many of the guesthouses are frequented by the same collection of tuktuk drivers. If you’re going to be in the city for a few days, you can save some money by hiring the same driver for the duration of your stay. It’s almost like having a personal chauffeur, and the drivers are generally very helpful and friendly, and can show you some spots off the beaten track.
- Street food in Cambodia can be pretty interesting- break out of your comfort zone and try some of the local delicacies.