Phnom Penh is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. Located on the banks of the Mekong River, Phnom Penh has been the national capital since the French colonized Cambodia, and has grown to become the nation’s center of economic and industrial activities, as well as the center of security, politics, economics, cultural heritage, and diplomacy of Cambodia.
Once known as the “Pearl of Asia”, it was considered one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920s. Phnom Penh, along with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville, are significant global and domestic tourist destinations for Cambodia. Founded in 1434, the city is noted for its beautiful and historical architecture and attractions. There are a number of surviving French colonial buildings scattered along the grand boulevards.
Situated on the banks of the Tonlé Sap, Mekong and Bassac rivers, the Phnom Penh metropolitan area is home to more than 2 million of Cambodia’s population of over 14 million. The city is the wealthiest and most populous city in Cambodia and is home to the country’s political hub.
Phnom Penh, with a tropical climate, has hot weather all year round, but temperatures are slightly cooler between November and January. The hottest month is April, when temperatures can soar to over 104F (40C). The wet monsoon season runs from June through October, bringing strong winds, high humidity and very heavy rains
Where to stay in Phnom Penh
There is no shortage of accommodation in Phnom Penh, with an increasing number of guesthouses and hotels across the city catering for all pockets and tastes, from basic rooms with fans to opulent colonial suites with every luxury. No matter when you arrive, you should have no difficulty finding a room, although it’s no surprise that the very cheapest room fill up quickly. Arriving in the morning stands you have a better chance of getting really inexpensive accommodation, as many people check out early to catch onward transport. If you intent to stay for more than a couple of nights it’s worth asking about getting a discount at guesthouses and mid-range places.
If you’re on a short pocket travelling and looking for a cheap accommodation the Lake Side next to the only lake of Phnom Penh will be the place to pop in. There is plenty of very basic budget and mid-range guesthouses from US$1.5-10 per room and night. The sunsets from one of the wooden platforms over the Boeng Kak Lake are pretty famous in town
Where to Eat & Drink
Cambodia ranks among the world’s poorest countries, so it comes as a pleasure surprise to find that Phnom Penh has a vast range of restaurants to suit all pockets and tastes, from noodle shops and market stalls to sophisticated, pricey Western places; even guesthouses often have small restaurants offering Western style fare, including American breakfasts, and Khmer and Chinese dishes.
Many of the restaurants catering to tourists and visitors line the riverfront dining and shopping area near the Royal Palace. Street 278 (near Independence Monument) and Boeng Keng Kang 1 is dotted with local and foreign restaurants. Budget restaurants and relaxing bars can be found along Street 93 next to the Boeung Kak Lake, an area popular with backpackers.
The Corner Restaurant and Bar:
Is mainly catering the local Khmer Food, the Fresh Fruit Shake and Juices specialties for this hot month from Oct to May. It is located at the first floor of Mittapheap Hotel, corner street 174 next to Wat Koh high school and Pagoda.
Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia (FCC):
This famous international bar and restaurant is still as much a journalist’s meeting. It is located on the second floor of a beautiful old Colonial era building with open balcony providing a spectacular, sweeping view of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers. The FCC kitchen offers a good selection of nicely prepared contemporary, modern, and mainstream western dishes as well as some of the best wood-fired oven pizza in town. Also displaying photo shows and exhibitions. Fresco Delicatessen on the ground floor. Upper price limit. St. 363 on the riverside.
Garden Center Café 2:
This international restaurant is the Street 278 area annex of the very popular Garden Center Café, offering the same excellent western meals like steaks, baked ham, baked salmon, burgers, sloppy joes, Asian dishes and a great selection of salads and vegetarian dishes. All home cooking and generous portions. Relaxed, clean, green and family atmosphere. Conveniently located on Street 57 just around the corner from the Boeng Keng Kang 1 Street 278 hotel area.
Java Café and Gallery :
This international café and restaurant is genially set in a nice gallery ambiance. They offer a brilliant selection of coffees, teas and muffins. Nice selections of salads, sandwiches made to order on homemade bread, fajitas, lots of veggie dishes and all-day breakfasts including omelettes, pancakes, French toast, muesli and more. Indoor gallery seating and airy balcony seating overlooking the green park and the Independence Monument. Changing art and photo exhibitions. WiFi Hotspot. St. 56, Sihanouk Blvd. (Near to the Independence Monument).
This is an authentic classical Thai and Khmer food restaurant with dishes at reasonable prices. Shop house sized restaurant with pleasant indoor seating. Fairly large selection of dishes. Very good preparation. Good selection of vegetarian offerings. Good reviews from patrons. Located on Street 130 just off the riverfront.
Getting There & Away
Phom Penh can be reached by either domestic flights, international flights or overland and speedboat from neighbouring provinces.
Phnom Penh is a fairly easy city to get around. Though traffic is getting more congested these days, you can still travel the length of the city in less than 40 minutes. Regarding the economical boom these days, the traffic increases significantly.
Phnom Penh International Airport:
On arrival, taxis and motorcycle taxis (motodups) can be hired just outside the arrival lobby. There are no meter taxis (just developing this service). Taxis cost $7.00 for the 20-30 minute ride into the city centre. Cheaper, slower and less comfortable, motorcycle taxis can be hired for $2.00 into town. A usual taxi to the airport from town costs about $5-$7. Allow a minimum of 30-40 minutes to get to the airport, as you might get into some traffic jams during the rush hour.
Port of Phnom Penh:
The ferry port in Phnom Penh is on Sisowath Quay (the riverfront road) at Street 104, just north of the main riverfront park/restaurant area. If you are arriving in Phnom Penh, there are always motor taxis and car taxis waiting for fares. Motorcycle taxis run about R1500-R3000 and car taxis about $3-$5 to downtown hotels.
Cars and Taxis:
More common are un-metered, unmarked taxis, which can be arranged through your hotel or travel agent, and can also be found outside hotels along the Monivong Blvd. near Kampuchea Krom. A car plus driver costs you $20-$30/day. Shorter jaunts, for a minimum of $2-$3. 4WD vehicles will give you a ride for $60/day and up.
Short and long term rental of a wide variety of vehicles:
Motorcycle Taxis (Motodup):
The omnipresent motos are the most common and fastest form of public transportation but are certainly not the safest. They are more prone to accidents and robberies than cars. Motos cost from 1000R-4000R for a trip in town and $6-$10 per day. Prices go surely up at night.
A few guesthouses, (e.g. Capitol Guesthouse) have bicycles for rent for around $1-1.5/day. Bicycle stores are clustered near the intersection of Streets 182 and 107. They do not rent bikes, but a used bike can be bought for about $30-40 and resold for around $20.
Motorcycles (100cc – 125cc) can be rented for $3 – $5/day. Tourists often rent 250cc dirt bikes, even if it’s a bit too much power and weight for the slow city traffic (250cc for $10-13). For in-city driving, a 100cc is recommended. A 250cc is perfect for the poor roads outside Phnom Penh. Chaotic traffic makes cycling in the city challenging in the extreme. Roads outside the city vary dramatically in condition. If you do decide to ride, drive slowly, stay right, wear a helmet and remember that medical services are quite limited.
Ho Wah Genting offers bus service to nearby destinations using modern air-conditioned buses. Get off or on at any point along the line. Buses depart every 15 minutes to one hour, daily from 6am-6pm. 1200R-12000R. The station is at the corner of the Central Market. Route #1: Koki, Kien Svay, Neak Luong, And Route #2: Takhmao, Takeo, And Route #4: Kampong Speu, Sihanoukville, And Route #5: Oudong, Kampong Chhnang, Route #6: Raw Kakong, Kampong Cham.
Also near the central market (Southwest corner) you may find the biggest bus station in town. Sorya Bus Company takes you almost everywhere in the country where a paved road is available. The buses are a little bit older than from some other companies, but still featuring air-con and usual seats. The prices are reasonable (approx. $1 for 70-80km).
The humble cyclo can be a romantic and practical form of transport though not as safe as a car or fast as a motor. Cyclos are easier than motors and during a rain they offer a drier ride. They often charge twice as much as a motos and are notorious for overcharging tourists, but keep in mind that’s physical work.
What to Do
Central Market (Phsar Thmei)
The dark-yellow Art Deco Phsa Thmei (New Market) is also referred to as the Central Market, a reference to its location and size. It was constructed in 1935 37. The Art deco building is shaped in the form of a cross with a nice central dome. And has four wings filled with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, antique coins, fake name-brand watches and other such items.
Around the main buildings are stalls offering Krama (checked scarves), stationery, household items, cloth for sarongs, flowers and second hand clothes, usually from Europe and the US. For photographers, the fresh food section affords a lot of opportunities. There are a host of good value food stalls on the structure’s western side, which faces Monivong Blvd. Central Market is undoubtedly the best of Phnom Penh’s markets for browsing. It is the cleanest and has the widest range of products for sale. Opening hours are from early morning until early evening.
Chaktomuk Conference Hall
The Chaktomuk Conference Hall is located at Preah Sisowath Quay, Sangkat Chaktomuk, Khan Daun Penh. It designed by renowned architect Vann Molyvann, this venue was originally opened in 1961 as La Salle de Conférence Chaktomuk. Earmarked for redevelopment as a restaurant in 1991, it was brought back into use as a theatre in 1994 following the devastating fire at the National Theatre. The Chaktomuk Conference Hall was completely refurbished in 2000, primarily to provide international-standard facilities for conferences. Subject to programming it is still utilised from time to time as a theatre venue, but only for special programmes organised directly by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
Type of venue: conference hall/theatre; main use: conferences, lectures and occasional performing arts activites; seating: 592 seats total with retractable writing pallets; proscenium opening: semi-elliptical opening 14m W x 5m H; performing area: irregular-shaped stage 14m W at widest point x 8m D at centre x 5m H to grid; wing spaces: none; suspension equipment: overhead pipe grid for suspension of masking and lighting; soft hangings: black legs and borders; lighting: RDS Dimass 30-channel control, very basic lighting rig; sound: Presis Studio 32 10-channel mixer, DAS E8 and E12 power amplifiers, DAS speakers, pa system; backstage: 25m² quick-change area to rear of stage accommodating 20 persons total, VIP lounge; climate control: air-conditioned; availability: currently used only for official programmes organised by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, not available for straight hire
Cheung Ek Killing Field
Between 1975 and 1978,aabout 17,000 men, women, children and infants (including nine westerners), detained and tortured at S-21 prison (now Tuol Sleng Museum), were transported to the extermination to death to avoid wasting precious bullets.
The remains of 8985 people, many of whom were bound and blindfolded, were exhumed in 1980 from mass graves in this one-time long an orchard; 43 of the 129 communal graves here have been left untouched. Fragment of Human bone and bits of cloth are scattered around the disinterred pits. Over 8000 skulls, arranged by sex, are visible behind the clear glass panels of the Memoral Stupa, which was erected in 1988.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are 15 km from Central Phnom Penh. To get there, take Monireth Blvd south-westward out of the city from the Dang Kor Market bus depot. The site is 8.5 km from the bridge near 271 St. A memorial ceremony is held annually at Choeung Ek on 9 May.
An Angkorian style tower, the inimitable place in the whole city, located in the heart of the capital. It was built in 1958 to Sybilles Cambodian Independence Day after winning back their independence from the French protectorate on the 9th of November 1953.
The monument attracts many tourists for its peculiar looking but unique style distinguishes it from all the buildings in the city. It is also used as a memorial place dedicated to the Cambodian’s patriot who died for the country.
The NATIONAL MUSEUM has a good collection of Khmer sculptures dating from the pre-Angkor period (4th century) to post-Ankgor period (14th century). The museum, built of red bricks by the French in 1917 in a pseudo-Khmer style, is built around a courtyard.
A stone’s throw away from the Tonle Sap is the royal Palace built on the site of the Banteay Kev, a citadel built in 1813. The Palace grounds contain several buildings: the Throne Room of Prasat Tevea Vinichhay which is used for the coronation of kings, official receptions and traditional ceremonies; the Chan Chhaya Pavilion which is a venue for dance performances; the king’s official residence called the Khemarin; the Napoleon Pavilion and the spectacular Silver Pagoda. This pagoda is worth exploring. It owes its name to the 5,000 silver tiles weighing 1kg each which cover the entire floor. The emerald Buddha sits on a pedestal high atop the dias. In front of the dias stands a life-size Buddha made of solid gold and weighs 75kg. It is decked with precious gems including diamonds, the largest of which is 25 carats. Also on display at the sides are the coronation apparel and numerous miniature Buddha in gold and silver.
The walls surrounding the compound which is the oldest part of the palace, are covered with frescos depicting scenes from the Khmer version of the Ramayana. A visit to the markets and market halls is a must as they give an opportunity to be acquainted with the country’s local produce and also to buy textiles, antiques, gold and silver jewellery. The four wings of the yellow coloured Central Market are teeming with numerous stalls selling gold and silver jewellery, antique coins, clothing, clocks, flowers, food, fabrics, shoes and luggage. For some good paintings or if you prefer antiques, head fro the Tuol Tom Poong Market also known as the Russian Market. A word of caution though: you need to sharpen your bargaining skills as the prices here can be outrageously high.
The museum is open daily from 8am to 11:30am and from 2:30pm to 5pm. French and English spoken guides are available, or visitor can purchase one of the books or pamphlets available and wander the four courtyards, each facing out into a garden, and try to piece together the complex history through these magnificent work of ancient art themselves.
Wat Ounalom is another of Phnom Penh’s five original monasteries (1422). Until 1999, it housed the Institute Bouddhique and library. On the riverfront about 250 meters north of the National Museum, facing the Tonle Sap River near the Royal Palace, this pagoda serves as the headquarters for one of Cambodia’s most revered Buddhist patriarchs.
Gleaming in gold, the Royal Palace is one of Phnom Penh’s most splendid architectural achievements. It is home to His Majesty Preah Bat smdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and Her Majesty Preah Reach Akka-Mohesey Norodom Monineath. The palace was built in 1866 by His Majeaty Preah Bat Norodom, great grandfather to our current King. The Royal Palace is built on the site of the old town. This site was especially chosen by a Commission of Royal Ministers and Astrologers because it had great geographical significance in relation to the King, who was regarded as a direct descendant of the gods, whose role it was to live and govern on earth under the influence of heaven.
The Royal Palace contains some spectacular buildings. Not least of which is the Throne Hall, situated to the left of the main entrance. It boasts a 59-meter tower. The tower roof is beautiful, having been decoratively tiered with golden coloured tiles. This building is used for high official celebrations, coronations and audiences with foreign dignitaries and government officials.
The Roy al Treasury and the Napoleon II villa lie south to the Royal Throne Hall. North to this stands the Silver pagoda enclosure, otherwise known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha. The Pagoda’s steps are crafted from Italian marble, and within the throne room the regal floor consists of more than 500 solid silver blocks. If calculated together, they weigh nearly six tones. Displayed a round the room, surrounding the main area, stand plush presents from foreign dignitaries.
The magnificent 17th century emerald Buddha statue is made of Baccarat cuystal and solid gold. It weighs 90 kilograms and is adorned with 9,584 diamonds. Bronze statues stand to it’s left and right sides. Next to these, encased under a glass cover, reside a golden locus. Within this area other ancient treasures include a large Buddha’s footprint, representing the 108 past lives of the Buddha before he was re-incarnated as Prince Siddharta, who subsequently gained enlightenment. On the wall, surrounding the Pagoda compound, (the oldest par of the palace) are hundreds of meters of frescos depicting an episode of the Indian epic Ramayana. These are the biggest mural frescos in South East Asia.
The Royal Palace sits between streets 184 and 240. The main entrance is situated on Samdech Sothearos Boulevard via the Pavilion of Dancers. Opposite the entrance sits another almost equally stunning Royal spectacle. The Royal Residence, along with their Royal Highnesses, houses the sacred white elephant, the most auspicious and reverd symbol of royal beneficence within Cambodia.
Wat Preah Keo Morakot (Silver Pagoda) is located in the southern portion of the Royal Palace complex. The pagoda was formerly known as Wat Uborsoth Rotannaram because it is where the King worshiped, prayed and practiced every Buddhist Silas Day. In the additional, the royal family and officials also held Buddhist ceremonies there.
This pagoda has no monks. However, this Majestic King Norodom Sihanouk lived there for one year when he entered the monkhood on July 31, 1947. Because the pagoda has no monks, visitors usually refer to it as Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot. When the King celebrates Buddhist ceremonies, monks from other pagoda such as Wat Unaloam and Wat Botumvattey are invited to attend the ceremonies.
Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot was built between 1892 and 1902, during the region of King Norodom, but at that time it was constructed of wood and brick. Its design is base on Cambodian architectural style. Then Banhchos Khan Seima ceremony was held on Feb 5, 1903.
The temple was later damaged, and Queen Kosamak Neary Rath asked that it be repaired. Under the direction of her son Samdach Preah Norodom Sihanouk, who at that time was the head of state, the old temple was dismantled and reconstructed in 1962 on the same site with reinforced concrete. The floor was laid with silver tiles, and the columns were covered with glass stone imported from Italy. The architecture, however, remained the same.
This temple is called Pheah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot because the main Buddha statue is made of priceless emerald, which Cambodians call Keo Morakot. Westerners, however, prefer to call the temple the Silver Pagoda because of the 5,329 genuine silver tiles that cover the floor.
There are 1,650 art objects housed in this temple. Most of them are Buddha figures. They are made of gold, silver, bronze and other valuable materials. Some are decorated with diamonds. They are gifts from the King, the royal family, dignitaries and other people who worship at Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot, where they pray for peace and prosperity, for happiness and for the preservation of Cambodian cultural heritage for the next generation.
In front of the throne, site a Buddha statue made of gold, weighing 90 kilograms (about 200 pounds) and decorated with 2,086 diamonds. The biggest diamond is on the crown. It is 25 millimeters. This statue was commissioned in 1904 by King Sisowath, following the suggestion of King Norodom. King Norodom said, after his body was cremated the gold casket should be melted to make Buddha statue representing Preah Srei Araymetrey. This Buddha statue is named Preah Chin Raingsei Rachik Norodom.
Objects of particular interest in the Preah Vihear Keo Morakot include:
The Preah Keo Morakot, the Emerald Buddha, which sits atop throne in the center of the temple.
There is a small glass cabinet that contains what Buddhists believe are ashes of the Buddha. The ashes were brought from Sri Lanka in 1956 by Samdech Head Monk Lvea Em, who stayed in Wat Langka in Phnom Penh. In a nearby cabinet sits a gold Buddha figure offered by Queen Kosamak Nearyrath, mother of King Norodom Shihanouk, in 1969. This Buddha figure is protected by naga. It represents when Buddha stayed at the Muchalonti Pond. Objects in other cabinets are the keepsakes and decorated objects for royal and Buddhist ceremonies.
The temple is surrounded by lofty gallery. On the wall of the gallery, there are traditional paintings of the entire Ream Ke epic. These paintings were done by 40 Cambodian artists between 1903 and 104 under the direction of Oknha Tep Nimit. The Ream Ke painting is 642 meters long and 3meters high. It starts from the south of the eastern gallery and winds its way around the gallery. This means that visitors must walk in a circle to see the entire story.
The ancient epic Ream Ke along the gallery shows a unique scene not copied completely from Indian Ramayana. Because some plots of Cambodian Ream Ke are so mysterious, visitors mush look at the painting carefully. Visitors who are familiar with Indian Ramayana will understand the Cambodian Reap Ke easily, even thought the two versions are different. Some themes are also depicted by La Khon Khaol or depicted in Sbek Thom and other sculpted figures.
Astrologers also use the story to tell fortunes.
Weather, structural damage and destruction by visitors over the years have caused the paintings to deteriorate. In 1985, the Cambodian government was cooperating with the government of Poland to restore, protect and maintain the paintings. The venture lasted only five years, however, because the budget was terminated. Today the Cambodian government is looking for way to conserve, restore and maintain this cultural heritage.
Monks from Phnom Penh and other provinces once studied the Pali language in classes that were held along the gallery before the Pali School was opened in Phnom Penh on Dec 16, 1930.
In front of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot, are two stupas and a statue under the roof. The south stupas hold the cremains of King Ang Doung, the great-great grandfather of King Sihanouk. The north stupas hold cremains of King Norodom, the great grandfather of King Shihanouk. Both stupas were dedicated on March 13, 1980.
The statue of King Norodom riding a horse was erected in 1875. It was the keepsake of the French King Napoleon III. It was kept in front of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot in 1892, but at that time there was no roof. During King Sihanouk’s crusade to win independence fron France, he prayed in front of the statue. After Cambodia won its dependence on Nov 11, 1953, King Sihanouk had the roof built in honor of King Norodom.
South of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot beside Thamma Hall, a place for praying, and the stupa of King Sihanouk’s father, King Norodom Soramrith, which was built in 1960, visitor find:
Keung Prah Bat
Keung Preah Bat houses the footprints of the four Buddhas who have already reached enlightenment. Those Buddhas are Kok Santhor, Neak Komonor, Kasabor and Damonakodom. In additional to the four Buddha, Preah Srei Araynetrey, whom Buddhist believe has not yet been born. They believe that he will come 5,000 years after the fourth Buddha reaches Nirvana. Buddhists believe that Preah Srei Araymetrey will come and help the people.
Phnom Khan Malineati Borapat Kailasha
Phnom Khan Malineati Borapat Kailasha or Phnom Mondul is the manmade hill that represents Phnom Kailasha, where the Buddha left his footprints on the stone. On the Phnom Mondul, there is a statue of the Buddha and 108 blessings of life before the Buddha reaches enlightenment.
Kunthabopha Stupa was built in 1960 as the resting place for the ashes of Princess Norodom Kunthaboph, the daughter of King Norodom Sihanouk. She was 4years old when she died of dengue fever. The stupa’s design is base on the ancient
Banteay Srei temple in Siem Reap.
West of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot is a bell hall. The bell is used in the various ceremonies and to mark the opening and closing of the Silver Pagoda. In the past, the bell was also used to call the monks who studied Pali in the palace.
To the north, is a building that houses. Tipitaka, the fundamental scriptural canon of Buddhism. They include:
The Sutta Pitaka, a collection of discourses, is primarily composed of dialogues between the Buddha and other people. It consists of five groups of texts: Digha Nikaya(Collection of long discourses), Mijjhima Nikaya (collection of medium discourses), Samyutta Nikaya (collection of grouped discourses), Anguttara Nikaya (collection of discourses on numbered topics), and Khuddaka Nikaya(collection of miscellaneous texts). In the fifth group, the Jatakas, comprising stories of former lives of the Buddha, and the Dhammapada (religious sentences), a summary of the Buddha’s teachings on mental discipline and morality, are especially popular.
The Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline, consists of more than 225 rules governing the conducts of Buddhist monks and nuns. Each is accompanied by a story explaining the original reason for the rule. The rule are arranged according to the seriousness of the offense resulting from their violation.
The Abhidharma Patika contains philosophical, psychological, and doctrinal discussions and classifications. It consists of seven separate works. They include detailed classifications of psychological phenomena, metaphysical analysis, and a thesaurus of technical vocabulary.
The Building also houses a Shiva’s mount Nandi. This figure was found buried in Koh Thom district in Kandal province in 1983. It is estimated to be 80percent silver and 20percent bronze, copper, lead, Iron and zinc.
Toul Sleng Genocidal Museum (S-21)
In 1975, Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s security force and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21). It soon became the largest such center of detention and torture in the country. Over 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek to be executed; detainees who died during torture were buried in mass graves in the prison grounds. S-21 has been turned into the Tuol Sleng Museum, which serves as a testament to the crimes of the Khmer Rough.
The museum’s entrance is on the western side of 113 St just north of 350 St, and it is open daily from 7 to 11.30 am and from 2 to 5.30 pm; entry is US$2.Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rough was meticulous in keeping records of their barbarism. Each prisoner who passed through S.21 was photographed, sometimes before and after being tortured. The museum displays include room after room in which such photographs of men, women and children cover the walls from floor to ceiling; virtually all the people pictured were later killed.
You can tell in what year a picture was taken by the style of number board that appears on the prisoner’s chest. Several foreigners from Australia, France and the USA were held here before being murdered. Their documents are on display. As the Khmer ‘revolution’ reached ever-greater heights of insanity, it began devouring its own children. Generations of tortures and executioners and were in turn killed by those who took their places. During the first part of 1977, S-21 claimed an average of 100 victims a day. When the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh in early 1979, they found only seven prisoners alive at S-21. Fourteen others had been tortured to death as Vietnamese forces were closing in on the city. Photographs of their decomposing corpses were found. Their graves are nearby in the courtyard.
Altogether, a visit to Tuol Sleng is a profoundly depressing experience. There is something about the sheer ordinariness of the place that make it even more horrific; the suburban setting, the plain school buildings, the grassy playing area where several children kick around a ball, ousted beds, instruments of torture and wall after wall of harrowing black-and-white portraits conjure up images of humanity at its worst. Tuol Sleng is not for the squeamish.
Wat Phnom Hill
Set on top of a tree-covered knoll 27m high, Wat Phnom is the only hill in town. According to legend, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha deposited here by the waters of the Mekong and discovered by a woman name, Penh. The main entrance to Wat Phnom is via the grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by lions and naga (snake) balustrades. Today, many people come here to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs. When a petitioner’s wish is granted, he or she returns to make the offering (such as a garland of jasmine flowers or bananas, of which the spirits are said to be especially fond) promised when the request was made. The vihara (temple sanctuary) was rebuilt in 1434, 1806, 1894, and, most recently, in 1926. West of the vihara is an enormous stupa containing the ashes of King Ponhea Vat (reigned 1405 to 1467). In a small pavilion on the south side of the passage between the vihara and the stupa is a statue of the smiling and rather plump Madame Penh.A bit to the north of the vihara and below it is an eclectic shrine dedicated to the genie Preah Chau, who is especially revered by the Vietnamese. On either side ofthe entrance to the chamber in which a statue of Preah Chau sits are guardian spirits bearing iron bats. On the tile table in front of the two guardian spirits are drawings of Confucius, and two Chinese-style figures of the sages Thang Cheng (on the right) and Thang Thay (on the left). To the left of the central altar is an eight-armed statue of Vishnu.
Down the hill from the shrine is a royal stupa sprouting full-size trees from its roof. For now, the roots are holding the bricks together in their net-like grip, but when the trees die the tower will slowly crumble. If you can’t make it out to Angkor, this stupa gives a pretty good idea of what the jungle can do (and is doing) to Cambodia’s monuments. Curiously, Wat Phnom is the only attraction in Phnom Penh that is in danger of turning into a circus. Beggars, street urchins, women selling drinks and children selling birds in cages (you pay to set the bird free locals claim the birds are trained to return to their cage afterwards) pester everyone who turns up to slog the 27m to the summit. Fortunately it’s all high-spirited stuff, and it’s difficult to be annoyed by the vendors, who after all, are only trying to eke out a living. trip on this road you will get the fresh air from the Mekong and Bassac rivers, especially around the garden in front of the Royal Palace. Furthermore, you will have the special chance to relax and chat with your lovely friends at the riverside. And just sit on the benches or walking through the riverbanks you can absorb the fresh air from the river and see the whole view of beautiful river, in order to reduce stress or complicate.