From the Killing Fields to Kampot crab, check out the seven top attractions and must-do activities in Cambodia’s capital.
Been there, done Bangkok? Looking for a city escape with colonial charm and all the sights, sounds and smells of Southeast Asia? Consider a trip to the ‘Paris of the East’,Phnom Penh. Here are seven must-sees and dos in Cambodia’s crazy capital.
1. Visit Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 Prison)
An important part of Phnom Penh’s brutal and bloody history under the Khmer Rouge, S-21 Prison stands as a monument to the 14,000 men, women and children who were murdered or imprisoned here, as well as the only eight survivors. The former school, converted to house those persecuted by the bloodthirsty regime in 1975, is easily reached by tuk tuk. A driver can be hired for the day to take you to both S-21 and the Killing Fields. Be wary of touts selling fake Rolex watches inside the compound; head to the Cambodian Handicrafts Association shop across the road for more authentic souvenirs.
2. Cruise the Mekong
Located at the point where the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet, Phnom Penh is a great place to take a leisurely cruise along these famous waterways. Take a boat from Sisowath Quay to view the Royal Palace and National Museum from the water, or spend a couple of hours marvelling at the floating villages and this unique way of life. Tours will set you back about £6-9 an hour.
3. Eat Kampot pepper crab
Originating in the small riverside town of Kampot in the south-east province of Cambodia, this seafood delicacy has become somewhat of a national dish and you’ll find excellent versions in the country’s capital. A whole fried or baked crab, smothered in a sweet yet spicy peppercorn sauce, it’s enough to tempt even the most budget-conscious backpacker away from street food; which is also superb in Phnom Penh, deep-fried tarantula being another delicacy must-try.
4. Sip a mojito at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club
Fancy stepping back in time to colonial Cambodia? Sip on one of the signature cocktails offered at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, a hub for intrepid explorers, aid workers and international journalists throughout the city’s colourful and chequered past. Sit and watch the sunset on the banks of the Tonle Sap River and swap tales with locals and toursits alike about the days gone by.
5. Take a tour of the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Once a Chinese cemetery, this area was turned into a mass grave by the Khmer Rouge during their four-year reign of terror in Cambodia. You cannot fail to be deeply moved by the scale of death and destruction represented by the Buddhist stupa that geets you as you enter the site, filled with over 8,000 human skulls, just a small fraction of the regime’s victims. The audio guide is also a worthwhile addition; wander through the grounds listening to first-hand accounts from survivors about life in Cambodia during this harrowing time and experience for yourself the propaganda music terrified victims were subjected to day and night here. A haunting yet powerful stop on any traveller’s tour through Phnom Penh.
6. Bag a bargain at the Central Market
Looking for some Cambodian tat to take back to friends and loved ones? Pick up some bargains on designer fakes, video games and even the odd original handicraft at the Central Market. It’s worth it for the souvenirs and the market’s impressive 1930s Art Deco architecture, plus there’s plenty of opportunity to brush up on your haggling skills.
7. Spend a night a the movies
Phnom Penh is home to a range of cinemas, from big complexes showing the latest blockbusters to small indie film houses. Grab a bucket of popcorn and head down to the Empire Movie House, open until 11pm every night with daily screenings of the 1984 drama set in Cambodia, The Killing Fields, as well as more current films.