During its heyday in the 1920’s, Phnom Penh was considered by many to be the most beautiful city in South East Asia, and indeed Asia as a whole. Sadly, the rest of the 20th century would usher in some incredibly hard times for the city’s population, and it’s only in recent years that it has recovered some of its old glory and reanimated itself as a beautiful, vibrant city once more.
There is plenty of greenery within the Royal Palace.
While it’s by far the biggest city in Cambodia, it’s not an entirely Cambodian city. The majority of the population here are actually Sino-Khmer (or Chinese Cambodians), who dominate the country’s middle and upper classes, as well as the economic and political sectors.
The most impactful event in the city and country’s history is undoubtedly the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge and the genocide they carried out. Due to its large middle class and well-educated population, Phnom Penh suffered the most out of anywhere in the country, and the city was entirely emptied of people by the Khmer Rogue, most of whom would never return. The most potent reminders of this brutal recent history are the S21 Prison Museum and Choeung Ek Genocidal Centre (more commonly known as The Killing Fields). Both sites offer excellent audio guides, but prepare yourself and your guests for an incredibly sombre, albeit educational, day when visiting these sites.
Tuk-tuks are the best way of getting around the city quickly.
After the darkness of S21 and Choeung Ek, your guests may be of the impression that Cambodian history is nothing but macabre stories of violence, but nothing could be further from the truth. A great place to take your guests after these harrowing experiences are the National Museum for some non-genocide related history, or the fantastic Plae Pakaa: Cambodian Living Arts, where ancient Khmer stories and legends are told through beautiful dance and music performances.
Another popular attraction is the Royal Palace complex. Groups can easily spend the better part of a day here, exploring the grand halls and beautiful temples within its walls. The famous Silver Pagoda is also located here, filled with ancient religious treasures put on display.
The Royal Palace is filled with beautiful architecture.
Phnom Penh is also a pedestrian’s paradise, with easily walk able avenues and dense cluster of attractions. Spending a day to walk around and admire the interspersing of colonial architecture with modern concrete structures is a really cool experience for any tour. This eclectic ion of architecture is sadly diminishing however, as the rapidly modernizing city does not show much concern over tearing down the old to make room for the new. Due to this we suggest people visit the city sooner rather than later, as in the future much of this charm may be lost. Walking around like this is also a great way for your guests to discover the excellent restaurant and bar scene, with cuisines from nearly every country on earth available in great quality.
A drink in a rooftop bar is the perfect combination of great views of the city and a taste of its nightlife.
If your guests are more interested in up-close cultural experiences then you should consider organizing a day at Backstreet Academy. At the Academy, they take their visitors to remote parts of the city for courses in a wide range of crafts like shadow puppetry, painting, cooking, dancing or even a bout of Khmer Boxing!
In conclusion, there is no better time to organize trips to this wonderful city. For every year that goes by, Phnom Penh continues to re-invent itself, for better or for worse, and seeing the city now before all the vestiges of its past have been brushed away in favour of modernity is a great experience for anyone.