The Cambodian capital Phnom Penh is full of surprises. The modern and vibrant city hides beneath the Khmer Rouge the horrors and amazing history.
PHNOM PENH AS A TRAVEL DESTINATION
History is still present in the big city
Today, the center of Phnom Penh resembles any major Asian city. Delicious food is served on every corner, well-kept towns fill the parks in the evenings with football and aerobics, and traffic flows uninterrupted along the wide highways.
However, the genocide of more than 30 years ago is still present and is especially visible on the faces of older people.
Phnom Penh is located in central Cambodia, less than a couple of hundred kilometers from the Vietnamese border. Phnom Penh is a great city destination for a few days, with something for all the senses.
While Cambodians themselves hope that tourists will see the happy side of the country, the main attractions of Phnom Penh are related to the atrocities that took place during the Khmer Rouge. Every tourist should visit at least the Toul Sleng Prison Museum as well as the Choeung Ek Killing Fields just outside Phnom Penh.
Travel in mid-winter
Cambodia has a dry season from November to May. The hottest is since February. The rainy season begins approximately in June and lasts until early November. The best time to visit Phnom Penh is right after the turn of the year, when the temperature is still tolerable.
Cambodia and Phnom Penh are generally safe destinations. Normal caution for pickpockets is recommended and the bag should not be carried on the shoulder where it can be easily grabbed.
Various scams are possible and especially when moving with tuk-aids, mopeds and taxis, the price should be agreed exactly in advance. In the terrain, landmines remain a problem.
FLIGHTS, ACCOMMODATION AND MOVEMENT AT PHNOM PENH
Via Bangkok to Phnom Penh
There are no direct flights to Phnom Penh from Finland, but one change can be used to fly via Bangkok, for example. Flight prices vary between about 800-1200 euros. Phnom Penh Airport is best reached by taxi or tuk-tuk.
Phnom Penh offers a wide range of accommodation options for all levels, from cheap hostels to luxury hotels.
Most of the better and mid-range hotels are located on the banks of the Tonlé Sap River, within walking distance of the sights. Good-value hostels can be found west of the Independence Monument. The price level in Phnom Penh is affordable.
Moving on foot in Phnom Penh tests between nerves. There is a lot of traffic and crossing a four-lane road can sometimes seem like an impossible task. It’s worth remembering that the best way to get across the road is to keep a steady pace all the time so that mopeds and cars can anticipate where the pedestrian is at any given time and dodge. Do not stop.
Public transport is poor and in practice the only way to get around the city is by tuk-tuk, moped or taxi. The center of Phnom Penh is reasonably sized, so the main attractions in the center can be seen on foot.
SIGHTSEEING PHNOM PENH
Toul Sleng Prison Museum
Toul Sleng or S-21 was once a school that the Khmer Rouge turned into prisons and torture chambers during the Cambodian genocide. Today, the place serves as a museum with a lot of equipment used for torture, photographs of the tortured and other material from 1975-79.
Only a few people survived here, and the place, in all its horror, tells well what happened in Cambodia in those years and why.
Choeung Ek, Killing Fields
Most of the thousands of people in Toul Sleng Prison were murdered in Choeung Ek, about 15 kilometers from the center of Phnom Penh.
Today, the area is a peaceful garden where it’s hard to believe what horrors have happened at the foot. However, the genocide comes very close, as the bones and clothes of those murdered during the rains still rise to the surface from mass graves.
Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda are located right in the center of Phnom Penh. The Silver Pagoda gets its name from the floor covered with thousands of silver tiles. Huge Buddha statues made of gold and crystal are also worth seeing.