1- Central Market (Phsar Thorm Thmei)
The Central Market was built in 1935 during the height of the France colonel administration. From the very beginning, this unique Art Deco structure has been a prominent landmark in the heart of Phnom Penh. The name Phsar Thmei actually means New Market but because of its prime location, the Central name made better sense. Under the market’s huge domed roof, you will find a variety of silver and gold jewelry products, as well as other handicrafts, souvenirs and local foods.
Surrounding the market are hundreds of small stalls and kiosks, selling just about anything one might possibly want – finding that special something amongst the labyrinth of small enterprises is entirely another matter.
Phsa Thorm Thmei Market is located on the central island, the terminus of nearly a dozen roads. The main roads leading to it are Roads 53, 61, 63, 67, 120, 126, 130, 136, 217 (Charles de Gaulle Boulevard) and St. 128 (Kampuchea Krom Boulevard), It is approximately a 15 minute walk away from Wat Phnom and a 10 minute stroll from riverside. Its prominent dome makes it a location hard to miss.
2- Chadomukh Theatre
Situated on the confluence of Phnom Penh’s three rivers is Chadomukh Theatre. Designed by, Mr. Vann Molyvann, the same Khmer architect responsible for the Independence Monument, it was built in 1954. It wasn’t formally inaugurated until 1961 during Sangkum Reastr Nyom, or the rule of King Norodom Sihanouk. This domed auditorium is used not only for theatrical performances but also for conferences and other celebratory events; the main hall seats 1,300 guests. Chadomukh Theatre is located on Road No. 1 (Preah Sisovvath Quay), a 5 minute walk South-East of the Royal Palace.
3- Choeung Ek Killing Field
Just outside the city limits is Choeung Ek Genocide Museum and memorial stupor. It is the final resting place of 17,000 men, women and children, the former inmates of Phnom Penh notorious Toul Sleng interrogation centre who murdered here by the Khmer Rouge. Prior to Pol Pot’s insane reign of terror, the land was a serene long an orchard and Chinese cemetery. From 1975 to 1979, the area was transformed into an adhoc extermination camp for all those this barbaric regime deemed a threat to their communist ideals. The innocent victims were usually transported the 12km from the city under the cover of night, before being bludgeoned to death in the fields -the regime saw no reason to waste precious bullets nor attract attention to the true purpose of the camp.
Today, much of the area is as it was found when the guards fled. Much of the genocide paraphernalia and equipment remain, as do fragments of bone and clothing tatters of the victims. Choeung Ek is a chilling reminder of the dark times the regime caste over Cambodia. Choeung Ek is but one of the many informal killing fields that were used across the country to execute over one million people. This memorial because of its proximity to the city has become the focal point for those wishing to pay their respects to lost loved ones, and for tourists to grapple with the reality of this modern day holocaust. On 9 May each year, a memorial ceremony is held at the Stupor, where some 8000 exhumed skulls have been interred.
The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are located at Sangkat Prey Sa, Khan Dang-koa, and a 12 km. drive from Phnom Penh city centre. Visitors usually commute to the site by moto, tuk-tuk or taxi. (Related story see Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.)
4- Independence Monument
While Wat Phnom plays its role as the symbol of the capital, Independence Monument represents its heart of the country: It celebrates Cambodia’s independence on 9 November, 1954, from French colonial rule. The monument is also a cenotaph to Cambodia’s war dead.
The monument was designed by the famous Cambodian architect Mr. Vann Molyvann, and built in 1958. Its strong Khmer design features are derived from the Prasat Bakong temple at Siem Reap province. The tower stands 40 meters high and is decorated by the five-headed snake dragon heads, each facing outwards from the buildings four corners. There are five tiers of dragon heads, totaling 100 individual sculpted heads on the whole building.
The Independence Monument is located on the intersection of Preah Norodom Boulevard and Preah Sihanouk Boulevard. The area to the east of the Monument is given over to public grassed parks, a popular place for locals and tourists alike as the sun sets. Illuminated water fountains surround the monument and make for impressive night photography.
Independence Monument is a 30 minutes walk away from Wat Phnom along Preah Norodom Boulevard.
5- National Library
The National Library of Cambodia is located on Street 92, 500m west of Wat Phnom. The Library was inaugurated by the French colonial administration on 24 December 1924, with an initial collection of just 2.879 books, mainly in the French language. Thereafter it was successively managed by French staff until the appointment of its first Khmer Director, Mr. Pach Chhoeun in 1951.
After independence in 1954 there was a steady growth in Cambodian publishing, which was reflected in the increased number of Khmer language books in the National Library. Closed down during the Khmer Rouge era, the National Library was used for several years as accommodation by members of the Pol Pot regime, who destroyed many of the books.
Since 1980, the National Library has been re-established with the assistance of various overseas governments and agencies. Today the National Library of Cambodia holds some 103,635 copies in various languages (Khmer, French. English, and German); special collections comprise 8,327 national documents, including documents published in French between 1925 and 1970, plus some books and documents published in the Khmer language dating from the years 1955-1975. There is also a special collection of 305 sastra or palm leaf manuscripts, which are available on microfilm.
An exhibition of book plates has been created from the library’s collection of colonial-era periodicals, magazines and books; this is permanently on view in the Library’s periodicals room. Managed by the Directorate of Cultural Publications and Reading of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, the National Library is currently staffed by 30 people.
The National Library is a tranquil respite from the bustle outside. It is open from 08:00-1 14:00-17:00 Monday through Friday.
6- National Museum
As the home to one of the oldest and richest cultures in Southeast Asia, the Kingdom of Cambodia boasts no fewer than eight museums, with the imposingly beautiful National Museum easily the grandest, and one of the jewels of the Phnom Penh capital.
Building commence in 1917 and upon completion on April 13, 1920, it was officially inaugurated under the high auspices of His Majesty Preah Bat Sisowath, King of Cambodia. Located by the north of the Royal Palace, the National Museum is built on an area of 12,690 square meter of land adjoining the Royal Ploughing Field Park. The Museum is surrounded by a haven of lush gardens and planted trees. It attracts many international visitors, ranking second after the Royal Palace as the city’s most popular attraction.
The National Museum offers a charming backdrop for a stunning collection of ancient Khmer art. Predominantly constructed of sandstone, these sculptures date from both the Angkorean and pre-Angkorean eras. The exhibits are complemented by more recent examples of Cambodian art.
Today the museum contains a wealth of precious artifacts and ancient objects relating to Cambodian history. In addition to its historical treasures, the building is also home to a large colony of Cambodian free-tail bats.
Location: Street 178 & Street 13, next to the North side of the Royal Palace.
Price of entry is $2.00
Open: 08:00-1 1:30 and 14:00-17:00, open daily.
Photography is prohibited inside the Museum.
7- Night-life, club and casinos:
Phnom Penh offers a variety of entertainment to the visitor. The newly complete Naga Casino and hotel offer the high roller a chance to gamble, whilst across the city there are clubs, bars and a wide range of night-life to suit all tastes. Daily listings of what’s on and where are posted in the local press and in the tour offices.
8- Pagodas (or in Khmer ‘Wat’)
With 95% of Khmer people practicing Buddhism, the Wat is the most important place of worship for Cambodia’s population, and home, school and place for meditation for Buddhist monks. There are at least 3,980 pagodas in the country, hundreds of which are Phnom Penh. Many date back to the first days of the Phnom Penh capital. Most of the pagodas are a bright yellow color, exhibits of the finest Khmer artistic architectural buildings and decorated accordingly to Buddhist principals.
For the visitor, the Wats are a wonder, both in architectural beauty and religious tranquility. Visitors are requested when visiting a pagoda and surrounding compound, to speak quietly and respectfully, and wear proper dress: Women are not permitted to touch a monk or be in contact their robes.
Wats may be visited between 9 am to 5 pm. Please see the next section called ‘Wats’ for details of your nearest pagoda.
9- Phsar (Markets)
13 markets have existed in Phnom Penh history, Phsar such Old market, Kandal market, O’russey market, Olympic market, Deom Kor market and Toul Tum Poong market. Today, those markets are joined by the large modern-styled shopping mall, the city now boasting 7 new malls. Each of the markets has retained it own identity, many in a traditional style unchanged for decade. There are four markets which the visitor should not miss. They are Central Market, Old Market, O’Russey market and Tuol Tumpoong market.
10- Phsar Chas (Old Market)
The Phsar Chas, the Old Market, is traditional styled market, the favorite place for everyone seeking to buy fresh fish and vegetable in the morning. In the evenings, the market serves Cambodian traditional cooked foods, usually from 5 pm till 8 pm. Visitors to Phnom Penh should be try to view Phsar Chas as this style of market is now very rare to see today.
Phsar Chas is located at the union of Streets No. 8, No. 10 and No. 3 and No. 7. The market is active from 06:00 till 21:00.
11- Phsar O’Russey (O’Russey Market)
O’Russey Market is one of the biggest markets in the city, serving as both wholesale and retail for most grocery products delivered through out the kingdom. A huge array of foodstuffs is available, including a wet market with fresh meat, poultry and seafood. Other items in abundance are house-hold ware, hardware and electronic goods.
The construction of the O’Russey Market was completed in 2002, its building comprising of 4 floors. In the evenings, there are hundreds of Cambodian out-dooring food booths providing thousands of dishes to the locals and the adventurous foreigners keen to experience Cambodian cuisine.
O’Russey Market can be found on a large area surrounded by Streets 166, 168, 170 and Tep Phan Street (182), crossed by street No. 111 and 141. The market is open from 06:00 till 21:00.
12- Phsar Olympic
Olympic Market took its name following the nearby Olympic stadium, and currently is one of the biggest markets in town. It mainly sells clothes, electrical and electronic goods and medicines. The current building was an investment by Thai Boon Rong Co., Ltd. in the mid-90’s, and contains 4 stores of shopping units.
Olympic Market is located about 200 meters south-west of the Olympic stadium, at the union of Streets 290. 296. 201 and 205. The market is busy from 07:00 till 17:00.
13- Phsar Tuol Turn Poong (Russian market)
Phsar Tuol Turn Poong is the original traditional name market for this ancient market but changed in the 1980’s to ‘Russian market’ when Cambodia fell under the Communist influences of Vietnam and Russian. During that time, many Russians came to work in Cambodia and this market became their favorite place for their weekend shopping of food, vegetables and antiques: Because of their frequency, the locals came to refer to is as ‘Russian market’ and the name stuck.
Nowadays, Tuol Turn Poong market is one of the largest centres for sale of antique items, many of which are modern reproductions of original older Khmer cultural items. Many genuine antique items are to be found here, but visitors are encouraged not purchase these original antique treasures since it is illegal to do so … many of these antiques made from clay, pottery, wood, stone, bone, brawn, metal, silver, gold, diamond, silks and cotton, etc, are pillaged national treasures: Some date back to pre-Christian times.
Visitors to Phnom Penh rarely missed the opportunity to browse at Tuol Turn Poong market, since it is one of the more unique antique markets in the region.
Tuol Turn Poong market is located at the corners of St. 440 & St. 163, Sangkat Tuol Tompong I, Khan Cham Kar Morn.
14- Phsar Deom Kor
Phsar Deom Kor is another unique market in the city specializing in vegetable and fruit wholesaling. It’s a market which seemingly never sleeps. After a busy trading day, the market again comes to life around 10 pm as many trucks and vans carrying produce arrive every province. The night is spent delivering and exchanging goods before they return to provinces. The market activities provide an excellent opportunity for documentary filming or night photography.
Deom Kor Market can be found at the corner of Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, and Monireth Street (St. 217). Open 24/7
15- The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda:
The Royal Palace was built in 1866 during the reign of King Norodom and French colonial administration. The Palace is divided into several key areas, some the private quarters of the Royal family, others functions of state and open to the public.
The principle buildings are:
Preah Moha Prasat Khemarin or Khemarin Palace: The Royal Palace and Royal residence of their Majesties the King and Queen. A Blue Royal Standard flies from a flag pole outside the Palace when the King is in residence.
Preah Tineang Tevia Vinichhay or Throne Hall: Completed in 1919, and replacing an earlier wooden 1869 building, this hall is used for coronations and formal audiences with the King. It is also used for other official functions, such as the presentation of diplomatic accreditation. The ceiling of this grand hall is decorated with magnificent frescoes.
Preah Reach Damnak Chan or Royal offices: Closed to the public.
Napoleon III Pavilion: This cast iron building was presented as a gift to King Norodom I by Emperor Napoleon III in 1876. Originally the building was used by Empress Eugene at the inauguration of the Suez Canal. It normally houses royal memorabilia and photographic collection. Recently, this curious building has been closed for renovation.
Hor Somran Phirum: Built in 1917, the building is used by the King to mount the Royal Elephant for processions. The building also houses musical instruments and other equipment used: in formal pageantry.
Phochani Pavilion: Although originally design for Classical Theatre, this pavilion is used for Royal receptions and banquets.
Preah Tineang Chanchhaya or Chanchhaya Pavilion: The Royal Dance Hall used for classical dance. Royal receptions and banquets and because of its prominent position overlooking the park and riverside, is used but the King for public speeches.
B- The Silver Pagoda or Preah Keo Morokot Temple. The Silver Pagoda compound is located just to the south of the Royal Palace Compound. It is the Silver Pagoda and the collection of priceless historical artifacts housed in the Vihear which are the principle attractions.
Preah Keo Morokot was originally constructed between 1892 and 1902. It was renovated in 1962. The outer walls of the compound contain a 642-meter long, 3-metre high fresco of the Ramayana. This story was painted between 1903-1904, under the leadership of Oknha Tepnimitt Theak and assisted by 40 Cambodian artists. Time and the elements have taken their toll on the murals. In 1985, the Royal Government of Cambodia collaborated with the Government of Poland in a project to protect and repair the paintings. Budgetary limitations forced the project to close in 1990. Today, the Royal Government of Cambodia is again finding the means to maintain and repair this unique piece of cultural heritage.
The dominant feature of the compound is the Vihear of Preah Keo Morokot. Also known as the Silver Pagoda (due to its 5,329 pure silver floor tiles, each weighting 1.125 Kg) and Temple of the Emerald Buddha’, the vihear is used to house a priceless collection of 1,650 jewel encrusted Buddha’s and other statues. The centre pieces of this vast collection are the 90kg golden Buddha encrusted with thousand of diamonds, the Emerald Buddha (believed to be made of Baccarat Crystal), and a tiny relic of the Buddha brought from Sri Lanka. There are also the silver and bronze Buddha’s, and many smaller gold statues and gifts from foreign dignitaries and heads of state. Despite 60% of the collection being destroyed by the Khmer Rouge, the surviving collection is still stunning.
Outside in the Pagoda compound are the following points of interest:
Dhammansaia: Used by Buddhist monks for reciting text, and a royal reception area.
Stupa of HM King Suramarith and HM Queen Kossomak. The father and mother for former king Sihanouk.
Model of Angkor Wat.
The Belfry. Its bell is rung to signal the opening and closing on the gates.
Mondapa of Satra and Tripitaka: This library building contains illuminated sacred scripts written on palm leaves.
Stupa HM King Norodom: 1860-1904.
Statue of HM King Norodom: an equestrian statue of King Norodom.
Stupa King Ang Duong: 1845-1859.
Kepng Preah Bath: a Pavilion housing a huge footprint of Buddha.
Phnom Mondop or Mondop Hill: a man-made hill containing a footprint of Buddha from Sri Lanka.
Stupa of HRH Princess Kantha Bopha, daughter of Prince Sihanouk.
Entrance: $3.00, $2 for a stills camera, $5.00 for a video camera. For security reason, Photography is not permitted inside the Silver Pagoda pavilion Open daily, 07:30-11:00, 14:00-17:00. The Palace grounds are closed during official functions/occasions.
The entrance to the Palace and Silver Pagoda is via Sothearos Boulevard.
Deom Kor Market can be found at the corner of Mao Tse Toung Boulevard, and Monireth Street (St. 217). Open 24/7
16- Relaxing Places and Parks
Phnom Penh offers a number of places to relax, unwind and avoid the general hustle and bustle of daily life. Recommended are the park at Chatomuk Hall, where Cambodian dances are performed, the parkland around Independent Monument, Chatomuk garden, riverfront, and the park of Samdech Hun Sen. Etc.
17- Tuol Sleng Museum
Situated in the southern suburbs of Phnom Penh is Tuol Sleng Museum, the once the very ordinary Tuol Svay Prey High school. When Pol Pot seized the city in April 1975, the school was transformed into Security Prison 21, or S-21. It was no ordinary prison; it was the regimes largest detention and interrogation centre: For those entering it, less than a handful was ever seen alive again. Most detainees were tortured into giving false confessions, statements which automatically condemned them to execution on the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. The school room walls now house the mug shot photographs of those who perished here. The regime kept meticulous records, photographing and documenting everyone who passed through – men, women and children alike. There were also a handful of unfortunate foreigners interned here, similarly� tortured and murdered.
Today S-21 is preserved as a museum and testament to the insane barbarism which occurred just thirty years ago, at a time when most visitors were in a school building as plain and ordinary as this one. S-21 can be a sobering and depressing place. For the complete picture, visits here should be combined with the journey to Choeung Ek, the same journey made by 17,000 other unfortunates 3 decades earlier. Unlike them, your trip will have a return leg.
The entrance fee is $2, and is open daily between 08:00-1 1:30, 14:00-17:30.
18- Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom or Daun Penh Hill has become a popular destination for locals and visiting tourists. Here, one can enjoy the calmness of a gentle stroll in the lush gardens, visit nearby museums, climb up the steps for a view of the city, or feed Sambo, everybody’s favorite elephant.
Legend has it that a wealthy widow name Yeay Penh (Grandma Penh) was walking by the Mekong River. One day she spotted a Koki tree (a type of Khmer tree) log floating in the riverbank and to her amazement, discovered four Buddha statues tucked inside. In 1372 AD, Lady Penh rallied her neighbors for the construction of a shrine to be built on top of the current day Wat Phnom. To the present, a pagoda remains at the peak where the four relics bring Buddhist followers alike together.
In 1434 AD, King Ponhea Yat escaped the great city of Angkor and relocated to Toul Basan now found in present-day Kampong Chain province. A year later, the capital was moved again to Phnom Penh and Wat Phnom and vicinity became the heart of a new developing city.
The original shrine has gone through several phases of construction. From the early days of French rule, the most beautiful stupa retains its original shape and decorations, where the King Ponhea Yat’s bones remain. Also inside the stupa, there are Buddha statues from the Angkorean era.
18- Khmer Architecture (show detailhide detail)
There are many great structures representing modern Khmer architectural icons. Take for example Olympic Stadium, where during its heyday as known as the largest stadium in Southeast Asia. The Royal University of Phnom Penh complex situated along the Russian Boulevard, Bassac Theatre near the Buddhist Institute, and the Independence Monument are just some of the rich architectural gems found in Phnom Penh.