When most travelers think of Phnom Penh, their minds instantly fill with images of the exotic. They think of monks adorned in fluttering saffron robes, royal palaces topped by glimmering spires and luscious green spaces on the Mekong’s banks. The Cambodian capital is all this and more. Truly one of the undiscovered gems of Asia, the city is a metropolis that manages to hold onto its enchanting history. There is no other place in the world like it, and there is something for everyone in the vibrant city.
The town’s only hill, Wat Phnom, has a storied history. Local legend maintains that pagodas were first built on the tree-covered knoll in 1373 to house Buddha statues washed up by the Mekong River. Visitors can explore the storied area only by climbing a grand staircase guarded by mythical serpents and lion statues.
The city’s skyline is dominated by the Royal Palace. Its ornate gilding and classic roofs are stunning examples of Cambodian architecture, and the protective walls hide soaring ceremonial buildings and lush gardens.
Inside the complex lies the Silver Pagoda, whose floor is covered with more than five tons of the precious metal. A Buddha made of Baccarat crystal sits on a golden pedestal, and another solid-gold Buddha is displayed nearby. The statue glitters with over 2,000 diamonds, some of which weigh up to 25 carats. Bronze and gold figurines outline the story of the religious figure’s life, and miniature relics from Sri Lanka are displayed in glass cases.
Visitors can get up close and personal with many of Cambodia’s most interesting animal species at Phnom Tamao, the city’s zoo and safari park. It is one of the best animal sanctuaries in the region, and the animals are enclosed in large natural habitats. The tiger population is thriving, elephants sometimes show off their painting skills for visitors and the walk-through area is teeming with rare birds and macaques. The sanctuary also boasts one of the largest collections of Malaysian sun bears and pileated gibbons in captivity.
Less extravagant but still stunning. The Phnom Chisor temple complex is definitely worth exploring. The brick and laterite main temple is surrounded by the ruins of a windowed gallery, and inscriptions from the 11th century can still be seen on the walls. Visitors enter through carved wooden doors to view many statues of the Buddha.
The most somber site in all of Cambodia is probably the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. A blinding white stupa memorializes the 17,000 locals executed between 1975 and 1978 by the Khmer Rouge, and more than 100 mass graves have been identified in the area. The stupa holds more than 9,000 human skulls uncovered when the site was excavated in 1980, offering a chilling reminder of the darkest period in the capital’s history.
Other sights worth seeing in the capital include the sanctuaries of Sen Thmol, the French Embassy, the ruins of the Vihear Preah Ath Roes, the seated Buddha at Vihear Preah Ko, the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which offers more information about Khmer Rouge crimes, the Ta San Mosque, the Independence Monument, the graceful National Library and the National Museum of Cambodia, home to an outstanding collection of Khmer sculpture.
Phnom Penh Geographical Location
Phnom Penh is located in the southeast of Cambodia on the Mekong River. It is Cambodia’s largest city and has a population of 2,235,000.
Phnom Penh Language
Khmer is the official language of Cambodia and is spoken by the vast majority of the population. English and French is common within tourist areas and cities.
Phnom Penh Predominant Religion
- 96.5% Buddhist
- 2% Muslim
- 1.5% Other
Buddhism is the official religion of Cambodia and is deeply rooted in the country’s history.
Phnom Penh Currency
The Cambodian Riel is the official currency of Cambodia.
Phnom Penh Climate
It is hot throughout the year in Phnom Penh and has a rainy season between May and October. Humidity is high during the rainy season and, paired with the heat, can make Phnom Penh uncomfortable.
Phnom Penh Main Attractions
- Wat Phnom
- Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
- The Killing Fields
Other Attraction in Phnom Penh
- Silver Pagoda
- National Museum
- Independence Monument
- Royal Palace