One of the hallmarks of 21st century tourism is a renewed interest in destinations that were once considered dangerous or otherwise off-limits, and Cambodia is a great example of a country with much to offer that has largely gone unnoticed until recently. Despite a long, sad chapter in Cambodia’s history – the Khmer Rouge genocide of 1975 to 1979 – the country has risen from this low point to become a promising tourism destination in Southeast Asia.
Among the most important places to visit while in Phnom Penh are Choeung Ek, Wat Phnom, the Royal Palace and Phnom Tamao.
One of several Khmer Rouge-era torture centers and mass graves just a few miles south of Phnom Penh, the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are now open to the public as a memorial to the over 1 million people who lost their lives at this site alone. The building that now sits on this site is a Buddhist stupa inside which many skulls of the deceased are on display. Bones of the bodies exhumed from the mass grave still litter the site; as part of an agreement between the Municipality of Phnom Penh and J. C. Royal Co. to develop the memorial site, these remains are being left undisturbed.
Built in 1373 and standing over 27 meters (88.5 feet) high, the Buddhist pagoda known as Wat Phnom is the tallest religious structure in the city. To this day, Wat Phnom is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site and the center of religious ceremonies such as the Khmer New Year and Festival of the Dead.
The Royal Palace was built upon establishment of the capital city in Phnom Penh, after several relocations to different cities in Cambodia between the 15th and 19th centuries, and has been occupied continuously by the royal family since the 1860s except during the years when the Khmer Rouge were in power. The monarchy was restored after the Khmer Rouge fled the country, and much of the palace is now open to the public. The Moonlight Pavilion and Silver Pagoda are of particular interest for their staging of traditional Khmer dance performances and display of national treasures (including gold and jeweled Buddha statues) respectively.
Located about 45 km south of Phnom Penh, the Phnom Tamao Zoological Park and Wildlife Rescue Center is the only official wildlife sanctuary in Cambodia and a popular destination for tourists and native Cambodians alike. Many animals saved from poachers and traffickers now call Phnom Tamao their permanent home, and there are over 1,000 species living there altogether. The different enclosures around Phnom Tamao are accessible on foot or by motorcycle.
With its important memorial sites paying homage to the victims of the Khmer Rouge as well as historical monuments dating back over 600 years which are still in use today, Phnom Penh promises a tourism experience like no other. For a vacation that will broaden your horizons, plan your trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia today.