"The Capital With a History and a New Future" Phnom Penh by thedouglas

Phnom Penh Travel Guide: 1,573 reviews and 4,177 photos

Grand History relatively untouched

Despite the ravages of the Khmer Rouge regime, the Grand Palace complex shows little signs of damage. Amazing "gifts" from Napoleon, such as magnificant chandeliers, remain intact, as well as a number of artefacts, inside the various buildings.

A visit to the Grand Palace and Silver Pagoda complex is enough to see the history of significant relatively recent French influence in this city, which has been the Capital of Cambodia since the 15th century. Location at the confluence of the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac watercourses gave this site an excellent location to become a trade capital - which is was, by the 16th century. Of course, that all changed over the next centuries, with Cambodia increasingly caught between the conflict between Vietnam and Thailand. The French colonised in the 19th century. Cambodia today is shrunken version of the original 54 Provinces in the times of Angkor.


Phnom Penh was apparently once quite a lovely city in Indochina, with many examples of French architecture. The crumbling, dirty streetscape now is far from lovely. However, there are restorations and renovations going on, and the increasing tourism is giving hope to this city.

We read some books about Phnom Penh's lawlessness, and, sheltered folk that we are, did not see or experience any of this side of the city. We did hear a gunshot (either real or vivid imagination concoction!) one night! We saw a shop sign stating "sex tourists not welcome", which would be a great sentiment, if it caught on. There are increasing numbers of organisations emerging, which are providing shelter and alternatives to women - encouraging the survival of traditional craft, and opportunity to earn a wage this way.

Tragic recent history

Its impossible to visit Phnom Penh and not visit the Tuol Sleng Museum and killing fields of Choeung Ek - if you want to gain some kind of insight and understanding into Cambodia today.

After seeing the grandeur of Angkor Wat, seeing the many mine victims in that area, and hearing personal stories from people we met in Cambodia, visiting these places was a validation of the horror of what went on in this country - not that there was anything to disbelieve. Seeing the killing field, the mass graves, seeing that underfoot were rain and traffic exposed scraps of discarded clothing and shards of bones from unearthed victims, was quite affronting.

The presence of such persistent and brazen children beggars, handling bones and offering "give us $1 to share and we will leave you alone..." was also somehow offensive - but, I guess, their lives have to go on now......

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Survival of a city with a past - and option of a self directed future
  • Cons:Exploitation in various ways continue
  • In a nutshell:Not the cleanest city in Asia, but pockets of charm
  • Last visit to Phnom Penh: Mar 2006
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (13)

Comments (7)

  • ellielou's Profile Photo
    Nov 27, 2006 at 11:18 AM

    am leaving this comment to remind myself that I need to check out your PP pages! Trying to rtn to SEA in Feb...starting with Thaispusam in KL, and ending with Chinese New Year around S'pore...with PP a new place to visit!

  • Ekaterinburg's Profile Photo
    Nov 23, 2006 at 3:39 PM

    I'm a bit squeamish and not sure if I w ould feel very comfortable in Pnomh Penh. I never visit prisons, death camps or similar places. This is moral cowardice on my part so thankyou for having the courage and informing us. Katherine :)

  • Mikebb's Profile Photo
    Nov 18, 2006 at 5:44 PM

    Some history here, makes you realise how well off we are

  • traveldave's Profile Photo
    Oct 27, 2006 at 3:21 PM

    Looks like a fascinating place to visit, especially considering its recent history.

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Jul 19, 2006 at 12:04 AM

    Without doubt one of the grimmest and most thought provoking pages I've seen on VT. Cautionary on the hygiene also!

  • Purpleshade's Profile Photo
    Jul 1, 2006 at 7:47 PM

    Not a place for the weak stomached! Lesley

  • Tattugran's Profile Photo
    May 4, 2006 at 1:45 PM

    how did you manage to go to the killing fields.... what a sad experience? I would feel so sad seeing it all

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