Phnom Penh might not be on top cities to visit lists, but it is a charming city to hang out and a good introduction to Cambodia. You can relax in resort-style hotels in the center of the city at low prices and learn about Cambodia’s history – an important backdrop to understanding the country ad its people today! There is plenty to do for a stop-or on your way to the temples of Angkor Wat or the best beaches of Cambodia!
Phnom Penh has been the capital of Cambodia in modern times and a great place to start seeing the city is at the Royal Palace at the heart of downtown. Built during the French Colonial period, It’s still the seat of the King of Cambodia today. You can see the gold-roofed throne hall from many spots in Phnom Penh and it’s stunning from close up. Wander through the compound to take in the halls and temples on your own – or hire a guide for more information. The National Museum is nearby and a great addition to your tour of Phnom Penh – with artifacts from ancient history, you get a great impression of the rich Khmer history.
Cambodia has seen one of the darkest periods of humankind during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge killed somewhere between 1.5 and 3 million of their countrymen, among a population of only 7.5 million. You can learn about this reign of terror at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. They are often combined into one tour. I believe it’s important to visit – know your history or you are doomed to repeat it.
When I visited Phnom Penh in 2002, only a few years after the civil war had ended in 1994, I could still feel the dark shadows of the past over the city and its people. Today, Phnom Penh is a much livelier and fun city to visit. Check out the river promenade during sunset and you can people watch locals enjoying the cool evenings by the river.
Or head to Boeng Keng Kang, the upscale district South of downtown, popular with expats. There are lots of bars, restaurants, shops and spas to entertain you. It best shows the rapid development of Phnom Penh with new condo buildings going up next to stately old villas or tuk tuks parked in front of luxury spas and stores.
Another great thing to do in Phnom Penh is to do nothing: My favorite and most surprising aspect of returning to Phnom Penh were the wonderful, resort style hotels in Phnom Penh. Tucked away in the heart of downtown you can find an urban oasis that feels like a resort on a tropical island. You can be pampered by the pool or at the spa, letting the experiences of your vacation sink in or the thoughts of work fade away – making for a great start or end to any vacation or a quick weekend getaway from your crazy everyday life. And at the same price as overnight parking in San Francisco, you don’t have to feel guilty about doing nothing and being pampered!