Once one of the gems of French colonial Indochina, after years of terror and poverty Phnom Penh is finally re-emerging as a fine South East Asian capital.
Its wide, tree-lined boulevards are now busy with sparkling late-model cars, and more of her long-neglected magnificent colonial architecture is under restoration. The city’s river junction location lends it an added charm, with the riverside Sisowath Quay once again thriving. Waterfront parks and cafes, open-air Western and Khmer restaurants, hotels and even internet cafes are all taking advantage of the city’s new found stability and optimism, and Psar Thmei, the city’s classic Art Deco central market, affords one of the best value and most enjoyable shopping experiences in Indochina.
Phnom Penh also offers the traveller a range of historical and cultural attractions. These include the finest collection of Khmer sculpture in the National Museum – the 13th Century bust of King Jayavarman 7 is perhaps the most celebrated piece of Khmer art. The Silver Pagoda and Royal Palace grounds, despite their massive looting at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, are also impressive testaments to the artistic skills of the Khmers.
Phnom Penh also holds some disturbing reminders of its darkest days under the Pol Pot regime: Tuol Sleng, the eerily peaceful former school grounds which became a detention and torture center under the Khmer Rouge, and outside the city the ‘Killing Fields’ of Choeung Ek where the remains of thousands of murdered Cambodians were uncovered.
However, the Phnom Penh of the 21st Century is predominantly a place of hope … it’s here you’ll witness Cambodia’s determination to rebuild itself.