Home > Travel > Phnom Penh – A City Revitalized

Phnom Penh – A City Revitalized

Phnom Penh is a city revitalized. The skyline of Cambodia’s once sleepy
capital is being pierced by its first high-rise, and the red dirt roads,
now sealed, swarm with SUVs and motorcycles. For a city that has
endured more than its share of bloodshed and destruction, today’s
youthful exuberance and palpable energy are a welcomed by locals and
visitors. Yet despite the positive change being witnessed today, any
time spent in Phnom Penh must still include reflective visits to the
sites of the country’s horrific past. Two of the most visited places in
Phnom Penh are still Camp Cheoung Ek, one of many infamous Killing
Fields sites, and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school that
became a torture centre known as S-21.
National Museum
Camp Cheoung Ek lies 15 kilometres southwest of the city and was the
burial site for those tortured and killed in S-21. In 1980, 129 mass
graves were found here and 8,985 corpses unearthed. Today, a large stupa
contains the bones and remnants of clothing as a memorial to the
victims. Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is located in a suburb of Phnom
Penh. The building is thought to have witnessed over 20,000 citizens
pass through its doors to be tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge.
On the ground floor, rooms with a single bed and leg irons where torture
was carried out now envelop visitors in an eerie silence. One of the
most haunting experiences, however, is looking at the thousands of black
and white images of victims displayed on boards throughout the
building. Like all regimes that committed genocide, the Khmer Rouge was
meticulous in documenting those it killed.

Rediscovering Khmer arts

It’s hard to comprehend but the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge
wiped out so many artists and craftsmen that the country’s traditional
arts were almost lost. Today, following a concerted effort to retrain
young people Cambodian crafts have emerged as some of the finest in the
region.
Artisans d’ Angkor was established in 1998 and has played a
significant role in saving and promoting the country’s rich cultural
heritage. Originally under EU funding, the business is now totally
self-financing and trains dozens of artisans each year, many of whom set
up on their own. In Phnom Penh, Artisans d’ Angkor have a boutique in
front of the post office on Street 13, and at Phnom Penh International
Airport. The shops sell lacquerware, stone carving, high quality hand
woven silk, silverware and much more. Visit http://www.artisansdangkor.com for further details about the inspirational projects.
The recent blossoming of Khmer arts and crafts has also seen many
other boutiques open in Phnom Penh. There are several clustered on
Street 240 and a host of art galleries close to the National Museum on
Street 178, commonly referred to as Art Street.
One of the joys of travelling in Asia is visiting the vibrant
markets. Phnom Penh is no exception and is home to the fabulous Psar
Thmei, also known as the Central Market, a striking art deco building
dating back to 1935. Here you can buy just about anything from shoes and
clothing to souvenirs and jewellery. In Phnom Penh there are also many
sprawling fresh markets to explore. Colourful, chaotic and not for the
squeamish, they are the heart of the city. Check out the old market of
Psar Chas on Street 9 and 11 which is open throughout the day and in the
evening. For a colourful fresh market, head over Monivong Bridge in the
early morning and you’ll discover the wonderful Psar Chhbar Ampoeu.

Former glories

Despite wanton destructive within Phnom Penh during the Khmer Rouge
years, much of the capital’s former glories survived. The Royal Palace
and the Silver Pagoda within its compound are well worth a visit. The
complex dates from 1866 and is filled with Buddha statues, and religious
and royal artefacts including an emerald Buddha encrusted with jewels.
Entry is $3, plus $2 if you wish to use a camera. It is open every day
from 8 a.m. – 11.30 a.m. and 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Nearby, the beautiful red
building of the National Museum houses a wonderful collection of over
5,000 Khmer art and sculpture.

Getting around Phnom Penh

The moto-romuak, Cambodia’s answer to the tuk-tuk, are an excellent
way to get around, and preferable to the confines of a car. You can hire
a moto-romuak and driver for between $10- 15 a day for running around
town. For longer trips to places outside the city expect the fee to
rise. Drivers usually wait around near hotels and the concierge should
be able to assist with negotiations.

Where to stay

 

The InterContinental Phnom Penh was the city’s first international
five-star hotel. The 346-room hotel is located in the heart of the city
and 20 minute’s drive from the airport. Guests can enjoy luxurious rooms
and suites, and excellent service. Dining includes the Regency Cafe and
the Deli Cafe. There’s also a spa, fitness centre, and outdoor swimming
pool. 296 Boulevard Mao Tse Tung, Phnom Penh. Visit the website at http://www.intercontinental.com
The latest addition to booming Phnom Penh is the Sofitel Penh
Phkeethra. The brand new hotel occupies a riverside location in the
city’s old quarter and is close to many of the main attractions.
Inspired by colonial era architecture, the hotel offers 201 rooms and
suites with views across the Mekong and Bassac rivers.

Facilities include elegant restaurants and bars, two pools and a
stylish spa. 26 Old August Site, Sothearos Boulevard, Sangkat Tonle
Bassac, Phnom Penh. Visit the website at http://www.sofitel.com

Getting there

Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways fly daily to Phnom Penh.

A visa on arrival is available at the airport for a fee of $20. One
passport photograph is required. A departure tax of $25 is also charged.

More images of Phnom Penh can be seen at http://www.mickshippen.com

 Bangkok Post
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