Phnom Penh - Attractions

Tuol Sleng Museum

The Museum of Genocide is located in the former Tuol Svay Prey gymnasium at the 103rd Street, close to the corner of 350th Street. After April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge took the capital, the school buildings served as Security Jail 21 where thousands of people were systematically tortured. Many died during the torture and more than 20,000 people were brought from the jail to the Choeung Ek execution area, where they were murdered and thrown into mass graves. Only seven of the prisoners survived: sculptors who had to produce busts of Pol Pot.

The museum was set up in 1979, soon after the invasion of the Vietnamese. Walls were decorated with numerous photographs of murdered prisoners as Pol Pot's torturers had, with the same small-minded pedantry met in Hitler's KZ personnel, taken pictures of all the victims.

Also displayed are instruments of torture, often surprising in their primitivity. Obviously high-tech is not needed to inflict inexpressible suffering and pain on other people.

The museum is open daily 7 to 11 am and 2 to 4:30 pm, except on Mondays. Entrance fee is one US Dollar.

Choeung Ek Execution Area

Choeung Ek, a few kilometres south of Phnom Penh, was the execution area, where Khmer Rouge minions killed more than 40,000 compatriots and buried them in at least 129 mass graves. At the execution area, now idyllically located between rice paddies and fruit orchards, a high glass tower has been erected, containing the skulls and remains of tens of thousands of victims. The tower is frequently shown in TV news footage on Cambodia.

Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda

The Royal Palace, located between 184th Street and 240th Street, was built in 1866 by the French. The entry is at the Samdech Sothearos Boulevard, formerly Lenin Boulevard, not far from the banks of the Tonle Sap river.

Among various buildings within the walls the Throne Hall ranks as most important. This Khmer-style building was erected only in 1917. It is used only on special occasions. Attached to the Throne Hall is a tower, 59 metres high.

South of the Throne Hall are the Royal Treasury and the villa of Napoleon III. This villa was built in 1866, not in Cambodia, but rather in Egypt. There it served the French Empress Eugenie as accommodation on occasion of the opening of the Suez Canal. One year later Napoleon III gave the villa to the Cambodian king as a present.

At the northern area of the palace grounds is the Silver Pagoda. The original pagoda, built in 1866 by King Norodom, was, for the most part, made of wood. In 1962, it was expanded by Sihanouk. The name of the pagoda derives from the fact, that its floor is made of more than 5,000 silver blocks weighing more than 6 tons. When visiting the Silver Pagoda, one should not wear shorts or hats. Entrance fee is two US Dollars per person; anyone bringing a camera is charged another two Dollars; the extra fee for video cameras is five Dollars.

The most important Buddha statue of the temple is, like in Bangkok's royal temple, an Emerald Buddha, which in this case is not made of emerald, but of Baccarat crystal. It dates back to the 17th century.

Behind the Emerald Buddha is another Buddha statue made of 90 kilograms of gold and decorated with 9,584 diamonds. It was cast in 1906.

The inside of the 600-metres surrounding walls of the Silver Pagoda are decorated with murals displaying scenes from the Ramayana epos. East of the pagoda is an equestrian monument of King Norodom - which is actually a monument of the French Emperor Napoleon III. The head of the original statue was removed and replaced with one showing King Norodom.

National Museum of Arts

The National Museum of Arts is to the North of the palace grounds, on the opposite side of 184th street. The building was designed in Khmer-style in 1920 by a French architect. The most important artifacts are sculptures from the Angkor era and before. The museum is open daily 7 to 11:30 am and 2 to 5 pm, except on Mondays. Entrance fee is two US Dollars. English and French speaking guides are available.

Wat Ounalom

Wat Ounalom is the most important Wat of Phnom Penh, and the center of Cambodian Buddhism. It is north from the National Museum of Arts (two streets from the Royal Palace). Wat Ounalom was built in 1443 to keep a hair of the Buddha. Before the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh in 1975, more than 500 monks used to live at the Wat. The Khmer Rouge killed the abbot and a large number of monks and vandalized the buildings and their treasures. After the Vietnamese invasion on 1979 the Wat was restored, and today again serves as the center of Cambodian Buddhism.

Wat Phnom

On a hill in the northern part of Phnom Penh lies Wat Phnom, after which the Cambodian capital is named. The Wat was built in 1372 and was restored or reconstructed in 1434, 1890, 1894 and 1926. Wat Phnom is much favoured by the inhabitants of the city as it is considered the most appropriate place for prayer and small offerings, given in order to influence one's own fate. Wat Lang Ka

Wat Lang Ka, a off Boulevard Tou Samouth, once featured a beautiful pagoda. But much of the Wat was destroyed by the Khmer Rouge. After the Vietnamese invasion of 1979 the Wat was restored.

Wat Tuol Tum Pong

Wat Tuol Tum Pong, a off Boulevard Keo Mani, has a new pagoda, which has met criticism from some art enthusiasts.

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