Top areas in Phnom Penh
With its French colonial architecture, Buddhist temples and haunting remnants of the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh represents one of Cambodia's most complete cross-sections of national history. While most tourists travel to Cambodia with Angkor Wat in mind, Phnom Penh is riveting and relevant, and it certainly belongs on any tourist's itinerary.
The city is named after a woman called Penh who discovered a set of Buddhist relics on a nearby hill (phnom). Today, that hill is crowned with Wat Phnom, the most important temple in the region. This is a good place to begin a tour of the city center, which goes on to include the stately Royal Palace and blocks of French colonial architecture. Boutique hotels in Phnom Penh are on the rise, with many housed in these century-old colonial gems.
While the central attractions can all be seen on foot, transportation is necessary for visiting somber sites related to the Khmer Rouge. The Killing Fields, a former Chinese cemetery turned mass grave, were central to the genocide, and today they're a compelling memorial. The two other major stops are Tol Sleng detention camp and the Genocide Museum.
Under the Khmer Rouge, Phnom Penh was abandoned and fell into disrepair. People started returning in 1979, and the enthusiasm with which they refurbished their city is contagious. Today, staying in a centrally-located Phnom Penh hotel gives tourists the chance to experience this excitement firsthand, in a city that's bound to become a leader in Southeast Asian tourism.
Phnom Penh is accessed via Phnom Penh International Airport, just seven kilometers from the city center.
For more information on hotels and landmarks in the different areas of Phnom Penh, click on the interactive Phnom Penh map on the left-hand side of the page.