One of the most popular areas of Phnom Penh for visitors tends to be the Riverside. Lined with bars and restaurants, and giving nice views of the Tonle Sap, this area lends itself to lazy afternoons watching the world go by. A short distance east of the river, the streets are also packed with late night bars and guesthouses as well as being close to the central market and night market. For those wanting to stray away from the usual tourist hotspots, head to street 240, or the area just south (and slightly south east) of Independence monument. These up-market areas demonstrate Phnom Penh’s blossoming café culture. Over the last few years a plethora of coffee shops have sprung up – used by Cambodians and expats alike. Sipping coffee and sampling pastries in one of these establishments is a great way to get a bit of a feel for the new emerging side of Phnom Penh – a young, rising, ambitious population pursuing both education and business in a bid to compete with other ASEAN nations.
Tuol Sleng (the infamous Khmer Rouge prison) and the Killing Fields just outside the city center. Anyone interested in understanding Cambodia should take time to visit at least one of these sites, as the Khmer Rouge era still defines many of Cambodia’s struggles today. Tuol Sleng is quite a harsh place to visit – a former school, it was turned into a detention center where supposed opponents to the regime were tortured for their confessions.
The Killing Fields is equally sobering, but has become more of a memorial to the people who died there, rather than a museum. A very well written audio guide, put together by Youk Chhang (Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia ), helps visitors move around the site and gives an insight into the lives of people who suffered at that time.
A good way to end a challenging day visiting these sights is with a boat trip along the Tonle Sap at sunset. It’s possible to rent a whole boat to yourself, or sign up for a general boat tour. The boat trip will take you at a leisurely pace down the river to where the Tonle Sap merges with the Mekong. It’s a relaxing way to see Phnom Penh from a different perspective.
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Visitors might also like to have a quick stroll around the Olympic Stadium (Cambodia has never hosted an Olympics, but the stadium complex somehow landed this name) after 3pm. Scores of Phnom Penh residents gather there to join in outdoor aerobics classes, have impromptu football games, or just jog around the track. It’s a fun, relaxed, and a very Cambodian environment.
Another popular sight with visitors who have a short time in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace, including the Silver Pagoda. Originally built in the 19th century, many buildings in the complex have been reconstructed over the years, but still the overall site is impressive. The Silver Pagoda isn’t actually made of silver, but rather part of its interior is lined with silver tiles. Only a small part of this is actually visible (the rest is covered for protection) but another key attraction is on display – Cambodia’s Emerald Buddha.