Phnom Penh Top Attractions: Cambodia’s capital is home to many of the country’s top attractions.
This is a remarkable city. Rapidly transforming and beginning to blossom after its turbulent past. The people of Phnom Penh are determined to restore the city’s former prestige. Once known to the world as the Pearl of Asia, now works relentlessly to repair its reputation.
It is packed with appealing adventures. It tempts tourists from around the world. From its captivating Khmer architecture to its bustling markets, plus all that lies in between makes this a charming city.
With so many top attractions, countless inviting possibilities greet visitors to Phnom Penh. There are temples to tempt you, there are marvelous museums and magnificent monuments too. We recommend these top attractions to our visitors.
The Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda
The Royal Palace sits within a walled compound by the river’s edge in Phnom Penh. Since the 19th century, it has been the home to Cambodia’s kings. Presently, the residence of King Norodom Sihamoni.
The Royal Palace complex is an awe-inspiring collection of buildings. Not only is the palace breath-taking, but the temples and halls that surround it are also equally spectacular. The interior of the palace is incredibly impressive. Delicately detailed paintings line the high walls and ceilings. Painted by hand in glorious and majestic colours. The dazzling gold, rich reds and blues are captivating, to say the least.
The Throne Hall is out of this world. The architecture is quite simply mesmerising. The exquisitely detailed decoration, the glittering gold and the statues are phenomenal.
The palace gardens are beautifully maintained and manicured, a top attraction in their own right.
The Silver Pagoda is also one of the main tourist attractions in Phnom Penh. The Emerald Buddha, made from Baccarat crystal and covered with almost 10,000 diamonds, is truly admirable. In 1962 King Sihanouk had the floor inlaid with over 5,000 solid silver tiles, hence, the name, Silver Pagoda.
The Independence Monument was designed by Vann Molyvann to commemorate Cambodia’s return to sovereignty. It also celebrates how the monarchy was reinstated without bloodshed. It is one of the major tourist attractions in Phnom Penh.
The Independence Monument is an elegant example of traditional architecture. Vann Molyvann (a Cambodian architect) created the design which is based upon the flower of a lotus. The five levels represent the five petals of the lotus.
The monument’s five levels are all adorned with nagas. The intricate craftsmanship can be seen more clearly in the afternoon. It’s at this time of day as shadows begin to form which highlight the serpents in detail.
At night the monument is illuminated making it stand out. Similarly, the fountain is illuminated by red, white and blue floodlights. Colours embodied in the Cambodian flag.
Each year, Independence Monument becomes a centre of activities during national festivities such as Independence Day and Constitution Day, falling on November 9th and September 24th respectively. A royal official sets the ceremonial flame ablaze. This marks the beginning of the spellbinding national celebrations.
War heroes are honoured on these occasions by placing wreaths of flowers at the base of the monument. To the east of the monument, towards Sihanouk Boulevard is a public park. The park is used for a variety of activities such as jogging, walking or simply savouring the cool breeze.
The National Museum
The National Museum houses Cambodia’s most extensive collection of cultural history. Inside is the world’s largest collection of Khmer art. This includes statues, sculptures, ceramics, bronzes and numerous other pieces. There are over 14,000 examples on show dating as far back as prehistoric times, throughout the Khmer Empire and beyond.
The halls are lined with sacred statues. Some of these are Buddhist and others are Brahmanist. Images of Vishnu, Ganesha, Bodhisattra, Durga, Lakshmi as well as an array of Buddhas.
Traditional Khmer architecture inspired the museum’s design. Built between 1917 and 1924, officially inaugurated in 1920 and subsequently renovated in 1968.
Wat Phnom sits on top of the only hill in Phnom Penh and is a huge tourist attraction. This Buddhist temple is an impressive yet imposing sanctuary. Originally built in 1372 and subsequently rebuilt in 1434, 1806, 1894 and 1926. This temple is sacred to both Buddhists and to the city of Phnom Penh itself.
The main entrance is via a red stone staircase on the eastern side. Two huge nagas (the mythical snakes of Buddhism and Hinduism) guard the stairs. Inside the temple sits a bronze Buddha. Paintings covering the walls tell Buddha’s story. Equally eye-catching are two enormous Chinese figures.
The incredible paintings on the walls depict the legend of Phnom Penh’s beginnings. They tell us the legend of the four bronze Buddhas. The tree was floating down the river, hidden within were four bronze Buddhas. Daun Penh, a widower, found the tree with the Buddhas inside. Duan, together with her neighbours, built a shrine on a small hill near her home and placed her amazing discoveries inside.
This became known as Phnom Penh (Penh’s Hill) in honour of Duan Penh. The wat you see today is the very same place where Duan Penh built the original shrine. Also, giving the city its name.
Central Market, (Phsar Thmei, meaning new market). Its name is in reference to its location. Not only is this market wonderful example of art deco architecture but also a miraculous feat of engineering. It’s hard to miss as it’s massive and painted dark yellow.
The market’s design is similar to the spokes of a wheel. With halls that extend outwards from the centre. All manner of intriguing items fill these small stalls. This market sells almost anything you can imagine. The variety of products for sale seems almost endless.
Central Market is possibly the best market in Phnom Penh for tourists to enjoy. It is the cleanest and has the widest selection of goods on offer.
This Russian Market attracts a great number of tourists. It is the biggest and best known of all the markets. The name dates back to the 1960s when a large number of Russians began coming here.
Due to its popularity among tourists the prices have become somewhat inflated and haggling isn’t easy. Market traders tend to stick to their prices.
Built in 1962, Olympic Market (Phsar Olympic) is near the Olympic stadium, hence the name. This bustling market covers three floors. The market sells wholesale goods making it a popular market for the locals.
Crammed full of almost anything you can think of and spread over three floors. Each floor offers a different selection of goods. Also, it’s rather hectic with narrow passages, coupled with the number of shoppers.
On the ground floor is a mixture of household items along with an intriguing array of spices. Their aroma hangs pleasantly in the air. The first floor shops sell shoes, jewelry and all manner of fashionable accessories.
The second floor is the one for women. Shop after shop sells beautiful traditional Cambodian dresses, worn at festive occasions. In addition, attractive evening dresses of every colour surround you. It is the best place to buy good fabrics.
The third floor consists of Cambodian restaurants as well as many wholesalers. It’s the place for bulk buying. Many local traders come here to buy stock for their shops. Also, traders from outside the city come here to buy in bulk.