Phnom Penh’s history may not have been the most appealing during the Khmer Rouge era, but the capital of Cambodia today is a far cry from the beleaguered place it was during Pol Pot’s regime. In fact, Phnom Penh today is one of the best places to visit in the country, a garden already rich with cultural heritage yet also aggressively sprouting the shoots of modernization and urbanized prosperity. The Phnom Penh experience is an unforgettable one—perhaps a little raw due to its past as well as the fact of it still being a city in transition, but never artificial and certainly never dull.
Phnom Penh was originally called the Paris of the East. A lot of things have changed since then, yes, but there are still some parts of the city that will give you a whiff of the old French breeze. Some of the old colonial structures still exist—and the cuisine certainly does reflect a lot of French techniques. It makes for a wonderful dining experience in the city, especially with Phnom Penh becoming known for some of the best (and in some cases, impressively high-end) restaurants in the country.
A walk around Phnom Penh’s riverfront is a similarly memorable. The eager tourist will also be certain to pay a visit to the royal palace, which is sure to impress with the splendid harmony of its design. The city also houses the country’s National Museum, whose collections are arguably the most impressive in Cambodia, as well as the lovely Sisowath Quay. And for those unafraid to face the dark parts of the city’s history, there are such important historic monuments as the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
There are times when you should expect Phnom Penh to be a little deviant from the perfection of some of its greatest tourist sites, though—times when it can get a little noisy, a little crowded, even a little stuffy with the heat of several thousand people thronging the streets. But even then, it does not lose its charm if you know how to look at it. There is always something marvelously alive about this city, as though it were hell-bent on reasserting its life after those bloody years under the Khmer Rouge. And that, more than anything else, should tell you why this is a city worth visiting.