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Phnom Penh Sightseeing Guide - Visit notable attractions and landmarks

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Phnom Penh's sites fall into two categories: historic and contemporary. The historic sites are few and far between, but a few of them are exceptional. The contemporary sites are somber and compelling, and visitors are likely to leave with a heavy heart. This is part of the experience, and most would say they're better for it.

Many of the sites in the city center date to the early 20th century. They include the impressive Royal Palace (which is older than its neighbors) and its even grander Silver Pagoda. The National Museum is another must-see, as there's no better collection than the Khmer art. Tourists can get around the city center on foot, though it's cheap and convenient to hire a car with a chauffeur.

The latter option is perfect for heading out to the Killing Fields and the Museum of Genocide. It's worth hiring a guide to visit these places, as many on hand have had personal experience with these sites.

Independence Monument

This central landmark was built in the late 1950s to commemorate freedom from French colonial powers. It looms over Phnom Penh's biggest roundabout and has evolved into memorial to those who have died in Cambodia's wars.

Museum of Genocide

This old high school was a veritable torture chamber at the height of the Khmer Rouge's killing spree. Today it's one of the most compelling reminders of a not-so-distant past. Many visitors arrive with tour groups, and those who don't are strongly advised to hire a guide at the entrance.

National Museum

The global authority on Khmer sculpture, this museum is a shining light in a city plagued by memories of genocide. Construction on this red sandstone building was completed in 1920, and it includes four beautiful courtyards arranged around a garden. This must-see is best visited on the same day as the Royal Palace.


Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda

The Royal Palace (1860s) is the city's defining feature, and for good reason. It's sequestered away behind fortifications, but inside is a truly grand complex. As expected, portions of the royal residence are off limits, but the adjoining Silver Pagoda is a site to behold. Inside are thousands of silver tiles and an impressive solid-gold Buddha adorned with more than 2,000 diamonds.

The Killing Fields

The Killing Fields began as a quiet Chinese cemetery, but were transformed into Cambodia's bloodiest execution grounds under the Khmer Rouge (1975-79). Today a white 17-story stupa towers over more than 100 mass graves, the collection of which holds the remains of the 17,000 who were slain here.

Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom sits on the highest ground in the city, and dates to the 14th century. The story goes that a woman named Penh pulled four Buddhist relics from the Mekong River. The hill (‘phnom') on which this temple sits was named after Ms. Penh, and the rest is history.