Travelers accustomed to luxury may be surprised when they visit the City of Phnom Penh. Its climate is hot and, in the dry season, very dusty. City infrastructure is poor after the Khmer Rouge years. Despite being the richest city in Cambodia, the Port of Phnom Penh is for the most part poor in comparison to cities like Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon).
In the past few years, however, the Port of Phnom Penh has become more relaxed and enjoyable. It struggles to maintain its historic cultural charm while also becoming a modern city. The Port of Phnom Penh's infrastructure is getting better. Streets have been paved, and garbage is collected more regularly. There are fewer power outages than in past years.
What makes the Port of Phnom Penh attractive are its wide boulevards, beautiful colonial architecture, and park-like riverside dotted with many wonderful restaurants and cafes. While there are few typical tourist attractions, the street life and local atmosphere are unique and fascinating. The Port of Phnom Penh is among the most popular Asian cities for tourists of the 21st Century.
The Riverside, or Sisowath Quay, runs along the banks of the Mekong and Tonle Sap. Landscaped like a nice urban park, it is home to shops, cafes, and high-class bars (as well as a few prostitutes and drug dealers). The esplanade is popular with locals as well, and in the evening, the street has an almost carnival feeling.
At the beginning of the Riverside are the Royal Palace and two wonderful pagodas, the Silver Pagoda and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Built in the 19th Century, they have endured the 20th Century. The Silver Pagoda's floor is made with five thousand silver tiles, and many gifts to the Royal family are on display. Included is a 90-kilo solid gold Buddha covered with almost 10 thousand diamonds. Also featured is a 17th Century Baccarat crystal and emerald Buddha. Visitors should dress respectfully (cover shoulders and legs) and leave the camera at home. The entrance fee is affordable, and if you don't have the proper clothing, you can rent a sarong or big T-shirt at the entrance. The Palace Grounds are closed between 11am and 2pm.
Near the Royal Palace is the National Museum that features wonderful art from Angkor's golden age. With a beautiful central courtyard, visitors can see the famous statue of King Jayavarman VII who lived in the late 12th and early 13th Centuries.
About three kilometers from the Royal Palace is Wat Batum, the wat favored by royalty. In the 1930s, a young novice, Saloth Sar, lived there. Later, the novice was called by the name Pol Pot, and he led the Khmer Rouge.
Mentioned earlier, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum was a school that the Khmer Rouge used as a prison where they tortured over 14 thousand people before taking them to the Killing Fields to die. Only eight people came out alive. Reminders of that horror still linger. Skulls are stacked in cabinets, tools of torture are scattered about, and photos of victims are posted. South of the Port of Phnom Penh is the Killing Fields Museum at Cheoung Ek. A Buddhist stupa full of human skulls marks the spot where so many died. Pits remain where mass graves were dug up after the Khmer Rouge departed.