Phnom Penh guide
Psar Thmei, Phnom Penh
The Central Market is that easily recognisable grand yellow Art Deco building with the huge dome. It was built in 1937 during the French colonial time and had the biggest dome (45 m in diameter) in Asia at the time. In Khmer, the market is called Psar Thmei which actually means "New Market", the "central" name refers to its location - no reason to get confused here. There are four wings in addition to the main hall, along with outer stalls all the way around. Tourist related stuff are mostly found at the outside stalls, while the inside is tempting locals with jewellery, fashion and eletronic goods.
Stung Meanchey Municipal Waste Dump
It should not come as a shock that poverty is severe in Cambodia and Phnom Penh's biggest dump site, Stung Meanchey, is a good place to do that reality check. A stinking pile of trash spreads out over more than 40 hectares with a haze of smoke and toxic gases. Here, whole families live of what they can find and resell. On a good day, a grownup can make up to 2 dollars and a kid 50 cents, which sadly makes Stung Meanchey an attracting workplace for some of the poorest of Cambodia. It is understandable that some aid workers have described this place as hell on Earth.
Previously, it was possible to visit the dump site, but when we past by in 2011, the guards at the entrance wouldn't let us pass. You might have more luck than us. The picture is taken right outside the dump site - the sign says "don't spill trash".
Blvd Samdach, Phnom Penh
Though Cambodia is not an "Asian Tiger", its economy is improving and Phnom Penh is under fast development. In the city center, the old French colonial mansions are either done up or torn down, making room for new but less charming office buildings or another hotel. The river front has also had a makeover along with some of the main roads. But it is still possible to find pockets of Khmer ghettos, which mostly look like vertical slums - but time will for sure eliminate them.
Killing Field at Choeung Ek
17 km outside Phnom Penh
Choeung Ek is just one of many killing fields used by the Khmer Rouge when they ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. Enemies of the regime, which pretty much could be anyone, were first imprisoned then later killed. Prisoners from S-21 were marched to this old Chinese cemetery and then killed before put into mass graves, though sometimes they didn't even bother doing the killing. To save bullets, the Khmer Rouge soldiers used whatever they had at hand to kill the victims. People got knifed, bashed with tools or had their throat cut with sharp palm leaves. Babies got smacked into tree trunks.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, 8895 bodies were discovered here at Choeung Ek. Today, the graveyard has been turned into a memorial with a Buddhist stupa containing 5000 skulls of the victims.
Lake Boeng Kak
Boeng Kak Lake, Phnom Penh
When Lake Boeng Kak still was a lake, and not just a piece of waste water as it is today, it was the most groovy place to stay for backpackers in Phnom Penh. The lake front was a row of guesthouses on stilts with some very chilled out verandas, while the inland had surprising good eateries from all around the world. Today, all houses along the river front are knocked down and it is probably a matter of time before the rest of the shacks and narrow alleys are replaced by flashy new development. So hurry up if you want to experience some backpacker history... and now we will try to stop whining about the "old days", sniff sniff.
Psar Chas, Phnom Penh
If you thought the Russian Market was dense and cramped, try to visit the Old Market. Underneath low hanging plastic canopies in narrow lanes that even the Khmers have to wriggle through, you can go shopping for hair extensions (real hair), padded push-up panties (yes, to make your bum look bigger) and shiny stuff in every shape, as well as the usual things like fruit, fish and motorcycle parts. As you can guess, this market caters mostly for locals, even though it is close to the tourist stretch at the river front. More the reason to have a look and laugh with the locals here.
Psar Tuol Tom Pong, Phnom Penh
The Russian Market (Psar Tuol Tom Pong), not to be confused with another market Psar O Russei, is wonderfully diverse. Nowadays, it is half and half, half souvenirs and tourist stuff, and half motorcycle parts, clothing knock-offs and food stalls. It is covered and fairly large, so it's not difficult to get lost in the narrow dark lanes. The sellers are friendly and easygoing, but as more and more tourists come here the prices go up. The reason for its name is that during the Soviet times in the 1980s the only places Russians could go to were other communist friendly countries, like China, Vietnam and Cambodia, so they came here and shopped.
Toul Sleng museum, Phnom Penh
When the Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia in 1975, they turned the country into a Maoist state. Everyone of higher education was considered an enemy of the state and therefore had to be executed. For that purpose, a high school in central Phnom Penh was turned into a torture center, named S-21. Throughout the four years of Khmer Rouge control, more than 16.000 Cambodians were tortured here and eventually killed, either here or at the killing fields at Choeung Ek a bit out of town. The Khmer Rouge kept meticulous records, including photos, of all the prisoners and their horrific torture. These can today be seen at the high school which is turned into a museum. A grim memorial of how bad men can treat each other.
A tuk-tuk ride from Phnom Penh
Why anyone would go to a shooting range, especially considering Cambodia's troubled gun-saturated past, is baffling to us... but since this is Cambodia, of course it is possible. When arriving to the shooting range you will be handed a gun menu (which is not allowed to be photographed). Here you find anything from the popular rifles like AK-47, M16 and handguns to the more can-this-be-real hand grenades and rocket launchers... we kid you not. The last two have to be shot in the mountains and not inside the shooting range, duh. In the good old days you could even use live targets like a chicken or a cow (a cow cost 300 USD extra), but apparently that practice has stopped. So knock yourself out, but please visit the killing fields first.
The Silver Pagoda is part of the Royal Palace. Its striking structure includes the bright yellow ornamented roof and a floor that is even more dazzling. Inlaid with more than 5000 silver tiles, each weighing 1 kg, it is very impressive - or would have been, if you could see it, for most of the floor is covered by a carpet, but you still get the idea at the entrance. Besides the silver floor, the pagoda also contains several important gem decorated Buddha statues. The grounds hold other marvelous buildings, like the French Pavilion (a gift from Napoleon III) which can not seem more out of place than here.