ROL Cruise recommends…
1. Immerse yourself in historical wonders
Dating back almost 100 years, the richly red, temple-like building that houses the National Museum of Cambodia is itself steeped in history.
But that’s nothing compared to the magnificent collection of more than 14,000 treasured items exhibited here, some of which originate from prehistoric times. Among them you’ll find graceful effigies of Hindu gods, centuries-old statues of former kings and ancient tablets inscribed in Sanskrit. You can also absorb an extensive display of ancient art – from a time when the country ruled over much of southeast Asia – and enjoy a moment of calm reflection in the peaceful central courtyard.
2. Discover what’s what at Wat Phnom
No matter how long you spend wandering around Phnom Penh's most famous temple, which sits near the quayside on the city’s only hill, you will never lose track of time. At its base is a gigantic clock, 20 metres in width, in a hedged grass circle. It’s the first of many striking features at the Buddhist place of worship, first built in 1373 but with necessary restoration over the years. Statues stand guard outside the main pagoda, where intricate detailing beautifies the exterior walls and huge ornate cones spiral into the sky behind. Inside, a large bronze Buddha is surrounded by other figures, flowers and items of devotion. And if you haven’t yet come across any wild monkeys in Cambodia, take a short walk round the grounds – you soon will.
3. Witness royal extravagance
If you want to see how the other half live in Phnom Penh, head for the Royal Palace. Save for when Pol Pot was in power, it has remained the residence of Cambodia’s kings since the 1860s. Beyond the golden walls of the six-acre complex are immaculately landscaped gardens and fantastically decorated buildings, each surrounded by pillars and with grand spires pointing skywards. There are beautiful Buddha sculptures throughout the palace, including a diamond-encrusted solid gold effigy in the Silver Pagoda – the floor of which is made up of the precious metal. Another extraordinary Buddha, made of crystal, sits on top of a grandly gilded pedestal. The Throne Room showcases intricate statuary and is a staggering 59 metres tall. To get another view of the wonderful buildings, take a cruise from Sisowath Quay and enjoy the picturesque view back to shore.
4. Take time to reflect at the Killing Fields
Although they’re certainly not for the squeamish, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are two of the main experiences visitors come to the region. The museum was a high school turned concentration camp, where many thousands were taken during Pol Pot’s rule over Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. It now serves as a chilling document of the crimes committed there. After being interrogated, prisoners were transported about 11 kilometres south to the infamous Killing Fields at the village of Choeung Ek. At this now serene area, you can learn more about the history and hear stories of the survivors thanks to an excellent audio tour. A tuk tuk or taxi offers cheap and easy transport to either sombre location.