TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS IN CAMBODIA
World Heritage Sites:
- Angkor (1992)
- Temple of Preah Vihear (2008)
- Temple Zone of Sambor Prei Kuk, Archaeologial Site of Ancient Ishanapura
- Silver Pagoda (or the temple of the Emerald Buddha), formerly a wooden building, was rebuilt in 1962 in concrete and marble. The pagoda is floored with over 5000 silver tiles each weighing 1 kilo. It is famous for its 90 kg solid gold Buddha made in 1907 and an emerald Buddha said to be made of crystal. Sharing the pagoda are many other interesting artifacts and jewels and was one of the few temples to remain intact during the Khmer Rouge regime. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance fee US$ 3 per person. Camera fee US$2. Video fee is about US$ 5. Photography is allowed in the outside exhibition areas only. Please remember that exposed knees and shoulders are considered disrespectful.
- National Museum: Designed by George Groslier and the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens. It was built in 1917 in traditional Khmer style and inaugurated in 1920 by King Sisowat. The National Museum houses the world’s foremost collection of ancient Khmer archeological, religious, and artistic artifacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. There are over 5000 pieces and is the repository of the Kingdom’s cultural wealth. In addition, the roof space is home to the largest bat colony in the world living in an artificial structure. Every evening these bats flock out of the roof and swarm around in the sky before searching for food. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Photography is forbidden inside.
Royal Palace: The oldest part of the Royal Palace (1866), especially worth for the wall paintings (episodes of the Khmer version of the Ramayana)
- Wat Phnom: Located on a man-made hill twenty seven meters high in the middle of Phnom Penh, is a revered place of worship for all Khmers and is the namesake of the capital. The original pagoda was built in 1373 to house four Buddha statues said to have been deposited by the waters of the Mekong. The temple is the focal point for many Buddhist ceremonies especially Pchum Ben and his highly revered by Phompenh residents. Wat Phnom has a unique atmosphere and is surrounded by various fortune tellers, mystics, faith healers and elephant rides around the site are available.
- Wat Ounalom: It is the most important Wat of Phnom Penh, and the center of Cambodian Buddhism. It is north from the National Museum of Arts (two streets from the Royal Palace). Wat Ounalom was built in 1443 to keep a hair of the Buddha. Before the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh in 1975, more than 500 monks used to live at the Wat. The Khmer Rouge killed the abbot and a large number of monks and vandalized the buildings and their treasures. After the Vietnamese invasion on 1979 the Wat was restored, and today again serves as the center of Cambodian Buddhism.
- Tuol Sleng Museum, known as the Museum of Genocidal Crimes it was used by the Khmer Rouge as a detention and torture center in the late 1970. Today the building houses exhibits, paintings and photographs of many of the victims. Visitors can see the crude cells built in the classrooms and the torture devices used to extract confessions in Stalinesque purges of the regime. Open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 5 p.m.
- Killing Fields of Cheung Ek is situated 15 kilometers south-west of Phnom Penh and made famous by the film of the same name “Killing Field”. it was a place where more than 17,000 civilians were killed and buried in mass graves; many of them transported here after detention and torture in Toul Sleng. This place is a chilling reminder of the brutalities of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. In the center of the area is a 17 story glass stupa which houses 8000 skulls exhumed from mass graves. Open daily. Both Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields exhibits may be disturbing for some and aren’t suitable for younger children and adults who are easily shocked.
- Independence Monument: Built in 1958 as a memorial to Cambodia’s war dead after the gaining of independence from France in 1953, the monument, built in the Angkorian style, consists of five levels decorated with 100 snake heads. It is at its most impressive later in the afternoon with shadows highlighting the complexity of the design and giving the structure a warm orange glow.
- Tonle Sap Riverfront: The recently refurbished riverfront park is the focal point for the Phnom Penh residents’ leisure activities. Early risers can see the many locals welcoming the new day with Tai Chi and other exercises while the sun rises majestically over the river. In the early evening and all day Sunday many people stroll, picnic or just sit and watch the world go by. Local delicacies are served by vendors all along the riverfront and visitors can indulge in dried salted fish or another favorite, boiled duck embryos still in the shell.
- Central Market is one of the largest and busiest markets in Phnom Penh. Built in 1937 by French architects and surprisingly cool, even in the heat of the hottest day, many interesting products are available. The eastern side, which is the main entrance, has many souvenirs and ornaments on sale from T-shirts to large stone heads. In the center are the many jewelry stores and precious stone vendors as well as a plethora of electronic goods merchants, cloth sellers and other dealers; most of them selling thing considerably cheap. Of the more a dozen markets in Phnom Penh many of them are little interest to visitors, selling, as they do, general household purchases in many of the districts of the city. There are, however, several centrally located markets of real interest to shoppers, browsers, and souvenir hunters alike. Be warned that nothing is priced and bargaining is a must.
- Mekong Island: A full day trip to Mekong Island is an excellent way to sample the daily lives and traditions of rural life in Cambodia. This ten hectare island has been planned as an authentic showcase of the cultural, zoological, and agricultural diversity and richness of Cambodia. The tour price includes transport, excellent lunch and a captivating show of traditional Cambodian dance. There are also elephant rides available on very friendly Asian elephants.
- Udong: An ancient capital from the latter stages of the Khmer Empire and crowning site of the king is located atop two parallel ridges 40 km north of Phnom Penh. Udong offers spectacular views of the surrounding country and the innumerable sugar palm trees that punctuate the countryside. King Ang Dung, the great grandfather of the present king; King Sihanouk, was crowned here and many locals and foreign residents alike picnic here on weekends.
- Ta Prohm Temple: Not far South of Phnom Penh on the route to Phnom Chisor is a 12th Century temple, Ta Prohm, built by Jayavaraman VII (1181-1201). Consecrated to the Buddha and the Brahma, the temple is noted for its refined bas reliefs. Nearby is a smaller temple, Yeay Peau, which also has remarkable stone carvings.
- Tonle Bati Lake: Near Ta Prohm Temple. It is a leisure resort. There are “Water Houses” for rent and various food stalls.
- Major Sights of Angkor: In order to truly understand the real Cambodia, one must visit one of the great archaeological sites in the world; the spiritual heart and identity of the Khmer people: the Angkor complex. Had any of the main temples, especially Angkor Wat been built anywhere else they would be as famous or as visited as the Taj Mahal, the Panthenon, the Coliseum or the Pyramids of Egypt. Angkor is without doubt one of the most breathtaking architectural masterpieces left standing in the world today. Without witnessing them at first hand it is impossible to gauge the enormity of task faced by the builders of the time and the fact they are so complete after all this time is further testament to the advanced construction techniques employed more than a millennium ago. Everything is built on a massive scale and one can only imagine the awe felt by ancient visitors as the civilization was at its peak. It is estimated that over one million people lived there making it the largest metropolis in its time. Witness the two hand dug reservoirs that served the civilization’s rice growing agriculture: The Eastern Baray measures 7 km by 1.8 km and the Western Baray a staggering 8 km by 2.3 km.
- Angkor Wat is the cultural home of the Khmer people and its form, in various guises has appeared and is still on the national flag. Had it been located in the Mediterranean basin it would have been one of the eight wonders of the world. The Lost City of Angkor was to remain undiscovered by Western archaeologists until the late 19th century and ever since has continued to amaze all who see it for the first time: neither words nor pictures do it justice. Angkor Wat is a legacy of the might that was once the Khmer Empire, a detailed history of which has been carved into the many walls of this fortified temple. The temple is accessible by a giant stone causeway across the hundred ninety meter moat, itself an incredible feat of engineering, to the west face of the Wat.
- Angkor Thom was built by Cambodia’s greatest builder, Jayavarman VII. This ten square kilometer city is enclosed by an eight meter high wall and encircled by a hundred meter moat said to have been inhabited by fierce crocodiles. There are five twenty meter high gates in the wall in each of the North, West and South walls and two in the East Wall. Access is via causeways over the moat that are flanked by the statues of fifty four Gods on the left and fifty four devils on the right, all seemingly engaged in a game of tug of war.
- Bayon is located in the geographical heart of Angkor Thom. The fifty four tower temple is a quite remarkable sight. Initially the temple seems to be a shapeless mass of grey and brown stone but as one approaches one realizes that each of the towers is in fact carved and there are over two hundred huge enigmatic faces of Avalokitesharva bearing down on you wherever you turn. The Bayon is easily the most popular sight after Angkor Wat and no visit is complete without a trip to see this amazing and unique temple.
- Ta Prohm was built in the late 12th century by Jayavarman VII as a shrine to his mother and is another must for anyone coming to Siem Reap. As a monastery there were nearly three thousand priests here including eighteen high priests. Ta Prohm is unforgettable due to the massive trees that were left here intentionally by the archeologists working on the site. While clearing back the forest it was decided to leave them in place to serve as a reminder of how the original discovers found it and other temples. Many of the trees have grown around and through the remains, and soar high above the temple. This temple, along with those of the Bayon and Angkor Thom form the core of any visit to Siem Reap.
- Les Artisans d’ Angkor School: A complete visit of the Arts and Crafts school will take you through the various training and production workshops of the Chantiers-Ecoles. Discover the traditional techniques used for wood sculpting, stone carving, lacquer work, polychromy and stone patina work, with the explanations of an experienced guide.
The impressive Artisans d’ Angkor Collection is displayed in an amazing setting. The numerous pieces made in the workshops are inspired by the rich Cambodian heritage and are among the most beautiful art pieces produced in Cambodia.
- Phnom Bakheng served as the temple mountain of the first city of Angkor as opposed to the previous center of Roluos. The capital built on a lone hill offers panoramic views of Angkor Wat. Angkor Thom and the surrounding areas. It is best visited in the late afternoon for a spectacular sunset or in the early morning for sunrise over Angkor Wat.
- Banteay Srei. While some of the temples are impressive because of their sheer size, Banteay Srei stands alone in the quality of its construction and decoration. Its pink sandstone wall is decorated with what some consider to be the best carving of all and in an amazing state of preservation. Built in 967 and dedicated to Brahma it is located twenty five kilometers north of Angkor Wat.
- Small Circuit takes in several of the major and minor temples in the area. Beginning at Angkor Wat and running for seventeen kilometers the circuit takes in the major elements of Angkor Thom, Ta Phrohm, and Banteay Kdei, and some of the minor but interesting temples such as the Baphoun, The Terrace of the Leper King, Terrace of the Elephants, the Twelve Prasats, Spean Thma and Sras Srang before returning to Angkor Wat.
The twenty-six kilometer Grand Circuit is an extension on the little circuit but taking in Preah Khan, Preah Neak Pean to the Eastern Mebon and the various monuments like Ta Som, Preah Rup, before returning to Angkor Wat and is highly recommended for anyone spending three or more days in the complex. The Big Circuit encompasses a good representation of the rich variety of architecture here.
- Phnom Kulen is widely regarded as the birthplace of the ancient Khmer empire and is some forty eight kilometers from Siem Reap. This hilltop site has the country’s largest reclining Buddha and it was here that the King Jayavarma II proclaimed independence from Java in 802 A.D. It has only just returned to government hands after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and is currently fairly inaccessible due to the poor state of the roads especially in the rainy season. Cutting through the area is the River of 1000 lingas. Just five cm under the water’s surface over 1000 small carvings are etched into the sandstone riverbed while further downstream larger blocks of stone are carved with Apsaras, Vishnu, and other figures. All the sandstone used in the construction of Angkor was quarried here.
- Roluos Group was the capital of Indravarman I (877 to 889). These were the first temples built to last and are made of brick with some carved plaster relief. The group is made up of the three temples of Preah Ko, Bakong, and Lolei. Many of the later temples in the Angkor group are based on these earlier temples though rather then brick.