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Walk Through History in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Like many cities, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, is a place with a complicated past. As the capital of Cambodia, it has seen several regime changes, from a monarchy to French protectorate, Khmer Rouge and its current constitutional monarchy. This varied history means that there are many things for you to visit and enjoy while in town.

Things to do

Since Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy, the king and his family have a special place to live. The Royal Palace and its famous Silver Pagoda are great introductions to Cambodian architecture. A lot of the palace is closed to tourists, but there are plenty of galleries, libraries, gardens and temples to explore here.

Near the Royal Palace is Wat Ounalom, which is the home of Buddhism in Cambodia. Reviewers on TripAdvisor say that it’s simple but well-maintained and home to beautiful religious art. If you plan on heading to these temples (or to any other religious or revered spot in Cambodia), you should dress appropriately, with shoulders, knees and everything in between covered.

According to Lonely Planet, the top museum to visit in Phnom Penh is the National Museum of Cambodia. Housed in a beautiful terracotta building that surrounds a picturesque courtyard, the museum contains more than 1,000 years of Khmer art and sculptures. If you start your trip in the leftmost gallery and continue through the buildings, you will see the collection in chronological order. Some highlights of the collection include a large bronze fragment of a Vishnu statue recovered near the famed temple of Angkor Wat, an inscribed stone from the 12th century. Several pottery and bronze examples of art from the fourth through ninth centuries are on display too. To help make sense of what you see, the museum offers tour guides in English.

In Cambodia’s recent history, Khmer Rouge controlled everything with an iron fist. While the party was officially ousted in the late 1970s, it still held control of many areas as late as 1996. Some of the most popular tourist attractions in Phnom Penh are related to the genocide of 1.5 to 2.5 million people during this tumultuous time, such as the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center on the grounds of an infamous killing field and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a prison which used to be a high school.


When travelling, you always have to be aware of your surroundings, no matter what country or city you’re in. If you go to Cambodia, take extra precautions as the country has a high crime rate. The U.S. State Department warns that snatch-and-grab theft of purses, jewelry, phones and other valuables is a possibility, especially when walking alone or riding in an open tuk-tuk vehicle without protective metal grating. The embassies of the U.S. and the U.K. in the region also advise all travelers, especially women, to watch their drinks to prevent theft or assault.

While all of this sounds dire, at this time the U.S. State Department does not consider Cambodia to be too dangerous for Americans, and it sits at the lowest travel advisory level. Before you head out, visit the State Department’s International Travel section or the U.K.’s Travel Advice pages for up-to-date advice to make sure your trip goes smoothly. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you can have some extra peace of mind with the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This signs you up for alerts about Cambodia while you’re there, and lets the Embassy know where to find you in case of an emergency.

If you’re ready to step outside of your comfort zone and appreciate a culture completely different than the United States and Europe, consider taking a trip to Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

This article is presented by BMW of Cincinnati North in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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