Why Phnom Penh Should Be Part of Your Travel Bucket List

When travelers talk of Cambodia, the city of Siem Reap or Angkor Wat usually comes to mind. Most travelers on a tight itinerary would even skip other cities and head straight to Siem Reap just for the temples.

We cannot dismiss the fact that the Angkor temples are absolutely stunning and that Siem Reap is worth visiting. But there is one Cambodian city which I believe deserves the same attention. It has no temples as grand as the ones in Siem Reap to showcase, but its history is too significant to ignore. I’m talking about Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia.

Like most capitals of developing countries, Phnom Penh is rapidly changing. There are more options now for tourists in terms of attractions, accommodations and activities unlike in 2009 when I first I visited. But Phnom Penh is not about its urban dwellings or quaint cafes.

On April 17, 1975, the Khmer Rouge headed by Pol Pot took over the city and the entire nation, separating families and mercilessly torturing and killing those deemed worthless to their cause of creating a “utopian society”. Known as the Cambodian genocide, this horrific chapter in the country’s history, which lasted for four years, is witness to the extermination of almost 3 million Cambodians or 25% of the total population due to starvation, hard labor, disease and torture under the senseless ruling of the Polpot regime.

I believe every visitor of Cambodia should be aware of this unforgettable event and take heed of the lessons to prevent such atrocity from happening again in the future. And it is in Phnom Penh where visitors can get a good picture of what exactly transpired during the brutal four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge.

The city offers two memorial sites that commemorate the genocide and its victims. The first one is Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum or S-21 (Security Prison 21), which is just right within the city, and the second is Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, also known as The Killing Fields, which is 17km south of the city.

All guesthouses, hostels and hotels offer transportation services or private tours to the said sites.

As of 2017, entrance fee to Tuol Sleng with audio costs $8, while Choeung Ek with audio costs $6. I suggest that you include the audio while you tour as it amplifies your experience as you walk inside the torture classrooms of S-21 or pass by the mass graves of the Killing Fields. The audio also highlights victim stories and the significant events that happened in a particular area. One more thing, dress modestly as these are memorial sites.

So if you plan to visit Cambodia, I encourage you to visit Phnom Penh for these two significant areas. Let us always remember history. NEVER FORGET. NEVER AGAIN. #notogenocide


Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Looking at the 14 graves at S-21: these graves house the 14 corpses that were discovered during the liberation of Cambodia.


There is now a freedom wall in one of the classrooms at S-21 where visitors can write their tributes. I didn’t write this one, but I found this very interesting.


Cambodians never forget their history. I was impressed when I saw the number of books about the genocide being sold inside S-21.


One of the mass graves (with tributes and offerings) at the Killing Fields.


The Memorial Stupa at Choeung Ek. Inside are skulls and bones of the victims that were found in the numerous mass graves.


mass graves cambodia

Just to give you an idea of how massive the genocide was, here’s an illustration taken from the Choeung Ek pamphlet showing the number of mass graves and prison camps all around the country during the Pol Pot regime.

Have you been to Phnom Penh? Have you visited these areas? Feel free to share your thoughts below.

All content and photos are property of Rica’s Rucksack unless indicated. They are not for reproduction, be it for personal or commercial use, without the permission of the author.


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