Phnom Penh, the bustling capital of Cambodia, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. The city encompasses almost 7 centuries worth of history, some of it beautiful and some of it incomprehensibly tragic.
According to legend, Phnom Penh was founded in 1372 by a Buddhist nun named Penh. As the story goes, the old woman was going about her daily chores, and went down to the Mekong River to get some water. Miraculously, she found a dead tree floating in the river with five statues of the Buddha inside.
After retrieving the statues, the old woman had her neighbors pull the tree onto dry land and use the trunk to build a pagoda. The statues were placed inside the pagoda, and the shrine came to be known as Wat Phnom Daun Penh, after the old nun. It is from this temple, which is still standing today, that the city of Phnom Penh gets it name.
Another Buddhist temple worth a visit was built later in the city’s history, after it had been made a royal capital. The Silver Pagoda, aka Wat Preah Keo, is decorated with enough artwork and precious metals to rival any cathedral in Europe. Inside are famous statues of the Buddha, including a crystalline statue called the “Emerald Buddha” and a life-sized gold Buddha encrusted with 9,584 real diamonds.
Other destinations in Phnom Penh are equally moving but much less serene. For example, at Tuol Sleng Museum, you can pay your respects to the 17,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge who were held here prior to being executed in the killing fields.
To visit Phnom Penh, you will need a passport and a Cambodian visa. You can apply for a visa at the airport when you arrive, but it’s best to apply ahead of time. Here’s what you need to get your Cambodian visa:
- A Cambodian visa application, available online
- Two passport photos
- Your passport, which must have an expiration date that’s at least 6 months after you plan to enter Cambodia.
- A copy of your itinerary.
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