Phnom Penh is the vibrant bustling capital of Cambodia. Situated at the confluence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap, what was once considered the 'Gem' of Indochina. The capital city still maintains considerable charm with plenty to see. It exudes a sort of provincial charm and tranquillity with French colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards amidst monumental Angkorian architecture. Phnom Penh is a veritable oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. A mixture of Asian exotica, the famous Cambodian hospitality awaits the visitors to the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
The highlight of Phnom Penh is the beautiful Royal Palace; the seat and residence of Cambodia's royal family since the 1860s. The spired-roof pavilions of the complex are an excellent example of classic Khmer architecture. Both the Throne Hall area and the Silver Pagoda - set within manicured gardens - are open to the public for visiting. The Throne Hall was built in 1917, replacing an earlier wooden structure. The Silver Pagoda is famed for being the home of the Emerald Buddha statue and a mammoth 90-kilogram Gold Buddha statue studded with thousands of diamonds. The Silver Pagoda escaped the brutal destruction of the Khmer Rouge reign and so still contains some beautiful artifacts. The interior ceiling mural depicts the Cambodian epic poem, the Reamker, which is based on the story of the Indian Ramayana.
The most important temple complex in Cambodia, Wat Ounalom is the headquarters of Buddhism in the country. A stupa within the complex contains one of the Buddha's eyebrow hairs. The wat was first situated here in 1443 and although it suffered considerable damage during the Khmer Rouge era, with many of its statues and religious iconography destroyed, it is thriving again today. Of particular note for visitors is a beautiful Buddha statue in the main building's third floor that has been reassembled after being smashed to pieces by the Khmer Rouge and a statue commemorating Huot Tat, the fourth patriarch, who was murdered by Pol Pot, on the 2nd Floor.
The chaotic and lively Russian Market hums with local life and produces some great shopping opportunities as well. You'll find everything here from tacky souvenirs (much made in neighboring Thailand rather than locally produced) to beautifully-made local wooden handicrafts and Cambodian silks, along with bundles of stalls selling exceedingly cheap clothing. This is not the place to come for some midday browsing, as temperatures skyrocket within the market, so aim for an early morning visit. The market opens for business at 6am. This is also just the place to put your haggling hat on and try out your bargaining skills. The market's real name is Psar Tuol Tom Pong but earned its moniker due to the number of Russian foreign residents of Phnom Penh who used to shop here.
Phnom Penh is a riverine town and one of the most relaxing ways to sightsee in the city is to take to the water. There are regular sunset cruise tourist boat departures from the riverfront between 5pm and 7.30pm, which head along the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, or you can also hire a private boat nearby to head out on the water at any time of the day (you'll want to put your bargaining hat on though, if you'd like to hire a private boat). This is a great way to get away from the bustling motorbike clogged streets for an hour and soak up the gentler pace of local river life.