Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Cambodia's riverside capital city blends royal palaces and Buddhist temples with a bit of French colonial savoir faire and the energy of a rapidly growing Southeast Asian city. Although perched on the Mekong, the great river barely figures in the city's daily life.
What We Love
Silver Pagoda: Cambodia's paramount Buddhist shrine (also called Wat Ubosoth Ratanaram) is smothered in 6 tons of silver and filled with priceless statues created with gold, diamonds, and even Baccarat crystal.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center: Elephants, monkeys, birds, reptiles, and other animals that are victims of poaching or the illegal wildlife trade are cared for and rehabilitated at this Wildlife Alliance project on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Best Known For
Royal Palace: Home to Cambodia's kings since the 1860s, the spectacular riverside complex includes ornate Throne Hall with golden statues of former monarchs and intricate ceiling frescoes.
The Killing Fields: The legacy of dictator Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge era is preserved at several sights including the Choeung Ek mass grave memorial and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
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Who It's Best For
Foodies: If you love Thai or Vietnamese food, Cambodian cuisine will no doubt tickle your taste buds. Popular dishes include amok trei (steamed curried Mekong River fish), bai sach chrouk (pork and rice), and nom banh chok (Khmer noodles).
Souvenir Hunters: From krama head scarves and silk garments to gemstones and silver baubles, the city's Central Market and Russian Market offer plenty of mementos to haggle over and take home.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Poverty Is Still Common: Unlike Singapore or even Bangkok, many Cambodians have yet to experience the economic boom that has transformed certain parts of Phnom Penh.
The Khmer Rouge Memorials: These monuments are not for the faint of heart or light of stomach. The prison and burial ground are deliberately shocking … to make sure it never happens again.
Joe Yogerst is a California-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has also written for Travel + Leisure.