Updated: Sep 17, 2020

To better understand Cambodia and its capital Phnom Penh, you need to know its history. In 1975 a vicious military guerrilla group Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, drove tanks through the streets of Phnom Penh, the start of a reign of terror over the country. They removed families from their homes, separated children from their parents and filled labour camps around the country. The Khmer Rouge specifically targeted doctors, lawyers and any other intellectuals who could think for themselves and possibly revolt. By the time the regime ended in 1979, an estimated 2 million people, more than a quarter of the Cambodian population at the time, had been murdered or died of famine. Keeping this in mind, it is impressive to see the progress that has been made to move forward, however, you can still see remnants of Cambodia’s cruel and recent history.

Today, Phnom Penh is a fairly safe city, full of kindhearted people. There is plenty of good food to eat, lots of shopping to do, ample relaxing to be had, and so much history to be learned. As part of our month trip to Cambodia, we spent 4 days in the city and enjoyed our time there far more than what we anticipated - both in appreciating what the city has to offer today and learning more about its tragic past. The city was an interesting mixing pot of historic busy city life and relaxed modern green open spaces. It wasn’t at all what we expected and it surprised us in a very pleasant way.

(You will find a map of the route we walked here)


The best way to really understand the history of Phnom Penh is to go on a guided historical tour. While this is not something that we often do, it will definitely give you a greater appreciation of the history and culture of a place, particularly a with as significant a bloody history like Phnom Penh. Be sure to pick a guided tour with good reviews for the best experience. We recommend Get Your Guide and KLOOK to find reputable, reviewed experiences.


This grim museum is housed in a former Khmer Rouge prison and interrogation centre and now stands as a monument to the thousands that were murdered and imprisoned during the Cambodian genocide. The entire experience is very depressing, but if you’re looking to understand the Khmer Rouge era, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum very quickly puts its horrors into stark perspective. Much of the prison and surrounding buildings have been left as it was discovered in 1979 when the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh. The blood-splattered walls, tiny brick and timber cells and abandoned torture tools offer an important insight into the brutal regime. We spent over 3 hours here, walking around the grounds and listening to the extensive audio tour. It is possible t