Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, is the country's economic industrial, historic and tourism center. This city of over 2 million, located at the confluence of the Mekong, Bassac and Tonle Sap rivers, is making a comeback from the grim times it experienced during the reign of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in the 1970's. New high rises intermingle with historic ones -- visitors will enjoy the surviving French colonial architecture that earned Phnom Penh a reputation as one of the loveliest French-built cities in Indochina in the 1920's. Other not-to-be-missed historic sites are the 19th century Royal Palace with its magnificent Silver Pagoda and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which survived the war largely intact. The National Museum houses sculpture from a variety of periods of Cambodian history, including a statue of a meditating King Jayavarman VII (1181- 1219).
To understand Cambodia's more recent history, Cambodia travelers should also visit remnants of the Khmer Rouge's reign: Tuol Sleng, referred to as the genocide museum, is a former secondary school that was transformed into a detention center by the Khmer Rouge in 1975. The prison gate still bears its original school name: S21. Over 14,000 prisoners were detained and tortured there. The burial site for the victims, the Killing Fields, is 15 km from Phnom Penh. The site has a small museum that shows a documentary film, as well as a Buddhist stupa packed with human skulls and pits in the area where mass graves were unearthed.