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Phnom Penh City

 

 

Phnom Penh
Kingdom of Cambodia

Situated at the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, Phnom Penh is more like a country town than a capital city. The city has retained much of its French colonial flavour, with many impressive old buildings restored to their former glory. Of particular interests are the attractive railway station and the neo-classical Central market (Psar Thom Thmei).

The Royal Palace (sometimes closed if the King is in residence).
The Palace is a magnificent example of Khmer architecture, although it was built as recently as 1866. All the buildings are set in beautifully maintained courtyards, filled with pots of flowering plants. The Throne Hall is used for official functions, such as Ambassadors presenting their credentials - look out for the murals depicting the Ramayana story. The charming Napolean III Pavilion was sent from France to Cambodia, as a gift from Empress Eugenie to King Norodom in the 1870s. Part of the Palace is closed to the public and reserved for use by King Norodom Sihanouk and his family.

The Silver Pagoda
is one of the richest shrines in the world. The magnificent floor is made up of over 5,000 solid silver tiles, weighing more than 5 tons. The Pagoda is home to two priceless Buddha statues - the Emerald Buddha made from Baccarat crystal and a 90 kg figure made of solid gold encrusted with almost 10,000 diamonds. During their time in power, the Khmer Rouge protected the Silver Pagoda in order to demonstrate their concern for Cambodia's cultural riches - even so; about 60% of the Pagoda's treasures were destroyed during Pol Pot's regime.

The National Museum (closed on Mondays)
is housed in a traditional red pavilion which is dedicated exclusively to Khmer art and sculpture. The majority of the exhibits are from Angkor period (9th to 15th Centuries), but some date from as early as the 4th Century. There are many magnificent sculptures, which are unique in the world.

The Wat Phnom
Temple from where there are views over the tree-lined avenues of Phnom Penh. The main entrance is guarded by lions and naga balustrades. According to legend, this temple on a hill (Phnom in Cambodian language) was built by a lady called Penh - hence the city name of Phnom Penh.

Markets
Phnom Penh has several lively open-air markets - a favorite is Psar Tuol Tom Pong, the so-called Russian Market with an eclectic mix of silks, gems, silver, antiques, T-shirts etc. A perfect Cambodia souvenir is a "krama" - one of the checked scarves, which so many Cambodians still wear (or use as a towel, a sun hat, a bathing suit, a shopping basket, a, sling for the baby, etc!).

Tuol Sleng Museum
Is in stark contracts to the ancient Khmer culture. It is perhaps one of the most gruesome places that you will every see. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge's Security Forces took over a former High School and turned it into Security Prison 21, which rapidly became the largest centre of detention and torture in Cambodia. Over 17,000 people were held in the Prison before being executed in the "killing fields". Detainees who died whilst being tortured were buried in mass graves with the prison grounds. Each detainee was meticulously photographed and these photos cover the museum walls from from floor to ceiling.

The Killing Field
Between 1975 and 1978, the Khmer Rouge were responsible for creating what can best be described as extermination camps. After the success of the film and book entitled "The Killing Fields", the camps have been called by this name both in Cambodia and abroad. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are about 15 km away from the centre of Phnom Penh, a pleasant drive, which shows you how village life continues close to the city centre. A Memorial Stupa was built in 1988 to house over 8,000 skulls, which were exhumed from mass graves in 1980. Of the 129 communal graves, 43 have been left untouched. The site used to be a longan fruit orchard and the surrounding peaceful countryside makes the graves and their history even more horrific.

Cruise on the Mekong River
Gives the opportunity to view Phnom Penh from the river and to see the little developed countryside on the opposite side. Cruise past fishing villages and floating fish farms-many Vietnamese fishermen have settled here. Enjoy and watch the sun go down over Phnom Penh.

Riverfront Promenade
A drive along Phnom Penh's riverfront promenade is worthwhile at the end of the day. This is popular evening gathering place for the city's residents. Many food and drinks stalls are set up and it's interesting to join the crowds and take a short walk along the river.

Chroy Chranva Peninsula
For those with a little more time in Phnom Penh, it is worthwhile to drive across the Japanese Friendship Bridge over the Tonle Sap River. A sharp turn to the righ immediately after the Bridge takes us into a rural village area on the riverbank facing the city of Phnom Penh. it is interesting to see the people's life style and to visit a Cham (Moslem) Fishing Village.

All of these places can be visited as half-day or full day trip from Phnom Penh.

Mekong Island
This is one of the most worthwhile day trips out of Phnom Penh. it gives you an opportunity to experience something of rural Cambodian life. The return trip to Mekong Island is by boat, approximately 1 hour each way. Mekong island is a 10-hectare park, which has been planned to showcase the cultural heritage of Cambodia. We will see traditional crops being farmed by villages living in the island. Some traditional handicrafts are produced on the island, such as silk, pottery, woven reeds, wood carving and painting.

There is a small zoo with elephants, monkeys, snakes and other indigenous animals. Elephants rides are available (not included in the day trip costs). Traditional classical dances are performed and a Khmer lunch is served in a beautifully designed wooden building.

Tonle Bati Lake and Ta Prohm Temple
Tonle Bati Lake is a popular place with Phnom Penh residents at the weekends - many bring picnics and rent huts over the lake. The lake shore becomes crowded with food stalls and people intent on having a good time. It's a great opportunity to see - and join in with - Cambodians having fun. Close to the Lake is Ta Prohm Temple which was built by King Jayavarman VII and dates from the 12th Century (although it was built on the site of a 6th Century shrine). The Angkor-perid temple is built of laterite and features some interesting bas-reliefs and carvings.

Phnom Chisor Temple
This temple mountain dates from the 11th Century. About 500 steps lead to the top of the hill - a steep 20 minutes climb. Once at the top, we can enjoy fabulous views over the surrounding countryside. The temple dates back to the 11th Century and is in very good condition. It consists of the surrounding wall, four libraries and the main shrine - there are several well-preserved lintels carved in sandstone and some interesting wood-carvings. near the main temple is a modern Buddhist Vihara used by resident monks.

Takeo
This quiet town was quite an important place in French times and several old colonial-style buildings remain.

Angkor Borei
Angkor Borei is a market town, located just a few kilometers by boat from Takeo and also a few kilometers by boat from the Vietnam border. There is a small museum with several reproductions of sculptures and inscriptions from the nearby ruins of Phnom Da. Artefacts have been carbon-dated as far back as the 4th Century and extensive excavations have been done by a University of Hawaii team trying to find out more about the Funan era. It's interesting to take a short stroll through Angkor Borei. The museum has a shady garden (perfect for picnic lunches!).

Phnom Da
This temple daets from the 11th Century but is built on the 6th Century site of a Funan Empire era temple. The climb up is easy as this particular Phnom (hill) is not very high. From Phnom Da, we can walk round the hill, through a tiny (and poor) fishing village to see Asram Maharosei Temple. The path up to the temple is steep, over some big rocks. This is the only temple of its kind in Cambodia, built in Indian style, and well preserved.

Overland to Ho Chi Minh city (Bavet/Moc Bai border crossing)
The overland trip is interesting but remains something of an endurance test due to the very poor condition of the road. We would only recommend this trip to adventurous travellers.

Kompong Speu
A provincial capital with a busy central market.

Kirirom (Preah Suramarit Kossomak National Park)
Another moutnain resort (675 m above sea level) popular with Phnom Penh's rich and famous before Khmer Rouge times. The villas were all destroyed during the war and the area was declared a National Park soon after Government troops won it back in 1992. The climate is cool - ther are pine tree covered hills, waterfalls, a small lake and dense tropical vegetation.

Oudong Temples
Oudong served as the capital of Cambodia from 1618 to 1866. A number of kings, including King Norodom Sihanouk, were crowned here. The site was unfortunately heavily damaged during Khmer Rouge times but there aer still several places to explore, on two adjacent hills. (total visit time on foot is approximately 1 1/2 hours). A climb up the small hill takes your to several stupas and the ruins a Mosque. Then walk up Phnom Preah Reach Throap (hill of the Royal Fortune), so-called because it was where the Royal Family used to hide their treasures during war times. There are the remains of a temple built by King Sisowath in 1911, with 8 enormous columns and a huge Buddha image. A walk along the ridge takes you past several small shrines and on to three large stupas. The first one, resting place of King Monivong (ruled 1927-1941), has four Bayon-style faces on top and is decorated with garudas, floral designs and elephants. The middle stupa was built in 1891 for the ashes of King Ang Duong, and is decorated with coloured tiles. The last one dates back to the 16th Century and contains the remains of King Soriyopor. On the way down the hillside there is a pavilion decorated with graphic murals depicting Khmer Rouge atrocities, and also a memorial to the victims of Pol Pot.

Phnom Baset Temple
A modern temple and a pagoda with a reclining Buddha statue, built on a hilltop site dating from the 8th Century.

Silk Weaving and Silver Works
There are several villages dedicated to silk weaving and to silver carving, in particular along the banks of the Mekong River. These can be visited as a full day trip from Phnom Penh.

 

 
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