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Kingdom of Cambodia
Discovering Phnom Penh
 
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Phnom Penh, effervescent capital city of the Kingdom of Cambodia, covering 376 square kilometres and housing 2 millions people, is located at the confluence of 3 rivers: the legendary Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap. It maintains considerable charm, with more to see that one could imagine. It exudes a sort of provincial charm and lazy atmosphere: with French lovingly restored colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards, amidst monumental Angkorian architecture. Phnom Penh is a veritable oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. And the Cambodian hospitality is all but a legend!

Here in the capital, are many interesting touristy sites. Beside the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda, the National Museum, the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, the Choeng Ek Killing Fields and Wat Phnom, there are several market places selling carvings, paintings, silk, silver, gems and even antiques at amazingly bargain prices.

The city takes its name from the re-known Wat Phnom Daun Penh (nowadays: Wat Phnom or Hill Temple), opposite the excellent Sunway Hotel. Built in 1373, the temple houses five statues of Buddha on a man made hill 27 meters high.

Phnom Penh is also the gateway to an exotic land - the world heritage site, the largest religious complex in the world, the temples of Angkor in the west, the beaches of the southern coast and the ethnic minorities of the North-eastern provinces. There are also a wide variety of services including five star hotels, fine international dining, sidewalk noodle shops, neighbourhood pubs, casinos and entertaining discos.


Royal Palace


The gilt Royal Palace is one of Phnom Penh's most splendid architectural achievements. It is home to HM  Norodom Sihanouk and Norodom Monineath. Erected in 1866 by HM Bat Norodom, great grandfather to the current King, on the site of the old town, especially chosen by a Commission of Royal Ministers and Astrologers because it had great geographical significance in relation to the King, who was regarded as a direct descendant of the gods, whose role it was to live and govern on earth under the influence of heaven.

The Throne Hall, situated to the left of the main entrance, boasts a 59-meter tower, with a roof decoratively tiered with golden coloured tiles. This building is used for high official celebrations, coronations and audiences with foreign dignitaries and government officials.

The the Napoleon II villa and the Royal Treasury lie south to the Royal Throne Hall. North to this stands the Silver pagoda (or Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha): featuring steps crafted from Italian marble, and a floor consisting of more than 500 solid silver blocks. If calculated together, they weigh nearly six tones. Surrounding the main area, stand plush presents from foreign dignitaries. The 17th century emerald Buddha is made of Baccarat crystal and solid gold. It weighs 90 kilograms and is adorned with 9,584 diamonds.



Silver Pagoda


Wat Preah Keo Morakot (Silver Pagoda) is located in the southern part of the Royal Palace. Also known as Wat Uborsoth Rotannaram, this is where the royal family and officials held Buddhist ceremonies there. Though this pagoda has no monks, King Norodom Sihanouk lived there for one year when he entered the monkhood on July 31, 1947. When the King celebrates Buddhist ceremonies, monks from other pagoda such as Wat Unaloam and Wat Botumvattey are invited to attend. Westerners, however, prefer to call the temple the Silver Pagoda because of the 5,329 genuine silver tiles that cover the floor.



Riverfront Park


You can't miss it: the Sisowath quay is the place where all discos, bars, roof-top terraces and tourist restaurants stand. The most famous is the FCC Foreign Correspondents Club.  Chhrouy Changva park is another newly attraction at the other side of the river opposite the Royal Palace. The view of the confluence of Mekong and the Tonle Sap is geographically unique. The sunrise over the river, in front of the Royal Palace, is spectacular.



Central Market (Phsar Thmei)


You will love shopping in and around the yellow Art Deco New Market (Phsa Thmei),   referred by locals as the Central Market. Built by the French in the 1930's, it is shaped in the form of a cross, with a large central dome. The 4 wings are filled with shops of all sorts. This is, indeed, the best place to purchase gold and silver jewellery, antique coins, Khmer hand-made gifts and electronics. Beware of fake name brands...

Around the main buildings are stalls offering Krama (checked scarves), stationery, household items, cloth for sarongs, and flowers. Photographers will like to visit the fresh food section, affording a lot of opportunities... and a unique, colourful shooting.
 
Opening hours are from early morning until early evening.


Old Market ( Phsar Chas)


Alternatively, the Old Market (Phsar Chas) is well worth the visit. Not at all geared to the tourist, it sells such items as vegetable, fruits, second hand cloths, hardware, motorcycle parts and Buddhist items. In the late afternoon, food sellers set up mats along Street 13 in preparation for the evening market. The dinner rush hour, all around the the most crowded market in the city, makes for a confusing, dirty potentially photogenic scene. This is a must see during Phnom Penh tour.


Wat Phnom Hill


Set atop the only hill in town, Wat Phnom was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha, deposited here by the waters of the Mekong, and discovered by a woman named Penh. The main entrance to Wat Phnom is via the grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by lions and naga (snake) balustrades. People come here to pray all week long (it gets quite crowded on Sunday) for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs. When a petitioner's wish is granted, he or she returns to make the offering (such as a garland of jasmine flowers or bananas, of which the spirits are said to be especially fond) promised when the request was made.

The vihara (temple sanctuary) was rebuilt in 1926. On the West, an enormous stupa contains the ashes of King Ponhea Vat (reigned 1405 to 1467). In a small pavilion on the south side of the passage between the vihara and the stupa is a statue of the smiling and rather plump Madame Penh. A bit to the north of the vihara and below it is an eclectic shrine dedicated to the genie Preah Chau, who is especially revered by the Vietnamese. On either side ofthe entrance to the chamber in which a statue of Preah Chau sits are guardian spirits bearing iron bats. On the tile table in front of the two guardian spirits are drawings of Confucius, and two Chinese-style figures of the sages Thang Cheng (on the right) and Thang Thay (on the left). To the left of the central altar is an eight-armed statue of Vishnu.



Toul Sleng Genocidal Museum (S-21)


In 1975, Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot's security force, then promptly turned into the Security Prison 21 (S-21): the largest such centre of detention and torture in the country. Over 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek to be executed; detainees who died during torture were buried in mass graves in the prison grounds. S-21 has been turned into the Tuol Sleng Museum, which serves as a testament to the crimes of the Red Khmer. This is, unfortunately, the most famous landmark in Phnom Penh.

The museum's entrance is on the western side of 113 St (north of 350 St). It opens daily from 7 until 11.30 am, and from 2 until 5.30 pm. Like the Nazis, the Red Khmer was meticulous in keeping records of their barbarism: each prisoner who passed through S.21 was photographed... sometimes before and after being tortured. Several foreigners from Australia, France and the USA were held here before being murdered. Their documents are on display. As the Khmer “revolution” -warmly supported by part of the Western “intelligentsia”- reached ever-greater heights of insanity, it began devouring its own children: generations of tortures and executioners were in turn killed by those who took their places. During the first part of 1977, S-21 claimed an average of 100 victims a day. When the Vietnamese army liberated Phnom Penh in early 1979, they found only seven prisoners alive at S-21. Fourteen others had been tortured to death as Vietnamese forces were closing in on the city. Their graves are nearby in the courtyard.

A visit to Tuol Sleng is an interesting, though profoundly depressing experience.


Cheung Ek Killing Field


Complementing the visit to Tuol Sleng, this is where about 17,000 men, women and children (including nine Westerners) have been executed between 1975 and 1978, after being  detained and tortured at S-21 prison.

The majority of the victims were trucked out to Choeung Ek, at about 8 or 9 o?clock PM, to be killed. The guards took the prisoners from their cells to the main gate where a large truck waited and told them that they were being transferred to another place: just to prevent the prisoners from crying, refusing to go or from escaping. In order to be well prepared for execution, a messenger from the defence unit was sent to the Choeung Ek Killing Field in advance to inform a permanent team about the number of the prisoners to be killed that day. Usually, the messenger went to the Killing Field by motorcycle in the mornings. To ensure that a top secret was kept and also that the execution was carried out properly, Duch, Peng, and Huy were requested to attend by Son Sen, the Minister in charge of defence and security. Duch liked to come, sat smoking on a mat near the pit, supervising the executions.

The remains of 8985 people, many of whom were bound and blindfolded, were exhumed in 1980 from mass graves; 43 of the 129 communal graves here have been left untouched. Fragment of Human bone and bits of cloth are scattered around the disinterred pits. Over 8000 skulls, arranged by sex, are visible behind the clear glass panels of the Memoral Stupa, which was erected in 1988. The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are 15 km from Central Phnom Penh. To get there, take Monireth Blvd south-westward out of the city from the Dang Kor Market bus depot. The site is 8.5 km from the bridge near 271 St. A memorial ceremony is held annually at Choeung Ek on 9 May.  Made famous by the film of the same name, this place should not be visited by children or sen






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