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PHNOM PENH - CAMBODIA

PHNOM PENH is Cambodia's modern capital; it is a vibrant bustling city nestling majestically on the banks of the confluence of two mighty rivers: the Mekong and the Tonle Sap. These rivers then split again as the Mekong and the Tonle Bassac at a place known to the Khmers as Chaktomuk, meaning four faces. Phnom Penh is a veritable oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. With wide tree-lined boulevards and low-rise buildings Phnom Penh harks back to the colonial days of this former French playground. The many older French colonial buildings, much in evidence, add to the ambiance.

The area surrounding the Royal Palace has magnificent Khmer towers and remains particularly delightful. There are many open spaces and parks in the center which the locals use for recreation and relaxation. Pedaled rickshaws, called cyclos, still ply the streets as in colonial days and provide an excellent opportunity for sightseeing and people watching. Taxi service is also available. Phnom Penh is the heart of the Cambodia's nightlife. Providing a good balance of fun and safety it's a pleasant change from the hectic Bangkok scene. The recent explosion of bars in the city offers greater choice than ever before.

The Silver Pagoda or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, formerly a wooden building, was rebuilt in 1962 in concrete and marble. The pagoda is floored with more than 5,000 silver tiles each weighing 1 kilo (2.2 pounds). It is famous for its 90 kg (198-pound) solid gold Buddha made in 1907 and an emerald Buddha said to be made of Baccarat crystal. Sharing the pagoda are many other interesting artifacts and jewels. This was one of the few temples to remain intact during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The National Museum was built in 1917 in traditional Khmer style and inaugurated in 1920 by King Sisowat. It houses the world's foremost collection of ancient Khmer archaeological, religious, and artistic artifacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. There are over 5000 pieces and it is the repository of the Kingdom's cultural wealth. In addition, the roof space is home to the largest bat colony in the world living in an artificial structure. Every evening thousands of these bats flock out of the roof and swarm around in the sky before searching for food.

Wat Phnom is a revered place of worship for all Khmers and is the namesake of the capital. It is located on a man-made hill 27 meters (89 feet) high in the middle of Phnom Penh. The original pagoda was built in 1373 to house four Buddha statues said to have been deposited by the waters of the Mekong. The temple is the focal point for many Buddhist ceremonies especially Pchum Ben and his highly revered by Phnom Penh residents. Wat Phnom has a unique atmosphere and is surrounded by fortune tellers, mystics, and faith healers. Elephant rides around the site are available.

The Tuol Sleng Museum, known as The Museum of Genocide Crimes was used by the Khmer Rouge as a detention and torture center from 1975 to 1978. Today the building houses exhibits, paintings and photographs of many of the victims. Visitors can see the crude cells built in the classrooms and the torture devices used to extract confessions in Stalinesque purges of the regime.

The Killing Fields of Cheung Ek are situated 15 kilometers (9.3 miles) southwest of Phnom Penh and made famous by the film "The Killing Fields". It was a place where more than 17,000 civilians were killed and buried in mass graves; many of them transported here after detention and torture in Toul Sleng. This place is a chilling reminder of the brutalities of the genocide perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. In the center of the area is a 17-story glass stupa which houses 8,000 skulls exhumed from mass graves.

Note: Both Tuol Sleng Museum and the Killing Fields exhibits may be disturbing for some and aren't suitable for younger children and adults who are easily shocked.

The Independence monument was built in 1958 as a memorial to Cambodia's war dead after the gaining of independence from France in 1953. The edifice, built in the Angkorian style, consists of five levels decorated with 100 snake heads. It is most impressive later in the afternoon with shadows highlighting the complexity of the design and giving the structure a warm orange glow.

The riverfront park was recently refurbished is the focal point for the Phnom Penh residents' leisure activities. Early risers can see the many locals welcoming the new day with Tai Chi and other exercises while the sun rises majestically over the river. In the early evening and all day Sunday many people stroll, picnic or just sit and watch the world go by. Local delicacies are served by vendors all along the riverfront.

The Central Market is one of the largest and busiest markets in Phnom Penh. Built in 1937 by French architects and surprisingly cool, even in the heat of the hottest day, many interesting products are available. The eastern side, which is the main entrance, has many souvenirs and ornaments on sale, from T-shirts to large stone heads. In the center are the many jewelry stores and precious-stone vendors as well as a plethora of electronic goods merchants, cloth sellers and other dealers; most of them selling things at low prices.

The Toul Tom Pong Market or Russian Market is probably the city's best source of objects d'art. Items for sale include wooden and stone carvings, various ritual objects, silverware, and old Indochinese notes and coins. There is a large range of antiquities and curios for those prepared to ferret around the various stalls and there are also gold and silversmiths inside the market who can be seen custom making jewelry. This is one of the most popular markets in Phnom Penh with foreign residents and tourists who can spend an interesting hour browsing before choosing the perfect gift.

The Ta Prohm Temple not far South of Phnom Penh on the route to Phnom Chisor is a 12th Century temple. Consecrated to the Buddha and the Brahma, the place is noted for its refined bas reliefs. Nearby is a smaller temple, Yeay Peau, which also has remarkable stone carvings. Near Ta Prohm is a small lake, Tonle Bati with "Water Houses" for rent and various food stalls.

Note: This site should not be confused with Ta Prohm at Angkor.

The Phnom Chisor Temple is an ancient Khmer temple constructed in the 11th century of laterite and bricks with carved sandstone lintels. The complex is surrounded by the partially ruined walls of a 2.5-meter (8-foot) wide gallery with inward facing windows. There are spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and Phnom Chisor makes an ideal excursion combined with Tonle Bati/Ta Prohm Temple.

The city of Oudong is 30km (19 miles) away from Phnom Penh and located on a hill overlooking vast plains and famous for the “burial chedis” of the Khmer kings. Little is left of this once former capital, but the first glimpse of the ruins on the hill is quite magical.

(Source: LUXURY TRAVEL COMPANY)
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