01 August, 2009

Phnom Penh

Built in 1372 by a wealthy lady known as Lady Penh (Doun Penh) A mixture of Asia exotica, Indochinese Charm and Cambodia hospitality await the visitor to Phnom Penh. Situated at the confluence of three great rivers - the 'four arms' or 'four faces' of the Mekong, Tonle Sap river and Bassac rivers. Phnom Penh is Cambodia's commercial and political hub, and is home to more than a million of the country 13.1 million peoples. It is also the gateway to an exotic land, the temple of Angkor in the west, the beaches of Sihanouk ville on the southern coast and the ethnic/linguistic minority peoples and jungle of the northeastern provinces .

Phnom Penh offers several cultural and historical attractions including the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda, National Museum, Wat Phnom, Toul Sleng Genocide Museum and Dancing school. There are also a variety of service including fives-star hotels and budget guesthouses, fine international dinning, sidewalk noodle shops, neighborhood pubs and more.

Phnom Penh, like other Cambodia tourist destinations, is in the midst of rapid change. Over the past few years, the number of tourist as well as the number of restaurants, hotels and other tourist services has grown dramatically. There are now direct daily flight to Phnom Penh and Siem Rep from several Asian cities including Bangkok, Ho Chi Minh, Vientiane, Singapore, Taipei and more. At least for overland border crossings have opened since 1998. Even travel within the country has become easier with several airlines flying domestic routes, regular bus service to Sihanoukville, Kampong Cham, and Kompong Chhang and route condition on the national routes gradually improving throughout the country. Cambodia is becoming easier to visit everyday.

Royal Palace
Chanchhaya Pavilion The pavilion dominates the view of the front of the palace on Sothearos Blvd. It is used as a classical dance theater, for Royal receptionists and banquets and from which the King delivers speeches to the pulic. Constructed in 1917. Hor Samran Phirun Royal waiting area where the King waits to mount an elephant for Royal procession implements. Constructed in 1917. Hor Samrith Vimean Also know as the 'Bronze Palace.' Repository for Royal regalia and attributes. A display of Royal regalia and costumes on the grown floor. Constructed in 1917 Khemarin Palace The Royal residence. Closed to the public. Napoleon lll Pavilion Constructed of iron. Originally built for French Empress Eugenie's use the inauguration of the Suez canal. Later presented as a gift to King Norodom from Emperor Napoleon lll in1876. Currently. Houses Royal memorabilia and a photographic exhibition. Temporarily closed for renovation. Best photographed in the morning.

Phochani Pivilion Originally constructed as a classical dance theater, it is currently used for Royal receptions and meetings. Throne Hall The Throne Hall is the primary audience hall of the king, used for coronation and diplomatic and other official meetings. Note the thrones of the king, and Queen?s throne higher and at the back, and the beautiful ceiling frescoes. Constructed in 1917. Inaugurated by king Sisowat in1919. Replace an earlier structure built an 1869. Best photographed in the morning.

Choeung Ek Memorial (The Killing Fields)
(15 km southwest of Phnom Penh- Take Monirith 8.5km past the bridge at Street 271) From April 17, 1975 until January 7, 1979, the ultra-Communist Khmer Rouge (Red Khmer) regime, led by Pol Pot, controlled the whole of Cambodia. Under the Khmer Rouge regime the country was known as 'Democratic Kampuchea.' During the short reign of the Khmer Rouge, between one million and two and a haft of million Cambodians perished, some killed outright, others dying from disease, malnutrition, neglect and mistreatment. Many of the dead ended up in various 'Killing fields' that can be found scattered across the country. The killing fields were essentially ad hoc place of execution and dumping grounds for dead bodies. The memorial at Choeung Ek just outside Phnom Penh was an orchard and a Chinese cemetery prior to 1975. During the Khmer Rouge regime it became one of the killing fields-this particular killing fields is the site of the brutal executions of more than 17,000 men, women and children, most of whom first suffered through interrogation, torture and deprivation in the S-21 Prison (Toul Sleng) in Phnom Penh. Choeung Ek is now a group of mass graves and a memorial stupa containing thousands of skulls. It's about a 20-40 minute drive from the center of Phnom Penh. There are guides available at the site, and a small souvenir shop. For sake of historical context, combine your trip to Choeung Ek with a visit to Toul Sleng Genocide Museum.

Toul Sleng Genocide Museam(S-21)
Corner of street 113 & Street 350-$2.00- Open everyday, include holidays, 8AM-5PM- Close for lunch) Prior to1975, Toul Sleng was a high school. When the Khmer Rouge came to power it was converted in to the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. Inmate were systematically tortured, sometimes over of a period of months, to extract confessions, after which they were executed at the killing fields of Choeung Ek. S-21 processed over 17,000 people, less than a dozen of whom survived. The building now serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge reguime. Much has been left in the state it was when Khmer Rouge abandoned it in January 1979. The prison kept extensive records, leaving thousands of photos of their victims, many of which are on display. Paintings of torture at the prison by Vann Nath, a survivor of Toul Sleng, are also exhibited. The museum famous and controversial skull map has been dismantled and is no longer displayed.

Independence Monument (Vimean Ekreach)
The Independence Monument (Vimean Ekreach) was inaugurated in 1958 to celebrate Cambodia's independence from foreign rule. It was designed by the renowned architect, Vann Molyvann. The moment now also serves as monument to Cambodia's war dead. It's the site of colorful celebrations and services on holidays such as Independence Day and Constitution Day. Located at the intersection of Norodom Blvd, and Sihanouk Blvd.

National Museum
(Street 178 & street 13, next to the Royal Palace- $3.00 -8:00-5:00, open everyday) The distinctive rust-red National Museum next to the Royal Palace was dedicated by King Sisowath in 1920. Over 5000 object are on display including Angkorian era statues, lingas and other artifacts, most notably the legendary statue of the 'Leper King' Though the emphasis is on Angkorian artifacts, there is also a good collection of pieces from later periods, including a special exhibition of post-Angkorian Buddha figures. Visiting the museum after rather than before a trip to Angkor helps lend context to the Angkorian artifacts. Multi-lingual tour guides are available. Souvenirs and books available. Photography is limited. Some guidebooks still mention the museum bats that in habited the rafters, unseen in the day but occasionally spectacular as days left in drove and sunset. In March 2002 the bats left for good, moving on after renovations to the ceiling. The museum borders street 178, aka Artist's Street which in lined with several art galleries and souvenir shops.

Central Market(Phsar Thmei)
This unique, art-decor building is a Phnom Penh landmark. Prior to 1935 the area was a swamp/lake that received the runoff during the rainy season .The lake was drained and the market constructed in 1935-37. Wet season flooding in the area around the market is a vestige of the old lake. The entrance to of market is lined with souvenir merchants hawking everything from T-shirts and postcard and photocopy book to silver curios and kramas and eatable insects .Inside is a dazzling display of jewels and gold. Electronic goods stationery, secondhand clothes and flower are also in ample supply. (Phsar Thmei means New Market , but Central Market has caught on in English.)

Russian Market (Phsar Toul Tom Poung)
This market is of far less architectural interest than the Central Market but has a larger and more varied selection of souvenirs, curios and silks. Like the central Market, it has a good selection of silver, gold and jewels, but also carries huge selection of curios, silk, carvings, etc. The Russian Market offers the largest selection of boot legged VCDs, DVDs and CDs of all the traditional markets. Most of the CD vendors are located on the south side near the southeast corner of the market. It's also a good place to buy fabric for business and casual cloths to take to the tailor. Most of what the visitor might want is in the same general area on the south side but the rest of the market is well worth exploring. Food and drink stands in the middle of the market for hygienically adventurous visitors.

Old Market (Phsar Chas)
A local market that is not at all geared to tourists. The market carries such items as fruits and vegetables, hardware, second hand clothes, motorcycle parts and religious items. The dinner rush hour at little stands along street 110 makes for a confusing , potentially photogenic scene.

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