PHNOM PENH CAPITAL CITY: Phnom Penh has so much to offer visitors. Truly a cosmopolitan city right where four rivers converge, Phnom Penh shows off a mix of French as well as Chinese influence with distinctively Khmer characteristics. Restored French colonial homes, grand boulevards lined with giant trees, Chinese merchant houses along the river banks are reminiscent of a time gone by.
Must-sees in Phnom Penh are the Royal Palace and its Silver pagoda, the National Museum, Wat Phnom, the Independence Monument, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields, just outside the capital.
Located just north of the Royal Palace, the National Museum was recently rested to its former glory as one of the finest examples of Khmer architecture. On display there are more than 5,000 artifacts and objects of 'art from the 6th to the 13th centuries. They include sandstone sculptures, royal barges, palanquins and silk, intricately woven with silver and gold threads. There are also rare religious objects in gold, silver and bronze.
The Independence Monument commemorates the 1953 end of French rule over Cambodia. Designed by a Cambodian architect, the Naga (a mythical bird symbolizing strength and benevolence) motif of the monument is a symbol f the country's lirations. The Naga also adorns most important buildings in the country, including the Olympic Stadium and the Chatomuk Hall, which marks the convergence of four main river: the upper and lower Mekong, the Tonle Sap and the Bassac.
Legend has it that after a major flood a wealthy Khmer widower named Daun Penh found a large tree on the bank of the Tonle Sap with four ancient statues of Buddha hidden inside. In 1434 she decided to erect a large hill and build a temple to house sacred relics. Today, Wat Phnom remains the highest artificial hill in Phnom Penh and the center of many forms of religious activities.
Built in 1866 by His Majesty Preah Bat Norodom, the Royal Palace is now home to his Majesty Preah Bat Nodom Shihanouk and Her majesty Preah Reach Akka-Mohesey Norodom. Most of the buildings inside the palace are closed to the public, except for special occasions. Also within the palace walls is the Silver Pagoda, which draws its name from the 5,000 silver tiles that pave its floor. Inside the pagoda there are hundreds of gifts to Cambodian king, including a solid-gold Buddha encrusted with 9,584 diamonds weighing 90 kilograms.
For those who love shopping, there are several markets that offer handicraft, silk, silver ware, wood carving, precious stones from the country's famous mines, as well as antique furniture and paintings by local artists.
Toul Sleng and Killing Field
When the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 they converted a former high school in the suburbs of Phnom Penh into a detention and torture center known as Toul Sleng, or S-21. A genocide museum was established at Tulo Sleng after 1979 and today it remains as it looked when abandoned by the Khmer Rouge. Hundreds of faces of those tortured line the walls inside the old school. Most of the 17,000 people detained at Toul Sleng were eventually transported to Choeung Ek, a mass gravesite located 15km outside Phnom Penh.
Known to locals as the Killing Field, Choeung Ek serves as a memorial to those killed under the Khmer Rogue rule. These sites can be extremely distressing, but are and essential part of understanding Cambodia’s tragic past.