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Phnom Penh Capital

Phnom Penh, once known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’, is the capital and largest city of Cambodia. It is now an economic, commercial, cultural and tourist center.
Tourists can experience a fresh wave of Cambodian hospitality in this city of more than 2 million people. Cambodians are by nature cordial and friendly. Here in the capital city, people are more enterprising. The city is now a center of diverse economic and urban development.
Phnom Penh is now architecturally developed with several new high rise buildings including a 30 storey business centre. More high rise buildings are being developed. Hotels catering to every level of desire have also mushroomed all over the city.
The riverfront is lined by chic pubs, bistros and boutique hotels. Smart little silk boutiques and galleries dot the side streets. A building arts scene and a heady dusk-to-dawn nightlife; such are what this pearl has now to offer.

Around Phnom Penh
There are many places to visit when in Phnom Penh. Visitors can enjoy the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, then stroll down about l00m to visit the National Museum; after which, walk along Sothearos Boulevard to patronise some neat ‘antique’ shops that sell silver trays, betel boxes, belts, old coins, silver or wooden statuettes and marble carvings from the province of Poursat.
It is pleasant to take leisurely strolls around Phnom Penh, browse the shops and take in the city. Boulevards peppered by beautiful colonial buildings and a park-like riverfront with cafes and restaurants together make this a beautiful city to visit. The art galleries on Street 178 between the National Museum and Wat Sarawan are a real treat.
The ‘Phsar Toul Tom Poung’ or The Russian Market as its most commonly known, offers antique pieces and the opportunity to buy factory over-run designer clothes at huge discounted prices. For the visitor who prefers air-conditioned comfort, there are a few modern shopping complexes; the Sorya Shopping Centre, Sovanna Centre and the City Mall.

Places of Interest:

Royal Palace:
Cambodia’Royal Palace, located along Sothearos Boulevard, was built in 1866, during the reign of King Norodom.
Points of interest inside the place include:
-    Prasat Tevea Vinichhay (the Throne Hall): The hall where Kings and Queens are crowned.
-    Prasat Khemarin: The hall where the monarchs live.
-    Prasat Saran Phirum: The hall where the monarchs ride the Royal Elephant.
-    Hor Baku or Hor Preah Khan: The hall where the throne objects and accessories are kept.
-    Chan Chhaya: The hall where Royal Dance performers train. In front of the Chan Chhaya, there is a platform where the King can hold audiences with his subjects and all levels of officials.

Wat Preah Keo Morakot (The Silver Pagoda):
Wat Preah Keo Morakot is located in the southern portion of the Royal Palace complex. The pagoda was formerly known as Wat Uborsoth Rotannaram because it is where the King worshiped, prayed and practiced every Buddhist Silas Day. In addition, the royal family and officials also held Buddhist ceremonies there.

This pagoda has no monks. However, his Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk lived there for one year when he entered the monkhood on July 31, 1947. Because the pagoda has no monks, visitors usually refer to it as Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakaot. When the King celebrates Buddhist ceremonies, monks from other pagodas such as Wat Unaloam and Wat Botumvattey are invited to attend the ceremonies.

Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot was built between 1892 and 1902, during the reign of King Norodom, but at that time it was constructed of wood and brick. Its design is based on Cambodian architectural style. The Banhchos Khan Seima ceremony was held on Feb 5, 1903. The temple was later damaged, and Queen Kosamak Nearyrath asked that it be repaired. Under the direction of her son Samdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk, who at that time was the head of state, the old temple was dismantled and reconstructed in 1962 on the same sited with reinforced concrete. The floor was laid with silver tiles, and the columns were covered with glass stone imported from Italy. The architecture, however, remained the same.

This temple is called Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot because the main Buddha statue is made of priceless emerald, which Cambodians call Keo Morakot. Westerners, however, prefer to call the temple the Silver Pagoda because of the 5329 genuine silver tiles that cover the floor.

There are 1650 art objects housed in this temple. Most of them are Buddha figures. They are made of gold, silver, bronze and other valuable materials. Some are decorated with diamonds. They are gifts from the King, the royal family, dignitaries and other people who worship at Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot, where they pray for peace and prosperity, for happiness and for the preservation of Cambodian cultural heritage for the next generation.

In front of the throne, sits a Buddha statue made of gold, weighing 90 kilograms (about 200 pounds) and decorated with 2086 diamonds. The biggest diamond is on the crown. It is 25 millimeters. This statue was commissioned in 1904 by King Sisowath, following the suggestion of King Norodom. King Norodom said, after his body was cremated the gold casket should be melted to make a Buddha statue representing Preah Srei Araymetrey. This Buddha statue is named Preah Chin Raingsei Rachik Norodom.

Objects of particular interest in the Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot include:
-    The Preah Keo Morakot, the Emeral Buddha, which sits atop a throne in the center of the temple
-    There is a small glass cabinet that contains what Buddhists believe are ashes of the Buddha. The ashes were brought from Sri Lanka in 1956 by Samdech Head Monk Lvea Em, who stayed in Wat Langka in Phnom Penh.
-    In a nearby cabinet sits a gold Buddha figure offered by Queen Kosamak Nearyrath, mother of King Norodom Sihanouk, in 1969. This Buddha figure is protected by naga. It represents when the Buddha stayed at the Muchalonti Pond.
-    Objects in other cabinets are the keepsakes and decorated objects for royal and Buddhist ceremonies.
The temple is surrounded by a lofty gallery. On the wall of the gallery, there are traditional paintings of the entired Ream Ke epic. These paintings were done by 40 Cambodian artists between 1903 and 1904 under the direction of Oknha Tep Nimit. The Ream Ke painting is 642 meters long and 3 meters high. It starts from the south of the eastern gallery and winds its way around the gallery. This means that visitors must walk in a circle to see the entire story.

The ancient epic Ream Ke along the gallery shows a unique scene not copied completely from Indian Ramayana. Because some plots of Cambodian Ream Ke are so mysterious, visitors must look at the painting carefully. Visitors who are familiar with Indian Ramayana will understand the Cambodian Ream Ke easily, even though the two versions are different. Some themes are also depicted by La Khon Khaol or depicted in Sbek Thom and other sculpted figures. Astrologers also use the story to tell fortunes.

Weather, structural damage and destruction by visitors over the years have caused the paintings to deteriorate. In 1985, the Cambodian government was cooperating with the government of Poland to restore, protect and maintain the paintings. The venture lasted only five years, however, because the budget was terminated. Today the Cambodian government is looking for ways to conserve, restore and maintain this cultural heritage.

Monks from Phnom Penh and other provinces once studied the Pali language in classes that were held along the gallery before the Pali school was opened in Phnom Penh on Dec 16, 1930.
In front of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot, are two stupas and a statue under the roof. The south stupa holds the cremains of King Ang Duong, the great-great grandfather of the King Sihanouk. The north stupa holds the cremains of King Norodom, the great grandfather of King Sihanouk. Both stupas were dedicated on March 13, 1908.

The statue of King Norodom riding a horse was erected in 1875. It was the keepsake of the French King Napoleon III. It was kept in  front of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot in 1892, but at that time there was no roof. During King Sihanouk’s crusade to win independence from France, he prayed in front of the statue. After Cambodia won its independence on Nov 11, 1953, King Sihanouk had the roof built in honor of King Norodom. South of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot beside Thamma Hall, a place for praying, and the stupa of King Sihanouk’s father, King Norodom Soramrith, which was built in 1960, visitors will find:
-    Keung Preah Bat
Keung Preah Bat houses the footprints of the four Buddhas who have already reached enlightenment. Those Buddhas are Kok Santhor, Neak Komonor, Kasabor and Samonakodom. In addition to the four Buddhas who have reached enlightenment, there is one Buddha, Preah Srei Araymetrey, whom Buddhists believe has not yet been born. They believe that he will come 5000 years after the fourth Buddha reaches Nirvana. Buddhists believe that Preah Srei Araymetrey will come and help the people.
-    Phnom Khan Malineati Borapat Kailasha
Phnom Khan Malineati Borapat Kailasha or Phnom  Mondul is the manmade hill that represents Phnom Kailasha, where the Buddha left his footprints on the stone. On the Phnom Mondul, there is a statue of the Buddha and 108 small figures describing the 108 blessings of life before the Buddha reaches enlightenment.
-    Kunthabopha stupa
Kunthatbopha stupa was built in 1960 as the resting place for the ashes of Princess Norodom Kunthabopah, the daughter of King Norodom Sihanouk. She was 4 years old when she died of dengue fever. The stupa’s design is based on the ancient Banteay Srei temple in Siem Reap.

West of Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morakot is a bell hall. The bell is used in various ceremonies and to mark the opening and closing of the Silver Pagoda. In the past, the bell was also used to call the monks who studied Pali in the palace. To the north, is a building that houses Tipitaka, the fundamental scriptural canon of Buddhism. They include:
-    Sutta Pitak
The Sutta Pitaka, a collection of discourses, is primarily composed of dialogues between the Buddha and other people. It consists of five groups of texts: Digha Nikaya (collection of long discourses), Majjhima Nikaya (collection of medium length discourses), Samyutta Nikaya (collection of grouped discourses), Anguttara Nikaya (collection of discourses on numbered topics), and Khuddaka Nikaya (collection of miscellaneous texts). In the fifth group, the Jatakas, comprising stories of former lives of the Buddha, and the Dhammapada (religious sentences), a summary of the Buddha’s teachings on mental discipline and morality, are especially popular.
-    Vinaya Pitaka
The Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline, consists of more than 225 rules governing the conduct of Buddhist monks and nuns. Each is accompanied by a story explaining the original reason for the rule. The rules are arranged according to the seriousness of the offense resulting from their violation.
-    Abhidharma Pitaka
The Abhidharma Pitaka contains philosophical, psychological, and doctrinal discussions and classifications. It consists of seven separate works. They include detailed classifications of psychological phenomena, metaphysical analysis, and a thesaurus of technical vocabulary.

The building also houses a Shiva’s mount Nandi. This figure was found buries in Koh Thom district in Kandal province in 1983. It is estimated to be 80 percent silver and 20 percent bronze, copper, lead, iron and zinc.

National Museum:
The National Museum of Phnom Penh is instantly recognizable, with its warm red terracotta and its gracefully curved roof topped by dozens of guardian nagas. Located just north of the Royal Palace, off the street of Artists (178 street), it was designed in 1917 by famed French architect George Groslier and the Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens, who made the most of traditional Khmer style. It was inaugurated by King Sisowath in 1920.

Worth visiting for its beauty alone, the National Museum also houses the world’s foremost collection of ancient Khmer archaeological, religious and artistic artifacts. The Angkor era is the museum’s specialty, but it also features other important periods such as the Funan and Zhenla, the two empires most closely seen as precursors to Angkor. More than 5000 objects  dating from the 4th to the 13th centuries are on display. And these are only the tip of the iceberg. Lack of funding and special restraints have meant the museum’s vaults remain full of thousands more objects, many of them priceless.

The museum is open daily from 8am to 11:30am and from 2:30pm to 5pm. French and English spoken guides are available, or visitors can purchase one of the books or pamphlets available and wander the four courtyards, each facing out into a garden, and try to piece together the complex history through these magnificent works of ancient art themselves.

Among the most memorable of these is an eight-armed statue of Vishnu dating from the 6th century, but even the smaller, less imposing pieces gives a unique insight into the skills of the craftspeople that had inhabited this area through the centuries.

Wat Phnom:
Located a short distance from the Royal Palace, the heart of the capital Wat Phnom is popular with Cambodians and tourists alike. It is the center of Phnom Penh that gives the city its name. At 27 meters above sea level, it is the highest point in the area, and, as a town gradually grew up around it, the settlement became known as Phnom Penh, the hill of Penh. It is zero point of the city.

Legend has it that a wealthy widow named Yeay Penh was walking by the Mekong River one day when she spied a Koki tree log floating near the bank. She found some locals to help her pull it to shore, and inside she found four statues of the Buddha. In AD 1372, she built a hill, or Phnom, and placed a shrine on top to house the precious artifacts. In AD 1434, King Ponhea Yat came and constructed a city and gave the name Phnom Penh.

Today, the original shrine has been rebuilt many times in AD 1434, 1806, 1894 and 1926 and each incarnation has seemed more beautiful than the one before.
On the hill there is a large stupa that holds the cremains of King Ponhea Yat and his royal family. Inside the stupa, the is a Buddha statue from the Angkorean era, from the 9th to 13th centuries. At the based of the hill, on the southern side, a huge clock, illuminated at night, has become one of Phnom Penh’s nighttime landmarks. To the north, at the traffic roundabout, a cluster of European restaurants line the beginning of French Street, purveying fine wine with French and Italian cuisines.

The climb up the hill via the grand eastern staircase takes visitors on a path guarded by stone nagas and lions and through tree-lined lushness to the temple, which glitters with golden decorations and is always piled high with offerings. On weekends especially, locals flock here to pray for good luck and prosperity, returning when their wish is granted to bring offerings of thanks such as bananas or fragrant rings of orange blossoms.

Plenty of hawkers sell offerings for the gods of the hill. People with wire cages filled with small birds offer tourists and locals alike the chance to pay a small sum to set a pair of their charges free, and thus earn merit from the gods. Children selling lotus flowers and incense may follow visitors up the hill asking their name and where their come from.

During the Khmer New Year, Wat Phnom becomes the center of festivities. No one visiting at that vibrant time of year can escape the good-natured throwing of powder and water, all of it accompanied by shrikes of laughter, that mark new year’s celebration.

Independence Monument:
Erected in 1955, the Independence Monument symbolizes Cambodian Independence gained from French colonialism in 1953. This monument is a copy of the Bakong temple (a temple from the Roluos group of the 9th century). The one-hundred Nagas and snake motif can be seen in historical, cultural, archeological, and business contexts.
On 9th November each year, government officials from the various ministries and institutions would congregate here to jubilantly celebrate the anniversary of the national independence.
In commemoration of the souls of brave combatants and heroes who had laid down their lives for the freedom of the country, senior military and police officers would march before the Independence Monument, accompanied by a military band. The King ceremoniously lights up the ‘Glory Torch’ placed inside the monument; then in a festive manner, colorful balloons are let loose into the sky.

The Riverfront:
A stroll or cyclo ride along the park lined riverfront is a must – pubs, restaurants, shops and tourist boats line the way. Chhroy Changva park is another newly attraction at the other side of the river opposite the Royal Palace. The view of the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonle Sap is geographically unique. Early risers, check out the spectacular sunrise over the river in front of the Royal Palace.

River Cruise:
he mighty Mekong River is indeed, in more ways than one, the lifeline that runs through the heart of south-east Asia. Rising from the Himalayan mountain of Tibet, it trickles and gradually winds its way through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam before spilling into the South China Sea. In its course, the mighty Mekong meets the Tonle Sap Lake which is the largest lake in South East Asia and effectively, the heartbeat of Cambodia. The annual pulsation of the flooding seasons has been a huge contribution to Cambodia’s existence for millenniums.
When in Cambodia, tourists are urged to explore these timeless waterways by taking a cruise up the mighty Mekong and discover the amazements at the center of the Tonle Sap Lake. There is a huge community living on the lake itself. This is definitely a gentle and wonderful way to experience local life that has remained unchanged for centuries. Tourists can stop off to have a cuppa at a floating café in the middle of the lake, watch the small communities along the riverbank, visit remote temples far from the beaten tourist paths and enjoy the river breeze.
Tourist boats of varying size and quality wait along the riverfront, usually between Street 144 and Street 130, and at the Passenger Port near Street 104. Just look for the cluster of boats and advertising placards. From about 4PM-5:30PM you can get a sunset cruise for $4-5$/person on a shared tour boat. If you want a private boat, or arrive anytime other than the sunset hours, boats run about for $10-$15/hour for a whole boat and offers a standard tour itinerary. Bring your friends and split  the price. Prices go up for larger boats.

Boat cruising at night:
In the evening, the riverside along Sisowath Quay offers many night cruises up and down the Mekong River; some with dinner included. These cruises can be quite a romantic experience and best of all, these are usually not costly.

Ounalom Monastery
This pagoda is famous for it's appealing works of art. The monastery also serves as a center for the Cambodian Buddhist Society. In Cambodia there are two schools of Buddhism known as Mahanikaya and Dhamayoka. Mahanikaya is perceived as stricter and more obedient than the Dhamayoka. Monks in Ounalom Monastery mainly practice Mahanikaya Buddhism. There is a beautiful panoramic view over the confluence for the rivers from the top of this Monastery.

Street 240:
Street 240's tree shaded avenue next to the Royal Palace harbars a unique collection of quality boutiques and souvenir shops, offering Cambodian silks and silk fashions, South east Asian art, handicrafts, curios andfurniture as well as a few restaurants and bars, wine shops, a couple of bookstores and a travel agent interspersed along the way. After visiting the Palace, stroll around the corner of Street 240 to explore. Most of the shops are concentrated along the couple of blocks bwtween Street 19 and Norodom Blvd. At the corner of Street 240 next to the Royal Palace, the Council of Ministers building sits distinctively, particularly photogenic in the late afternoon the red roof and gold trim glowing in the low sun. Before heading up 240, consider taking a short detour through the park to Wat Botum to see the towering white 'Buddha Relic Stupa'. As you are walking up Street 240 from the Palace area note the well preserved colonial era villas on the south side of the street.

Boeung Keng Kang 1:
Boeung Keng Kang 1 (BKK1) bordered by Sihanouk, Norodom, Mao Tse Toung, and Monivong, has been considered the city's 'foreigner quarter' since the 80s. The area is base to many NGOs, embassies and international organizations as well as expatriate residences and hotels catering to long-term visitors. The whole of Boeung Keng Kang 1 is dotted with visitor-oriented businesses hotels, testaurants, bars, silk shops, massage spas, travel agents and realtors, with the greatest concentration of businesses at the northern end in the Street 278/282 area, particularly between Streets 51 and 63. Street 278 is lined with restaurants, bars, shops and small hotels frequented by an interesting mix of NGO and IO workers as well as tourists and expatriates. The Street 278 area is well worth a visit and a stroll anytime of day, but especially for lunch or dinner, or even better, in the early evening when the bars are cafés are full and the street is at its liveliest.

Street 178:
Street 178 has long been known as 'Art Street' for the local sculpture shops and art galleries that line the road near the National Museum and Royal University of Fine Arts. Sculptors work on the street next to Wat Sarawan and local galleries cluster near the Museum, most focusing on commercial and popular Cambodian art. But there are also a number of artist's galleries, handicraft and silk boutiques as well as a few restaurants and bars, especially close to the riverfront. The award winning Reyum Gallery is of particular note, offering changing exhibitions of traditional and contemporary art by noted Cambodian artist. Toward the river end of 178 there are several restaurants and bars including the famous FCC. Check out the cluster of local silver shops just off Street 178 on Sothearos Blvd.

Relaxing Places:
In addition to the main tourist attractions above, Phnom Penh offers a number of other cultural sites and places to relax. They include Chatomuk Hall, south of the Royal Palace and along the riverfront, where dancers perform traditional Cambodian dance. Independence Monument, near downtown, is the site of many ceremonial events. It adjoins a long mall that stretches east toward the riverfront, where it meets Hun Sen Park, near the Naga Casino Resort Complex. There are also numerous popular bars and nightclubs for visitors looking for something to do after dark.

Central Market (Phsar Thom Thmei):
The distinctive art-deco styling of the Central Market makes it stand out among the architecture of Phnom Penh. The Central Market was built in 1937. Today, most visitors to Phnom Penh tour this market, where they can shop for souvenirs. Clothes, jewelry, silver products, house wares, postcards, flowers, and electronic good are in abundance – in fact just about anything visitors could wish for.

Russian Market (Phsar Tuol Tom Poung):
So-named because of the prevalence of items from the Eastern Bloc in past times, the Russian market today is a treasure trove for tourists. Particular items worth seeking out include CDs, fabrics, jewelry, carved handicrafts and ceramics. There are also a large number of clothing outlets and on site tailors and seamstresses can make alteration quickly. The food and drinks stalls are a good place t take a refreshment break between the bargaining.

Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum:
Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum is the former Tuol Sleng High School. In 1975, during the Khmer Roughe regime, the school was used as a prison and torture center, known at the time as S-21. Thousands of Cambodians and a number of foreigners were housed and tortured there until they were executed. Today the site is a museum, where visitors can walk among some of the cells and look at the photos of hundreds of people who died there. There are also paintings, painted by artist Vann Vath, a former prisoner, that depict the torture of prisoners.

Cheung Ek Genocidal Site:
In addition to Tuol Sleng, there is another place where Khmer Rouge killed people. That place is in Wat Chheung Ek, in Chheung Ek commune, Khan Donkaor, about 15 kilometers from the center of Phnom Penh. Visitors to the Killing Fields of Chheung Ek can walk among 86 mass graves where hundreds of men women and children were buried. Nearby is a massive stupa that holds skulls and bones unearthed at the site, as well as pieces of clothing. According to statistics, 8985 corpses were unearthed from the mass graves in Chheung Ek area.