Phnom Penh City
Phnom Penh is the vibrant bustling capital of Cambodia. Situated at the confluence of three rivers, the mighty Mekong, the Bassac and the great Tonle Sap, what was once considered the 'Gem' of Indochina. The capital city still maintains considerable charm with plenty to see. It exudes a sort of provincial charm and tranquillity with French colonial mansions and tree-lined boulevards amidst monumental Angkorian architecture. Phnom Penh is a veritable oasis compared to the modernity of other Asian capitals. A mixture of Asian exotica, the famous Cambodian hospitality awaits the visitors to the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia.
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. Indeed, an ideal destination for a leisurely day tour. The whole area including the outskirts of Phnom Penh is about 376 square kilometres big. There are currently 2,009,264 people living in Phnom Penh.
The city takes its name from the re-known Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which was built in 1373 to house five statues of Buddha on a man made hill 27 meters high. These five statues were floating down the Mekong in a Koki tree and an old wealthy widow named Daun Penh (Grandma Penh) saved them and set them up on this very hill for worshiping. Phnom Penh was also previously known as Krong Chaktomuk (Chaturmukha) meaning "City of Four Faces". This name refers to the confluence where the Mekong, Bassac, and Tonle Sap rivers cross to form an "X" where the capital is situated.
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 and budget guest houses, fine international dining, sidewalk noodle shops, neighbourhood pubs international discos and more.
Phnom Penh, like other Asian-City tourist destinations, is in the midst of rapid change. Over the past few years the number of restaurants and hotels have grown considerably and in the last year there had been a huge increase in the number of visitors. Come and see a real original as it won't be the same in a few years.
The Royal Palace of Cambodia is a complex of buildings, even though it is generally understood to be the royal abode of the King of Cambodia. The compound was the citadel of King Ponhea Yat (1393-1463) and rebuilt to its present state in 1886, when King Norodom (1834-1904) relocated the royal capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh. The buildings with beautiful towering spires are a great example of classic Khmer architecture found in Cambodia today.
Along with numerous other interesting buildings within the 183,135 square meters (421m x 435m) compound is The Khemarin Palace, also known as Prasat Khemarin or the "Palace of the Khmer King." This is officially the residence of His Majesty, King Norodom Sihamoni.
Inside the palace grounds, the noises from the street are silenced by the high walls surrounding the compound. While tourists cannot enter the area of the royal abode, visitors can gain entry to the Throne Hall (Preah Tineang Tevea Vinichhay) where coronations and official ceremonies take place, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Preah Keo Morakot), Stupas (Chedei), a Royal Dining Hall, the Chan Chhaya Pavilion and a French-style building that was a gift from Napoleon III.
Phsar Thmey, also known as Central Market, is a unique colonial style building constructed in 1937. The location where the Central Market now sits was once a swamp area and occupied by a lake known as Beng Decho. Today, this beautiful market has become a prominent landmark in Phnom Penh. In the Khmer language, Phsar Thmey literally means "New Market".
Phsar Themey features a stylish Art Décor rotunda with wings extending in four different directions symbolizing the Chaktomouk (Confluence of four rivers). The Dome, symbolizing the economic center, is said to be amongst the largest in the world. The four broad wings constructed without obstructing pillars and the huge beamless dome are very well ventilated by the high ceiling.
This market is crowded with activity on any given day, and visitors can purchase almost anything from fresh produces to cooked food, jewelry, watches, shoes, stationery, flowers, clothes including t-shirts and lots of tourist souvenirs.
Wat Phnom, the namesake and symbol of the capital city of Phnom Penh, sets prominently atop an artificial 27 meter hill (or 'Phnom') in the northeastern section of the city. Legend has it that Daun Penh, a wealthy widow, retrieved a large koki tree trunk from the river. She had hoped to use it for a house, but inside a hollow of the trunk, she found four statues of the Buddha. She then ordered for a section of her property to be elevated for a small shrine to be erected to revere the statues. This became a sacred site and people started to settle around the hill; eventually, this became the city it now is. It is here that the city gets its name: "Phnom" means hill in Khmer and "Penh" is of course the name of the lady.
Later, King Ponhea Yat (1393-1463), built the sanctuary (Vihear) here when he moved his capital from Angkor to Phnom Penh in 1422. The prominent stupa immediately west of the sanctuary or vihara (vihear) contains the ashes of the late king.
The sanctuary itself has been renovated frequently. There are numerous other shrines and other activities on or at the base of the hill. There are gardens that the French laid out in the late nineteenth century and shrines that reflect Taoist, Confucian, Hindu beliefs and one especially of Vietnamese interests reflected in the shrine to Preah Chau.
The Silver Pagoda
The Silver Pagoda, also known as the Preah Vihear Preah Keo Morokat (the Emerald Pagoda) to Cambodians, lies within the grounds of the Royal Palace, which is situated near the banks of the Mighty Mekong.
Originally a wooden structure, the palace was initially constructed in 1892 during the reign of King Norodom, but rebuilt to its present grandeur by King Norodom Sihanouk in 1962. The king spared no effort to make this a true embodiment of brilliant Khmer art. More than 5300 pcs of 1.125 kilo silver tiles are used to cover the floor of the Silver Pagoda, and the silver pieces collectively weigh over six tons.
The staircase leading into the pagoda is marble, and inside, two breathtaking representations of the Buddha hold court. The Emerald Buddha is in fact made of Baccarat crystal, and dates back to the 17th century. A small glass case nearby enshrines a sacred Buddha relic brought from Sri Lanka in 1956 by the Venerable Loeva Em of Wat Lanka. However, the second statue of Buddha is the one that catches the eyes of visitors. Its 90 kilo gold body is studded with 2086 diamonds; the largest of which a 25 karats brilliant piece can be found on the Buddha's crown. Cast in 1904 by King Sisowath at the request of his elder brother King Norodom, it represents Maitreya Buddha, the future Buddha.
There are a total of 1650 items on display at the temple. They include cast gold headdresses made especially for the royal dancers, many solid gold Buddha statues in different forms, gifts from royalties and dignitaries from around the world and a myriad of jewels and precious antiques.
The National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh is the country’s leading historical and archaeological museum. It was officially inaugurated by King Sisowat in 1920.
The buildings are inspired by Khmer temple architecture and house more than 14,000 items. The National Museum contains the world’s largest collection of Khmer art, including sculpture, ceramics, bronzes, and ethnographic objects dating from prehistoric times to periods before, during, and after the Khmer Empire.
The Museum also serves a religious function. Its collection of important Buddhist and Hindu sculptures includes a Post-Angkorian Buddha supported by UNESCO.
Built in 1958 as a memorial to Cambodia's war dead and to celebrate independence from foreign rule, the monument stands majestically on the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard in the centre of the city. It is designed by the influential Cambodian modern architect Vann Molyvann in the form of a lotus-shaped stupa in the same style seen at the great Khmer temple at Angkor Wat and other Khmer historical sites. The monument consists of five tiers decorated with 100 Nagas and is most impressive in the late afternoon hours when the sun casts shadows over the sculptures.
Cambodia celebrates Independence Day on 9 November each year. The Independence Monument, already one of Phnom Penh’s most significant structures, becomes even more celebrated when His Majesty King Norodom Sihamoni leads the annual jubilation by ceremoniously lighting a giant torch placed inside the monument in front of a huge spectator of high officials from the government, private sectors and members of the Cambodian public.
The night market in Phnom Penh, located in front of the Phsar Chas (Old Market) near the riverside, is perpetually crowded with tourists in search of a good bargain. At the moment, there are more than 150 stalls selling an array of items from clothing and ornaments to furniture and souvenirs. The entire setting of the Phnom Penh night market is made from natural material, and there are occasionally music performances and entertainment acts.