Phnom Penh
By: H. Rajana ( June, 2001 Volume 1 No.2 )


Before or after visiting Siem Reap to the famous Angkor Wat, there are many 'must-sees' in the capital Phnom Penh. If you wish to explore new cultures, meet local people and enjoy local cuisine, here are some interesting places to go to: The Royal Palace, which has been used by kings for coronation ceremonies and receiving State guests; The Silver Pagoda on the palace grounds, where one can view 5,000 silver titles each weighing 1 kilo, a 90 kilo golden statue of the Buddha decorated with thousands of diamonds, the largest of which is 25 carats as well as an emerald Buddha figurine plus hundreds of valuable cultural and religious relics.


The National Museum offers very interesting exhibits of more than 5,000 artifacts, including an eight armed statue of Vishnu (from 6th or 7th century), a statue of Shiva (9th century), and a statue Buddha dating from pre-Angkor period. Visitors can also see a statue of King Jayavarman VII (1181 to after 1201), who reconstructed the capital, the present Angkor Thom that was pillaged by Cham warriors in 1177. Jayavarman VII is the king credited with establishing a network of roads in Cambodia, using innovative building techniques to raise them above the level of swamps and building sophisticated bridges. Also on display are pottery and bronze pieces dating back to the periods of Funan and Chenla (4th to 9th centuries).

A massive population of bats estimated to number more than one million, flies out from the museum's attic and circles the capital city of Phnom Penh before sunset and constitutes a spectacular sight for tourists. While Museum authorities want artifacts protected from bat droppings, wildlife advocates want these bats protected as well. Wat Phnom, "Wat" stands for pagoda and "Phnom" is mountain in Khmer. The current structure is more than 200 years old, making it the oldest pagoda in the city. It is built on an artificial hillock after which the capital is named. The pagoda was constructed in 1372 according to legend, by a wealthy widow named Penh after five statues of the Buddha, four in bronze and one in stone, in the hollow of a Koki tree log deposited by the waters of the Mekong River. The "Vihear" (Inner Temple) of the pagoda was rebuilt or renovated many times in 1437, 1805, 1994, 1926 and most recently in 1998. In the large stupa on the west rest the remains of the first King of the post-Angkor period of the Cambodia history. On the south of the passage between the temple and the stupa is the Alter of Grandma Penh. It is here that many people come to pray for good luck and success in business. People go to make offerings in garlands of the jasmine flowers or with simply a hand of bananas when their requests or prayers are answered. The main entrance to Wat Phnom is by the eastern stairway, which is guarded by lion and dragon balustrades.

A friendly female elephant is available every day for tourists to ride around Wat Phnom, giving one the feeling of being a Khmer mandarin during the time of the Angkor epoch. Across the road to the south of Wat Phnom, fortunetellers sit under the shade of grand old trees, waiting for customers curious to know what awaits them in years to come. The Bassac Theatre: offers occasional cultural performances including traditional Khmer dances. By special arrangements, the School of Fine Arts often organize dance and music performances on weekends especially Saturdays. Independence Monument: This impressive structure was inaugurated in 1958 to commemorate the declaration of Cambodia's independence from France on November 9, 1953. It also served as a monument to Cambodia's war dead.
Walking into the monument is not permitted. The best view for taking pictures is from the west across the street. The Confluence of the Mekong: The confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap is geographically a unique view. The current of the water rushing into the Tonle Sap during the rainy season and reversing of the same into the Mekong during the monsoon is truly a rare sight to behold. Across The Japanese Friendship Bridge to "Fooddom": On the other side of the Tonle Sap River across the Mittapheap Kumpuchea Japon bridge, one can enjoy a great variety of food from the strip of restaurants of all sizes which line both sides of the road. There are about a hundred restaurants in Prek Leap.If you wish to escape the bustle and hustle of the city, there are other alternatives:
Perhaps a river cruise or take the Mekong Island tour that lets you experience riverside landscape and to buy handicrafts at selected tourists shops where you'll find sales attendants able to speak your native language. A visit to the Chroy Changvar peninsular opposite the Royal Palace; You can go there by getting across the Japanese Friendship Bridge by motorbike taxi or by boat to experience quiet life-style of the islanders there and explore the many well shaded lanes, visiting pagodas along the way. In Phnom Penh, there are many old pagodas like the Botum Pagoda (built in 1422) on the riverfront north of the National Museum, the Langka Pagoda (1422) just south west of the Independence Monument. Two other places that will probably shock tourists are The Tuol Sleng 'Museum' in the Beung Keng Kong precinct, which was a 'high-school turned prison' under the Khmer Rouge Regime from 1975-1979.
The other is Choeung Ek Killing Field where thousands of people were slaughtered. After visiting these places, tourists will better understand the history of Cambodia and perhaps appreciate the Cambodia of today more. The Central Post Office: Just in case you need to telephone home, send letters or packages abroad, you can go to the Central Post Office located at the corner of Street 102 and 13, a block east of Wat Phnom. Collectable stamps are available at this Office as well. It is open everyday in the morning and afternoon.