Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh
Cambodia's capital city, Phnom Penh, is the third most visited city, after Siem Reap with its temples, and Sihanoukville with its beaches.

I've heard people say not to bother with the stopping here, but I disagree. You'll know from our last posts that I think it is important to see Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, but Phnom Penh has more to offer beyond those places.

Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh

Having had to extend our time in Kuala Lumpur due to me getting my rabies jabs, we didn't have quite as long as we had planned in Phnom Penh, and being hot, we didn't feel like rushing around, so we didn't get around to all of the sights.

We stayed in the Green Palace Hotel, which was decent and good value; it was in a less touristy area, only a short tuk tuk ride to most sights, though there wasn't too much in the way of places to eat other than very small local establishments.

We tried a couple, but unfortunately I'm not sure our stomachs were quite ready for that after six months in Australia and New Zealand, and we both developed slightly dodgy tummies, not just here, but for a while after too! That need to not be far away from a toilet for long also impacted on decisions about what we did on some days.
Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh is on located where three rivers (The Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac) meet, and the cross that they form here gave rise to the original name of the city, Krong Chaktomuk or the City of Four Faces.

One of the places that we visited was Wat Phnom, or more properly, Wat Phnom Daun Penh, which is where the city got its current name. Wat Phnom means Hill Temple, and Daun Penh means Grandma Penh.

She was a wealthy old widow who, in 1371, was said to have found five statues of Buddha floating down the Mekong in a Koki tree, and set them up for worship on this 27 metre high man made hill - the only hill in the city.

Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh

It is certainly worth a walk up the hill, but I wouldn't recommend paying the locals to release the little birds from their cages. Not only does it encourage the practice of capturing the birds, but it is said that they are trained to return to the cages - or just tempted back with food and caged again for the next time.
Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh

Wat Phnom, Phnom Penh

Central Market, Phnom Penh
Nearby to Wat Phnom, is Central Market, or New Market, as the Khmer name of Phsar Thmei, actually translates. I loved the look of this market, but it is quite touristy.

Its central round section is full of jewellery stores. Some of their goods will be genuine, but this is also a place for knock offs, so if a price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Central Market, Phnom Penh

The four spurs have electronics, clothes and of course, plenty of bits for tourists to buy. I have a real love / hate relationship with markets. I love looking around them, but I absolutely hate being pestered all of the time.

If I want to look, then I'll look at those things that appeal to me, but I don't need to be shown every damn piece of fabric - and everything else you may have - on your stall. Unless I am especially interested in something, it tends to make me just walk away.

To be fair, whilst Asian markets can be especially bad for this, it doesn't just apply to there. I've even left some shops in the UK because the staff keep pestering me.
And if they follow me around like I'm about to steal something then, unless I'm really desperate for something that only they have, I just won't buy from them on principle.
Central Market, Phnom Penh

Anyhow, back to Phnom Penh. We didn't stop at the Independence Monument, but we did drive past it a few times. This 20 metre tall lotus shaped monument is quite imposing.

It was designed by a Khmer architect called Vann Molyvann, and was unveiled on 9th November 1962, on and in celebration of, the ninth anniversary of the country's independence from the French. It also now acts as a cenotaph to those who have died in Cambodian wars.

National Museum, Phnom Penh

We took a look around the National Museum. It was opened in 1920, with the building having been designed specifically as a museum, but styled as a classic Khmer building. There is a really lovely courtyard garden.

The museum houses one of the largest collection of Khmer art, including bronze, wooden and pottery, with some good information about the history of the pieces.

National Museum, Phnom Penh

Nearby, we had a good lunch and some great drinks - they guarantee that the water and ice used here is pure - in a place called Friends. It is one of many strands of a social enterprise scheme run by a group called Friends International.

It is a training restaurant - and you will sometimes notice a lack of experience in some of the staff - but the quality is excellent and it is genuinely helping disadvantages youngsters to learn skills and get work.

Friends, Phnom Penh
Next door is the Friends 'n' Stuff shop, selling items that have been made by parents, so that they can earn an income to allow their children to go to school and get an education. There are some nice pieces for sale. I would definitely recommend the restaurant, and if you want a few socially minded gifts or souvenirs, then pop in to the shop too.

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Of course the main attraction here is the Royal Palace. It was built in 1866 by King Norodom Sihamoni's great grandfather, on a site chosen especially by Royal Ministers and Astrologers, to reflect their belief of the King being a direct descendant of the Gods.

We took a tour, which was good, because not only did our guide give us information about the palace and artifacts, but he was also happy to discuss wider issues like the Khmer Rouge period, the country's relationship with the Vietnamese, and some aspects of their frustration with the western world for our response to the political situation then. It was interesting to speak with him.

Throne Hall, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
The Royal Palace does have some impressive buildings. It is still the home and workplace of the Royal Family, so the King's residence itself, and the building used to house visiting heads of State and dignitaries, are out of bounds, but there are a number of others to visit.

The Throne Hall with its gold coloured tiled roof is very ornate, and is still used for coronations, celebrations, and to receive important guests, the Chanchhaya Pavilion is the where the Royal Dancers perform and the Hor Samrith Phimean, or Bronze Palace, which contains displays of royal clothing and uniforms.

Hor Samran Phirun, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

The Hor Samran Phirun is a building where the King would have gone to get into his howdah - the seat on top of the royal elephant.

These days, the King sets an example to us all and no longer rides an elephant, but they still have a collection of howdahs to view.

There are also various Stupa as memorials to past Royals

Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

One of the most visited buildings though, is Wat Preah Keo Morokat, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. With a marble staircase, and a floor made up of over 500 silver tiles, that are said to weigh almost six tonnes, it is already quite ornate, before we even start to figure in the contents. The silver floor gives rise to another common name for the building - the Silver Pagoda.

With gifts from dignitaries, the king himself, and other worshippers, there are around 1,650 pieces in the room, and obviously a substantial number of those are Buddha figures.  One of the most valuable is the golden Buddha statue, that weighs 90 kilograms and is decorated with 2,086 diamonds. It was the idea of King Norodom, who asked that his gold cremation casket be melted down to make it.

Stupa of Princess Kantha Bopha, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

However the most valuable and famous is the Emerald Buddha, made in the 17th century, from Baccarat crystal and solid gold. It too weighs 90 kilograms but is adorned with a mighty 9,584 diamonds. 

Not all of the items' value is financial though. There is a small glass cabinet that is said to hold Buddha's ashes.

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Chanchhaya Pavilion, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Hor Samran Phirun, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Memorial Stupa, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

Howdah, Royal Palace, Phnom Penh

No comments:

Post a Comment

We like to hear from you too, so please leave us a message here. We are also happy to answer any questions if we can help. Comments are moderated so will not appear straight away and there could be some delay in replying if we are travelling.