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Phnom Penh – French Built City

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital, sits at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. It was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and French colonialists. On its walkable riverfront, lined with parks, restaurants and bars, are the ornate Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum, displaying artifacts from around the country. At the city’s heart is the massive, art deco Central Market.

The capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, is located at the confluence of three rivers – the Mekong, the Bassac and Tonle Sap. The city is divided into three sections – the north, an attractive residential area; the south or the French part of the city with its ministries, banks and colonial houses; and the centre or the heart with its narrow lanes, markets, foods stalls and shops.

cruising on Chaktomuk river

Over the past four years, the city has undergone tremendous changes – businesses are springing up constantly and tourism is once again booming. Cambodia has one of the most liberal investment laws to further boost managed to retain its charm and character – cyclos that weave through traffic with ease, broad boulevards, old colonial buildings, parks and green spaces that reminds one of the country’s French heritage, and above all its people who always have a smile for you.

A stone’s throw away from the Tonle Sap is the royal Palace built on the site of the Banteay Kev, a citadel built in 1813. The Palace grounds contain several buildings: the Throne Room of Prasat Tevea Vinichhay which is used for the coronation of kings, official receptions and traditional ceremonies; the Chan Chhaya Pavilion which is a venue for dance performances; the king’s official residence called the Khemarin; the Napoleon Pavilion and the spectacular Silver Pagoda. This pagoda is worth exploring.  It owes its name to the 5,000 silver tiles weighing 1kg each which cover the entire floor

Silver Pagoda

Wat Preah Keo Morakot (Silver Pagoda) 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 the additional, the royal family and officials also held Buddhist ceremonies there.This pagoda has no monks. However, this Majestic 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 Morakot. When the King celebrates Buddhist ceremonies, monks from other pagoda 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 region of King Norodom, but at that time it was constructed of wood and brick. Its design is base on Cambodian architectural style. Then Banhchos Khan Seima ceremony was held on Feb 5, 1903.

The temple was later damaged, and Queen Kosamak Neary Rath asked that it be repaired. Under the direction of her son Samdach Preah Norodom Sihanouk, who at that time was the head of state, the old temple was dismantled and reconstructed in 1962 on the same site 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 Pheah 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 5,329 genuine silver tiles that cover the floor.

There are 1,650 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, site a Buddha statue made of gold, weighing 90 kilograms (about 200 pounds) and decorated with 2,086 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 Buddha statue representing Preah Srei Araymetrey. This Buddha statue is named Preah Chin Raingsei Rachik Norodom.

Objects of particular interest in the Preah Vihear Keo Morakot include: The Preah Keo Morakot, the Emerald Buddha, which sits atop 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 Shihanouk, in 1969. This Buddha figure is protected by naga. It represents when 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 lofty gallery. On the wall of the gallery, there are traditional paintings of the entire Ream Ke epic. These paintings were done by 40 Cambodian artists between 1903 and 104 under the direction of Oknha Tep Nimit. The Ream Ke painting is 642 meters long and 3meters 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 mush look at the painting carefully. Visitors who are familiar with Indian Ramayana will understand the Cambodian Reap Ke easily, even thought 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 way to conserve, restore and maintain this cultural heritage.

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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 stupas hold the cremains of King Ang Doung, the great-great grandfather of King Sihanouk. The north stupas hold cremains of King Norodom, the great grandfather of King Shihanouk. Both stupas were dedicated on March 13, 1980. 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 fron France, he prayed in front of the statue. After Cambodia won its dependence 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, visitor find: Keung Prah BatKeung Preah Bat houses the footprints of the four Buddhas who have already reached enlightenment. Those Buddhas are Kok Santhor, Neak Komonor, Kasabor and Damonakodom. In additional to the four Buddha, Preah Srei Araynetrey, whom Buddhist believe has not yet been born. They believe that he will come 5,000 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 blessings of life before the Buddha reaches enlightenment.

Kunthabopha Stupa was built in 1960 as the resting place for the ashes of Princess Norodom Kunthaboph, the daughter of King Norodom Sihanouk. She was 4years old when she died of dengue fever. The stupa?s design is base 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 the 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 Pitaka

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), Mijjhima Nikaya (collection of medium 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. The Vinaya Pitaka, the code of monastic discipline, consists of more than 225 rules governing the conducts of Buddhist monks and nuns. Each is accompanied by a story explaining the original reason for the rule. The rule are arranged according to the seriousness of the offense resulting from their violation. Abhidharma Patika

The Abhidharma Patika 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 buried in Koh Thom district in Kandal province in 1983. It is estimated to be 80percent silver and 20percent bronze, copper, lead, Iron and zinc.

THE ROYAL PALACE

Gleaming in gold, the Royal Palace is one of Phnom Penh?s most splendid architectural achievements. It is home to His Majesty Preah Bat smdech Preah Norodom Sihanouk and Her Majesty Preah Reach Akka-Mohesey Norodom Monineath. The palace was built in 1866 by His Majeaty Preah Bat Norodom, great grandfather to our current King. The Royal Palace is built on the site of the old town. This site was especially chosen by a Commission of Royal Ministers and Astrologers because it had great geographical significance in relation to the King, who was regarded as a direct descendant of the gods, whose role it was to live and govern on earth under the influence of heaven.

The Royal Palace contains some spectacular buildings. Not least of which is the Throne Hall, situated to the left of the main entrance. It boasts a 59-meter tower. The tower roof is beautiful, having been decoratively tiered with golden coloured tiles. This building is used for high official celebrations, coronations and audiences with foreign dignitaries and government officials.

The Roy al Treasury and the Napoleon II villa lie south to the Royal Throne Hall. North to this stands the Silver pagoda enclosure, otherwise known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha. The Pagoda?s steps are crafted from Italian marble, and within the throne room the regal floor consists of more than 500 solid silver blocks. If calculated together, they weigh nearly six tones. Displayed a round the room, surrounding the main area, stand plush presents from foreign dignitaries.

The magnificent 17th century emerald Buddha statue is made of Baccarat cuystal and solid gold. It weighs 90 kilograms and is adorned with 9,584 diamonds. Bronze statues stand to it?s left and right sides. Next to these, encased under a glass cover, reside a golden locus. Within this area other ancient treasures include a large Buddha?s footprint, representing the 108 past lives of the Buddha before he was re-incarnated as Prince Siddharta, who subsequently gained enlightenment. On the wall, surrounding the Pagoda compound, (the oldest par of the palace) are hundreds of meters of frescos depicting an episode of the Indian epic Ramayana. These are the biggest mural frescos in South East Asia.

The Royal Palace sits between streets 184 and 240. The main entrance is situated on Samdech Sothearos Boulevard via the Pavilion of Dancers. Opposite the entrance sits another almost equally stunning Royal spectacle. The Royal Residence, along with their Royal Highnesses, houses the sacred white elephant, the most auspicious and reverd symbol of royal beneficence within Cambodia.

INDEPENDENCE MONUMENT

The monument was built in 1958 to symbolise the independence that Cambodia gained from France in 1953. The French fully abandonned their interests in Indochina following defeat by the Vietnamese at the battle of Dien Bien Phu in May 1954. Independence is marked in Cambodia o­n the 9th November. The monument has a unique and peculiar style and doubles as a memorial to Cambodian patriots who died for their country. 

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NATIONAL MUSEUM

The National Museum of Cambodia houses one of the world’s greatest collections of Khmer cultural material including sculpture, ceramics and ethnographic objects from the prehistoric, pre-Angkorian, Angkorian and post-Angkorian periods.

The Museum promotes awareness, understanding and appreciation of Cambodia’s heritage through the presentation, conservation, safekeeping, interpretation and acquisition of Cambodian cultural material. It aims to educate and inspire its visitors.

Some highlights include the eight-armed statue of  Vishnu from the 6th or 7th century, the statue of Shiva (circa 877-866) and the sublime statue of Jayavarman VII seated (circa 1181-1218), his head bowed slightly in a meditative pose.

Elsewhere around the museum are display of pottery and bronzes dating from the pre-Angkor periods of Funan and Chenla (4th to 9th centuries), the Indravraman period (9th and 10th centuries), the classical Angkor period (10th to 14th centuries), as well as more recent works.

The National Museum of Cambodia is housed in a graceful terracotta structure of traditional design (built 1917-20) just north of the Royal Palace. It is located on street 13 in central Phnom Penh. The visitor’s entrance to the compound and the admissions ticket booth are at the corner of streets 13 and 178.

Opening hours are from 8.00am until 5.00pm daily. Last admission tickets are sold at 4.30pm.

Admission costs are US$5 for foreigner ages from 10 to 17 years old, US$10 foreigner ages from 18 years old up , 500 Riels for Cambodians. Children and school groups are free.

Guided tours can be arranged for individuals or groups at the museum entrance. Tours are available in Khmer, English, French and Japanese.

Photography is not permitted within the museum galleries, but visitors are welcome to film or photograph the museum exterior and courtyard. Those wishing to obtain images of the museum or collection for study or Publications should email the museum to request an application form or contact a staff member.

Smoking is not permitted inside the museum.

The Museum store is located at the main entrance. Postcards, souvenirs, replica sculptures and books on a variety of art and culture topics are available.

Cloakroom facilities are available at the main entrance. Please leave large items and bags here.

Bathrooms are located downstairs near the main entrance. See the map overleaf for detail see map overleaf for details.

Donations to the museum are greatly appreciated and contribute to operating costs, programmes to protect Cambodian heritage and museum maintenance. Donation boxes are located near the main entrance, or contact a member of staff.

Guides who speak French and English are available, and there is also a booklet – Khmer Art in Stone – available at the front desk, which gives a rundown with locations of the most important objects on display.

The museum comprises four courtyards which face onto a garden courtyards to the left and straight ahead of the entrance.

WAT PHNOM

Set on top of a tree-covered knoll 27m high,  Wat Phnom is the only hill in town. According to legend, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha deposited here by the waters of the Mekong and discovered by a woman name Penh. The main entrance to Wat Phnom is via the grand eastern staircase, which is guarded by lions and naga (snake) balustrades.

Today, many people come here to pray for good luck and success in school exams or business affairs.  When a petitioner’s wish is granted, he or she returns to make the offering (such as a garland of jasmine flowers or bananas, of which the spirits are said to be especially fond) promised when the request was made.

The vihara (temple sanctuary) was rebuilt in 1434, 1806 , 1894, and, most recently, in 1926.  West of the vihara is an enormous stupa containing the ashes of King Ponhea Yat (reigned 1405 to 1467) .  In a small pavilion on the south side of the passage between the vihara and the stupa is a statue of the smiling and rather plump Madame Penh.

A bit to the north of the vihara and below it is an eclectic shrine dedicated to the genie Preah Chau, who is especially revered by the Vietnamese.

On either side of the entrance to the chamber in which a statue of Preah Chau sits are guardian spirits bearing iron bats.  On the tile table in front of the two guardian spirits are drawings of Confucius, and two Chinese-style figures of the sages Thang Cheng (on the right ) and Thang Thay (on the left).  To the left of the central altar is an eight-armed statue of Vishnu.

Down the hill from the shrine is a royal stupa sprouting full-size trees from its roof.  For now, the roots are holding the bricks together in their net-like grip, but when the trees die the tower will slowly crumble.  If you can’t make it out to Angkor, this stupa gives a pretty good idea of what the jungle can do (and is doing) to Cambodia’s monuments.

Curiously,  Wat Phnom is the only attraction in Phnom Penh that is in danger of turning into a circus.  Beggars, street urchins, women selling drinks and children selling birds in cages (you pay to set the bird free locals claim the birds are trained to return to their cage afterwards) pester everyone who turns up to slog the 27m to the summit.  Fortunately its’ all high-spirited stuff, and it’s difficult to be annoyed by the vendors, who after all, are only trying to eke out a living.

Wat Phnom Historical Site is open daily from 07:00 am till 06:00 pm and the entrance ticket is 1USD.

TUOL SLENG MUSEUM

In 1975,Tuol Svay Prey High School was taken over by Pol Pot’s security force and turned into a prison known as Security Prison 21 (S-21) It soon became the largest such centre of detention and torture in the country. Over 17,000 people held at S-21 were taken to the extermination camp at Choeung Ek to be executed; detainees who die during torture were buried in mass graves in the prison grounds.

S-21 has been turned into the Tuol Sleng Museum, which serves as a testament to the crimes of the Khmer Rough. The museum’s entrance is on the western side of 113 Street just north of 350 Street, Phnom Penh.

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The museum open daily from 08.00 am to 5.00 pm; ticket entry is 5USD for adult, 3USD for child from 8-10 years old and free of charge for child under 10 years old. The Audio Tour of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is available many languages such as Khmer, English, French, Deutsch, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Spanish, Italian and Netherlands and it charges 3USD/person.

Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rough was meticulous in keeping records of their barbarism. Each prisoner who passed through S-21 was photographed, sometimes before and after being tortured. The museum displays include room after room in which such photographs of men, women and children cover the walls from floor to ceiling; virtually all the people pictured were later killed. You can tell in what year a picture was taken by the style of number board that appears on the prisoner’s chest. Several foreigners from Australia, France and the USA were held here before being murdered. Their documents are on display.

As the Khmer ‘revolution’ reached ever-greater heights of insanity, it began devouring its own children. Generations of tortures and executioners and were in turn killed by those who took their places. During the first part of 1977, S-21 claimed an average of 100 victims a day. When Phnom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese army in early 1979, they found only seven prisoners alive at S-21. Fourteen others had been tortured to death as Vietnamese forces were closing in on the city. Photographs of their decomposing corpses were found. Their graves are nearby in the courtyard.

Altogether, a visit to Tuol Sleng is a profoundly depressing experience. There is something about the sheer ordinariness of the place that make it even more horrific; the suburban setting, the plain school buildings, the grassy playing area where several children kick around a ball, rusted beds, instruments of torture and wall after wall of harrowing black-and-white portraits conjure up images of humanity at its worst. Tuol Sleng is not for the squeamish.

CHEUNG EK KILLING FIELD

Between 1975 and 1978, about 17,000 men, women, children and infants (including nine westerners), detained and tortured at S-21 prison (now Tuol Sleng Museum), were transported to the extermination to death to avoid wasting precious bullets. 

The remains of 8985 people, many of whom were bound and blindfolded, were exhumed in 1980 from mass graves in this one-time long an orchard; 43 of the 129 communal graves here have been left untouched.

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are 15 km from Central Phnom Penh. To get there, take Monireth Blvd south-westward out of the city from the Dang Kor Market bus depot. The site is 8.5 km from the bridge near 271 St. A memorial ceremony is held annually at Choeung Ek on 9 May.

NEW CENTRAL MARKET

The dark-yellow Art Deco Phsa Thmei (New Market) is also referred to as the Central Market, a reference to its location and size. It was constructed in 1935 37. The Art deco building is shaped in the form of a cross with a nice central dome. And has four wings filled with shops selling gold and silver jewelry, antique coins, fake name-brand watches and other such items.

Around the main buildings are stalls offering Krama (checked scarves), stationery, household items, cloth for sarongs, flowers and second hand clothes, usually from Europe and the US. For photographers, the fresh food section affords a lot of opportunities. There are a host of good value food stalls on the structure’s western side, which faces Monivong Blvd. Central Market is undoubtedly the best of Phnom Penh’s markets for browsing. It is the cleanest and has the widest range of products for sale. Opening hours are from early morning until early evening.

Shopping in Phnom Penh is a major attraction for tourists who love to buy back some souvenirs from this exotic Asian land. Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh is one of those busy bazaars that are always filled with effervescent crowd from one end to the other. The Central Market (Phsar Thmei) of Phnom Penh stocks everything right from food items to clothes, silverworks and jewelries. Where the Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh is now located was previously a swamp that was used to accumulate runoff rainwaters. The market building is a beautiful one, a spectacular instance of Cambodian architecture.Central Market (Phsar Thmei) of Phnom Penh in Cambodia also sells electronic items and there is also plenty of secondhand stuff that you can buy here at an affordable rate. The gateway to the market is lined with hawkers who sell different kinds of tidbits.

The jewelries are found in the interior of the market and some of the gold ornament that you will find here are really unsurpassable in design and style. Central Market (Phsar Thmei) at Phnom Penh should have been actually called the New Market for that is what “Phsar Thmei” means in English. However, today it is popular to the tourists by its present English name. Coming to Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh and then going back to your respective hotel is easy as there are plenty of transportation facilities near the marketplace. A taxi stand can be found at the northwest corner of the market and the southwest exit will take you to a bus stand.

Whoever loves to browse endlessly through small yet enticing shops, will find the Central Market (Phsar Thmei) in Phnom Penh an enchanting place. Don’t chuck shopping at the Phnom Penh Travel Guide! It is a great source of fun and adventure in the city. The name “Phsar Thmey” means “New Market” but in English, it is commonly called “Central Market”. This may cause some come confusion because Phnom Penh also has a “Phsar Kandal” close to Wat Unalaum and the Riverside. That name would translate in English to “Central Market”In the northwest corner of the market is a taxi station for cars direction Battambang, Siem Reap, Kampong Cham, Kratie etc. The bus station is in the southwest corner.

TUOL TOM PONG MARKET

So-named because of the prevalence of items from the Eastern Bloc in past times, the Toul Tom Poung 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 to take a refreshment break between the bargaining.

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