XII – How much do you really know about Cambodia?

I didn’t stay long in Bangkok, just a couple of days. Enough time to meet up with a friend (Jessica), party, rest and plan my next destination. I found a cheap last-minute return flight to Cambodia. So I just grabbed the opportunity and hopped on a 1-hour flight to Cambodia’s capital, Phnom  Penh.

Cambodiaaaaaa…. In my mind, the word was associated with poverty, a vague souvenir of Lady Di’s visit on TV, Angelina Jolie’s adoptive son Maddox, a bad war, the Tomb Raider action movie, a lot of bad land mines, ….. and that’s about it! So, I clearly didn’t know much about the country. But in my defense, Cambodia wasn’t exactly a popular tourist destination for decades.

The country was devastated by a civil war (1970-1975) and then, a genocide (1975–1979). The civil war opposed the Communist Party of Kampuchea, known as the Khmer Rouge, (and their allies, North Vietnam & the Viet Cong) to the Republican government (and their allies, U.S. & South Vietnam). On 17 April 1975, the victorious Khmer Rouge proclaimed the establishment of the Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge’s leader, Pol Pot, led the country towards destruction, massive killings and atrocities,… Nowadays you can still see the country struggling and people trying to overcome their past.

The beautiful riverside promenade.

with colonial heritage...

River cruises is a very popular tourist attraction. I didn't do it though..

Tuk tuk drivers waiting for tourists.

The National Museum houses one of the world's largest collections of Khmer art.

The inside courtyard of the National museum.

First thing I learned, there’s actually an old legend about the founding of Phnom Penh: “Once upon a time… There was an old, wealthy lady, named Penh, who lived near the Tonle Sap river. She found four Buddha statues hidden in a large tree drifting down the river. With the help of her neighbors, she built a hill (a phnom) with a temple on top of it to house the four buddhas. And then, she named it after herself as Wat Phnom Penh, which is now known as Wat Phnom, a small hill of 27m-high. The end.”

Second thing, Phnom Penh is a beautiful city with a stunning colonial heritage and a gorgeous riverside promenade. Restaurants and pubs line on the promenade overlooking the Chaktomuk – the confluence of the Tonle Sap, Mekong and Bassac Rivers. And all major sights – the Independence Monument, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, National museum, Russian market,… – are all reached within minutes of walking. It’s just perfect!

Walking, walking, and more walking… first near my hostel’s neighbourhood, then around the city center, and finally along the riverfront promenade,… I witnessed  some really funny scenes from everyday life. A family eating on the street…in their pyjamas. Little kids running, smiling and waving at you while saying “Yiiiiiillllloooo” (translation Hello). They are so sweet, so cute! Walking is definitely a pretty good way to get first impressions, first feelings of a city. It was a great but exhausting day!

Back at the hostel, I met my 2 dorm’s roommates: Sven (from Norway) and Jack or Jay or something like that… didn’t quite understand his first name when he said it as he was really really drunk (from Australia). Both explained to me their “philosophy” of travel.

Sven, 34 years-old, doesn’t like to travel, to take flights or bus, to do sightseeing, to experience new things in life, to try out new dishes,… Honestly at that point, I was thinking: “Huh? You’re in Cambodia, and you’re just staying all day long in the dorm? What’s the point?”. Back in Norway, his neighbour married to a Thai woman, bought a second house in Thailand, and invited him there for the holidays. The only reason he was in Cambodia was to extend his tourist visa for Thailand.

And Jack/Jay/something, 22 years-old, his philosophy of travel was all about going out of the dorm… to get drunk with foreign tourists and locals. According to him, the greatest thing about Cambodia is that alcohol is really cheap. Thus, you can really connect and have deep conversations with locals with a couple of beers… And, that’s what he did for the following three days (and probably after that, but I wasn’t there to witness it anymore). Honestly, both “life/travel philosophies” were drastically opposite to mine…Maybe, I am getting old…

My very first FRUIT SHAKE.

On my second day, after seeing the National museum, I was trying to find my way towards the Royal Palace… Ugh, I am lost again! And, that’s when I run into Melodie, a french girl. Thanks to her, I know what Fruit Shakes are! Pineapple, papaya, watermelon, coconut, mango, apple, berries,… fruit shakes! Fruit, syrup, and crushed ice are the main ingredients to these refreshing, super super super delicious drinks!

After drinking my 1st coconut fruit shake, we went to visit the Royal Palace complex, the “home sweet home” of Kings in Cambodia. Surrounded by high walls, it was constructed over a century ago! Except for the current Royal residence of King Norodom Sihamoni (King since 2004), you can pretty much visit every gardens & buildings.

Beautiful gate to enter the Royal Palace complex.

The Throne Hall, the Preah Timeang Tevea Vinicchay, is the primary audience hall of the King, used for coronations and diplomatic, official meetings.

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Close-up of the Throne Hall's roof.

Throne hall of the royal palace.

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Chanchhaya Pavilion, also known as the 'Moonlight Pavilion'. The Pavilion serves as a venue for the Royal Dancers, as a tribune for the King to address the crowds and as a place to hold state and Royal banquet.

The Napoleon III Pavilion is a small museum with Royal items. Here are Royal ceremonial uniforms.

Phochani Pavilion, an open hall originally constructed as a classical dance theater. The Pavilion is currently used for Royal receptions and meetings.

Servants uniforms.

Servants uniforms, each day has its colour. Sunday is RED, Monday is Yellow, Tuesday is Purple, ...

Panoramic view from the Throne Hall.

And next to it, is the Silver Pagoda complex: stupas (monuments containing ashes of royal family members), courtyards, buildings,… Just breath-taking!

The 'Silver Pagoda' sits next to the Royal Palace, separated by a walled walkway.

The walled walkway.

Ramayana Frescoes. The interior of the pagoda compound walls is covered with murals depicting stories...

Big fishes.

Some sections of the murals are deteriorated and weather damaged.

Close-up of a magnificent silver-gilded incense burner on display.

Walking inside the Silver Pagoda complex, you can see further away some vegetation. It's the Phnom Mondop, a small artificial hill topped by a shrine.

The shrine of Phnom Mondop contains 108 buddha images symbolizing the 108 past lives of buddha.

I am not sure what that is ?!?

Equestrian statue of HM King Norodom.

Stupa containing the ashes of the King Ang Doung, the great-great-great grandfather to current King Sihamoni.

Stupa containing the ashes of HM King Suramarit and HM Queen Kossomak.

and small fishes.

Stupa containing the ashes of HM King Norodom.

Wat Preah Keo Morokat is also known as the ‘Silver Pagoda’, the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha.’

It is known as the 'Silver Pagoda' for the 5329 silver tiles that cover the floor. Each tile was handcrafted and weighs 1.125kg.

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Courtyard's trees.

Overview of the Silver Pagoda buildings and stupas.

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It houses a collection of priceless Buddhist and historical objects.

The pagoda is also where the King meets with monks to listen to their sermons and where some Royal ceremonies are performed.

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Small library that houses sacred Buddhist texts and also contains an image of a sacred bull named Nandin, and several Buddha status.

Closer pic of the statue at the entrance of the small library.

Inside the small library.

How the seat fits on the elephant.

Purple flower.

In this exhibit, there are numerous, colourful seats used by various dignitaries for riding on elephants.

Seat for riding on elephants.

Seat at Royal Palace for riding on elephants.

………………………………………………………………………….After this royal visit, we hurried up to see the Russian market before it closed. Fortunately, I had enough time to buy some pants that I desperately needed! Let me explain…

Russian market - the middle.

Russian market - the right side.

I did pack some shorts, skirts and 2 jeans in my luggage! I am girly girl…. I like to have options!! But wearing jeans when it’s humid and over 30°C degrees outside, was out of the question. And shorts/skirts were not an option either because when you visit temples, your shoulders and knees must be covered. Thus, you must wear long-pants. So, I got myself ultra-light, soft, green (not my favourite color, but I didn’t have the time to be picky) pants! I am all set to visit more temples 🙂

As we were getting out of the market, we ran into a guy that Melodie knew. We decided to take a tuk tuk to “Boeng Kak Lake”, to have drinks there while watching the sunset. Our faces when we got there, just hilarious!! There was not a single drop of water, definitely no lake to be seen, just a deserted area… So I am guessing there used to be a lake here but it dried up completely, and tourists maps are not up-to-date. Hahahahaaa.

We walked back to the center, grab dinner and plan our visits for tomorrow. It was the occasion to learn more about the genocide perpetrated by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime.

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4 Responses to XII – How much do you really know about Cambodia?

  1. Ana Marquez says:

    I am really enjoy reading yours travelling stories !!! So keep doing, Big kisssssss Mom

    • Cris says:

      Hey Mom,
      Who would have guessed that I would be writing travelling stories?!? I was soo bad at it when I was younger… glad you’re enjoying it 🙂
      Miss you!!
      Big hugs & kisses

  2. marleen says:

    Fully agree with your mum, your blog is so catchy and the stories read as a train. Keep on posting, Cris… every time it takes us away from our daily life and lets our mind travel to the world you are living in which is really great! xxx

    • Cris says:

      Thanks Marleen!! Great to hear from you 🙂
      I am trying to catch up on the writing (still Philippines and north of Thailand to do 🙂 ) But so far, it’s been great to reflect on the places I’ve been and to share my experience with family & friends.
      xxx

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