Sunday, March 21, 2010

Phnom Penh (Cambodia): More Than Just A Killing Field

by: Mhe-anne L. Ojeda

When my friends and colleagues learned that I am going to Phnom Penh, Cambodia,they immediately remarked that I am going to the "killing fields". It seems that the horror created by the Khmer Rouge period from 1975-1979 has kept Phnom Penh as ghost town in the minds of the people for years. My recent visit to Phnom Penh last March 20-22, 2010 proved otherwise. I have seen Phnom Penh as an adventure destination with its sights largely historical and cultural as part of the experience and exotic shopping, unique dining, indulgent spas, boat cruise and a bit of night life complete the experience.

Historical and Cultural Experiences

Wat Phnom
A small hill (phnom) crowned by an active wat (pagoda - a small temple) marks the legendary founding place of the Phonm Penh. The hill is the site of constant activity, with a steady stream of the faithful trekking to the shrines. The legend of the founding of Wat Phnom is tied to the founding of Phnom Penh. Legend has it that in 1372 Lady Penh fished a floating koki tree out of the river. She built a small hill (phnom) and a small temple (wat)at what is now Wat Phnom. Later the surrounding area became known after the hill (Phnom) and its creator (Penh), hence the name of the city "Phnom Penh'

Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda - Entrance Fee: 25,000 riel ($6.25)

The Royal Palace serves as a residence of the King, a venue for court ceremony and as a symbol of the Kingdom. The Chanchhaya Pavilion , also known as "Moonlight Pavilion" dominates the facade of the Palace on Sothearos Blvd. The pavilion serves as a venue for the Royal Dancers, a a tribute to the king when addressing the crowds and as a place to hold state and Royal banquets.

The Silver Pagoda (Wat Prea Keo Morokat) is unique among the pagodas. So named for its tiled floor, it is where the king meets monks, royal ceremonies are performed and it houses a collection of priceless Buddhist and historical objects including the 'Emerald Buddha". And, unlike most pagodas, no monks live at the pagoda.

National Museum

The National Museum housed over 5000 objects on diplay including Angkorian era statue, lingas and other artifacts.

Pagoda grounds inside the Royal Palace compound.

Over 95% of the Cambodian population is Buddhist and in Phnom Penh you are never far from a Buddhist pagoda (wat). Pagoda grounds are colorful photogenic places and most are open and welcoming to the general public. Aside from the pagoda grounds of the Royal Palace, we also visited Wat Botum, one of the original five wats established in the 15th century and still functioning. Wat Botum compound is crowded with ornate and colorful stupas, including the towering "Buddha Relic Stupa".

Independence Monument

The Independence Monument was inaugurated in November 9, 1962 to celebrate Cambodia's independence from foreign rule. The Monument now also serves as a monument to Cambodia' war dead. It is the site of colorful celebrations and services on holidays such as Independence Day and Constitution Day.

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