Cambodia has finally arrived on the tourist map and remains a top choice for travellers seeking a budget-friendly holiday in the Far East. Dotted with stunning temples, palaces and other architectural wonders, many of them featuring on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list, the country is a treasure-trove for history lovers. Looking for an entry point to start your exploration of Cambodia? Start right at Phnom Penh.
The Royal Palace
An impressive structure dominating the riverfront in Phnom Penh, the Royal Palace in Cambodia is one of the few palaces in the world that still remain inhabited by the local royal family. The Throne Hall that is used for important royal ceremonies is the main attraction here. The roofs are built in the classic Khmer style whereas the walls remain covered with frescoes depicting scenes from the Khmer version of the Hindu epic ‘Ramayana’. Please note that a large section of the palace remains inaccessible to public and visitors are required to dress modestly i.e. wear knee-length shorts and elbow length blouses.
Built to commemorate Cambodia’s independence from France in the year 1953, the Independence Monument is a lotus-shaped stupa, reaching 20 metres in height. Designed by the Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann, the monument also serves as a memorial to honour the war heroes of Cambodia. On national holidays, people gather here to lay wreaths in the honour of patriots of who died for the country.
Sitting atop a 30m high hill, Wat Phnom is a stunning Buddhist temple frequented by travellers in large numbers. Legend has it that this temple came into existence as early as 1372, when Lady Penh discovered four Buddha statues in the Mekong River and constructed a pagoda to house them. It is believed that praying at the temple leads to the fulfilment of all wishes, which is why; students often pay a visit to the temple before their exams. Few of the major highlights of the temple are drawings of Confucius, as well as two Chinese-style figures of the sages Thang Cheng (on the right) and Thang Thay.
New Central Market
Touted as one of the biggest markets in Asia, the New Central Market has four wings dominated by a central dome and lined up by numerous stalls. An excellent place for buying textiles, antiques, gold and silver jewellery, electronic goods, stationery, second-hand clothing, fresh flowers as well as Cambodia’s local produce, the New Central Market is teeming with people all times of the year. The recently-renovated market boasts an Art-Deco style of architecture that is reminiscent of the French colonial rule in the country.
If the hustle and bustle of the Cambodian capital gets too much, you can escape to Koh Dack, popularly known as the Silk Island. Offering a pastoral respite, the silk island is where one can learn about the intricacies of silk weaving and the various steps involved in the manufacturing process. As your ferry drops you on the island, you will be able to see weavers involved in their craft everywhere; some of them eager to host you and take you through the process in the hope that you will buy one of the silk items. If you are looking for a souvenir to take back home, you will enjoy finding a favourite from their beautiful collection of scarves, sarongs and skirts.