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Fiona Phillips -
Cambodia Specialist - Leamington Spa,
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Phnom Penh overview
The famous Cambodian hospitality awaits the visitors to the capital of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Situated at the confluence of three great rivers the Mekong, Tonle Sap and Bassac forming the "four arms" right in front of the Royal Palace. Phnom Penh is the commercial, political and cultural hubs of the Kingdom and is home to over one million of the country's estimated 11.4 million people. Phnom Penh, like other Asian-City tourist destinations, is in the midst of rapid change. Over the past few years the numbers of restaurants and hotels have grown considerably and in the last year there has been a huge increase in the number of visitors. There are now direct daily flights from several Asian cities and three overland border crossings have opened since 1998. Even travel within the country is easier with several airlines flying domestic routes and a regular bus service to major cities like Sihanouk ville and Kampong Cham.
The main sights in town include Wat Phnom, from where you have great views over the city, and the Silver Pagoda in the Royal Palace complex, where you can see the emerald Buddha and a Buddha made of solid gold. The National Museum is also worth a visit. Other sights include the Phnom Temple, the Orchid Garden, the central market and a 15th-century pagoda; or you can take a boat ride on the Mekong River to see the floating villages and a crocodile farm. The other sights to see are connected with the Khmer Rouge and are graphic in their details.
The Tuol Sleng Museum is a sight that brings back a not too distant past: the terror of the Khmer Rouge. The museum was a former high school which became a Khmer Rouge prison and torture chamber during its reign of terror - very few of the prisoners survived.. The prison cells, the hundreds of photographs of people killed in the prison, the map of Cambodia, made of human skulls, and the paintings detailing methods of torture used in the prison are horrifying—only seven out of more than 30 000 inmates survived. But part of what makes a visit there such an extraordinary emotional experience, is that the guides themselves have had first-hand exposure to the excesses of the Khmer Rouge, and they share their stories with visitors. Similarly, the Killing Fields of Choeung Eik—one of the most chilling sites in the world—can also be visited. Most of the prisoners of Tuol Sleng were buried there in mass graves. A glass stupa contains 8 500 skulls that were unearthed before excavations were halted. Visitors should be cautioned as to the environment and feel of this "museum". This is not Cambodia, just a rough point in time so one should not think this is what the country is all about. If you choose to visit these sites, be aware they are very graphic.
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