With a population of 2 million, lively
Phnom Penh, capital of once war-torn Cambodia, is a relatively
small city by Asian standards. Still, there's hustle and bustle
there, especially in its covered markets, warrens of stalls
peddling produce, and its plethora of enchanting and historical
attractions, including incomparable Angkor Wat.
The city's Royal
Palace, a major complex that includes the famed Silver Pagoda, is
well worth a visit. The main temple of Wat Phnom, meanwhile, is a
colorful, midcity oasis. Each evening, families gather along the
city's riverbanks, along with a parade of courting couples, groups
of children and street vendors peddling local delicacies such as
barbecued beetles and spiders.
For less exotic
fare, the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia is a good
bet. The club served international journalists
during the reign of the oppressive Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s,
but most patrons today appear to be tourists.
Some of the worst
atrocities of Cambodia's wars took place near the capital, at
Choeung Ek. A large stupa, or monument, crammed with victims'
skulls is a sobering memorial to one of the darkest periods of
recent world history. A visit to the Genocide Museum at Tuol Sleng
Prison confirms the staggering human toll the Khmer Rouge
The nearby town of
Siem Reap makes its living from tourists visiting Angkor Wat. It
boasts a lively market, plenty of good restaurants and luxury
hotels such as the Raffles Grand Hotel d'Angkor and the Sofitel
Phokeethra Royal Angkor.
But it's Angkor,
overwhelming in scale, that's the real draw. This complex of
temples, lakes and canals was built by the Khmer civilization in
the 12th century and was hidden by jungle growth until
It's worth arriving
at Angkor Wat, the "capital temple," in time to watch the sun rise,
when lotus-shaped towers are reflected in the pond near the
entrance. Inside the walled compound lie myriad temples, frescoes,
incredibly steep steps and a Buddhist monk or two in saffron
temples can be found nearby. Bayon, noted for carvings of Buddha's
face, is especially attractive. Ta Prohm, used in the film "Lara
Croft: Tomb Raider," is still covered by trees; it lends an idea of
what Angkor Wat must have looked like before the growth was cleared
away. Other temple musts include Preah Khan, Pre Rup and the
Women's Temple at Banteay Srei.
information, visit the Royal Cambodian Embassy's U.S. site at www.embassyofcambodia.org/tourism.htm.
contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].