Nov 16, 2010

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Phnom Penh City

  • Nov 16, 2010
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  • Phnum Penh was founded in the 14th century and was made the Khmer capital after abandonment of Angkor in 1434. During 1867 Phnom Penh became a capital of Cambodia and occupied by Japanese during the World War II. Phnum Penh was a cultural, political and commercial centre of Cambodia, during the civil war since 1970s it was hardly stressed and battered. The beginning of the fighting between government forces and the Khmer Rouge (Cambodian communist soldiers) brought many refugees from the near countryside to Phnum Penh. Its population boomed from about 500.000 in 1970 to about 2 million in the early 1975 when it was evacuated after falling to the Khmer Rouge. In 1979 the Khmer Rouge were overthrown and there were only about 50.000 residents left in Phnum Penh. 

    Finally, Phnom Penh began to repopulate and recover in 1979 when the Vietnamese arrived to liberate it. Fast forward a few years, and today Cambodia’s capital is a buzzing hub that’s fascinating to explore. Obviously much of its history is heart-breaking - the S-21 prison and infamous Killing Fields are definitely worth seeing – but it’s very much a city that’s full of joy these days. Set on the confluence of the Mekong and Tonle Sap, its riverfronts are lovely to walk along; its French-Indonesian architecture crumbling yet beautiful.

    Two monsoons regulate climate in Cambodia: a dry and fresh one from northeast blowing from November to April and a humid one bringing often intensive rain from southeast blowing from May to October. The main part of precipitation during the rain season is concentrated in the afternoon and frequently there are short but violent rainfalls and thunderstorms. The maximal average temperature goes from 30°C in January to 40°C in April which is the hottest month. During the night temperatures go from 20°C to 24°C in the warmest months and are about 15°C in the cooler months.
    There are some favorite places should visit in Phnom Penh City:

    --Royal Palace--
    The Royal PalaceDating back to 1867 (and replacing the original of 1434), this stunning building is a must-see. Its tumbling golden roof, immaculate gardens and Silver Pagoda (left) are a delight – as is the 17th-century emerald Buddha. Visitors must dress conservatively.

    S-21 (Tuol Sleng)
    This former high school was taken over as a prison under Pol-Pot’s regime, and became the largest torture center in the country. The guards kept a record of their violent crimes, and as a result you get an all-too-real picture of what happened to prisoners around 30 years ago.  The arriving inmates photographs make you realize just how many people suffered; scratches and the torture instruments on the wall are testament to the horrors that occured. It’s a profoundly moving place but really worth a trip. Visiting makes you appreciate what the Cambodians have gone through, and what an incredible recovery they’re making.

    The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
    Just 14km southwest of the town, this was where S-21’s prisoners were eventually taken to be executed. Over 17,000 people died here and you'll see mass graves plus a memorial tower filled with skulls. It's a peaceful place today, but a shocking reminder of Pol-Pot's regime.

    The National Museum
    This museum (right) houses the world’s biggest collection of Khmer sculpture and friezes. Its magnificent terracotta exterior elates.

    Wat Phnom
    Built on Phnom Penh’s only hill, this pagoda-building is thought to bring luck and people come here to pray for good fortune. Hawkers can be a bit of a nuisance, but they’re only trying to make a living so be patient.

    --S-21--
    National Museum

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