Friday, August 10, 2012

Cambodia : Phnom Penh Day 1 - 28th July 2012

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Cambodia - Phnom Penh 28th & 29th July 2012
The Royal Palace in Phnom Penh
I frequently go to Phnom Penh for business but has seldom visited their places of interest as a tourist. This time though, I decided to take a couple of days off to act as a tourist, viewing the place with that mindset.

One day prior to the tour, I boarded the AirAsia afternoon flight at KLIA-LCCT. The flight will take about an hour forty-five minutes and we will be landing at Phnom Penh International Airport  in Pochentong

Without any delay, we soon took off. The weather was cloudy but it was not raining. Nevertheless, I prepared myself for some rough patches, especially while landing in Phnom Penh where the hot weather causes some cross winds and landing can be bumpy.

I had pre-ordered a beef stew. It was served with some pasta and was some what adequately filling. A small cup of mineral water was served with it, not just my kind on thing. So I ordered an extra - a cup of "Super" white-coffee, a renown Malaysian coffee.

After landing, my regular driver picked me up to send me to down-town Phnom Penh. Airport taxis are available at USD9/-, or one can take a tuk-tuk or even a motor-taxi as some budget travelers do. For cheaper local calls, I popped in my Cambodian SIM card into my spare phone. Any tourists can purchase these, i.e. just after the customs check there are may counters selling them. Just need to register with your passport.
En route to the hotel, we made a small detour to the Lucky Drink Shop at Monivong Blvd to buy some cigarettes. Cigarettes, cigars and liquor are cheaper in Cambodia, just make sure one purchase them from reliable supermarkets or whole-salers. They are cheaper here than at the duty-free shops at the airport.

Asia Palace Hotel
We arrived at the Asia Palace Hotel, where I will be staying in. It is a nice 3-star hotel with friendly staff, a nice lobby to meet business people, and fairly big size rooms. The only ting I didn't like about it is the complimentary breakfast that they give, it's just not up to par.

DAY 1 - 28th July 2012

Cambodian Tuk-tuks
The proper start of my tour was from lunch of my second day. I hailed a tuk-tuk and booked it for the whole afternoon. The driver, a Mr. Chen spoke a fair amount of English, and was my unofficial tour guide. For that & his transportation for the afternoon he only charged me USD8/-, cheap when compared to transportation in other countries.

He took me over to my friend's (Suhaimie) restaurant for lunch. Suhaimie is a Malaysian resident to Phnom Penh. His place called Cafe Malaya (see Cafe Malaya blog) serves halal Malay food, buffet style. I had white rice with curries.

The Supreme Court Building
The street in front of the palace, Blvd Samdach Sothearos, is closed to traffic and Chen dropped me at the corner where the Supreme Court Building is. This building itself is a new but beautiful building with a nice pagoda and intricate motif on its gable wall.

Opening time : 8:00am-5:00pm, opens everyday

The weather was friendly, cloudy but not raining. Good for walking but bad for photography. Together with other tourists I took a leisurely 300m stroll to the entrance of the Royal Palace, along the way admiring the mini-roofs over the perimeter wall.

At the entrance, there was a simple but elaborate archway, with a small intricate roof behind. Many tourists from all over the world and Cambodians from the provinces were already queuing up to gain entry. 

Inside, the crowd was even thicker, there was some jostling. But I made my way along the corridor leading to the ticket booths.

Royal Palace Plan (click on pix for enlarged view)
While waiting to by the ticket, I viewed a large map next to the booths. It showed the various buildings, stupas, small museums, etc. It also showed prohibited areas, the areas open for public viewing  is only slightly larger than half of the overall palace.

The entrance cost USD6-25, with the ticket showing a perspective view of the Royal Palace Building proper.

The rear of the ticket gives a write-up of the palace, that it was constructed twice, starting from 1434. It mentions the size of the palace complex, the type of architecture involved and the naming of the palace. Originally, the palace was of timber construction but was slowly replaced by concrete buildings.

We had actually entered the complex by a secondary front entrance, the main entrance of course is reserved for the king. So to get to the palace proper, we had to walk through this landscaped walk-way adorned with statues.

And through this nice, little doorway.

The little unassuming doorway opened up to this magnificent view of the palace building. An imposing building sitting on a platform twenty feet above the grounds, making it an imposing sight.

Front view of Royal Palace
It is a T-shaped building with a beautiful multi-tiered roof held up by many columns. On top are three stupas. A grand staircase led up to the palace platform.

The top of the externals columns were adorned with sculptures of asparas (Khmer angels), hands help up high "holding up the roof".

No pictures were allowed to be taken of the internal of the palace. But I quietly managed to take a few. The above, taken from the front door, shows a hallway with the throne at the far end. Nice golden lamp-stands sitting beside each column.

It had nicely painted ceiling with gold trimmings.

And colorful floor tiles of flowery design. Both very French-like, attributing to Cambodia's colonial French past.

Back at the front platform, I had in a breath-taking vista of the landscape grounds and ancillary buildings.

Ancillary building with intricate gable ends.

Another ancillary building, this one with beautifully colored multi-tiered roof and single stupa.

I went over to some smaller building, inside was a gallery showcasing the King's & Queen's attire, etc. The above is the King's official traditional costumes with matching crowns.

This one is one of the King's official military costume.

And the above, traditional Khmer ladies' costume.

Having finished viewing the buildings at the main compound, I walked over to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha & Silver Pagoda's section, passing through this corridor with nice but eroded wall murals showing scenes of the Royal Palace.

But no to fret, in future, visitors will be able to view this mural in its glory as workers are slowly & painfully restoring them.

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is another nice and balance symmetrical building, smaller but also beautiful. Unfortunately, the public cannot enter the interior. Guess it is just for the royalties to pray.

In the compound of this section is the Silver Pagoda, oddly though it looks more golden than silver. Perhaps, I am color blind.

Also in the same compounds are various stupas commemorating the royalties of past and present. They are nice structures but without color, probably a sign of humility by the royals.

I was prepared to leave this excellent showcase of Cambodian culture and architecture, but it was not the end yet. Right at the exit are several more rooms, mostly depicting Cambodian royal culture. The map above shows the pride of the Cambodian's past showing that the Khmer republic then encompassed the whole of Thailand an reached down south to Malaya and also included most of South Vietnam.

In other rooms were royal pallaquins,

and even a pallaquin on an elephant from Khmer days of yore.

Along the exit walkway was a weaver, weaving on a traditional loom. Probably in olden days elite weavers were based in the palace to carry out weaving for the royals.

And finally to send us off and bid us farewell from the Royal Palace, were musician playing on traditional Khmer musical equipment.
The National Museum
Mr. Chen picked me up and asked whether I would like to visit the National Museum just next door. However, I had to declined, work beckons. Perhaps on another visit to Phnom Penh.

In no time, I was in the tuk-tuk, rushing back for an important business meeting. Mr. Chen sensing my urgency took a route almost devoid of traffic. Bravo!

Even at it's fastest, the tuk-tuk was still a leisurely ride, and I was able to admire the Riverside view of the Mekong before I call it a day for my tour. Till tomorrow then. Sook Sabai!

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