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Today enjoy a full day exploring the Kingdom capital’s highlights. Begin with making a wish at the spiritual Wat Phnom, a city landmark, for which the capital was named and a popular place for worship. Then set off on a Cyclo, traditional transportation back to the 1960s, to explore the glittering Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, admiring the over 5,000 silver tiles covering the floor and the collection of shiny golden Buddhas.
The Royal Palace was built in 1866 by King Norodom to serve as the residence of the King of Cambodia and the royal family. The Royal Palace complex houses several buildings and lovely gardens all set inside walled grounds overlooking a riverfront park. The architecturally incongruous Napoleon III pavilion was a gift of the French Empress Eugenie in the early 20th century and is often used for entertaining. Outside the southeast wall of the palace is the house of the white elephant, traditionally used for special regal occasions including Royal births, deaths, or weddings.
The Silver Pagoda, also known as “Wat Preah Keo”, is a dazzling sight with its floor covered by over 5,000 silver tiles, each weighing about two pounds. The structure became a propaganda piece for the savage Khmer Rouge (1975 – 1978) when it was preserved from destruction to demonstrate the regime’s concern for the country’s cultural heritage. Despite their claims, however, over 60% of the contents were destroyed, including many rare artifacts. The remaining items, however, provide a stunning glimpse at the glories of Khmer civilization.
Afternoon absorbs moving reminders of Cambodia’s troubled recent history of the Khmer Rouge regime. Although it’s not a joyful tour, visiting these monuments unlocks the keys to understanding the development of this still-developing country. Start with the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former high school turned into the S-21 prison essentially a torture center by the murderous Khmer Rouge regime. During the three years of Khmer Rouge brutality, the prison became synonymous with terror. Over 17,000 people held at Tuol Sleng (S-21) were interrogated and tortured before being sent to the killing fields at Choeung Ek for execution, while those who died during torture were buried in mass graves on the prison grounds.
The notorious Killing Fields of Choeung Ek lies approximately 30 minutes from the city and is the site of the infamous “Killing Fields” of the Khmer Rouge. Here, tens of thousands of people, including some foreigners, were executed and thrown into mass graves. In 1980 the remains of over 8,900 victims were exhumed while an estimated 43 mass graves (of a total of 129) have been left untouched. A solemn memorial – a stupa with glass panels encasing over 8,000 skulls (arranged by age and sex) – was erected in 1988 to commemorate the victims of this period of madness.
*Special note: If you do not wish to visit these horror sites, you may spend this afternoon exploring the National Museum, home to the world’s foremost collection of ancient Khmer archeological, religious and artistic artifacts. Altogether, the museum has over 5,000 pieces on display dating from the 4th to the 13th centuries. Treasures include sculptures, 19th-century dance costumes, royal barges, and palanquins. Built in 1917 in traditional Khmer style, the museum grounds also feature a peaceful, palm-shaded central courtyard and lotus ponds – ideal places to contemplate one of Asia’s richest cultures. You will also have ample time to explore the famous Tuol Tumpong Market “Russian Market”, which sells a vast array of goods. Or visit the Central Market (Phsar Thmei), which is a unique colonial-style building constructed in 1937. The location where the Central Market now sits was once a swamp area occupied by a lake known as Beng Decho. Today, this beautiful market has become a prominent landmark in Phnom Penh.
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Full Day (8.00 am – 4.00 pm)
Explore the countryside with an ox cart ride and offer alms to a Buddhist monk
Discover Cambodia’s Golden Threads and pink sandstone temple of Banteay Srei
6 Hours (Morning / Afternoon)
Introductory briefing, Elephant meet and greet & observation trek. (2km)
Make enrichment and watch the elephants play by the pond