A tradition that was on the verge of disappearing before it received governmental support, the Cyclo tours around Phnom Penh remain one of the best ways to appreciate the energetic buzz of the city in combination with the historic sights and lively boulevard.
We will end the tour at The Royal Palace, which was built by the French in 1866 on the site of the old town. The main building on the compound is the Throne Room. It was built in 1917 in the traditional Khmer style and has a tiered roof and a 59-meter tower, which is influenced by Angkor Thom’s Bayon Temple. On the compounds of the Royal Palace, the Silver Pagoda stands out in its own distinctive way. The Pagoda’s steps are of Italian marble. On the inside the floor is comprised of more than 5000 silver tiles, which together weigh nearly 6 tons. The pagoda houses a magnificent 17th century Emerald Buddha statue and a 90kg gold Buddha studded with 9584 diamonds. Right next to the palace, the National Museum of Phnom Penh was designed by French historian George Groslier also following traditional Khmer architecture. The museum itself is a landmark and masterpiece in the capital. It houses some of the most valuable Khmer Art and is home to a permanent display of Post-Angkorian Buddha statues. Original statues from Angkor have a permanent home at the National Museum, while they have been replaced by replicas at Angkor itself.
Finally we will also visit the Wat Phnom located on a man-made hill, 27m high. It is believed that Daun Penh, a wealthy widow, found four Buddha statues in a Koki tree floating in the river. She built a small pagoda in 1373 to house the statues after which in 1437 King Ponhea Yat ordered the construction of Wat Phnom, what eventually lead to the city’s namesake: Phnom Penh. Although far from pretty, learning more about Cambodia’s recent history is essential and helps to increase one’s perception of Cambodia’s development and the people’s mentality. When on 17 April 1975 Phnom Penh fell, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the city with force leaving and left the capital as a ghost city. Pol Pot turned the former High School of Chao Ponhea Yat into the S-21 (Tuol Sleng) prison camp where “enemies of the regime” were tortured and later killed. All of its prisoners were registered and photographed and nowadays these pictures deck the narrow halls of the Genocide Museum of Tuol Sleng. It is believed that over 17.000 people were imprisoned at Tuol Sleng, all of them but seven known survivors, eventually found their death. Prisoners who did survive the torture of Tuol Sleng were brought to Choeung Ek, which is known as “The Killing Fields”. This seemingly peaceful area located 17km from Phnom Penh was for everyone entering the site the end of the line. Nowadays it is home to a memorial stupa containing over 5000 skulls, which allows the Khmer people to return and honor their ancestors who died by the Pol Pot regime.