Unlike some of the other places you will visit throughout Asia, the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh actually has a King living in it. Constructed in the 1860's, the palace has been the home to all royalty since, with exception to the time around the reign of the Khmer Rouge. The King's living area takes up over half of the palace grounds, but visitors are free to roam around the Silver Pagoda compound, the main area containing the Chan Chhaya Pavilion, and Throne Hall, which is pictured above. Throne Hall is still in use today as a meeting place for the King to receive dignitaries, and is also used for ceremonies and coronations. I found this to be one of the more approachable and serene palaces that I have ever visited. Admission: $3.00 per person, $2.00 per camera, $5.00 per video camera. The palace is open everyday from 7:30 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. and again from 2:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Having survived a bone-rattling bus ride into Phnom Penh, I was in dire need of food. After a little recon at the hotel, I managed to find the oh-so-eclectic establishment named Riverside Bistro. This is a total misnomer. It's not really a bistro, it most certainly does NOT reside on the side of a river, and it's cuisine is unclassifiable and a close guess would be 'Cambodia's version of random western cuisine.' I settle in for my meal and this is the scene. I'm eating ribs, while a never-before-seen Michael Jackson music video DVD is repeatedly looped, while Wimbledon is playing on other monitors, as a black cat walks across my feet, and all of this is accompanied by a local Cambodian cover band doing their version of Hotel California. I couldn't make this stuff up. And as I get up to leave, I realize that I have been sitting under a most bizarre piece of art, which you see pictured...
It can be done. It's true that Angkor Wat does see hundreds of thousands of visitors a year, and who knows how many on any given day. That being said, I was told that this ancient temple would be teeming with tourists and groups and guides and locals, and that I would be hard-pressed to experience any solitude. Well that is simply not the case. Two factors helped to alleviate this worry. First, go during the off season, which in my case happened to be in July, when fewer people choose to visit. And two, get up and go extra early, because while everyone says they will do that, you will find it's far fewer that actually go through with it. The experience of wandering through ancient ruins, with total silence save for a clicking camera shutter, is something that all travelers should strive to achieve whenever possible.
With sandstone as the main material, the city center of Angkor Wat rests solemnly under blue skies just outside of Siem Reap. Built in the classic style of Khmer architecture, this building houses various courtyards, libraries and shrines that were once the beating heart of Siem Reap and its rulers. Even though Angkor Wat is no longer the reigning epicenter of Cambodia, the hundreds of thousands of yearly visitors continue to beat a steady pulse and keep this vibrant historical sight very much alive.
If you've traversed safely through the epic expanse that is Angor Wat, you will be greeted by a final, dramatic scene such as this as you reach its center. This 350 meter causeway spans the distance between outer area the temple proper. Giddy local school children will dive off the edge doing aerial acrobats into the water, for a small donation of course.
Usually you build a house in the tree, but at Angkor Wat it's not how things are done. Yes, there are a few questions about this photo that need to be asked and that I can answer, but one I cannot. Once you cross the threshold to Angkor Wat, you are in for a dizzying array of sights for the next few hours, or days, if you choose to stick around that long. However, the inaugural sight upon entering is this: an ancient structure with a tree beside it and on TOP of it. The structure you can google for its history, and the tree to the right, well, it makes perfect sense. But the tree on the roof, nay, the well-established-and-been-there-for-quite-some-time tree on the roof, I cannot explain. There wasn't much else to do except stare for a bit, take a photo, share it with others, and recommend that people just go and see it for themselves.
Packed with over 240 venders selling hand-made Cambodian crafts, the Night Market of Siem Reap is hands-down one of the best places to pick up unique souvenirs. Established in 2007, and running well into the nighttime hours, the market holds an array of items from handmade tapestries, to paintings, to carvings made of wood or stone. Plus, buying local keeps all proceeds within the community. Two of my all-time favorite t-shirts were picked up at this very market, just after I took this photo. And as with most worldly markets, you can definitely barter with the venders over the price. Cost for my two t-shirts (which have stood up much better than anything purchased in the states): $2. The feeling I get when I wear them: priceless.
So as to not repeat the past, we must learn from it, even when it is difficult to face. Visiting the Buddhist memorial at Choeung Ek is one of those experiences. Located outside the city of Phnom Penh is the memorial and burial site of the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime. An enormous commemorative stupa is filled with the skulls of people whose lives were taken during this horrible period in history. Throughout the surrounding park, there are many places to pay tribute to those who lost their lives in Cambodia.