Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s busy capital, sits at the junction of the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers. It was a hub for both the Khmer Empire and French colonialists. The glimmering spires of the Royal Palace, the fluttering saffron of the monks’ robes and the location on the banks of the mighty Mekong conjure up rather exotic images.
The Royal Palace was constructed after King Norodom relocated the royal capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh in the mid-19th century. In the complex forming the Royal Palace there are a total of 9 buildings covering an area of more than 6 hectares. With its classic Khmer roofs and ornate gilding, the Royal Palace dominates the skyline of Phnom Penh.
Being the official residence of King Sihamoni, parts of the massive palace compound are closed to the public. Visitors are allowed to visit only the throne hall and a few buildings surrounding it. Adjacent to the palace, the Silver Pagoda complex is also open to the public. Visitors need to wear shorts that reach to the knee, and T-shirts or blouses that reach to the elbow. All footwear must be removed and left on racks outside before entering the buildings. We had been warned of the dress code but I was wondering whether my sandals would be waiting for me when time came to depart.
When walking through the grounds, suddenly there was a very French, lacy looking building. This is a strong reminder of the French ties to Cambodia. The pavilion was originally erected for Empress Eugenie for the inauguration of the Suez Canal in 1869. Afterwards Emperor Napoleon III presented the building to King Norodom. The building was reassembled at the royal palace in 1876.
Within the Palace grounds street sounds are silenced and the Royal buildings rise from the perfectly manicured gardens. The buildings are of great beauty and architecturally amazing and the gardens are striking.
In contrast we visited a market at the edge of the Lake where, without a common language, we felt welcome and thoroughly enjoyed our afternoon, particularly when our guide was choosing a pumpkin to buy for his mother. I could have had my hair cut!
I repeatedly make the comment that “It is the people met along the way who make the journey most memorable” and being in the Market at the edge of the Lake brought smiles to our faces as we shared the day with the locals.