December 16, 2015

Cambodia | The Royal Palace and Phnom Penh City

Cambodia is beyond Angkor Wat. A short stay in the Kingdom of Wonder showed me the country’s true beauty apart from the historic temples and ancient ruins that sprawl on its grounds.  

welcome to The Royal Palace
Let me be transparent. I was more than excited to visit Cambodia for several reasons. For one, I’ll finally witness the most photographed sunrise in the world and see the famous Angkor Wat. Who wouldn’t get thrilled? It’s almost always included in travel wish lists and bucket lists all over the World Wide Web! Another thing is, I’ve been wanting to cross borders without riding an airplane. Going to Cambodia from Vietnam via bus will help me cross that one out off my list. And oh, Khmer cuisine! I love trying out various Asian cuisines, so introducing my taste buds to the unfamiliar Khmer food will do me and my appetite a big favor. And lastly, I’ll be able to learn more about its culture and people. Yes, it might sound really cliché, but I find myself amused with how locals in different places live their daily lives and stuff. You know.

our bus crossed the bridge over the Mekong River to get to Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh
khmer food... yum!

Come one early morning, we rode the Mekong Express bus bound to Phnom Penh, our first stop in Cambodia. It was a good 6-hour trip and almost everything went smoothly – boarding the bus and exiting Vietnam’s borders – except for the moment we were queuing at the immigration along with some Filipino travelers. We noticed that the first Filipino to go through the immigration officer has been standing there longer than usual. The immigration officer was saying something to him and he suddenly looked puzzled; he then handed out something to the officer. We all got confused and asked one another what could have happened. And as if it’s just common procedure, those who followed next also went through the same episode. I was able to know the answer to this befuddlement when my turn came. Mr. Immigration Officer did the usual – checked my identity, verified my fingerprint and stamped my passport, and asked me to give him one dollar. I was stunned. I’ve been to other countries and went through the immigration several times, and I can’t remember being asked for money. Right then and there, I realized we were falling as victims of corruption. I didn’t bother asking him why and just handed him a dollar. I heard my partner from the next counter questioning the officer, and the latter gave him this sinister look while holding firmly on his passport. And there goes his dollar inside the officer’s hands. Our group exchanged stories and opinions on what happened. We asked our soft-spoken and kind-looking bus guide and was told that what the officers did was illegal before expressing his apologies several times. What happened made me realized how corruption or any wrongdoing (especially serious ones) can create a negative impact on a place and its people. I know because I’ve met other Cambodian locals throughout the trip and they were really nice.

meet sky, our tuktuk driver
We arrived in Phnom Penh market an hour past noon, got off from the bus and was greeted by persuasive tuktuk drivers. By this time we were cautious. We can’t help but to have this prejudice on these people as they were crowding toward us and asking us questions like where we’ll stay, is there someone there to pick us up, and the like. We politely turned down their offer and decided to wait for our hotel pick-up in a corner. Thing is, we arrived an hour earlier than our expected time of arrival, which I wasn’t able to inform our hotel since I have no internet access while on the trip. A tuktuk driver named Sky approached us and asked the same questions, suggesting that the hotel pick-up might not come earlier than scheduled. Little chitchats went by until he got to know we’re from the Philippines. His eyes sparkled with interest and started sharing stories of his encounter with a certain Dr. Dave from Davao. This doctor must be a good person, I thought. All Sky talked about was how great Dr. Dave is as a person. We can’t help but smile.

spotted the Philippine flag
We asked Sky to tour us around the city for a friendly rate. It was fun riding the tuktuk. We passed by the city riverside and noticed a great number of locals doing their own version of sweating it out – walking, jogging or playing badminton. Our first stop was The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. The whole place is well-maintained. The intricately detailed palace temples and structures exude modern Khmer architecture. True to its name, The Royal Palace serves as the residence of the King of Cambodia, his family and foreign dignitaries. The place is a venue for the performance of court ceremony and ritual, and has been a symbol of the Kingdom ever since. The striking structure stands near the riverfront and boasts classic Khmer roofs and ornate gilding. The famous SIlver Pagoda, where the King worshiped, prayed and practiced every Buddhist Silas Day, is also located inside The Royal Palace.

inside the Royal Palc

open the gate
intricate details
Other places of interest in Phnom Penh are the Independence Monument, the Russian Market and Wat Phnom. The Independence Monument was built to symbolize Cambodia's independence from France. Standing on the intersection of Norodom Boulevard and Sihanouk Boulevard, the monument comes in the form of a lotus-shaped stupa - a style evident in the great Khmer temple in Angkor Wat and other Khmer historical sites.

the road scenario was still calm before the rush hour

Independence Monument
It was already getting dark by the time we’re done seeing the city. Rush hour welcomed everyone on the road. I’m pretty much aware that traffic in Manila is really bad. But traffic in Phnom Penh can be good competition. Tuktuk drivers squeeze their way in every space they can see causing a jumbled vehicle scenario. What amazed me was that we didn’t hear a single car horning nor a driver complaining to another. It seems that they have long accepted this as part of the daily grind. 

shrine honoring their former King
Phnom Penh may not be as rustic and majestic as Siem Reap, but it still holds a unique charm that's worth discovering. It's a place where laid-back meets chaos in the most interesting ways.

Disclaimer: This article is part of the author's Cambodia travelogue originally posted on the travel website Tripoto. See link here.


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