Cambodia occupies a total area of 181,035 square kilometres. It is commonly bordered to the north by and Laos, to the east by Vietnam, to the South by Vietnam and the Gulf of Thailand, and to the west by Thailand. Cambodia is divided into six major regions. The western and northwestern mountains are rich in tropical forest, wildlife, and fruit trees; the northwestern plateau abounding with tropical forest, wildlife, waterfalls, diamonds and magic; the central plain known as a large area of flat land for cultivating mainly rice, corn and bean; the western and southwestern coastal plain is popular with tourists who sunbathe on the sandy beaches; the western and northeastern valleys are suitable for the development of hydro-electric power; and the peninsula is suitable for tin mining, rubber cultivation and fishing. The population is more than 15 million. 90% of residents are Khmer, and the remnants of these are Chinese, vietnamese, Indian, Thai, Phnong, Kuoy. The Chinese influence is very strong, particularly in the business sector.
After Tai Chi at 6:30am, followed by a Scenic buffet breakfast, we board coaches to make our way to the Royal Palace and a visit to the National Museum. Our guide, is firm in the belief that the King was willing to meet with us at 8:00am but due to our lateness (8:10am), the King has cancelled his appointment with us. It is very rare that this happens, as the King is a guy who wants to meet all visitors to his Kingdom.
Cambodia is a Constitutional Monarchy with the Head of State being King Norodom Silhamoni. He does not rule the state but reigns for the state. The Head of Government is Hun Sen who is the ruler. The King has adopted a policy of Liberal Democracy and Pluralism. He is single and over 60 years of age with shaven head. Quite distinguished – any takers?
The King’s palace is very tidy and well presented for tourists to meander around. The hedges are neatly clipped with around half a dozen gardeners on the hedge clippers this morning. Each building is painted every two years as the resident pigeons are protected and allowed to roost on the roofs of the neat buildings and the temple in the main grounds. We all know what sort of mess they make.
The Royal Palace contains some spectacular buildings. Not least of which is the Throne Hall, situated to the left of the main entrance. It boasts a 59-meter tower. The tower roof is beautiful, having been decoratively tiered with golden coloured tiles. This building is used for high official celebrations, coronations and audiences with foreign dignitaries and government officials.
The Royal Treasury and the Napoleon II villa lie south to the Royal Throne Hall. North to this stands the Silver pagoda enclosure, otherwise known as the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha. The Pagoda’s steps are crafted from Italian marble, and within the throne room the regal floor consists of more than 500 solid silver blocks. If calculated together, they weigh nearly six tones. Displayed a round the room, surrounding the main area, stand plush presents from foreign dignitaries.
The magnificent 17th century emerald Buddha statue is made of Baccarat cuystal and solid gold. It weighs 90 kilograms and is adorned with 9,584 diamonds. Bronze statues stand to it’s left and right sides. Next to these, encased under a glass cover, reside a golden locus. Within this area other ancient treasures include a large Buddha’s footprint, representing the 108 past lives of the Buddha before he was re-incarnated as Prince Siddharta, who subsequently gained enlightenment. On the wall, surrounding the Pagoda compound, (the oldest part of the palace) are hundreds of meters of frescos depicting an episode of the Indian epic Ramayana. These are the biggest mural frescos in South East Asia. www.tourismcambodia.com
From here, are driven to the National Museum just around the corner and on the the same large block of land. The National Museum houses lots of statues of the various gods associated with the various religions of the region, particularly Buddhism. Not being one to enjoy museums, I take a ‘sitting-up’ nap after the official guide tour.
Just prior to lunch, our Scenic Spirit departs Phnom Penh. Lunch is served the magnificent Scenic way, and we enjoy a short 2-3 hour cruise up the Tonle Sap River to the village of Koh Chen. During the cruise, one of the crew show us the different ways the Krama, or Khmer scarf, is utilised in their daily activity, even down to using it as a back pack for school books.
The village of Koh Chen has a few silverware factories in it. A lot of the shaping of the silverware, or copper ware, or brass ware, is done in the nearby homes and either sold by the kids who ‘grab’ you as you get off the ship for the walking tour, or from the factories along the way. Near the end of our walking tour, the kids sing us a few songs both in english and local dialect.
I’ve only just remembered that the movie “Top Gear UK goes to Vietnam” was shown on the sun deck in the evening. If you haven’t seen this movie, get the DVD and enjoy the quaintness of life on a motor bike if you decide to ride it from Saigon in the south to Halong Bay in the north.
Tomorrow we are sailing back towards Phnom Penh then a ‘u-turn’ back up the Mekong towards Kampong Tralach.