-Capital of Cambodia.
-Population: 1 million.
-History: King Ponhea Yat abandoned Angkor in 1422, then founded Phnom Penh and five wats (temples.) Choice of this area at confluence of two great rivers (Mekong and Tonle Sap) may have refected a shift from an agrarian to a trade-oriented economy.
I arrived in Phnom Penh after traveling overland through eastern Cambodia, which looked very poor and had more cows and carts than cars. Upon arrival in the big city, I was shocked by the heavy traffic.
I especially noticed the large numbers of late model American and Japanese SUV's and pickups, and Mercedes sedans. All imported into a country where the average annual per capita income is 280 U.S. Dollars (World Bank, 2002) Does the phrase inequitable income distribution ring any bells?
First Things First
I got settled in the Capitol Guesthouse, as recommended by my always-dependable friend and travel guide David Gleeson, who had been here last month. The Capitol is a long-standing 'backpacker' guesthouse, centrally located.
My first few days in Phnom Penh I visited the horrifying Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek (killing fields) sites.
After that, I was ready to see a brighter side of town: aerial views from a downtown high-rise.
The Central Market ("Psah Thmai") is a classic, aging art deco behemoth built in 1937 by the French.
The Royal Palace is a huge complex of beautiful structures, originally built in 1866 under the French protectorate and King Norodom. There were many additions over the following decades. The guidebook says "Though most of the buildings of the palace are in fact 20th century constructions, the designs are inspired by traditional Khmer religious and monumental architecture."
Capitol Guesthouse and Restaurant
Cheap, cheerful backpacker hangout. Travelers cheques changed. "A great place to find your feet."
14A Street 182, Phnom Penh, (diagonally opposite Orrussey Market)
tel: 855 23 724 107
Rates: Fan rooms $3-6 U.S.
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