Welcome to Phnom Penh ! The capital city of Cambodia lies at the confluence of the Mekong, Sap and Bassac rivers. Phnom Penh was regarded by many as the most beautiful of all the French-built cities in Indochina and so was formerly called the pearl of Indochina. It was a bustling commercial center during the French occupation, but the years of war crushed it to a field of ruins before becoming a ghost-city during the Khmer Rouges period. It’s only since the 90’s that the city really began to recover and today it has reestablished itself as the political and financial center of the country. Its rich historical past can be traced to some Khmer and French influence evidences such as many ornate Khmer–style temples and some grand colonial buildings.
We will take you at your hotel at 8:00 am and drive about 15 km south of the city to Choeung Ek, a mass gravesite known to the locals as the Killing fields after the popular movie of Roland Joffre. The Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot controlled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. During this dark period, about 2 millions Cambodians lost their lives, a lot of them were killed in these infamous places; in Choeung Ek about 20,000 men, women, children and infants were executed. To date, about 9000 corpses have been exhumed from 129 mass graves in the area and now their skulls lay to rest in a huge glass tower in the center of the site. Today, Choeung Ek serves as a memorial to those killed under the Khmers Rouges rule.
Then, we will drive back to the city center and visit the Tuol Sleng museum. This former high school in the suburbs of the capital was converted to a detention and torture centre - known as Toul Sleng or S21 - by the Khmers Rouges when they came to power in 1975. A genocide museum was established at Toul Sleng after 1979 and today it remains as it looked when abandonned by the Khmers Rouges. The pictures of hundreds of faces of those tortured there line the walls inside the old school. Most of the 17'000 people detained at Toul Sleng were eventually transported to Choeung Ek.
We will have lunch in the nice garden of the restaurant Le Rit’s owned by the NGO Nyemo which assists vulnerable women and helpless children in their reintegration into workforce and society.
After lunch, we will visit the Royal Palace situated on the site of the former citadel. It was built by king Norodom in 1966, in front of the Mekong. Inside its walls are the throne hall, the Chan Chaya Pavilion, used for performances of classical dance, the Napoleon III Pavilion, and the king’s and Queen’s residential quarters. We will also visit theSilver Pagoda - called the Pagoda of the Emerald Buddha - located in the walls of the Royal Palace. Inside, its floor is made up of 5,000 silver blocks. In the centre of the Pagoda, there is a magnificent 17th century emerald Buddha statue made of baccarat crystal. The walls enclosing the pagoda are covered with frescoes depicting episodes from the Reamker, the Khmer version of the Ramayana. We will continue to the National Museum – near the Royal Palace - which offers a charming setting for the display of a stunning collection of Khmer art. Predominantly worked in stone, the sculptures date from both the Angkorean and pre-Angkorean eras, complimented by more recent examples of Cambodian art.
Tonight before dinner we will enjoyed a drink on the roof top of FCC restaurant, a nice spot to enjoy a whole view of Phnom Penh.
Dinner at the restaurant Friends which is a non-profit restaurant run by street youth in training. All proceeds go to the organisation Mith Samlanh and the food is delicious.