Travel to Phnom Penh and see why this vibrant capital city was once known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’

- blending stunning traditional Khmer architecture with French colonial influences and bejewelled Buddhas.

The elegant Royal Palace is one of Phnom Penh’s most iconic landmarks, despite being built only a century ago. The palace features classic Khmer architecture, with intricate gilding and serene French-style manicured gardens. As this is the official residence of Cambodia’s King Sihamoni, some parts of the complex are closed to the public; however, visitors are welcome to tour a cluster of surrounding buildings and the Palace’s Throne Hall. Used for coronations and prestigious ceremonies, this important space was completed in 1919. However, many of the items which were originally displayed here were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge.

Next to the palace, the Silver Pagoda complex is also open to the public. With five tons of gleaming silver that line the floor, a small emerald-green Buddha, said to be made of Baccarat crystal and a 200-pound, life-sized, solid-gold Buddha crowned with 9,584 diamonds – the Silver Pagoda is surely one of Cambodia’s most breath taking gems. The diamonds on the Buddha are of various shapes and sizes -- the largest is 25 carats! Several more Buddhas are here to see, including those made from bronze and silver. A mythological mural of the Reamker wraps around the outside of the structure. The Reamker is a popular epic poem among the Khmer people, depicting ideals of justice and fidelity, which is often represent in dance, theatre and works of art. An Italian marble staircase leads into the pagoda.

Near the Royal Palace sits another of Cambodia’s treasures: the National Museum. Designed by George Groslier, the museum is housed in an elegant terracotta structure. Even though it was built just a century ago, it has a traditional feel along with a tranquil courtyard and gardens with fishponds, reflecting pool, red lilies, lotus blossoms and dragonflies.

Of course, one of the main draws is that it also houses one of the world’s greatest Khmer cultural collections – including sculpture, ceramics and ethnographic objects from prehistoric, pre-Angkorian, Angkorian and post-Angkorian periods. Many of these artefacts are made of stone, wood, bronze or ceramics.

A reclining bronze Vishnu statue, recovered from a temple near Angkor Wat in 1936, greets visitors when they enter. This statue of one of the holiest deities in Hinduism is nearly intact – with head, shoulders and two arms (there are usually more). Other highlights include many powerful Buddhist images, as well as an eight-armed Vishnu statue dating back to the 6th century, statues of Hindu deity Shiva from 9th, 10th and 11th centuries, 10th century wrestling monkeys, Hindu goddesses Durga and a statue of 12th century ruler Jayavarman VII as well as more recent artefacts, such as a wooden royal barge.

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