Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Cambodia! Never Thought I Would Be Here!

Not wheelchairs yet! Our first Cyclo ride!

Our first day in Cambodia and we hit the ground running – well, actually pedaling. No, actually, someone else was pedaling and we were riding in what are known as Cyclos. It is like a bicycle rickshaw, but with the driver behind you. The word “cyclos” comes from the French cyclo-pousse, meaning “bicycle push.” They are three-wheeled bicycle-taxis. Quite an experience in the traffic! We are off to see Phnom Penh and learn about the history of Cambodia. We will first go to the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and then to the National Museum. What better way!
Our Cambodian guide: Paroht
Cambodia is officially known as the Kingdom of Cambodia; whereas Vietnam is officially known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Cambodia is a constitutional monarchy with Norodom Sihamoni the current ruler, chosen by the Royal Throne Council. The current head of government is Hun Sen, who is the longest serving leader in Southeast Asia. He is now serving in his 25th year.
Cambodia covers 69,898 square miles with a population of 14.8 million. One half of the population is under the age of 25! This is due to the many, many years of terrible wars. The primary ethnic group is Khmer. In addition, there are Vietnamese, Chinese, Cham, and 30 hill tribes. The primary religion is Theravada Buddhism, with 95% of the people practicing it. In Vietnam, about 85% of the population identify themselves as Buddhist, but not all practice the religion. Tourism and textiles bring hard cash into their economy.
No sampan or tour bus today!


The typical "truck" in use on the streets.

Both Vietnam and Cambodia have a history of French language which is still spoken by the older people. English is required in schools now for both countries. However, Khmer is the official language of Cambodia. When we visited schools, we were asked to help the children by speaking with them in English and encouraging them to converse in English.

First stop: the Royal Palace
The Moon Palace with the viewing stand can be seen from
from the street. Here the King watches parades, etc.
The Royal Palace is a beautiful example of classic Khmer style. It was built in the 19th century and is the official residence of Cambodia’s reigning monarch, King Sihamoni, who is very popular with the people.
The current king stepped up to the throne when his father “retired” and no longer able to serve as he has health issues and is very old. There had been an interesting family feuding over the years regarding who would be the next king.
Since the current king is unmarried, as he was a monk prior to becoming king (at least that is what we were told, but the guide book said he was teaching Western ballet in Paris! Humm?), the next king will be chosen by the process that has been put in place to do so. The king was in residence while we were there as his flag was flying next to his residence.
The Royal Palace includes many structures and covers a large area. With the assistance of the French, the palace was built on the site of a former temple, Banteay Kev. It was designed to face the rising sun is situated at the Western bank of the cross division of the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River
called Chaktomuk. The golden roofs are stunning in the sunlight.
The Kings of Cambodia have occupied the palace since it was built here in 1866. During the turmoil and war years of the Khmer Rouge reign, the palace was uninhabited. The palace of today was built in Phnom Pehn after King Norodom relocated the royal capital from Oudong.
The Royal Palace has had some major modifications to its buildings over time; nearly all of the King Norodom era buildings have been demolished completely. The King's living area (closed to public) has also undergone big changes.
In the 1960s at Queen Kossamak's command the Silver Pagoda was rebuilt due to the original aging structure being too weak to stand.
The palace is a popular tourist attraction in Phnom Penh. Visitors are able to wander around the Silver Pagoda compound and the central compound containing the Throne Hall and Chan Chhaya Pavilion.
 The King's living area, which actually takes up half of the total palace ground area, including Khemarin Palace, Villa Kantha Bopha, Serey Mongkol Pavilion, royal gardens, and a number of other buildings and pavilions, is closed to the public.
The complex is divided by walls into four main compounds, on the south side is the Silver Pagoda, to the north side is the Khemarin Palace and the central compound contains the Throne Hall and to the west is the private sector or the Inner Court. The buildings of the palace were built gradually overtime, and some were dismantled and rebuilt as late as the 1960s. But some old buildings date back to the 19th century. They were working on several of the older ones when we were there. The Royal Palace of Phnom Penh covers an area of 172,870 square meters.
The Silver Pagoda
The architecture of the complex is a fine example of Khmer architecture with the addition of the French influence, including the layout of the defensive wall, towering spires and mural paintings. All of the buildings in the complex face east and have golden roofs with traditional detailing. They are stunning in the  morning and midday sunlight and cast an interesting silhouette against the evening sky.

The Preah Tineang Tevea Vinnichay Mohai Moha Prasat or "Throne Hall" means the "Sacred Seat of Judgement." It is where the king's confidants, generals and royal officials once carried out their duties. It is still in use today as a place for religious and royal ceremonies (such as coronations and royal weddings) as well as a meeting place for guests of the King.
The cross-shaped building is crowned with three spires. The central, 59 meter spire is topped with the white, four-faced head of Brahma. Inside the Throne Hall contains three royal thrones (one is more of western style and the other two are traditional) and golden busts of Cambodians kings and queen starting from the reign King Ang Doung onwards.
This Throne Hall is the second to be built on this site. The first was constructed of wood in 1869-1870 under King Norodom. That Throne Hall was demolished in 1915. The present building was constructed in 1917 and inaugurated by King Sisowath in 1919.


The other great attraction here is the Silver Pagoda which is a compound located on the South side of the palace grounds. Its main building houses many of the countries national treasures, including gold and jeweled Buddha statues. One of the most significant Buddha statues here is the small crystal “Emerald Buddha” of Cambodia. It may have been made of Baccarat Crystal in the 19th century – or of another kind of crystal earlier.
One of the most stunning Buddha statues is the near life-size Maitreva Buddha; it is encrusted with 9,584 diamonds! Before the Khmer Rouge reign, the Silver Pagoda floor was inlaid with more than 5,000 silver tiles. Today they are covered by carpeting to preserve them from all of the visitors’ footsteps. I have never seen so many Buddha statues in my life!

One other beautiful structure is the Moonlight Pavilion. This is an open-air pavilion serving as a stage for Khmer classical dance. It has a balcony that was used for viewing parades along the boulevard outside the palace grounds. It can be seen from outside the walls of the Palace.

There are a few other interesting places on the grounds of the Royal Palace. One is a statue of King Norodom on a white horse. This is said to have been done by the French and that the King would never have ridden a horse – elephants were the mode of transportation. There is a model of Angkor Wat as well. Napoleon had a residence here as well.
Needless to say, it was a most interesting morning! There is still the rest of the day ahead of us! 

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