4D3N Phnom Penh - Siem Reap (Private)

Phnom Penh, Cambodia


A heaving crossroads of cultures, times, peoples and worlds, Phnom Penh is a city on the edge of everything. With one foot still rooted in the past, which you can find in the temples, markets and buzzing back streets, and another striding boldly into the future, which is pretty much all around you, this thriving, turbulent city brings together Cambodian, Chinese and French influences in a congested, grimy, shiny, vibrant and thrilling mash that somehow seems to work — except when it rains. Once known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’, Phnom Penh used to be one of the better-preserved French colonial towns in Southeast Asia. However, developers — occasionally driven by a need to clean up someone\'s cashflow — are working tirelessly to put paid to this sobriquet, and once beautiful parts of town are yielding to the seemingly inexorable rise of some of the most artless lumps of brick and concrete you’ll ever be misfortunate enough to lay eyes on. There is a legion of architects in this city who should be taken out and shot for conspiring in this vandalism, and especially for the bewilderingly unlovely edifices that are being chucked up in place of a beautiful and wholly irreplaceable heritage. Be that as it may, this is the price you pay for being a city so eager to take its place at the table so long occupied by its neighbours to the east and west. Today, once sleepy — indeed once silent — streets run thick with motor scooters, lusty motorbikes, bicycles, tuk tuks, rickshaws, Toyota Camrys, and monster gas-guzzling machines frequently belonging either to those who would profess to be \"saving\" Cambodia, or those who are quietly asset-stripping an entire state. They move to a rhythm defined by chance opportunities, a reflection of the city’s own vibe, which can can infuse you with wild optimism at the genuine sense of limitless possibilities, or knock you down with crushing cynicism in less than a heartbeat. Sitting at the confluence of three rivers that stretch out to the north, west and southeast — the Mekong, the Tonle Sap, and the Tonle Bassac — Phnom Penh is the heart of Cambodia, but is arguably not strictly a Cambodian city. The majority of the population is Sino-Khmer, Cambodia’s merchant class, and it is largely they who are at the root of the city’s thriving commercial life. This and the energy and creativity of the city’s expatriate community mean that the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh has a lot more to offer the visitor than a swing through the sobering Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and a run out to the Killing Fields. Although not to be missed too are the charming Royal Palace and quaint National Museum, both of which offer glimpses of Cambodia\'s richer history. Set in northwest Cambodia, Siem Reap is best known for being the gateway to the Angkor ruins, a sprawling World Heritage-listed complex of more than 400 ancient temples with the magnificent Angkor Wat as its focal point. Described by Henri Mouhot, the Frenchman who awakened western awareness of the temples in 1860, as “a rival to that of Solomon and erected by some ancient Michelangelo… grander than anything left to us by Greece or Rome”, the Park temples are without a doubt one of the world’s most awe-inspiring historical sites. But Siem Reap province is also home to an array of other sites, such as the adventuresome Beng Mealea, or the petite and pretty in pink Banteay Srei, or the sacred hills of Phnom Kulen, birthplace of the Khmer Empire that endured for more than 600 years and covered modern-day Cambodia and Laos as well as extensive chunks of Vietnam and Thailand.

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