The city of Phnom Penh is not only the capital and largest city in Cambodia, but it is the venue for this month’s upcoming WPT Prime Cambodia festival, for which we have a detailed preview here. While the players taking on the World Poker Tour’s stunning poker festival will be hoping to end up as King or Queen of the Hill, when they’re away from the felt, they may want to explore the city also nicknamed ‘Penh’s Hill’.
What can they find in this far-flung location? It would be easier to describe what delights aren’t on offer.
A Market City of History and Beauty
If you’re after action and adventure, Phnom Penh is the city for you. The heart of Cambodia, the city has been the capital of the country ever since 1434 and was re-established as the capital once more in 1865; since then it has been Cambodia’s thriving heartbeat.
Sitting neatly between the Mekong and Tonlé Sap rivers, it is worth exploring Phnom Penh or its stunning river walks, and the city is packed with parks, restaurants and bars that all offer something different.
Indeed, a whole tour guide could be written on each of these aspects alone, but we would point you in the direction of the city’s globally renowned art deco Central Market above any other attractions. If Cambodia is known as the ‘Pearl of Asia’, then the market is the glittering centerpoint of such beauty, with over 2 million people in Phnom Penh alone regularly flooding from their homes to buy anything from food to furniture amid the thousands of stalls.
Such is the vibrancy of the market center, that several offshoots of the main hub are worth dedicating serious time to on their own. The Central Market is where most tourists gravitate towards, but the Night Market (or Phsar Reatrey) is very popular with younger revellers, while there is a thriving Russian Market that has a permanent residency, too.
The Royal Palace
Cambodia has 14 million citizens, and it is often said that if someone hasn’t been to the Royal Palace, then they have not really been to Cambodia at all. The complex of royal buildings is the palatial home of the King of Cambodia, and monarchs have taken their seat at the Royal Palace between the 1860s and the present day, with the structure built on top of an ancient citadel.
Having been demolished and rebuilt by previous monarchs, the palace is now a source of peace and tranquillity, with a stunning gilt-edge throne room that makes the grandest castle seat in Game of Thrones look like it was constructed from Play Doh. The statue of His Majesty King Sisowath holding the Royal Sword sits at the south end of the throne room, with the nine-level classical Khmer-style throne itself one of the most ornate pieces of furniture in the known world.
As well as the Royal Palace itself, there is a Napoleon Pavilion, Moonlight Pavilion, Phochani (Banquet) Pavilion and a stunning Silver Pagoda, which holds many of the complex’s sacred Buddhas. The best of these might be the Maitreya Buddha, which is encrusted with a total of 9,584 diamonds and is dressed in royal regalia just to complete the effect. Warning: It might make that side event trophy you win seem slightly inferior after your visit. 🙂
The National Museum
Cambodia’s National Museum houses the country’s largest collection of historical and archaeological artefacts, with Khmer art, sculptures, bronzes and ethnographic objects packed throughout its dense corridors. Over 100 years old, the National Museum of Cambodia is no dusty hall of relics, however, with clean, open interiors that feel more modern than you might expect from the outside of the building.
Many religious artefacts are inside, with Vishnu and Ganesha models among them. Some of the objects are immaculately kept and date back well into the 17th century, so this is a fascinating place to glimpse Cambodia’s rich and complex history in the form of beauty that was left behind for the generations to come.
No, not the highly addictive escape game on cell phones. Rather we’re talking about Wat Phnom, which roughly translated means ‘Hill Temple’. The most impressive temple in the city has a fascinating story behind it, with the legend going that a widow named Lady Penh saved a tree from the nearby river and wanted to build a house form its wood. Inside the tree trunk, however, she found four statues of Buddha and therefore ordered a shrine to be built and the statues to be revered by future generations.
Setting aside the obvious GTO questions any poker player might have for Lady Penh, namely why she didn’t instead order her servants to track down the location of these mysterious buddha-filled trees instead, the wealthy lady’s wish has led to a place of humility and peace being in place since 1373, when the site was confirmed as a holy place.
Quite what Lady Penh would have made of the temple’s gardens being used as a site for rock concerts, street festivals and the yearly centerpiece for the New Year celebrations in Cambodia is debatable, but you’ve got to see this stunning location of beauty before getting back to the poker tables and putting yourself in the ‘Prime’ position to leave Cambodia with a trophy of your own.