As you travel the Mekong River through the Mekong Delta region, put the turbulent histories of Vietnam and Cambodia in perspective with visits to the must-see memorials and museums of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s charming, chaotic capital, and diverse, cosmopolitan Saigon (also known as Ho Chi Minh City), in Vietnam.
At the confluence of the Mekong and the Tonlé Sap Rivers in Phnom Penh is the Royal Palace, built in 1866 to mark the movement of the nation’s capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh. A number of buildings have been built and demolished over the years since the Palace was first built; the collection currently encompasses the Throne Hall, the Moonlight Pavilion, the Silver Pagoda, the Khemarin Palace, and a number of auxiliary buildings and well-tended tropical gardens.The National Museum, full of exquisite Khmer design and sculpture, is housed in a terra cotta structure, high off the ground, with a large central courtyard that’s full of beautifully landscaped tropical foliage.
Difficult to visit but essential for understanding Cambodia’s brutal recent history, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, stand as monuments to the determination of Cambodians to overcome this terrible period and to never let the genocide at the hands of the Khmer Rouge be forgotten or repeated.
In Saigon, the War Remnants Museum, housed in the former United States Information Agency building, tells the story of the Vietnam War through photographs and recovered military equipment, with a focus on the United States’ involvement, the fallout from the use of chemical defoliants and napalm bombs and the My Lai massacre. The Reunification Palace, once the Presidential Palace of South Vietnam, was designed by renowned Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu. Communist tanks breached the gates of the palace in April 30, 1975, and it has been left largely intact as a monument to the end of the war and the fall of Saigon.
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