Phnom Penh is situated at the meeting of the waters of the Mekong River, an ideal location for the busy capital of Cambodia. The rich cultural influences of Hinduism, Buddhism and the west are on full display throughout the city, a rapidly growing centre showing its rising economic prosperity. Already we can feel the differences from Vietnam, the hustle and bustle of city streets still finding plenty of room for the unique Cambodian character.
Our first stop at the Royal Palace followed a thrilling cyclo ride through the city streets. The palace was a visual feast, ornate nāga-protected buildings of yellow and gold pagodas, and the famous Silver Pagoda. The National Museum was our first taste of ancient Angkorian culture which we would see increasing influences from over the rest of our journey.
After lunch we embarked on a necessary journey into Cambodia’s recent history, a sobering remainder of the appalling impact that despotic regimes can have upon a people and its culture lasting for generations. The genocide museum at S21 and an optional trip to one of the infamous “killing fields” made for a powerful combination, and we sat in quiet reflection on our way back to the ship in the late afternoon.
We cast off from the dock as the city cast off the evening shadows, allowing us to take in the lights of the surrounding buildings from the river, a striking backdrop to our evening barbeque on the back deck. We spent the rest of the evening enthralled by an astounding Apsara dance, mesmerised by their eloquence and grace, and the skill of the musicians accompanying them.