Khmer Treasures in a City Rediscovering Itself
Once considered the loveliest of the French-built cities of Indochina, Phnom Penh has managed to preserve much of its charm through the violence of Cambodia’s recent history; let’s hope the same can be said after the current invasion of foreign investors and joint ventures.
The best way to savor this fascinating city as it rediscovers itself is to stroll its wide, bicycle- and pedicab-jammed avenues, which are lined with colonial architecture in various stages of repair, and stop in at one of the sidewalk restaurants that are springing up around town.
In the midst of it all, the sprawling Royal Palace is off-bounds to visitors except for a magnificent consolation prize, the Silver Pagoda compound. This is one of the country’s rare showcases for the brilliance and exuberance of Khmer art and civilization.
Pol Pot destroyed most of it, but he overlooked masterpieces like the life-size gold Buddha, weighing close to 200 pounds and adorned with over 9,500 diamonds, the largest approaching 25 carats. One can only wonder what the Royal Palace is holding back.