We hit up the Royal Palace this past week. It’s only open during certain time, but fortunately it isn’t far from where we live. Royalty in Cambodia is similar to royalty in the UK: just there for show. The King really doesn’t have much influence or power beyond ceremonial powers, with no real legal authority. The current King, Sihatmony, is the same King who sat on the throne during the Vietnam War and Khmer Rouge period (quick history lesson: he wasn’t in Cambodia during the take over, he had been overthrown while out of the country and went to China rather than returning home).
If you find yourself in Phnom Penh, the Royal Palace is a nice place to visit. The buildings are quite ornate and the grounds are well-kept; it was hard to believe we were still in a developing nation, the juxtaposition of wealth and poverty was shocking. Our Cambodian tour guide even commented on the inequality stating, “While people outside are so poor, the Palace looks like this.” Within the Palace there are a number of statues, murals, and other relics of Cambodia – many of which show the scars of the tragic Khmer Rouge past.
Afterward, we went to Wat Phnom. Wat (temple) Phnom (mountain) was founded by a woman known as Lady Penh. you’ve probably guessed by now that the capital city is named after this woman and this mountain (Cambodia is pretty flat, so this mountain is more of a hill, but it works here). The area surrounding the foot of the mountain has been turned into a park and is pretty nice. Like most parks it has trees, walking paths and monkeys. Yes, real monkeys just chillin’ and doin’ their thing. There are also some guys with an elephant that will give you a short ride. Why we don’t have parks like this in the U.S. is still a mystery to me – probably something about safety or animal rights I’m sure. We didn’t get too close to the monkeys because we didn’t know if they would go crazy on us or not. We went to the top via a walking path and some stairs (Martina got a nice little piggy back courtesy of this little piggy). Atop the mountain we looked around the actual Wat and took in the view of the surrounding area.
How did we wrap up a day of royalty and mountain monkeys? On a boat for a sunset cruise of course! this may have been the highlight of the day. The river was much cooler than on land, there was music and karaoke, and tons of food – our country coordinator, Eng, really out did himself on this event. It was awesome! Eng also brought some students who are learning English as a special treat to them. All of the students receive an education through an organization Eng works for, which provides schooling to low-income communities (we’re talking below the bottom of the financial rung, even by Cambodian standards). Martina and I will actually start volunteering as English instructors in one of the schools sometime soon. It was wonderful to have the students with us and talk to them about their learning and their goals. As great as all the sightseeing is and the fun we have, it’s the people of Cambodia that make this place special.