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Since the ousting of the Pol Pot regime, many aspects of Khmer cultural life have revived. The famed National Ballet has been re-established by the surviving dancers and performs classical dances for visiting groups. Buddhist temples, such as Preah Vihear, close to the border with Thailand in the Dongrek mountains, have re-opened and are the sites of various celebrations, especially during the Cambodian New Year.

River cruises, some also now offering dolphin watching, operate on the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers near the capital. The famous and magnificent temples at Angkor, in the country’s northwest, are hard and dangerous to reach by road, but may be reached by regular flights from Phnom Penh, Ho Chi Minh City, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. This ancient and astounding temple complex is what remains of the capital of the once mighty Khmer civilisation. Angkor Wat itself, built AD 879-1191 to honour the Hindu god Vishnu, is often hailed as one of the most extraordinary architectural creations ever built, with its intricate bas reliefs, strange acoustics and magnificent soaring towers. Oudong, 30km (19 miles) from Phnom Penh, is located on a hill overlooking vast plains and is famous for the burial chedis of the Khmer kings. Tonle Bati, 42km (26 miles) from Phnom Penh, is located near a lake close to the ancient temple of Ta Phrom. The Preah Vihear temple, in the Preah Vihear province and on the border with Thailand, is now open to members of the public. The temple is a fine example of Khmer architecture from the 12th century. For more information, contact the Cambodian Ministry of Tourism. Sihanoukville is a popular beach resort town and may be reached by bus or air from Phnom Penh.

Phnom Penh

Many of Phnom Penh’s major sights of interest are close to the river, making a pleasant walking tour with plenty of places to stop for refreshment. Phnom Penh’s attractions are not as glamorous as the temples of Angkor at Siem Reap, but visitors will enjoy the sumptuous Royal Palace and the neighbouring Silver Pagoda, which both survived the excesses of the Khmer Rouge. The National Museum is worth a visit to help gain an understanding of the subtle changes of style between the pre- and post-Angkorian works of art, in preparation for a visit to Siem Reap. Wat Ounalom, the headquarters of the Khmer Buddhist faith, suffered badly at the hands of the Khmer Rouge, with much of its library being thrown into the river and statues destroyed. However, much has been done to restore it. Wat Phnom, located on the only hill in Phnom Penh, is a great people-watching place as many residents come here to pray. Tuol Sleng Museum is a moving place to visit: this former school, whose classrooms rung with the sound of young voices, became a prison in the Khmer Rouge years and is now a testimony to the brutality of that time. Note that most places of interest are open every day.

Places of Interest

Royal Palace
A stunning complex of buildings, built in traditional Khmer style, including a Throne Hall and the intriguing, very French house built with iron, which was donated by Napoleon III to King Norodom in 1876.

Silver Pagoda
A delightful pagoda next to the Royal Palace, so called because over 5,000 silver tiles cover its floor, which also houses priceless Buddhas (including the Emerald Buddha and a life-sized gold Buddha covered in thousands of precious gems).

Wat Phnom
Located on the top of a small hill reached by a flight of steps with nagas (mythical serpents) on either side, this temple marks the spot of the foundation of Phnom Penh and is the most important in the city where residents come to pray for good luck.

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