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Phnom Penh is the cultural and commercial centre as well as political capital of Cambodia; it stretches north to south on the west side of the confluence of the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers. Its sweeping French-designed boulevards ad elegant villas are today being lovingly restored and new construction projects abound.

All roads lead to Phnom Penh. It is the transportation centre of Cambodia, with four highways radiating out to the provinces. It is also the terminus of the country’s two railroads-one extending west to the Thai border and another south to the deep water port of Kompong Som on the Gulf of Thailand.

The city offers a fascinating cocktail of flavours, from Quiet Street lined with colonial architecture to vibrant markets crammed with motos, cyclos and cars. Phnom Penh also has an excellent variety of nightlife, from small bistro-style bars to huge glitzy nightclubs and, for a few months each year, a casino ship.

Phnom Phen has many markets, but the huge yellow-domed Central Market (Psah Thmei) located near Wat Phnom, and the smaller Russian Market (Psah Tuol Tom Pong) are the most popular among visitors because of their collections of silks, gems, silvercrafts and antiques. You can find almost anything you want at the Central Market; food products (meat, vegetables), shoes, clothes, gold, silver, cloth, etc. the silverware is particularly impressive as are Cambodia’s famous rubies and sapphires. Most of the sellers speak a little English, but a hand-held calculator can speak any language.

A prime sight is the Royal Palace with its silver pagoda rising from triple roofs with classic curled eaves. Although most of the palace is the king’s residence and closed to the general public, the pagoda is open for visitors. Its floors are covered with 5,000 silver tiles. It has a 200lb gold Buddha, an emerald Buddha and other treasures. Classical Cambodian dance is sometimes performed at Chan Chaya Pavilion in the grounds.

The National Museum houses the world’s foremost collection of ancient Khmer archaeological, religious and artistic artifacts from the 4th to the 13th centuries. Interestingly, the roof space is home to the largest bat colony in the world living in an artificial structure. Every evening these bats flock out of the roof and swarm around in the sky before searching for food.