National Geographic : 1952 Sep
312 George W. Long. National Geographic Staff Photographer Roberts Aims His Camera at Cambodia's Royal Dancers King Norodom Sihanouk, entertaining the National Geographic men in Phnom Penh, escorted them to the royal dance pavilion. There his court dancers told ancient legends with tradition's rhythms and gestures. Next morning picture taking was allowed. Page 305 shows the results. There we lived in the French Commissariat, a riverside palace guarded by tattooed Sene galese troops. Near by loomed the temple crowned phnom, or hill, that gives the city its name. Although it has a population of 350,000, Phnom Penh takes life easy. Its tempo is unhurried; hustle and bustle are delightfully lacking. Thousands of yellow-robed, bare foot Buddhist priests stroll its streets; and creaking oxcarts, their design unchanged for centuries, set the pace for traffic. Located where the Tonle Sap River meets the Mekong, Phnom Penh carries on a thriving river trade. Ships up to 6,000 tons berth at its quay, haul farm products, livestock, and dried fruits to Saigon. Like most Indochina cities, Cambodia's capital is three in one: European, Chinese, and native. Tall coconut palms and leafy banana trees impart a lush tropical look to suburbs and countryside. There the Cambodians live in frond-thatched bamboo cottages on stilts. In such cottages Cambodia's ancient skill in mak ing intricate silver jewelry is preserved. The short plane flight from Saigon to Phnom Penh projects visitors into a different world. Unlike Viet Nam, which took China as its teacher, Cambodia and Laos received much of their art, religion, and language from In dia. Both countries resemble Thailand more than they do their Indochinese neighbor. Most obvious similarities are the ancient court dances, the curving roofs and decorative snake cornices of public buildings, and the slender cone-shaped spires of temples. Nor has Cambodian writing been changed to Roman letters like Viet Nam's; it uses graceful, rounded lines of Sanskrit. We Dine with the Cambodian King With American Charge d'Affaires Don V. Catlett, we attended a dinner party given in the royal palace by His Majesty Norodom Sihanouk for Norris E. Dodd, Director General of UN's Food and Agriculture Organization. After dinner the young King, walking under a golden umbrella and flanked by attendants carrying tapers, led the way to the royal dance pavilion. There in glittering pageantry, to the strains of exotic music, the court troupe told ancient folk tales and legends from the classical Ramayana with the graceful gestures and slow, stately rhythms of the Cambodian dance.