Took a grand old six hour bus trip from Saigon to Phnom Penh with the Sinh Café; lots of empty seats AND no blaring local karaoke on the TV screen = a lovely 3 hour sleep! Border control was pretty quick; hand the passports to the bus attendant and they sort it all out for you (for a tidy $5 profit per person-which is fine as you can either pay them or pay the Cambodian border police a ‘processing fee’). Took our first tuk-tuk (for half the original asking price. Pups.) in our quest to find accommodation. Phnom Penh was probably the easiest place to find accommodation yet. Lovely room with air-conditioning and really friendly staff in the Amber House for $12 a night. Fine view of a wall we had too.
We spent three days wandering around Phnom Penh which consists of really wide French-style boulevards, an opulent Royal Palace with a Silver Pagoda, a few temples and markets and some of the friendliest people you could possibly meet. Oh and lots of monks in orange robes. Not sure how I should behave around them (being female) so I usually just kind of walk diagonally away from them and avoid eye contact. Stupid guide books freaking me out. We had a lot of meals in this café called Java near the Independence Monument, amazing. Also visited this lovely café called Friends, which helps take kids off the street and trains them into the restaurant business. Pretty cool. Oh and it had the best toilets yet!
We decided to rent some bicycles on our final day in Phnom Penh and visit the Toul Sleung Genocide Museum, a former high school which was turned in to a Security Prison (S21) during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror on the Cambodian people. It’s a really eerie place to visit; you can easily recognize it as a school – clearly defined classrooms, play areas and climbing/exercise ropes. The Khmer Rouge built walls and cells inside the main buildings to torture and imprison victims – which included educated people/anybody that spoke out against them/children/westerners. The museum has been left exactly as it was left by the Khmer Rouge and has hundreds of photos of all the people that were imprisoned and tortured here. After they were tortured, victims were taken approximately 15km out of the city to Choeung Ek/The Killing Fields, killed and buried in mass graves. We cycled out here after the S21 museum. It’s not a nice place to visit at all but you really have to visit. Pol Pot (leader of the Khmer Rouge) is now dead but it’s a welcome sign to see that some other leaders are currently being tried for their roles in the atrocities. Thousands of bodies have already been exhumed from Choeung Ek but many mass graves remain untouched. Many items of victim’s clothing can still be seen all around the place – they come up through the ground in the heavy rains. It’s really awful and I’m not even going in to detail here. Choeung Ek also includes a tall glass case/monument which has thousands of skulls and bones from victims displayed.
On a happier note: As we were leaving Choeung Ek there were some kids along the side of the road, shouting hello and waving like crazy so I stuck out my arm (still on the bicycle) and roared “High Five” (universal language) and the kid weaved towards me and let’s just say there was one almighty wallop…maybe I shouldn’t have done that pedaling c.20km/hr. He was fairly shaking his arm when I looked back!!
Random piece of information: the bank machines dispense only US dollars and you’ll need a lot of these in Cambodia. It ain’t that cheap. They also use their own currency, the riel, so you can pay half and half if you want.
Other random pieces of information: There are Lexus cars everywhere and there’s a serious divide between rich and poor here. We saw a sign on a gym which said ‘No bodyguards. No weapons’. Obviously I couldn’t attend my regular gym session then. Shame.
Snippets (snap-pets?!) from the Palace: