10 days in Phnom Penh
Trip Start Sep 05, 2011
20Trip End Nov 23, 2011
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I hope that this blog finds you all well. We've just come to the end of our time in Cambodia, the last ten days of which have been in the capital city Phnom Penh.
We arrived here slightly apprehensive as neither of us quite knew what to expect and we had heard some less than favourable reviews of the place! But after the isolation of the Island we were at least looking forward to internet access and some mod cons (air con! haha).
Phnom Penh is not somewhere you would go for a relaxing holiday. It's noisy, chaotic, and very busy. However, there is always something new to see whether that's a fitness class on the river front, a physically handicapped guy (probably a land mine victim) making bracelets to sell or a family of 5 (including at least one baby) whizzing along on a two person scooter
The city has a fascinating history, having only been repopulated in the 1980's following the mass exodus under the Khmer Rouge, it is astonishing that the city has recovered so well. The Royal Palace and National museum are two of the major points of interest. We were a little disappointed by the Royal Palace as much of it was closed to the public but the museum was far more interesting. It was largely filled with Angkorian era artefacts taken from the archaeological site in Siem Reap which gave a bit of life to the temples that we had seen there.
One thing we have learnt is that Cambodians love to shop! The central market in Phnom Penh is a huge enclosed mass of stalls selling pretty much everything. Even Anna and I managed to spend a good four hours there stocking up on xmas presents that we now have to find room for in our bags!
The Tuol Sleng genocide museum (S-21) and the Choeung Ek Killing fields were difficult but important visits for anyone visiting Cambodia. For the sake of historical context we went to the S-21 prison first. This was originally a high school that the Khmer Rouge seized in their occupation of Phnom Penh and used as a prison where the security officers would interrogate and torture innocent civilians
The Khmer Rouge kept extensive records of all the prisoners including a photo of each and every one when they first entered the prison. Hundreds of black and white photographs of the faces of the prisoners were displayed throughout the museum. These pictures were truly disturbing, especially the ones of young children and mothers holding their babies.
Of the estimated 20,000 people sent to S-21 only 7 survived.
After this we travelled to the killing fields, Choeung Ek. This is one of 300 such sites across Cambodia where in four years the regime killed 3 million Cambodian people (the population was 8 million). This was a far more peaceful place that felt as though it was somewhere to remember the people rather than what they had been through. That is not to say that there were not some horrific reminders of what took place here but it certainly didn't have the same oppressive atmosphere of the prison. It was an incredibly harrowing day for both of us but we felt it was important that we went.
Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre
On a lighter note, we spent our penultimate day in PP at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue centre just outside the city
Most importantly, we did feel as though the centre cared about the animals, and were working incredibly hard to not only look after the ones that ended up there, but also to raise awareness about the issues surrounding poaching and illegal pet trades. Obviously with all the other problems the country has, it's quite remarkable it is there at all.
The highlights for us were seeing the rescued bears playing in their enclosure (they had amazing bear sized hammocks which they kept pushing each other out of), getting to go 'backstage' to the tiger enclosure where we were one or two feet away from five or six ENORMOUS tigers, and meeting Lucky the elephant
Our Last Day
We've had a quiet last day, writing this, packing our bags and having a delicious pizza for lunch at 'divine pizza and ribs'! Our bus leaves tomorrow at 7am for Ho Chi Minh city, where we should get picked up at the bus station by our guesthouse. We have strict instructions not to get in a taxi if for any reason our ride doesn't show up, apparently we 'may get into troubles!'. Lets hope they show up!
We'll write again soon with tales from Vietnam.
Miss you all,
Lots of Love
Anna & Sam