Taking a walk

Trip Start Sep 05, 2005
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Saturday, December 3, 2005

Decided to head out on foot today to get a better view of the city. It's a relatively small city so easily walked on foot, if you don't mind walking 15km+ a day. We hadn't done much walking for a long time, pretty much since China, so I was out of practice.

Started off by heading to the river to see what at was like by day. Nice and the flags are a nice touch. The amount of locals around also point to the fact it is a nice place to while away the day doing nothing.

By now the weather was taking it's toll. Someone had told us that Phnom Penh was like a furnace and they weren't wrong! I was sweating profusely and it was making the walk quite a chore as I had to keep mopping my brow every 30 seconds, with a Virgin Atlantic air sock!

At night I had failed to notice the shear amount of temples and impressive buildings. They are everywhere and so the camera was out in force! Walked passed the Grand Palace, the residence of King Norodom Sihanouk, no idea if he was in today but he obviously didn't want to invite us in for tea as it was closed until 2pm. It was now 11am, what were we going to do for 3 hours?

We decided to carry on walking and headed in the direction of the Independance Monument. It was a pretty impressive structure in the centre of the main round-a-bout, with pictures of the king all around it. He obviously likes to look at himself a lot! From here we were going to go straight to S-21, the genocide museum, but as usual it was closed until 2pm so heahed off to the market.

Psar Tuol Tom Pong, more commanly known as the Russioan Market, was about 10 minutes walk south of S-21 and we managed to run for our lives from a pack of dogs! Not had my rabies injections and I don't fancy getting bitten, so I don't care how funny I looked to the locasl whilst running in blind terror down the centre of the road! I don't like dogs at the best of times and I swear they've trained them to chase non-khmer looking people as they found it hilarious. I wasn't best pleased and made the fact perfectly clear to them when I was a safe distance away.

I imagined that the market would be similar to the one I visited in Bodrum, Turkey and for the most part it was. Loads of dirt cheap fake clothes and other useless crap. It was nowhere near as crowded or noisy as Bodrum though but seeing as I wasn't buying anything and it was swelteringly hot, I had a quick browse and made for the exit.

Walked back towards S-21, keeping a close eye out for dogs, and made it safely without getting my legs chewed off. I can't say that S-21 was a place that I was looking forward to visiting but it is essential to get any understanding about the Khmer Rouge. During the Khmer Rouge takeover 3 million! Cambodian people were killed by their own people! In a country this small, there are only 13 million people, it is a figure that I can't get my head around. These people weren't poor, they were educated people as the Khmer Rouge wanted to turn the country into a peasant land where people blindly followed orders. People were killed because they spoke a foreign language or wore glasses! Such random barbarity seems baffling to me and I'm amazed at how the Cambodian people have managed to pick themselves up and carry on when they have lost so much of their lives and families.

S-21 was a high school until 1975 when the Khmer Rouge came along and turned it into a prison. A large fence with electrified barbed wire was erected around the perimeter and bars strapped to all the windows to stop people escaping. The classrooms were divided into tiny crude prison cells, 0.8m x 2m, with shackles on the floor that were attached to the prisoners feet. On the third floor were mass cells where rows of prisoners, 20-30, were attached to a metal pole on their feet. One can only imagine what conditions must have been like in these cells.

The cells in building A have been left in pretty much the same state as when the prison was closed. To make it even more shocking, there is a picture of the room with the body as they found it. It was quite sickening to think what had taken place in those rooms.

During the 4 years the prison was in operation nearly 9000 people were tortured and killed in this compound. If they weren't killed here then they were taken to the killing fields for extermination. The people who died at the prison were buried in mass graves. When the prison was shut down the remains of 14 people were left as they had died in building A and they are now buried in white concrete coffins outside in the garden. The fact they interogated and tortured small children was also sickening.

The museum had quite an effect on me and I hardly said a word for about 30 minutes after we had left and began walking towards the palace. Managed to get chased by another dog which really pissed me off. People say that Phnom Penh is a dangerous city. Well I'm not scared of being robbed, although I'm sure it does happen, but terrified of the dogs. I have taken to walking in the middle of the road as it seems to be the safest place, and if you've ever seen asian roads then you know thats saying something!

People are starting to go Christmas crazy round here. Fair enough you see Christmas trees and banners saying "Happy New Year" everywhere in Asia all year round but now trees with full decorations are springing up everywhere. There are even shops opening with the sole purpose of selling Christmas decorations, something I hadn't expected to see in Asia.

Something you may find incredible is that up until a month ago there were no ATM's anywhere in Cambodia! There is now an ANZ Royal bank in Phnom Penh which dishes out dollars so rather than faffing around at the bank again it made sense to use it while there was no queue. My moneys going pretty fast in Cambodia as everythings in dollars and far more expensive than I imagined.

Walking slowly back to the palace, gettnig incredibly annoyed with the constant phrase "motorbike sir?" being uttered every 5 paces. Decided no to even bother going to the palace in the end as it sounded similar to what we have seen all over Asia and the fact you have to pay extra to take in a camera is disgraceful. $2 for a camera, $5 for a videocamera and you can't even take photos in most of the rooms!

Stayed around in the hotel for a while before heading out to dinner at the same place as yesterday. As we were walking to the restaurant a door opened and 5 dogs came charging at me, resulting in me running down the street in terror for the third time in 1 day! By now I was petrifiedof walking down any street and it got to the stage where I considered taking a moto or tuk-tuk the 3 minute walk to the river. I will not be staying in this area again when I return to Phnom Penh in a week or so! I don't care how many mozzies are by the lake, just as long as there are no dogs!

Finished off the night with a few gmaes of pool whilst watching the footie. As a side note it was the first time in ages that it decided not to rain all day. Even though I was using factor 30 suncream I still got stupidly burnt on my face, something I assumed would have been tanned enough after nearly 3 months on the road! God damn Doxycyline!
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