Chaos in the Streets

Trip Start Oct 16, 2007
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Trip End May 09, 2008


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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Wednesday, November 21, 2007

More pics here

We were relieved upon our arrival to Phnom Penh airport that our luggage wasn't lost, as we had 4 connecting flights - from Cape Town -> Joburg -> Doha -> Bangkok -> Phnom Penh. Whew!  The ATM at the airport spit out only US dollars, and we slowly began to realize over the next few days that this whole country mainly runs on US dollars.  Only items that cost less that 1$ seem to be paid with the Cambodian Riel (about 4000 Riel to $1).

As we walked about the city streets, we also realized that not many Cambodians actually walk.  We were one of the few walking about.  The most common way of getting around town is on mopeds, or tuk-tuks (open style carriage pulled by moped).  Mopeds were used in every conceivable way.  You would see street vendors cooking and selling food out of a cooking station pulled by his/her moped.  We'd see goods such as bags of rice or hay, furniture, clay pot BBQs, propane tanks, rolls of carpets, etc on the seat behind the driver.  Also, lanes were only a suggestion.  I thought Lima was bad, but these people here pull head on into incoming traffic.  The guy at our hotel said that for Cambodians "Red lights are merely a suggestion" and some people don't necessarily stop at red lights if they "just don't like that particular shade of red".  And so it wasn't a surprise when he also said that traffic fatalities are quite high in Phnom Penh.

Poverty seems to be everywhere. Unlike South Africa where there were distinct neighborhoods where the rich and poor lived, here it seemed that people were all mixed together. You'd see a nice hotel, and down the street people are sleeping and cooking (sometimes washing) in the street. The poor seemed just as poor in S.A. (or maybe even poorer),  but the rich didn't seem as rich as a whole compared to S.A.   Somehow we still felt a lot safer than in S.A. walking around, not sure exactly why. Unfortunately with everything going on in the streets, and no sign of trash cans anywhere, there's tons of garbage everywhere. :(

Our trip to the Tuol Sleng (Genocide Museum) and the Killing Fields was a gut wrenching experience.  We heard and read about it before our visit but nothing can really prepare you for it. You can read about it here.
We thought that the prison cells on Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned) were  bad, but these cells made the Robben Island cells look like nice studio apartment units.  In the Killing Fields, seeing all the skulls in the shrine for victims, the gravesites, and even the actual trees where children were beaten & tortured were bone chilling.

We didn't want to end this entry on a depressing note, so we'll finish off by talking about one of Shari's favorite things - food of course!  Cambodian food seems a little similar to Thai.  You can get lots of Thai food here.  Finding Western food here also is easy, though we thought spaghetti sauce done Cambodian style is a little too sweet!  Couple of the traditional Khmer dishes we had were Fish Amok (steamed fish curry in banana leaf) and Lok Lak (some type of BBQ meat).  Street vendors also sold a variety of food, though we were too chicken and stuck to eating at restaurants for fear of getting sick.  The Central Market sold everything:   The usual fruits and vegetables, various types of meats hanging from hooks, live fish flopping around getting their heads chopped off,   and fried crickets and tarantulas.  The weirdest thing we saw for sale was skinned, headless frogs.  You could see inside their body cavity, ewwwwl!  But the grosser thing was that their bodies were still making croaking movements even without their heads!
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