Trip Start Aug 14, 2011
83Trip End Mar 17, 2012
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Where I stayed
We arrived into town and were dropped in a side street on a gravelled area which was allegedly the bus station! Straight away, as usual we were under attack from numerous tuk tuk drivers wanting to take us to our hostel which was about 10 minutes away
We arrived to find that Rory’s guest house was not just a pub but was also a tattoo parlour! The pub was fairly busy and people appeared to have been drinking for a while! The owner was sat at the bar and as we went in he asked whether I had got his email about the problem with our booking…great! Apparently the room we had booked wasn’t really available…some sort of website error. Instead we could take the only available room which was more expensive but apparently an amazing room. He also offered us a slight discount on the second night (in the room we had originally booked) and to close the deal he threw in a couple of free beers!
We were about to head up to check out the "amazing room" described as the “honeymoon suite” when our free beers arrived and another couple in the bar started talking to us. Someone took our bags up to the room and we ended up staying downstairs for a few drinks. Not long after being there we were all given a shot glass and told that one of the guys at the bar was paying. I hate shots and at this point the only food we’d had since breakfast was a bit of fruit. It turned out that we weren’t required to have a shot; the glass was just something that we could cash in for any drink
The room was nice and big and did have a balcony so was fairly nice, but not quite as amazing as it had been described. It did have an amazingly comfy bed though! The second night we moved into our original standard room which was quite nasty! The room didn’t have an external window, only one leading into the internal hallway so there was no air in the room and it smelled damp and musty. I think there was something wrong with the drainage in the en-suite as it smelled even worse in there and you had to hold your breath to go in! Stef was lucky as he had a cold at the time so couldn’t smell it as much as I could. We complained and were told that the smell was cleaning products…I didn’t know they made a blocked drain fragrance!!
There is quite a lot to see in Phnom Penh city itself but one of the main reasons people visit is to go to the nearby killing fields. In case anyone doesn’t know the history, very briefly - for approximately 3 years in 1970’s Cambodia came under the control of the Khmer Rouge and action was taken to create what is described as a year zero. The leaders wanted to effectively start over with the country and brought an end to the old currency, stopped the postal service and ordered the evacuation of the cities into rural areas where people were then forced to live like slaves, working in farms for long hours with very limited food. Many died due to malnutrition or disease and anyone who disobeyed orders was executed. Many people were taken to prisons constructed across the country where they were often tortured and then almost all were killed. Millions of people were killed during the ruling of the Khmer Rouge and many of those killings took place as mass executions in the countryside
The history of Cambodia is shocking, particularly considering how recently the events occurred and (from what I can work out), how little the rest of the world did to intervene and stop the killings. I do agree with all of the views which say that it is important to understand the history so as to realise how far the country has come and also because so many people that we are likely to meet, will have to some degree been affected by the killings. However, I wasn’t convinced that I actually needed to go to the fields to hear horrendous stories about how people died in order to have this understanding / appreciation. Stef definitely did not want to go to the fields and therefore we decided not to go. For the same reasons we chose not to visit the museum which is contained in the old jail in Phnom Penh. Although I would have liked to read more about what happened to try to understand the reasons for it, I did not want to see the graphic images of the prisoners that are said to be one of the main things there.
I bought a book here called “daughter of the killing fields” which is a memoir of someone who lived through the period as a young girl and who lost a number of family members in the killings. I feel that I have gained a reasonable understanding of what happened (not that such horrendous acts can ever really be understood) and do not feel that I needed to actually visit the jail or fields
Instead of the killing fields and jail, we spent our time exploring the city itself. On our first day we followed a suggested city walk and saw most of the main sites although we didn’t actually go inside anywhere. The city is fairly big with some crazy traffic so not the most relaxing place to wander round. We saw monuments and temples and also popped into the 5 star Royal Hotel to see how the rich spend their holidays! The second day it was throwing it down with rain, but we braved it and went to see the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda anyway. For some reason the palace was closed so we were limited to the pagoda…obviously there was no discount on the ticket price to reflect the fact that most of the attraction was closed!
The pagoda and the grounds around it were quite similar to the grand palace in Bangkok which we had seen years ago. As well as the main pagoda there were a number of smaller ones, some other buildings and several fountains in the grounds. It was a nice place to wander round and would’ve been somewhere relaxing to sit outside if it had not been so wet
Whilst in Phnom Penh we also spent time exploring some of the local markets. We had read that you could buy genuine designer clothing at one of the markets so went in search of some bargains. What we found though was a lot of cheap bad fakes or some expensive stuff which may or may not have been real. We therefore stuck to browsing rather than buying.
We left Phnom Penh at lunch time on the second day by bus down to Sihanoukville. Based on what people had said we weren’t expecting to be very impressed with the coastal town, but we hoped to head out to one of the islands and hopefully do some diving.