Published: October 26th 2007October 23rd 2007 Brochure Text Day 23-24 Phnom Penh: After years of civil strife and political turmoil Cambodia is open for visitors. After a boat ride from Vietnam we arrive at our hotel close to a variety of cafes and restaurants as well as to the main sights of the city. In the afternoon tour the Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda and the National Museum.
Witness the dark side of Cambodian history with visits to Choeng Ek, the site of the infamous Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng prison, the notorious Khmer Rouge prison where thousands of Cambodians perished. There is time to visit the huge Russian Market packed with souvenirs and all the necessities of daily life. Late afternoon is a great time to visit Wat Phnom where the sanctuary for which the city is named once stood. It is a Buddhist shrine, although a Taoist goddess and numerous monkeys also reside here, and one of the pleasure spots for residents of the city. A drink in one of the many riverside café’s watching the sunset is a fitting finale to the day. Tuesday 23rd
Wake up, it's a beautiful morning... It is, but unfortunately no time to see Chau Doc. Quick
breakfast, then fill in paperwork for Cambodian visas, and change money into US$. Then it's onto the boat - which is not as large as expected, but I end up with the front seat! After about 1/2 hour everything starts to look the same so bury my head into some Irish chick-lit and while away a couple of hours before we get to the Vietnamese border.
At the border, we run the gauntlet of 'you want Pringles/banana' etc to a holding area with access to a Western toilet - yay! In a surprisingly short space of time, we're back on the boat to go a few metres up the river to the Cambodian border checkpoint. Here, those who already had visas go straight through, whilst the rest of us wait for our boat rep who, for $21 (of which $20 is the visa cost... Kym said he must be new as most of them ask for $23, some up to $25!), is sorting it out. Easy enough entry, back on the boat/back to the book. Watch one of the other passengers head out the front of the boat, then when he returns Rich heads out so I go join
him, and we sit there watching riverside life go by, getting feet soaked. Fortunately it's cloudy or it would have been too hot on there.
When Rich goes in, Helen joins me, and we wonder how much longer. About 45 minutes later a promising looking horizon appears and we see Phnom Penh come into view - and the water appears less fresh so let's take them from the water! As we near the docks we see the porters/taxi drivers ready to swarm (we knew that Cambodia is exceptionally poor, so we'll have to get used to it) - so grab our bags before they go where we don't want them to! Onto another bus, and we meet our tour guide, who takes us to the hotel - OK this one, although needing to have the key to use the lift is going to be a pain for room sharers!
Haven't had any lunch so that is going to be somewhat of a priority... Quick unpack, shower, etc and into the lobby to see if anyone else is around. David is and has the same plan as me - food & then Wat Phnom. Having got some Cambodian change
(they use US$ plus 1000 Real is 25c) we start walking, past the central market, and as Wat Phnom comes into view we realise we still haven't found anywhere to eat. Checking out the free map we see Voo Doo Bar is nearby and has 'very friendly hostesses' - hopefully not too friendly. Nearly there and we see the Golden Vine so go in there... It's a bit dark, but the menu's OK. As they switch a light on and the eyes start to adjust I take in the (tasteful) naked pictures on the wall and the pole on the bar... As David tries a red curry and I stick with potato wedges we laugh all the way through!
Food done, we head for Wat Phnom, ignore the touts and head up, running into the promised monkeys halfway up, including a baby one. David wants a picture with one, but it spits like a cat so we give that a miss. No sign of the possible elephant so make our way to the Wat ($1 charge for foreigners), where there's some county fair style music coming from a Buddha outside, and inside appears to be decorated with Buddhas and
Christmas Trees. I was Watted out a long time ago in Bangkok so not overly excited... But up here we run into some of the rest of the group.
David & I had planned to go to the Independence Monument next, so Helen, Danoushka and Vittorio joined us on a walk down the riverfront (several photo stops), down a busy side-street, and up the main avenue. The light was quickly fading and we were wondering if we'd get there before it was too late. As we neared it we could see that it was already lit up and - amazingly, half the road was blocked off so we could take pictures up the avenue. As we got to the roundabout where the monument was in the centre, we looked at the heaving traffic then decided to go for it... Made it! Beautiful lights playing in the fountains so we decided to sit and watch the world go by. After a while, as no one else came in and the locals stopped, clustered round and stared at us, we wondered if we were somewhere we shouldn't be, but there were security guards around and they weren't bothered, so it must
still be the novelty factor!
After about 1/2 hour, talk turned to where to go for dinner. Helen had a recommendation for Café del Mondo on the riverfront, so we agreed to meet there in an hour, with some going to the hotel, and some walking to the restaurant via the laundry. The restaurant was easily found, a few stops up from the notorious Happy Pizza (extra toppings to make you happy possible...), and as we walked in thought this looked like a great choice - very contemporary. Others from the group had heard and joined, so they directed us to the Mezzanine with some very comfy sofas! Menu looked great so ordered up - some of the best chicken satay I've ever tasted! Meal done, negotiated tuk-tuk back to the hotel and crashed! Wednesday 24th
A reasonably early start, abd think today is going to be quite a sobering one. Usual hotel breakfast (mh-mmm) and onto the bus, and our tour guide says that he is first going to take us to the Tuoel Slong (sp?) Prison, where captives were held in the 1970s under Pol Pot, and then to 'the Killing Fields', where many were murdered
Kids waving from the waterside
We must still be pretty unusual...
The prison used to be a school, and looks pretty innocuous, excepting the barbed wire. Our guide is very good - enough detail but not too much and pretty sensitive with it. He explains the 14 graves of the last victims found on the site (the rest were buried in the Killing Fields, as they didn't want deaths in the prison), who'd been held in the interrogation rooms and tortured. Each room contains the bed, and an enlarged black and white photo (I think) of how it was found. The building also contains many documents which evidence the atrocities of Pol Pot (who died before he could be tried), which are fast decaying without adequate preservation.
Already sobered, we are then shown one of the torture methods, using the hoop bars which had been intended for school exercise. Prisoners were hung in difficult ways and their heads immersed in water - I'm not sure whether that was to get them to talk or just because... The prisoners were mostly the upper, political and intellectual classes - those who couldn't be brainwashed? Building 2 contains the photos that were taken of all prisoners as they entered prison
This was a great place to sit!
Here with Rich from Vancouver.
(originally accompanied by a biography), and the numbers are just scary - at the end is a room containing photos from when the Killing Fields were excavated.
Building 3 illustrates how the building was used in prison times. Originally just the ground floor was barbed wire off, but as those on the upper floors heard the screams from the interrogation rooms and knew their turn was coming, many committed suicide first, so all levels were blocked. Cells were roughly constructed, small, and prisoners were expected to remain there - anything could be punishable. Twice a day watery rice porridge was given, and prisoners were expected to use a tin box as a toilet - which may not be emptied for days.
The fourth and final building contains equipment and documentation from the time, including the head-holding for photograph chair, a number of photos/cuttings from liberation, torture equipment, and paintings by one of the survivors. Ghosts of Teoul Sleng by Stefan V. Jansen is exhibited within the building - he took photos where reflections from the photographs of prisoners appear projected as ghosts - all taken using objects in their 'natural' museum placement. The final room contains skulls of
some of the victims, and a map showing how many of this type of institution there were.
Sobered, and having to walk past the beggers who may or may not have been victims of the regime/landmines, we return to the coach for the trip out to Cheoug Ek Genocide Museum (sp?) more commonly known as 'The Killing Fields'. First sight is a pagoda, which on closer inspection contains a huge number of skulls. We walk past a number of boards laying out the areas of the site, and some information relating to it. The site was excavated not so long after many were buried and we wondered how they could have decomposed so quickly when there was such large numbers, but part was the heat, but DDT was thrown on the bodies in an attempt to hide the evidence ('no one knew' about the fields, and even the guards were sometimes killed so that evidence would never be fully collected). We then walk through the fields, where a large number of pits have been excavated, although not all were done. We are potentially walking on bones/clothing of the victims as this has never been all cleared. I'm a little
sceptical on the clothing but Kym assures us it is genuine. There's some nasty information about methods of death to take on board before we file back out past the pagoda.
We head back into Phnom Penh, some stop at the Russian Market (especially for cheap textiles), but am not in that zone. Head back into town with Kym and some of the others and head for a restaurant which supports re-education of children (many can't afford to go to school and are sent to beg or sell books, bracelets, postcards, etc to tourists - and it's unclear whether buying from them is helping/hindering their opportunities). Decide to eat local, have a strawberry ice cream shake (aside from the brain freeze, so delicious others order it), along with Beef Lok-Lak (inc fried egg!) and a salad. The beef arrives first and I'm pretty full, but it's too late to cancel the salad, and I feel the need for some greens so I eat those too!
Great meal done, I follow Kym down the street as she shows me the way to the National Museum/Royal Palace. On the way we pass the scariest looking plastic dress model I have
ever seen - looks like a maniac joker from 'Batman'.. Will try and get a photo of one! National Museum - not over-excited by this - supposed to be better if visit post Angkor, but is not an option. I enjoy sitting in the garden, use my $1 photo pass (garden only!), unhassled/chilled, watching the world go by as I wait for the Palace to open.
On the way to the Palace this guys comes quickly up behind and asks a load of questions about where I'm from, etc. Feels like similar line questioning to the gem tuk-tuk driver so am on full alert. Sounds Australian, looks like been sleeping rough! He wants help because a tuk-tuk has driven off with his bag... I don't see how I can help, and say that the security guard round the corner might be able to. To be fair, he never asked for money and he ran straight round, but I saw him come back round shortly after. I feel bad if he was genuine 'cos I'd probably have asked just anyone too - but think it's an Embassy job...
Walk into the Royal Palace behind a girl wearing short-shorts and
a vest top (we've been told to cover our shoulders/knees in Cambodia) - all the Cambodian men stop/stare. She tries to get into the Palace but is turned away for being dressed inappropriately. She rants that she's not able to hire anything, but really - there's 2 choices - buy something or go back to your hotel to fetch more suitable clothes. The couple behind also run into trouble as she tries to say that her shorts are 'nearly long enough' - still above the knees though! They rant about it to each other whilst I pay and enter!
Unsurprisingly find some of our group in the Palace grounds - wander past a number of buildings, inside some, and come through a courtyard which is supposed to contain the Silver Pagoda - with an area of floor tiles made of silver. We look at many surrounding areas, then enter, but think we have the wrong building - but yes, there are silver tiles in one area but it's not obvious and surely that's sellotape holding them together! Back outside, more photo opportunities, and find the mini-version of Angkor Wat (don't realise until after that it's a model of as
it was, not its current decayed state). Back out, not excited by souvenier shops in Asia, so back onto the front.
Walk along, ignoring 'tuk-tuk lady', 'you buy postcard, only $1', etc and head into the internet café where I try and catch up with a few pictures and a few future plans. Things are working fast so I stay a bit longer than planned, and join the others in the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) for 630 - still half-hour of happy hour to go, so I try a cocktail, try another, like the first so get another of those.. All accompanied by a big bottle of water and a piece of apple and raspberry crumble (I'd call it American-style pie myself!) as still full from lunch! Feeling tired, get a tuk-tuk with Helen and Danoushka back to the hotel... We are slightly alarmed that it sounds like it's going to cut out and Danoushka is still wary as the kids tried to take her washing out of her hands on the way into the FCC. Make it safely, pack ready for more travelling (could stay here longer!), and crash!
There are more photos below