Published: June 4th 2011June 4th 2011
To be fair to Phnom Penh, it really did have a tough act to follow after my ecstatic time in Siem Reap. However, I can't help but feel that the capital of Cambodia has lost the exotic feel that the Lonely Planet guide talks about.
After the emotionally draining day of visiting the killing fields and the site of the S-21 prison, I decided to do what I was hoping would be an upbeat tourist thing today and head to the Tamao Wildlife Sanctuary which is a good hour to hour and a half drive from Phnom Penh.
There are no buses that go here and the hotel I'm staying at isn't really that helpful with tourist stuff, so I booked a taxi through the tuk-tuk driver from yesterday for the trip. The Lonely Planet guide says you can get a moto ride out here but after the conditions of the road I saw on the bus into Phnom Penh I decided taxi, which cost me USD$45 return, was a better option.
I'm glad I did the taxi, even though it is expensive. The road at first isn't too bad and is the same road you go on to get to the killing fields, but about two thirds of the way to Tamao you hit a very rough patch which is being worked on. A little further down you turn onto a dirt road that takes you up to the 'wildlife sanctuary' which is lined by elderly beggars, mostly women, which is a hard sight to drive past. There were around 30 of them when I drove past and you see them on the way in and out of Tamao.
The 'Wildlife Sanctuary' is really more of a zoo. It's built on a fairly sprawling area of the mountain but the animals are kept mostly in rather small cages. Many of the cages were empty when I visited, giving it a half full feel. For some reason they also have seperated the gibbons into pairs in a number of dfferent cages. There was one who was tame enough to put his legs through the cage and let you shake his paw.
The sun bear was what I really wanted to see and I was a little saddened by the first one I saw. It kept padding around the same little area backwards and forward and looked a bit distressed. Another in the same enclosure didn't seem to be much happier. There was one across the other side of the road that loops through the zoo in a bigger, greener enclosure that seemed a little happier and sat up when I went to take a photo of it.
All the photos of the day have the rusted metal fences across the front of them. I know I can photoshop them out but I may just leave them in to remind me of the conditions these animals are kept in.
I know Cambodia is a poor country and has had a very hard time in both recent and distant history, and I don't know why I was surprised that a country that appears to be struggling to keep their roads in operating order has a wildlife sanctuary that people in Australia would think as being inhumane in some ways. I know that some private investment went into Tamao so I was kind of hoping that this would be a place where they could rehabilitate animals saved from poachers or the tourist trade. I'm sure that these conditions are a little better than where they were saved from but it did leave me a bit saddened that the animals are in small metal cages with concrete or rock floors a lot of the time and very little stimulation.
The driver wanted to show me Tonle Bati on he way back to Phnom Penh but I decided against it. Especially after seeing the beggars a second time and the memory of the aggitated sun bears, I was not feeling up to walking around another tourist site. Instead I came back to my hotel, ate lunch and will spend the afternoon watching the Australian Rules Football on the television.
Tomorrow I'm organising my bus to Kratie (usually this can be done through the guest house but my hotel for some reason cannot book this bus for me) and probably visit central market for lunch. After Siem Reap, Phnom Penh so far has failed to impress, here's hoping my last couple of days in the Cambodian capital improve.