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Published: August 30th 2011
Arriving in Phnom Penh was one of the easier arrivals we've had. Getting our e-visas in advance made immigration a breeze as nearly everyone else on the flight were queuing up for visas on arrival. However, it didn't get our bags to the carousel any faster...
The French have definitely left their mark here. Phnom Penh is actually a really pleasant city to wander around. The colonial style architecture is a nice change and it was refreshing walking up and down the huge promenade along the river where there was actually some personal space for walking (rare in Asia). Although, the traffic in the streets is crazy as ever with motos and tuk-tuks zipping by. Our other favourite French influences were plentiful - baguettes, pastries, and great coffee.
We spent our first day doing what most people do in Phnom Penh, and visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was a dark time in recent history for sure and brought back memories of our visit to a similar site in Rwanda. It's so hard to comprehend the evil that mankind is capable of, and also why it still continues to happen in
the World despite the "never again" promises made by each generation.
Our next day was much lighter-hearted and consisted of wandering the central market and even doing some rare souvenir shopping - a couple of new t-shirts each! It's about time, we've only been living in the same sets of clothes for the past 13 months...
From Phnom Penh we took a bus to Battambang, famous for its Bamboo train. On arrival a young eager tout with a big smile offered free transport to our hotel while he tried to sell us on his motorbike tours - it worked and we agreed to a half-day tour of the country side and a few sights. The next morning it was pouring rain and we nearly postponed the moto trip, but in the end we decided to put on our rain gear, take the waterproof camera and go with it. We had a blast! We were initially quite sceptical of the bamboo train as it sounded a lot like one of those Lonely Planet traps, but were eventually talked into it by our moto drivers. Apparently the train service is being upgraded and the bamboo train will no longer exist
in a month when the rainy season is over. We're so glad we went; it was surprisingly a lot of fun and went much faster than we expected. Kind of like a flat roller-coaster ride through the rice fields. The best part of the day was really just riding on the back of the motorbikes splashing through flooded roads and cutting through villages.
One thing that's blown us away is how interchangably they use US dollars and their local currency (riels). The exchange rate is fixed at 4000 riels to $1 no matter where you change money and is the same for buying and selling. If you pay $1 for something priced at $0.50, you get 2000 riels change. So simple!
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