The barricaded capital…

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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
September 16th 2013
Published: April 9th 2014
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We weren’t exactly too excited to be getting back to Phnom Penh as it didn’t really make a very good first impression on us at all... Striking differences between wealthy and poor… and all the westerners ‘hanging out’ with young girls all around… These were the images I had stuck in my head from the first visit… Still with a few days left, I needed to at least try to fix my camera and netbook… so decided to give the capital another chance… This time we did a bit of a research and pre-booked a guesthouse ourselves. We simply didn’t want to risk being taken by one of the tuk-tuk drivers to the ‘entertainment’ neighbourhood again. Finding a tuk-tuk wasn’t difficult at all as we were surrounded by a few the moment we hopped off the bus, so soon after we were heading to our guesthouse. Well… The capital had certainly changed since the last time we were here… We were told by a guy at our guesthouse in Kampot that there were going to be some anti-government protests in the city over the weekend and we have been following the news, still we definitely weren’t expecting to see the capital like that... Many streets closed, tens of policemen armed with rifles on streets and wired barricades all around… It looked like we didn’t really choose the best place to stay either as we were going to be staying very close to Freedom Park and that was where the participants of the protests were residing for the next few days.

What was meant to be a peaceful demonstration turned into something entirely else… Cambodia National Rescue Party organised a demonstration calling for investigation into election irregularities. The forever ruling (28 years!) party (Cambodia’s People Party) had won the election again, but apparently later on many unopened boxes with votes for opposition (CNRP) were found, which obviously called for justice and a proper investigation into the discrepancies in voting. Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday…. Some explosives and hand grenades were found in the Freedom Park… Also there was one casualty from the protests that day – a 29-year old guy, a father of four, was shot… He was simply trying to go over the barricade to go home... The police was denying using the guns – they said they were only using batons and tear gas… The protesters claimed otherwise… Apparently there was an investigation going on, but seeing that most of the media are closely monitored by the current government and there is no really free press as such, it was very unlikely the truth would ever see daylight… In the end whoever was responsible probably would never be punished for it anyway. There were quite a few people injured during Sunday protests as well. Phnom Penh Post posted a strong video on their website depicting the previous days’ protests, protesters throwing stones at the police and police responding with water cannons… They even showed the deceased... The capital certainly didn’t look peaceful that night. You can find more info right here:

Both parties, the ruling one and the opposition (as well as the royal family for that matter also), were calling for no violence during the next two days of protests. I still wasn’t convinced whether it was really safe walking the streets or not. A very friendly guy called Jackie working at our guesthouse told us not to worry though. He said that it was totally safe – during the day at least… He also said that just around the corner from us the people have gathered to celebrate the protest (that’s how he put it) and that we should definitely check it out… but not stay too long just in case... Well I have to say that curiosity won and in the afternoon we walked over there for a moment. There surely were a lot of people around, some of the streets were blocked for the protesters so no cars were allowed there (it didn’t stop the bikes of course), there was some loud music in the air and somebody very charismatic talking through the speakers – most likely one of the party leaders. Many people had yellow bands wrapped around their heads and here and there you could spot flags saying ‘My vote my life’. With quite a few food stands here and there I have to say that it looked more like a site for a festival rather than demonstration, but maybe that’s why the guy at our guesthouse called it protests’ celebrations rather than simply protests. There was certainly no violence going on anywhere. Just a gathering of people who simply shared the same beliefs... We spotted a UN car on the site as well. Apparently opposition called up on UN to look into the discrepancies of the election. I’d say they showed up a bit too late though… Quite a few monks joined the cause in the following days as well. Apparently on the last day of demonstrations one of the monks tried to set himself on fire to sympathise with protesters but was wrestled by those around him and pulled on the side. Another day around 50monks after being refused an audience with the king, gathered around the Royal Palace and protested with silent meditation... After that things returned back to ‘normal’ in the next few days. Demonstration finished peacefully, protesters returned to their homes, government promised to talk to the opposition… well… That’s where it all finished unfortunately… with promises… There are definitely a lot of things that need to be changed in this country… I say closing (at least slightly) the gap between the rich and poor would be the first step… It will take a lot of time before any changes like that will take place though… Time will tell…

The next few days we just walked around the capital. Quite a few streets were still barricaded for the rest of the week… the Royal Palace was shut as well… I guess we should have visited it the first time we were here then… Ah well… Next time perhaps…Instead we did a bit of shopping around. One time when we were sitting at the restaurant by the river a few little girls came over trying to sell us bracelets. Since I didn’t have any from Cambodia yet I decided to buy one. The deal was 2 for $1. Since I needed only one I got only one for $1. As much as it made the girl who sold the bracelet to me very happy, it sure didn’t make happy some of her friends. One of her friends, my guess age 8, came over to me and actually lectured me on how unfair it was that I paid double for a bracelet instead of taking two for $1. Oops… Looks like I caused a bit of trouble. Didn’t mean to at all… Shopping is definitely not my thing. So much to learn still… 😉

We actually managed to repair my camera and my notebook during our stay in Phnom Penh as well! I was ready to give up on my netbook and was looking around for a new one actually, but since we passed by one of the repair shops one day, I decided to give it a last chance. Well, I certainly couldn’t have expected a better result – within an hour my netbook was repaired, total cost of repair… $5! Whaaaat? They wouldn’t even wipe the screen for that amount in Europe! Apparently there was something wrong with Windows, there was no need to reinstall it even, so all my data was still on it… Wow! That was service! Camera was a bit more of a problem as the whole electric system was gone, so needed to be replaced – still with a lens clean-up, new electrics and a polarising filter a total price of $100 seemed more than fair… No upgrade needed then! Happy days!

And so the last few days in Asia flew by and we were ready to head to another continent… The one that I always wanted to visit, and yet didn’t include it in my plans for that trip at all… Ah well… plans did change along the way and so did the itinerary then… There were still many Asian countries that I definitely wanted to visit, I guess I would need to put them aside for another trip though… For now my Asian adventure came to an end… We were off in a slightly different direction… Back to the western world… New destination though… Next stop: Oz!

Additional photos below
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11th April 2014

Civil unrest
You never know if these protest will stay calm the way they anticipate. One wrong move can change the entire tense situation. I'm glad it stayed relatively controlled. Congratulations on your camera and netbook repair. Looking forward to reading more.
11th April 2014
monks performing morning rituals...

Morning rituals
I'm always drawn to these photos because of the colors. Nice photo
28th April 2014

Civil unrest
Thanks Dave and Merry Jo! As you say it did stay relatively controlled at the time... Just in case we were very cautious about getting involved in the protest though.

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