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Published: July 18th 2009
Bamboo Island- Paradise!
We spent just two weeks in Cambodia and our second week was split between Sihanoukville in the very south of the country and Phnom Penh, the capital. We were originally planning to spend three nights in Phnom Penh, but having heard concerning reports from various travellers in regards to bag snatching and pick-pocketing we decided to cut it down to two nights and spend first part of the week in Sihanoukville. There are some great beaches here and we spent our days lying on the beach relaxing by day and drinking cocktails by night, what a way to pass our time in this pretty corner of the world.
We took a boat trip out to a few of the nearby islands one day, did a spot of snorkelling, stopped for lunch on this little island called Bamboo Island which was as close to a tropical paradise as we’ve ever experienced, crystal clear waters, golden sands and best of all we were able to lie out relaxing with no-one trying to sell us anything. The day before we tried to relax on the beach nearest our hotel but didn't get very far as every five minutes there were kids trying
to sell us bracelets and women trying to sell us pedicures and massages, it’s all in good fun though so no real harm done.
It wasn’t all beach fun though, we did visit the Vietnamese embassy one afternoon and arrange our visas for entry to Vietnam, this time it was out of necessity as the border between Cambodia and Vietnam is a lot more official and rules stipulated that we had to have our visas in advance. We could have paid an agency to apply for them on our behalf in Phnom Penh but the idea of handing over our passports to strangers didn’t sit well with us, as it turned out it was much cheaper and a lot less hassle to visit the embassy ourselves and with hardly anyone else doing what we did we had our visas approved quickly with no trouble at all.
We arrived into Phnom Penh around mid-day which still gave us time to fit something in during the afternoon, and we decided on the Killing fields and S-21. So, essentially S-21 was a detention centre for all Cambodian people who opposed the Khmer Rouge campaign which happened from
1975 to 1979; they were brought here and tortured. S-21 was formally a secondary school and it was very surreal to walk around a school knowing that 20,000 people were brutally tortured here, it was hard to comprehend. The killing field is a site of mass graves. The Khmer rouge committed genocide here but killing all the victims from S-21. Out of 20,000 people only 7 survived. It was a very interesting and informative afternoon but it left us very subdued. What happened was beyond shocking and even all these years later the scars remain very visible, we saw many a disable person begging on the streets that had been caught up in the conflict.
On our final day in Cambodia we went to the National Museum and the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace wasn’t cared for as it should have been and the floor of 5000 silver tiles was walked all over and where some tiles had become loose was just held down with normal sellotape. The national museum was full of hundreds and hundreds of artefacts found at the Angkor ruins but with little explanation to was hard to place them in time and to understand
Bamboo Island, a stopover on our daytrip.
the history, after a while it became a monotonous to look at. We also expected coverage on the more recent history in the country but there was nothing.
Phnom Penh is a very different city from the cities of SE Asia that we have explored to date; we didn’t feel very safe here and had to keep our wits about us. There were no leisurely dinners and drinks to wind down the evening, we went out to the nearest restaurant for dinner and then it was straight back to our room for the evening. We even left all our valuables in our hotel room which is not something we did as a rule but as we didn’t feel safe out walking with a bag, and with our camera on show. The city and the country is still recovering from the trauma of the Khmer rouge years and it is evident everywhere we looked. There was no or little rubbish collection with piles of rubbish littered on nearly every street, there was hardly any lampposts, and there were pot holes in the roads everywhere with little government money to invest in maintaining and improving infrastructure and although we
were very glad to have experienced and see what we did in Cambodia we were glad to be moving onto Vietnam.
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