It occurred to me that a lot of people would not be familiar with where in the world we are. I honestly would have had trouble 3 months ago finding many of these places on a map. The line indicates where we travelled from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. If you want to take a closer look at the map right down to the route the tuk tuk took through each city just follow this link.
Our trip in Cambodia has been amazing so far. Phnom Penh is the capital of the country and the home to some of its most powerful museums.
The traffic is spectacular. Wild and flowing during the day. Just as crazy at night but with fewer big trucks and more bikes going way too fast.
I said that word more times than I can recall during our four days in the capital city of Cambodia, Phnom Penh. Wow.
The traffic. I know we will see more chaos and congestion in our travels through Asia, but for us, this was our first exposure to a large busy Asian city traffic. Wow. Perhaps due to my background and a general warm feeling toward order and control, this exposure to free form traffic was even more awe inspiring. Whereas the drivers we encountered in Australia are the friendliest and most patient I had ever met in the world, the drivers here are incredible problem solvers. Without the hinderance of licenses, laws or rules of the road to hold them back they just flow like lava into whatever open space is available.
On to the blog, the first part of this blog is a little dark and depressing, however I feel it is absolutely essential to acknowledge the horrors that occurred here in Cambodia in the fairly recent past. For me, it makes the rest of what we saw all the better because of the incredible resilience of the human spirit.
We visited two locations. S-21 and “The Killing Fields”. Though very disturbing I felt it essential to pay my respects to the dead. In just under 4 years the Kymer Rouge under Pol Pot were responsible for the deaths of nearly 3 million in a country with a population of just 8 million people. Stop and think about that for a moment. The most disturbing part of it from my perspective is the entire world stood by and did nothing.
These 14 graves are the first thing you encounter when you visit S-21 (Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum). Though this former school’s primary job was torture, as the Vietnamese closed in on the Kymer Rouge in 1979 these 14 graves represent the last prisoners to be held here. They were executed as the Vietnamese entered the City.
The self guided audio tour that comes with your $6US admission to the museum is one of the best, most informative audio guides I have ever heard. From the torture of Cambodians to the unfortunate Westerners that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
When you see the cells where the prisoners were held in between their 3 torture sessions a day it makes you sick. The human misery oozes out of this place.
This memorial which was built in 2015 and paid for by the German government lists the names of the over 12,000 victims who were tortured in this one facility before being executed elsewhere.
The next day we travelled by tuk tuk to just outside the city to what has become known as the “Killing Fields”.
Each of these hollows in the ground represents a mass grave of murdered Cambodians. They are mixed with the graves of the Chinese, whose cemetery this was before the Kymer Rouge took over.
These are more recently excavated mass graves. There has been a significant effort to honour the dead by at least finding out how many, their sex, and the way they died.
Some will say this is too much, I don’t want to see this. But this is what can and does happen when megalomaniacs and extremists take or are given control of a country. I will get off my soap box now.
Inside the Memorial Stupa at Choeung Ek (Killing Fields) are the skulls of more than 5,000 victims that have been exhumed from mass graves at the site. This is only a percentage of the people killed here. These skulls have all been studied by forensic personnel to understand as much as possible about the people who died here and how they died. Very powerful.
A very powerful and moving place to visit. The audio tour helps to provide a degree of understanding of what went on here. But walking around and seeing the remnants cannot help but leave an impression on you.
The “Killing Fields” are a big reason why many people come to Phnom Penh. However there is way more to this amazing city than the tragedy that this beautiful country has suffered through.
A fisherman and his family set off across the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers.
At the joining of the Mekong, Basaac, and Tonle Sap rivers, the city sprawls out in what appears to be chaotic growth.
The view from the river provided an excellent perspective of the width of the building blocks in the city.
We did a sunset cruise on the Mekong river. The weather obscured any sunset, but it still provided a fantastic vantage point to observe part of the city.
This was the vessel we enjoyed our river cruise on. There were two other customers on the boat
As we watched the city skyline and the weather display these gentleman provided wonderful traditional music in the background.
Locals casting their fishing nets from the banks of the Tonle Sap River in the heart of Phnom Penh.
As we set off for our sunset river cruise on the Mekong River mother nature had some other plans. No sunset, but an impressive display of storm clouds and rain.
We took the time one evening to go to the Foreign Corespondents Club on the riverfront. The FCC holds an interesting place in the cities current history. It is said that nearly all the news reports from before, during, and after the internal conflict Cambodia suffered were filed from this building. The photos on the walls certainly show it was at the centre of the action.
The dining room is excellent, but the best part of the FCC was the rooftop bar. We sat and enjoyed the night skyline (which admittedly is not that spectacular, but still nice) and listened to live music. The night we were there a gentleman on a sax was doing a fantastic job. It is a must do experience.
We had a chance to observe some amusing modern human behaviour while on the rooftop.
Everyone who was sitting on the front edge overlooking the road and river were engrossed in their electronics.
While right in front of them was a lovely view. I did not do it justice, but you get the idea. Kind of sad really.
We also took in the popular Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda. These areas are very busy with tourists and hawkers but still worth the trip. We were fortunate to have the weather clear a bit for us.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Silver Pagoda. The floor is covered with 5329 silver tiles (nearly all covered by carpets to protect them) Each tile weighs 1.125kg.
The Bronze Palace where they store Royal regalia. The Pavilion in the background is for receptions.
Constructed entirely of iron (on the left), this was the first permanent structure at the site of the Royal Palace. It was built for the wife of Napoleon III. The Throne Hall is in the background.
We also checked out the National Museum. Unfortunately by this point we were starting to get a bit punch drunk on museums and ancient history.
Phnom Penh is a busy, dirty, fascinating city well worth the time to visit. If for no other reason than to experience the traffic. The history is epic as well.
The Independence Monument was built in 1958 to celebrate Cambodia’s independence from France in 1953.
I will wrap up this rather long blog with a couple of night time street shots. The vibe of the city changes at night and it probably deserves a visit just focusing on after dark.
You can get all kinds of food to go.
Or sit down and relax after a hard day of working.