© 2011 notworkrelated - David Rutter & Helen Roscoe. All rights reserved. notworkrelated Phnom Penh

Cambodia – Phnom Penh – 28th/29th January

We left HCMC at 8am, as always it took a while to get out of the city as the bus kept stopping to pick people up but once we were on our way it took around 2.5 hours to get to the Cambodian border, we had quite a smooth route through passport control as the bus company took our passports, visa fees as well as a $5 admin fee which we only assumed meant that we weren’t hanging around as much as we were through both departure and arrival points within half an hour. It’s always a little nerve racking when someone takes your passport but it worked and next minute we were in Cambodia. After only 15 minutes or so the bus stopped for lunch for 20 minutes and then we left in the direction of Phnom Penh. On this side it took around 4 hours in the end to get to the bus station near one of the big markets in central Phnom Penh, we were a little bombarded by tuk-tuk drivers and saw one of them holding a sign for Sweethome Guesthouse which is where we had made a reservation, they’re not actually from the guesthouse itself but if you’re not booked in and they take you around they will get a commission from the guesthouse, we stupidly agreed to pay $4 for our fist tuk-tuk ride, he seemed to go the long way round we later discovered and we should have only paid a dollar each. It was find though and he got us to the guesthouse, we had a standard double booked for 2 nights with bathrooms for $10.

After settling in and being pestered for booking tuk-tuk tours with the hotel staff we went for a little walk in the city and took in the sunset over the Royal Palace. The guesthouse is very conveniently located south Royal Palace and of the main hustle and bustle of the riverfront, down a quieter street with some good choices of restaurants.

We made our way to the market and bought a very sugar laden fruit shake which helped with our current sugar-low state. It was also very filling and did the trick for a while before we got hungry. We stayed out for some food and ate at a very local noodle-street style restaurant, it only cost us a dollar for the two of us so it was nice to have a cheap start.

Back at Sweethome we arranged a tuk-tuk driver for the following day to take us, John and Lisa (John is Jules’s brother and we did the Halong Bay tour with them in Vietnam) to the Killing Fields and The Slung Treng Museum, we agreed a price of $6 each which we again later realised it was more than we should have paid. Anyway you have to figure these things out when you arrive in new places. We’re learning all the time.

(Leica M9, Summicron-M 50mm f2.0 & Olympus PEN, 17mm f2.8 & 100mm f2.8, processed in Lightroom 3)

29th January – Sightseeing in Phnom Penh

John and Lisa arrived at just after 8am and our cheeky choppy tuk-tuk driver was ready and waiting with a tuk-tuk that appeared to be borrowed from one of his pals, they were all joking about the size of it and fitting us all in but it was fine. Perhaps the most amusing thing was that his fuel tank was made from a plastic container!!

It took around half and hour to get to Cheung Ek where the Killing Fields are, arriving early is again better as most tourists start turning up after 9am or so. The entrance fee is $2 per person and we decided to have a guided tour which you pay for based on donation. The area is smaller than we imagined, it was previously an orchard and retains many trees making the area quite serene. The large monument erected for the remembrance of the dead is a powerful reminder of what took place in Cambodia just over 40 years ago! Bones, skulls and clothes which have been found here can been seen, brightly coloured clothes indicated that you were wealthy or educated so therefore you did not stand a chance. Everyone who was brought here by truck was never going to leave!

We were informed by our guide about wooden structures that once stood and what happened inside, from admin to overnight people storage in sealed and dark cells as they couldn’t exterminate them all in one day! Even tormenting them by allowing them to hear the fate of others before their fate was concluded. Pits of mass graves remain and after each rainy season more bones, teeth and pieces of clothes come to the surface of the dirt. You can see pieces sticking out of the ground which makes it all the more real.

Absolutely horrific events took place here to ordinary citizens which makes no sense whatsoever, all in the idea of trying a new political system in order to make Pol-pot a god, produce rice to buy weapons and then spread their influence/extermination far and wide. Even the soldiers who, most of which were brainwashed children, were killed to try and cover up what had taken place.

We left here feeling sombre but with more understanding of the historical events that unfolded. The area is open to educate both foreigners and locals into the history of Cambodia, for people to learn and not let things like this ever happen again. The only downside is that the area is apparently owned by a private firm, maintaining the site but also quite possibly making money from the “tourist attraction” which is wrong and should be funded by the state in our opinion.

Our tuk-tuk driver was waiting for us and we headed off back into Phnom Penh to visit the S-21 prison, used for imprisonment, interrogation and torture of people. This had been converted from a school into the prison camp under the orders of Pol-pot and processed many people who ended up in the Cheung Ek killing fields. Vast empty rooms remind us of the horrors that also took place here along with photographs of victims who were meticulously catalogued and numbered ready for torture and extermination. There are also some written stories from people who are still alive today with stories of their participation in the Khmer Rouge army and their feelings on trial, retribution and the future.

After a sad and truthful morning we went back to grab some lunch at our guesthouse and waited for the Palace to open after their lunch break. We got to the Palace for afternoon opening, Helen wearing a sleeveless top had to cover her shoulders and then we were allowed in. It’s a 5$ entrance fee to the Palace and it is a big site so you can easily spend a morning or afternoon in there, it’s very reminiscent to the Royal Palace in Thailand and has played host to many kings over time, although in the past few decades the royal family have been based in China (or thailand), we heard guides talking of the current king being a monk, it’s always fun eaves-dropping into the tourist groups and making sense from it what we can. Some of the buildings are undergoing renovations; another occurring sight in many cities throughout South-East Asia and China. The main temples and Pagodas are open and the structures are beautifully exquisite in the late afternoon golden light.

We were at the Palace for the main bulk of the afternoon before ending up at one of the markets looking for simples things like sun tan lotion and shampoo, it was difficult finding anything we wanted so ended up going for a drink nearby. After more walking around the city and the sunsetting we found a restaurant mentioned in the LP which served some excellent Khmer food, perhaps a little more pricey and well presented than we were used to but it was good to have something different.

We said our goodbyes to John and Lisa who were moving north in the next few days. We had decided to put our passports in at the hotel for the Laos visas and bought a bus ticket to Koh Kong leaving at 7am the next morning.

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  1. Posted 24 Feb ’11 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Some very familiar scenes and excellent photos of Phnom Penh! Funny to see that Site for Sale photo as I took the exact shot in December. I found it strange to see so much scratched in grafitti around the interior walls of the Royal Palace – a real shame.
    Did you see the snail snack barrow people?

  2. Posted 27 Feb ’11 at 4:37 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful shots, guys!

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