Phnom Penh, Cambodia
March 4th – 7th 2011
I had bought a ticket for Battambang. I was waiting for my pick-up to arrive but it was late so I decided to walk to the bus ticket office, which was nearby. I saw a van with the travel agency’s name on it coming down the street and I naturally thought, hey, this must be my pick-up. So I hailed it, got in, and off we went. It dropped me off at a big bus along the side of a street. I boarded that bus and off I went to Battambang. Six hours later, I looked out my window and wondered what was taking a supposed 4-5 journey so long. I spotted an address on the top of a shop saying “Phnom Penh”. I then realized I must’ve boarded the wrong bus. I confirmed this later with several people when I got off. I had wanted to visit Phnom Penh more than Battambang anyway so I guess it worked out ok.
The guesthouse I was staying at was not located near the “backpacker-tourist-friendly” area near the river. I enjoyed relative quiet all night, other than the Khmer music being played in the restaurant across the street. I experienced a new mode of transport while in Phnom Penh; motos, short for motorcycles. Everywhere I go, moto-drivers would honk at me and ask if I needed a lift. A trip across town would typically cost $1. I took a few of these moto-rides as it was very convenient and enjoyable to sit on the back of an Asian motorcycle, weaving in and out of chaotic traffic. Tuk-tuks were available as well but typically cost $2-3 per trip.
(The family mini-van, just as Russell Peters said.)
(One of my favorite images.)
There are a few must-sees in Phnom Penh: The Tuol Sleng genocide center and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. At Tuol Sleng, formerly a school, I got to learn a little about the Khmer Rouge and see their cruelty toward their own people in their efforts to transform their country into an agrarian society. This was their version of a death-camp. People were taken, tortured, and murdered here without mercy. There were rooms with a single bed and a picture of the murdered on the beds which spoke loudly to me. “Why?” was the constant question on my mind. After visiting the Nazi death-camps, I remember being interested in the thoughts of Hitler. Now, I am interested in the thoughts of the Khmer Rouge. What goes on in the heads of killers? Do they justify murdering 2 million of their own in the name of a better Cambodia? I’ve read that a lot of times, when human beings do something bad, they try to justify their actions so it looks noble in the end, and they brainwash themselves into believing this until the very end. It’s not just them, it’s everyone. This is the darkness in the human mind.
(One of the rooms in Tuol Sleng.)
(A closer look at the picture on the wall…)
(Crude brick cells.)
(Barb-wired so that prisoners don’t commit suicide by jumping off.)
Choeung Ek is located about 15 km outside of Phnom Penh so I hired a moto to take me there. It was great fun riding past small towns surrounded by massive fields of vegetables. Choeung Ek is one of many mass-graves in Cambodia. As I entered, I saw a tower sitting prominently for all to see. It contained many levels of human skulls, the evidence of the Khmer Rouge’s actions. Behind the tower were the killing fields, multitudes of shallow graves and even a tree which was used to kill babies or little kids against. The Khmer Rouge would bring unsuspecting blind-folded victims to the edge of the graves, use farmers tools, such as hoes, to kill the victim, then kick them over into their graves. (Bullets were precious commodity and the Khmer Rouge did not want to waste them so they used a variety of hand-held tools as murder weapons instead.)
(Skulls of the victims from the graves.)
Anyone ever saw the movie “Law Abiding Citizen”? It explored the flaws in the justice system. It points out how it takes forever for justice to be served to mass-murderers and how they get to die before being executed for their crimes. Pol Pot escaped his fate. And there are many Khmer Rouge leaders STILL on trial, as they grow old and will probably end up living to a nice age before dying a natural death, all the while thinking “I am justified in my actions, I do not regret them. I am a patriot and it was all for a greater Cambodia.”
I did make a trip to the National Museum, which I regretted paying $3 entry-fee for. It was a nice looking museum but inside, it was filled with sculptures and statues, and you all know how much I despise them at this point. The Royal Palace was charging $6.25 so I decided to not go. These days, just being in a city, walking the streets (or viewing them from a moto as we zip through traffic) is enough for me. No more temples, no more museums. Give me landscapes, give me nature, give me people, give me food and I’m happy.
There is a dark side to Phnom Penh (and most of SE Asia really). There are many single old white men around these parts. Some of them have young Asian girls by their side. No judgment but I have a feeling these girls aren’t attracted to these foreigners because of their charming personalities and good looks. Grown men and grown women are ok but there are villages on the outskirts of Phnom Penh (like the infamous Svay Pak) that have child sex slaves. It’s quite sick to think about it but that is the world we live in. Here (click on this) is a good article to read about child sex-slavery. I hope you take the time to read it.
I was walking around O’Russey Market one day and I came across a popular noodle shop filled with Cambodians. (One thing nice about being away from the backpacker scene is that restaurants are filled with locals instead of backpackers eating at their favorite Lonely Planet ‘Our Pick’ restaurant, which of course, I’m guilty of in the past as well). The beef-ball noodles were so good I went there for dinner each night I was in Phnom Penh.
(I’ve eaten this for almost every single dinner.)
(Outstanding ‘pau’ with minced pork, sausage, and egg.)
I ran out of visa pages in my passport so one day, I went to the US Embassy and wanted to renew it. It would cost $110 for a 52-page book and 2 WEEKS to renew it but luckily, I could just add 24 visa pages for $80 (it used to be free!) and get it back within 30 minutes. I decided to apply for my Vietnamese visa in Sihanoukville because I read the Vietnamese embassy in PP send it that way anyway.
Off to Sihanoukville for the sand and ocean. As long as I get on the right bus!