Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Phnom Penh

I like it here. Yeah you get asked 100 times a day (literally) if you need a tuk tuk but there's nothing the ol' iPod cant drown out. They seem to not know the concept of walking, I mean Phnom Penh is fairly big, but nothing compared to Western cities so I spent my time wandering from place to place. I also think it's a much better way to see somewhere - backstreets, markets, shops, people... Stuff a ride in a tuk tuk generally misses. Plus I was in no rush, you could probably do most of Phnom Penh in a day but again, I like my feet to touch the ground.

I dont think PP is like any other city i've been to, sure it has the traffic and hecticness of a city but there are no buildings higher than 3 or 4 storeys, apart from a brand new bank (or something) they're constructing. It's a little strange a first, it's just like a big, crowded village really under the label 'Capital'. Im sure in 10 years it will have changed - it seems like the whole of Cambodia is expanding and for a city, or atleast a city im used to, they just need to expand upwards... Or, maybe they... dont (?)

So I did like a 3 day 'excursion' and did the usual tourist places including -

Wat Phnom: Where the city originated and grew from. Now it's nothing more than a glorified roundabout with a $1 entry fee (ha) so I just loitered around the road taking pictures. Did however have some entertaining monkeys though beating eachother up which is always funny.

National Museum: Was ok, a bit small and also a little redundant after seeing Angkor - lots of relics from there and numerous buddhas - but taking into account how much was stolen and how badly the museum itself was damaged during the Khmer Rouge era, it was a good collection. Was housed in an impressive dark-red sandstone building too (thankyou Rough Guide).

Royal Palace & Silver Pagoda: Overpriced and very erm, 'prohibited'. Only 2 buildings out of 10 were open and even then you were restricted to small sections cornered off with velvet rope. Thumbs up for the Silver Pagoda and jade buddha though.

Central and Russian Markets: Same same, but different. Everything i've seen before just being sold by different people. The Central Market ( Psar Thmei) though was amazingly OTT with stalls almost forming organic corals of fruit, shoes, scarves, flowers, watches and t-shirts amongst others - crazy and good.

Olympic Staduim: Yeah, WTF. Just Googled it but I dont think Cambodia's ever held the Olympics. It had a simple charm and was still in use for football, but wouldn't have been out of place in somewhere like Bethnal Green.

Then came "Sombre Sunday"... Learning of the disturbingly recent past of the Khmer Rouge and Democratic Kampuchea (Cambodia's former name under their regime). Now nothing I write here can do it justice so apologies.

The Khmer Rouge era was from 1975 - 1979 and still so much is not understood. They basically arrived in Phnom Penh with the intention to achieve their ideal; to turn Cambodia into a nation of peasants all working in an agricultural society where family, wealth & status were irrelevant. Almost immediately they began a programme of mass execution which resulted in 2 million people being 'destroyed' as they wrote it. Everyone from military commanders through to monks, the educated, those who spoke a foriegn language and even to those who wore glasses were slaughtered. Men, women and children all perished under them and the twisted logic behind it is still unclear.

I visited a place called Toul Sleng (or S.21), a former primary school turned detention, interrogation and torture centre; it was the last place thousands of Cambodians saw before being taken to be killed. Now i've never been to Auschwitz but I imagine you feel the same visiting there as you do here. It was like hell, a mini hell. It felt very wrong to just be walking on the floors, climbing the stairs and touching the walls, all tainted with death. There were hundreds of photos of victims and the many tools of torture displayed and I couldn't help but think this is too close. I felt the same about Choeung Ek (or the Killing Fields) - which comes as part of the day trip - where people from the camps were brought to be killed and buried in mass graves. You could just walk around these big ditches in the ground and it was undoubtedly too much of an attraction. Skulls were on display like in an Indiana Jones movie, trees were labeled with signs saying "tree against which executioners killed children" and even more disturbingly the clothes of victims were still woven into the mud underfoot. Now im all for learning but this was a little too unsettling you know? I think they should learn a lesson from the Royal Palace and get some of those "prohibited" signs, perhaps starting with one at the front gate.

Now, not to bum you all out (wasn't a very fun post huh?), this morning I woke up with a small dog in room. And by small dog I mean huge rat. Yeah im not just hearing them in the walls anymore. And my room smells like a swamp (it's above a lake with nothing but floorboards and vinyl seperating us) and its the size of a cupboard. So im staying in a swamp cupboard basically. But somehow the urge to move every morning subsides as im drawn back by the dvd collection. But alas, tomorrow im off to Sihanoukville to get me some beach, Cambodian style.

Lear Haowee/Goodbye. X


  1. Sounds interesting Tom and you say you like it there. I can only say it seems like it's time to move on, somewhere better.Pleased you are coping so well. Look after yourself. Love Christine. xxx

  2. Hi Tom well not really sure what to say the history although sad is interesting as I do not think that we knew the extent of the cruelty that went on. As for for your room mate I can easily give that a BIG MISS thank you, they are nasty creatures that transmit nasty bugs especially in boggy areas so be very careful. We will be away from Friday until late the following Thursday on our annual old car rally,so will be relying on your Mum to update us by text although she is away for four days as well. If the hotel where we are staying has any facilities I will try and find out how to work it, so it will be watch this space but don't hold your breath as it will be new territory for me..In the meantime take care we love reading your blogs and will look forward to catching up. Malcolm