First impressions of Cambodia – Phnomh Penh

Dear Hex,

Vietnam certainly had its ups and downs, but all of a sudden it was time to board (yet another) bus to our fourth and final country – Cambodia.

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After going through one of our favourite ordeals of crossing the border (obviously being ripped off when exchanging our remaining dong – clearly we never learn!), it was time to experience another completely different part of South East Asia. Driving into the capital city of Phnomh Penh, we passed construction work after construction work, and the roads only really changed from dirt track as we arrived right into the centre.

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We only spent one night in Pnomh Penh, but it can safely be said that it isn’t one of those “make sure you don’t miss this” destinations like so many we had experienced over the weeks before. However, the 24 hours we spent there were some of the most impressionable of the whole South East Asia experience.

Feeling quite underwhelmed on our arrival, with only a couple of hours until the main museums closed at 5pm, we took a stroll along the river, and popped into one of the many roof top bars offering happy hour to check out the city from above. From here we overlooked the joining point of the mighty Mekong River, the very same we had spent 2 full days upon so many miles away. After an amusing viewing of a Mr Muscle style exercise class on the street, we called it a day, and took advantage of the free pool table in the hostel for the evening.

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Lychee cocktails overlooking the Mekong River

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Our hostel was perhaps another reason for the disappointing start in the city. After reserving Lovely Jubbly Villa at 11pm the night before, we arrived to be told they had oversold, and taken to their partner hostel Lovely Jubbly Hostel. They sent us there via tuk tuk and offered a free breakfast as apology (which turned out to only be $3 worth – which wasn’t enough to order anything on the menu) however, our room could only be described as a prison cell, and the smell of sewage from the bathroom was a real extra treat. This would have perhaps been manageable if it had been one of the cheaper places we had stayed, but at nearly $20 this certainly wasn’t worth the money. The bar area is very nice, and the food was reasonable, but definitely not top of our recommendations. A girl we met also had the pleasure of bed bugs, and the overnight staff wouldn’t help, so she had to sit around until the morning staff arrived (the response of the night staff was apparently to ignore her, walk outside and urinate. Certainly not customer service at it’s finest..!)

Definitely not the most aesthetically appealing room of the trip...
Definitely not the most aesthetically appealing room of the trip…

Before moving onwards, we wanted to spend some time learning more about Cambodia and its tragic history. A Tuk Tuk driver agreed to take 5 us to the Killing Fields just outside the city, and then on to S21, the Genocide museum for only $3 each; and off we went. It’s easy to visit country after country and see as many beautiful tourist attractions as possible, but theres so much more to travel. It is an amazing opportunity to experience different cultures, and learn about the history of the countries you’re lucky enough to see, both the good sides and the bad. For this reason I would urge anyone visiting Cambodia to make time to visit these sights. It is shameful to admit how little I knew about the Genocide before our trip, and it was an extremely sobering day learning about the atrocities that occurred.

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It is estimated that 1.7 million Cambodians were killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge during Pol Pot’s regime between 1975 and 1979, with many of these deaths taking place at the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, and thousands buried there in mass graves. So many, that bones are still being unearthed after heavy rainfall, and it is not uncommon to spot these around the pathways. A large ribcage was clearly visible at one point during our visit, and the wardens are investigate the area for this reason weekly. An extremely informative audio guide takes you around the fields, giving a detailed insight into the horrors that took place in that very spot, which are often difficult to take in. In the centre of the fields is a large memorial to those who lost their lives, holding over 5,000 human skulls, many of which have clearly been shattered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge.

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The memorial, holding over 5,000 skulls inside

From here we moved on to S21 – a high school turned prison, where many of the prisoners were tortured and interrogated before being taken on to the Killing Fields. Although now a museum, the buildings have been preserved as they were before the prison was liberated by the Vietnamese. Wandering around the buildings and viewing tiny brick prison cells, torture weapons and the hard-hitting displays of photographs gives a bitter insight into what S21 was like a mere 40 years ago. Particularly difficult to view were the number of photographs of young children, and I don’t believe I was alone in being slightly overcome with emotion towards the end of the visit. Before we left, Dave stopped to talk to a Cambodian man selling books (I myself, was still a little too overcome at this point..) who had survived the prison as the Khmer Rouge needed him to repair typewriters which were essential for their record keeping. Such an inspiration and I very much look forward to reading the book we purchased.

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Everything we saw on this day in Phnomh Penh was difficult to digest, and it was no surprise we had a very quiet Tuk Tuk journey home. Although the city itself doesn’t have much to make an impression, this was certainly not a day I will forget. There aren’t too many photographs from this day, as most of the things we saw were too awful to capture on camera.

On arrival back to the hostel, we were immediately whisked off to catch our bus to our final destination – Siem Reap, the home of Angkor Wat. I left with an overwhelming feeling of being thankful for the great things in my life, but we wouldn’t be arriving at the next destination before a road traffic accident (Peps – 0, Motorbike – 1) and 5 long hours of dirt track on a well and truly jam-packed mini bus…

With kindest regards,

Penelope xoxo

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One thought on “First impressions of Cambodia – Phnomh Penh

  1. Wow, this is powerful. I’m heading to Phnom Penh and too want to see the killing fields. I’m preparing myself for it because I know it has to be hard.

    Thanks for the heads up on the bad hostel as well – def know where not to go 😛

    Like

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