The capital, Phnom Penh, its actually not that bad. We don’t get hassled as much as we did in Siem Reap, although its not like Battambang where people didn’t even give us a second glance. Its actually quite a stylish city. There are some nice boulevards with fountains and monuments lined with government ministries built from the colonial French days. The river front is fantastic; it is very cosmopolitan and you can see and feel the continental influence seeping through as cafes, bars and restaurants pour out onto the street to overlook the Tonle River.
When we arrived on Wednesday we didn’t do a great deal, we just chilled out and enjoyed the sunset over the lake that we are staying next to. The LPG says that Lakeside Phnom Penh is like a little bit of Koh Pha Ngan in an urban surround, and I think i know what it means. Where we are staying has its own little backpacker area with a selection of shops, book stores, cafes, bars, restaurants, and travel agents; and they’re all squeezed into a few pokey alley ways which are very reminiscent of Koh Pha Ngan in Thailand.
Thursday we went for a wander around town. We used the city walking tour from the LPG and managed to see a fair bit. We saw the only hill in town which has a Wat on it called Wat Phnom. I think Phnom means hill in Cambodian, as all the other places on the maps we have seen which start with Phnom are peaks of hills or mountains. The Penh bit comes from some lass who cried or something and she was called Penh and thus Phnom Penh.
We chilled out in the avo at a posh cafe and I hit my head on a very low street sign. That made me and Tim equal as the previous day he buggered his ankle slipping down a curb [a curb: jeez!]. We went to see the Palace where there is this thing called the silver Pagoda which as 5000 1kg tiles of silver or something like that. We also popped into the museum for the last 30 mins of opening time, we did it in 20 mins even tho we should have taken an hour – by this time we were all buddha-d out.
Today we went to the Killing Fields which are located 15km outside of Phnom Penh. It was here that detainees from s-21 in town came to executed. We walked around what remained of the mass graves where the remains of 17’000 people had been exhumed. It was quite a solemn place, and would have been more so had it not been for some pounding music in the far distance and the chitter chatter of kids asking tourists if they wanted their photo and asking for candy in return.
After the Killing fields we went to the Russian Market where it was time to shop. I was looking for some shirts, possibly some ck boxers, and a pair of boardies. I came back with none of those [typical] but i did pick up a nice pair of fake Prada sunnies US$2.5, a notepad 2000R and half dibs in our LPGs for Laos and Vietnam US$5.5 for both. Tim managed to bag himself a couple of 100% cotton Ralph Lauren shirts as well for US$6 [or at least thats what it says on the label].
Finally we went to the S-21 museum itself. Originally an old high school it was converted into a prison where 20’000 Cambodians were tortured during the brief reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Only 7 people that went in as prisoners came out alive. At the museum we entered rooms lined with black and white mug shots of people that had been killed. Room after room, picture after picture it was unbelievable. We saw the beds that 14 decaying corpses were found on that the fleeing Khmer Rouge had left as the Vietnamese had moved in on Phnom Penh in the final days of power. You could still make out the blood stains on the floor. It was truly horrific and a sobering moment to say the least.
Tomorrow we go by bus to Sihanoukville on the coast for a bit of sea sun and sand. ‘Lovely Jubbly’ as the Cambodians would say in their imitation of cockney and their rather errornous inference that everyone is from London.