Trying to get my blog up to date tonight…I’ve been having too much fun in Phnom Penh! Crazy how I thought I would only pass through the city, maybe have one day of sightseeing and keep travelling turns into five days. Thats another thing I am loving – having no plans! I just kept asking the hostel if I could extend for another night and today I decided I had better move on so I booked a plane ticket and then some accommodation in Siem Reap. My lovely travel agent emailed me today and I remembered I have booked a tour in Laos for May…which means I need to visit Siem Reap and head to Vietnam!
So…PP…what a crazy, crazy city! This is very much what I think of when I think of South East Asia. Its third world. There are beggars on the streets, old men missing limbs in wheelchairs selling books, young boys and girls selling necklaces and flowers, women pleading for money – showing their babies to you with welts on their feet, tuk tuk drivers yelling ‘lady, lady, tuk tuk!’, rubbish piled in gutters, families of four or five squeezed onto a motorbike, Monks holding orange umbrellas to match their robes, markets bustling with locals – open fires cook meat and quaint tree lined streets inspired by the French. Wow!
The city has grown on me…and I’m sad to be leaving. Its an incredible city and the Khmer are extremely shy to begin with but the most kindest people once they get to know you.
I have spent my days visiting the National Museum, Wat Phnom (a pagoda or temple built in 1373 – many people come and pray for good luck whilst making an offering of incense or fruit), browsing in shops – there are many local art galleries and handicraft stores, getting lost in the Russian and Central markets (lots of knock offs!) and walking along the riverfront of the Mekong.
The Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Muesum were heartbreaking to go and visit. I took a tuk tuk about 30 minutes out of PP to visit the Killing Fields. They allow visitors to walk around the Fields and provide an excellent audio commentary (kind of like an old-school walkman with headphones – you press the number corresponding to the guidepost and it explains what your looking at – its spoken by a survivor. I won’t go into details because what happened there is extremely distressing. Many Khmer I have spoken to had family affected by Pol Pot’s regime and they all same the same thing “we pray it never happens again”.
Tuol Sleng was a school pre 1975 and then turned into a prison during Pol Pot’s regime and has now been created into a museum. It was very moving being in the same space that someone was being held as a prisoner as much of the buildings have remained untouched. Pol Pot’s regime were meticulous in keeping records and there are hundreds of photographs – each person that arrived at the prison was photographed and there are many photos showing how they tourtured the prisoners. Many people were crying as they walked through the buildings.
On a much happier note I was very lucky to have met a local Khmer – Raj – who was the same age as me. He was kind enough to invite me to dinner with his brother and his girlfriend so I could experience a Khmer night out! Raj speaks English fairly well, his brother is okay and his girlfriend none! So Raj was the go between! We went to a Cambodian BBQ restaurant – nothing fancy – but where the locals eat. Everything is cooked on wood-fired drums a the front of the restaurant to prove they are clean. I was clearly the only Western there and got some very funny looks but also plenty of smiles!
Next we went to a nightclub where we caught up with more of Raj’s friends. The band wore shiny pants and sung in Khmer! I was shown how to dance Cambodian style – mainly moving your hands around and moving your feet from side to side. I got laughed at when I showed a few of my Western moves – but they were very interested! I think I ended up back at my hostel at around 1am! I felt extremely lucky to have experienced real Khmer life…it was a fantastic experience.
Tomorrow (Wednesday) I am flying to Siem Reap. I was going to take the bus, but I really can’t handle anymore Khmer driving and a 45 minute flight sounds so much better then a 5 hour hellish bus ride. I am planning to catch up with two Canadian girls I met at the elephant project and we will visit Ankgor Wat together. I am thinking I’ll only stay in Siem Reap until the weekend and then fly to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam for the next leg of my journey.
Stay tuned this week…a post and photos of the Sun and Moon Bears to come.