On the way to Phnom Penh.
On the streets of Phnom Penh.
In Tuol Sleng.
November 3, 2006
I made the right choice when I opted to take the boat down the Tonle Sap as opposed to the bus. Hmmm…bus vs. boat? They both take
the same amount of time. Really, a no-brainer. The main price to pay with this option is the 5:45am pick-up time. Lucky for me, I’m a
The five and a half hour boat ride literally came and went. Between falling asleep, listening to my ipod, reading my book and passing
floating villages, I was kept quite busy.
I got to my guesthouse in Phnom Penh and was reminded about something that makes Cambodia so great – it is sooo cheap! My room is
big and clean with a bathroom and a television with cable…and it is only $9 a night!
I only have a couple days here so I cleaned up and headed on out.
There is one place that people must visit when they come here and that is the Tuol Sleng Museum. This was the only thing in this city that
I was set on seeing. This was my chance to get a better understanding of the civil war and genocide that took place in Cambodia and ended
less than thirty years ago.
I am still amazed at how unaware I was of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge until very recently. To think all of this was so recent. To think Pol
Pot only died in 1999. To think that this was in my lifetime…yet I admit to not having any real idea about it until about a year ago. How
pathetic is that? I am assuming that if I was unaware of the details of this, that there are many others who are as well.
The genocide museum is a former high school that Pol Pot converted into a place they called ‘S-21’. Prisoners ranged from babies to the
elderly. There are rooms lined with pictures of the prisoners. The Khmer Rouge had documentation of everybody that they brought there.
All of the girls’ hair was cut to just below ear length. It was all about uniformity. Targets were the educated, the religious, the politicians
and members of their own party whom they felt betrayed them.
It did take a bit of effort to wrap my mind around the fact that I was standing at the place where so much torture had taken place. Most of
the rooms consisted of just a metal bed frame and a photo of a seemingly lifeless body that had been tortured on the bed frame. I had to
stand in each of these rooms for a few minutes to try to grasp and comprehend it.
There were many ‘after’ photos that had been taken that did not differ much from those that I saw at the Holocaust Memorial in
Jerusalem showing how the victims had become merely skin and bones. There were also many photographs here showing the physical
brutality that many endured (people covered in blood, people with swollen eyes, etc.).
In 1979 (when the Vietnamese won the war against the Khmer Rouge), it was estimated that up to three million people lost their lives –
almost all of them Cambodians. It blows me away to think how many future generations were killed off – by their own countrymen -
within the five years of that war.
There aren’t tons of things to do and see in Phnom Penh. Wait. Let me take that back. There weren’t tons of things that I wanted to see
and do in Phnom Penh (temples and palaces were not of interest to me). I decided to stroll along the area near the river. There were tons
of bars with outdoor seating and I was just trying to figure out which one would be the winner in my decision of where to get a drink.
In my search, I found the couple that I sat next to on my boat ride out here from Siem Reap. I said ‘Hi’ and they invited me to have a
drink with them. They’re such a cute, fun couple. She is American and he is Irish and they both live in London and that was where they
met. They are in Cambodia for a two-week holiday. My $9/night digs aren’t bad at all but I couldn’t help but live vicariously when hearing
about their digs at the Raffles hotel out here.
Now I’m back at my hotel. Tomorrow is the first day of the main festivities for their ‘Water Festival’ holiday. I’m going to take advantage
of being here for such an event.
In the meantime, I feel like it is my duty to give the city of Phnom Penh an award. It has hands-down won for being the dirtiest city that I
have yet encountered.
On that note, it is time for me to jump in the shower and get this layer of dirt off of me…
November 4, 2006
I enjoyed the actual city of Phnom Penh so much more today! Yesterday I was a bit turned off by how dirty it was. But today I saw it in a
different light. Maybe it was partly due to the Water Festival festivities? Who knows. Who cares. All I know is I really enjoyed my day
Yes, the city is still dirty. But that really hasn’t bothered me. I almost find it funny that any time I walk a few meters or hop on the back of
a motorbike I am immediately covered in dust. There is literally another layer on me. I have found that it is more necessary to take night
showers here because there is no way I am going to lay my dirty hair on the pillow before falling asleep.
I started my day with a walk out to the promenade. I noticed on my walk that many businesses, restaurants and cafes are closed for the
entire weekend for the Water Festival. There were countless vendors and stalls lined up all along the river. In addition to those, tables
were lined up for all of the people who were picnicking. I have to admit that I am glad I wasn’t on the invite list to some of these picnics as
the centerpieces on the tables were cooked chickens…with their heads still intact.
The nature of this holiday is centered around boat races. I admit that this is really the extent of what I know. I can say that there is
definitely excitement in the air when watching the next group of rowers getting ready to take to the river.
It is rare that I have been to a city during a really fun holiday/festival. I loved watching the locals. I loved seeing the excitement of little
kids as their parents bought them something from a vendor. I loved hearing the crowds cheering boats on during the races. I loved the
energy in the air.
I got to see fireworks tonight! But there was something somewhat funny about where I was watching these…
Along the promenade in Phnom Penh are flags of the countries in the world. I’m sure not every country is represented…but I would guess
that every major country and every Asian country has a flag waving. I was at a café across the street when the fireworks show started. I
moved across the street and found a spot with a good vantage point. Not only were there fireworks but there was also somewhat of a
parade moving through the river with lit-up boat floats. So here I was watching this. Fireworks exploding in the air. And then I glanced to
my right and noticed which flag I was standing near…the American flag! Here I was…in Cambodia…watching a fireworks display right
next to my nation’s flag. Somebody must have been making it up to me that I missed the 4th of July…so they gave me the 4th of
November instead. I’m okay with that!
This was quite the way to say ‘good-bye’ to Cambodia. Meanwhile, it is time to dread waking up in the morning to my 5:30am wake-up
call so that I make my flight to Bangkok…