Thursday, July 8, 2010

Phnom Penh

We were in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for 12 days and it was an interesting, horrific, fun, sad and educational time for us both. I think it is only travel that can bring so many emotions out in such a short time.

Phnom Penh was a surprise to us both – it is a modern city with wide, scooter-filled streets, shopping malls, 24-hour electricity (we’re still not used to this!) and more NGO’s and westerners than you can poke a bunch of sticks at. The foreign-fuelled riverfront area is a good place to go at night with plenty of interesting people to meet and share the highs and more highs of World Cup football with the German and Dutch travellers we befriended. It’s a cheap place to stay – only $6/night and meals+drinks are costing about $5-10. This fits into our budget, especially since we expect things to be cheaper as we move away from the capital.

We’ve visited the usual tourist spots, eg. the Palace & Silver Pagoda complex, the Russian & Central Markets, seen an elephant walk down the street etc. It’s not been a great place to meet locals – the only people we have spoken with are tourism-related which doesn’t usually make for the best conversations.

Unfortunately the main focus for tourists in Phnom Penh is the gruesome genocide museum and nearby killing fields from the Khmer Rouge period. For us, visiting these testaments to a brutal period in Cambodia’s history made us very heavy of heart. The fact that these events occurred during our lifetime somehow made them more real to us. Pol Pot and his cronies were ruthless in their desire to eradicate Cambodia of foreign influence and ordered the systematic killing of anyone with ties to the toppled government, academics, artisans and staggeringly even those with glasses were considered a threat!

No one knows for sure how many were killed between 1975-1979 but it is widely believed to be around the 1.5 million mark. This figure is truly unimaginable when face to face with a 10 metre high tower filled with more than 5,000 skulls of victims representing only a third of a percent of those who died...

1 comment:

  1. Sadly, civilized behaviour is a very thin veneer, even today.