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downundergal Phnom Penh - A travel report by Kerrie
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Phnom Penh,  Cambodia - flag Cambodia
10402 readers

downundergal's travel reports

Phnom Penh - Cambodia's Capital

  17 votes
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For me, the mere mention of Phnom Penh instantly conjures up images of forced marches, imprisonment and death due the infamous Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

National Museum
National Museum
There are still reminders of the Khmer reign especially with the Tuol Sleng Museum and the Choeung Ek Killing Fields but the people are stoic about their past. They are looking forward rather than back although they still pay their respects for their many missing and dead.

I think that it pays to watch the movie The Killing Fields before visiting Phnom Pehn as it gives you a broader understanding of what happened to the country and its people. Some of the locations in the movie are still recognizable although for example like the American Embassy you are unable to visit purely as a sightseer.

Once known as the “Pearl of Asia” nowadays Phnom Pehn may not have quite the same polish but it is still bustling with energy, traffic jams galore and it's people are warmly welcoming.

The city takes its name from Wat Phnom a temple that was built on top of a man made hill and named after Grandma Penh a wealthy widow. The temple is not outstanding but if you do decide to visit there are some gardens off to the side. Be warned that this place is a magnet for many beggars and you might find yourself literally bounding up the 50 odd steps found at the front to escape.

Strolling along the rivers edge where the Mekong and the Tonle Sap rivers meet is a great place to spend a leisurely break watching the kids playing, the traditional boats plying their trade and generally just watching everyday life go past on this mighty river.

There are also many reminders of bygone days with the beautiful mansions left from these times.

The National Museum is a pretty pink building with a peaceful atmosphere due the ponds found in its centre courtyard. It houses a large collection of Khmer art which if you are continuing onto the temples of Angkor may whet your appetite in the mean time.

Favourite spots:
Royal Palace
Royal Palace
The Royal Palace is a must do to visit. The complex is surrounded by a high wall and has many elaborate gilt temples built in traditional Khmer rchitecture with many tiered roofs and topped by towers.

Highlights include the Throne Room. This is topped by a tower featuring in miniature the four faces found at the Bayon from Angkor. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Silver Pagoda as it is also known houses a number of gold and jeweled Buddha statues.

The most outstanding being the Emerald Buddha and a near-life-size Buddha that is encrusted over 9000 diamonds. The floor is covered with silver tiles.

There is also a life size statue of the King Sisowath mounted on his horse.

Some of the galleries found in the complex are beautiful but only partly restored. They feature many scenes from Royal everyday life and legendary battles.The whole complex is immaculate and the gardens show a heavy French influenced and are perfectly groomed. You need to cover up before entering.

What's really great:
Playground seen through the barbed wire
Playground seen through the barbed wire
You should pay a visit to the notorious S-21 or Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It is very upsetting and may even bring you to tears but you will admire how the people have bounced back.
The horrific setting in a school makes it all the more shocking. The rusty and disused swings and monkey bars still stand desolate in the playground.
On the right is a series of rooms & the stories of the guards & prisoners. At the rear are the classrooms that have been converted into tiny, cramped and dirty cells for the unfortunates to be kept captive.
The left hand side holds the torture devices left as they were found but far more jarring were the meticulous records of the hundreds of photographs of the victims. I found these so moving I still cannot find the words to express my feelings. These poor souls ranged from young children, new born babies through to all age ranges.
I will never forget the look of total and absolute despair mirrored in their eyes and captured through the camera lens.

Choeung Ek or the Killing Fields are about 15kms out of town over partly gravel roads.

The site contains a central memorial Buddhist Stupa divided into levels and holding hundreds of skulls many still displaying the hole in the skull where they were clubbed to death in order to save bullets. The Stupa has glass window panes but each of the shelves holding the skulls is left open so that the spirits can easily come and go according to local belief.

There are many large excavated mass graves. There are still pieces of bones and clothing half buried in the dirt.

The only solace that I found in amongst all the horror was the local kids hanging around at the boundaries as they are not allowed to enter. Their happy smiles and pure delight when I pulled out a bag of gummy bears was pure joy.

In another spot a pair of young boys were waving shyly and it was only when I returned home and saw the picture enlarged I realized he was giving us a peace sign – makes you feel hopeful?

Hotel room
Hotel room
We stayed at the four star Holiday Villa which has a French feel and is located near the Markets on Monivong Boulevard. It was a really comfortable hotel aimed more at the business person and as such a little out of the main budget tourist areas but still a short moto ride down to the river. It had all the bells and whistles with porters, doormen and quite flash considering the cost of $ per night with breakfast.
The rooms are furnished with lovely silk coverings and are clean and comfortable.
Although located on a busy road the road noise is not audible from the rooms.
A buffet breakfast was included serving both Asian and Western choices.

After the first morning we quickly learnt that you don’t sit near the window. In no time flat we had a group of interested parties looking in, sellers and beggars so many people in fact the staff had to go out and shoo them away and we decided to move to make life easier.

Central Market
Central Market
I would prefer to shop than club so have devoted this space to the main Market instead.

There a two markets in the city, the older Russian Market and the so called Central or New Market locally known as Psah Thmei which is your typical market. The wet section offered plenty of fresh produce so hold your breath as you pass.

The other sections offered souvenirs, CD’s watches and various knockoffs of known brands of clothing but to nowhere near the scale as other Asian countries. Many of the items were really overpriced and the prices not negotiable down to a realistic level. We ended up buying a hammock as a little old lady picked my better half for a softie straight up, she latched on to him and followed him around for so long that eventually he gave in and yes, he bought the hammock. One problem though - we live in a unit and have no where to hang it!

Wat Phnom
Wat Phnom
The Boddhi Tree Del Gusto is a real oasis opposite of all places the Tuol Sleng Museum. Offering a beautiful verdant courtyard filled with masses of plants. The menu including beautiful filled baguettes like roasted Aubergine, goats cheese and mango chutney or yummy Stir-fries or Cambodian noodle dishes just to name a few. It is marvelous place for a coffee and some down time Just a tip - make sure you have lunch before you go in as you won’t feel like having anything when you come out.

The other place we found was Pancho Villa, a little Mexican place down on the river decked out in the requisite sombreros and Mexican blankets. Run by an American we were dining there on the 5th of May, which incidentally is Mexican Independence Day and not only was the tequila flowing freely so were the reefers. The food came as an afterthought but it was typical Tex Mex even if the Enchiladas were a little sparse on the fillings.

Royal Palace
Royal Palace
A favourite would definitely be the Foreign Correspondents Club which offers a sublimely cool hangout and great value eating.

The main Bar is at the front offering comfortable arm chairs is a great place to relax as it always seems to be buzzing. The light and airy eating area is at the rear.

The food here was superb, a set price menu for $11 offering three courses with three or four courses per course such a Crostini for entrée and an Asian noodle dish, lamb or similar for a main course finished off with some fantastic homemade ice-cream.

Other recommendations:
Poor kid
Poor kid
You will encounter beggars all over Cambodia especially due to the large number of mines still found in the country. I don’t generally condone giving however when these people are have no social security system to fall back at least don’t ignore them. One little boy we encountered outside the Royal Palace had a specially adapted mini push wheel chair as he had no legs, I dare you to walk past and not let your heart melt even a little and give him something.

Published on Monday January 1th, 2007

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Mon, Jan 15 2007 - 09:42 PM rating by magsalex

Excellent report describing all aspects. Good job.

Tue, Jan 09 2007 - 07:16 PM rating by mistybleu

An incredible report Kerrie, a nice mixture of humility with infomation.

Tue, Jan 09 2007 - 07:01 AM rating by frenchfrog

heartbreaking report facing you with the reallity, thanks for sharing that!

Tue, Jan 02 2007 - 12:56 AM rating by rangutan

Excellent Kerrie, not a new destination but very well presented [4.6]

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 09:05 PM rating by horourke

once again this is the report of a traveller, not a tourist.
thank you for challenging my comfortable life
i hope to yet respond in some way to to the realities of tragedy

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 04:14 PM rating by eirekay

Kerrie, what a great report (as always)! The Stupa memorials sounds so moving. You have selected some terrific photos too! Nicely done!

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 01:13 PM rating by mrscanada

This sounds like an interesting place to visit. I'd never be able to take the
way they treat the beggers being treated like the little boy.

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 10:20 AM rating by marianne

This is the perfect mini-travel guide to Phnom Penh. You covered all facts important to travellers mixed with you personal views. An outstanding report.

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 10:05 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Otra vez has escrito un report formidable. Bravo, bravisimo!

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 07:37 AM rating by davidx

I admire the way you can capture the poverty and misery as well as showing the grandeur of Cambodia.

Mon, Jan 01 2007 - 07:07 AM rating by sajjanka

excellent report

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