I’m a little bit stumped about what to say about our time in Phnom Penh, mainly because I slept through the best part of our four days there. Whatever fever/flu I had absolutely kicked my arse, so sight-seeing was a little bit limited, as was the amount of time I could stay awake. It wasn’t all bad though – our hotel had excellent cable TV and a whole channel dedicated to action movies. I have seen enough movies starring Harrison Ford, Samuel L Jackson, Jason Statham and Mark Wahlberg to last a lifetime (although Mark Wahlberg is a babe, so I won’t be taking too long a break from him). Campbell made a strong last push for husband of the year, making trips to the pharmacy, giving me the only decent pillow in the hotel and miraculously appearing with food at all the right times.
Luckily for us, Phnom Penh isn’t actually a city heavy on tourist attractions, so we still managed to tick off everything we wanted to do during our time there. The main attractions here are the museums and memorials related to the Cambodian genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. I will openly admit that I feel ashamed at how little I knew about this event before visiting Cambodia, and what we learnt during our visit to Phnom Penh was truly horrific. One out of four Cambodians was killed by their countrymen during this time – that’s two million people. Families were decimated (apply that percentage to your own family), along with communities. I won’t give you a history lesson here, but it’s worth looking up. Even your trusty friend Wikipedia will give you a decent rundown. I didn’t take any pictures – it’s just not the done thing.
First stop was Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The Museum was originally a high school, but was commandeered by the Khmer Rouge and used as a facility for carrying out prisoner interrogation. The things that went on at Tuol Sleng were barbaric (there is still blood on the floor in some rooms), and the audio tour and displays don’t pull any punches. On the outskirts of town lie the “Killing Fields” (or Choeung Ek), the other key site for tourists to visit. The name pretty accurately sums up what went on there – prisoners who had been interrogated, or who had otherwise been sentenced to death, were driven to this remote location (there were 300 other similar locations throughout Cambodia), made to kneel over a pit dug into the ground and then beaten to death, whacked over the head with a blunt instrument, or had their throat slit – bullets were too expensive. The bodies were piled up one on top of the other until the pit could hold no more, and then another pit would be created. Some of the bodies at these particular killing fields have been excavated, but a huge number lay undisturbed under the ground. During wet season, teeth, bone fragments and clothing routinely come to the surface and are collected by the caretakers of the site.
On a more positive note, we thought that Phnom Penh itself was a great city. It’s very pretty – there are lots of open spaces, large public parks, impressive monuments and more greenery than we’ve seen in quite a long time. The riverfront promenade is particularly pretty, and it’s heaving with people every evening doing group aerobics classes, playing football, eating, chatting or just strolling along. A lot of the hotels on the riverfront have a rooftop bar, so you can sit up there and have a drink and watch the activity while the sun sets over the river. There’s a real cosmopolitan vibe to the city as well – there are great cafes and restaurants with pretty much every cuisine you can think of. Apparently this is due, in large part, to the high number of foreign diplomats and NGO workers who call Phnom Penh home. There’s also some really cool, quirky, shops that offer beautiful replica antiques and vintage travel posters etc, which makes a nice change from the standard night market offerings.
We left Phnom Penh yesterday, but feel like we have a bit of unfinished business so will be heading back there for Christmas. We have booked ourselves into a nice hotel and have reserved our spots for Christmas lunch at the Aussie XL bar. God only knows how that will end up, but I’m expecting average food, good company and the beers to be flowing.