We arrived in Phnom Penh just before 9 AM and were greeted by our guide, Nyphea Khum, holding up one of those signs we all see when we leave baggage pickup at the airport (hasn’t been something we are used to). Because we were about a 1/2 hour late arriving, he and our driver modified our itinerary from the published one – changed the order, not the sights.
After driving through a very dusty and dirty part of town that made me wonder what we had arranged for ourselves, we arrived at the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. Although Pat originally did not intend to do this part of the visit, she made it through. This was a very sad place and reminds us that there are people in the world, even now (ISIS and Boko Haram) who will murder many people easily.
Between 1975 and 1978, about 17,000 men, women, children and infants were sent to this field (a former Chinese cemetery) to be killed. Almost 9,000 remains were exhumed in 1980. This particular “killing field” (there were many around Cambodia), still yields bone and clothing fragments after every rain. As we walked along, it was impossible to avoid walking on such fragments.
The victims who were murdered here, were most often questioned and tortured at S-21, the former Tuol Svay Pray High School, close to Phnom Penh. Of the 14,000 people known to have been sent here for interrogation, only 7 survived. This facility is now know as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. This was our second stop of the day. Nyphea said he wanted to get the sad stuff out of the way first and end the day with happier subjects.
After seeing the Genocide museum we were dropped off at the National Museum which is filled with statuary and other artifacts from many of the temples in Cambodia. Other than the statue of Garuda, just inside the entrance, no pictures were allowed.
After this, we went to the hill where Phnom Penh was founded. Then off to the Royal Palace in Cyclos, or pedi-cabs. This is a dying form of transportation that only exists because of tourists.
This Cyclo trip was very interesting because of the way traffic works in Cambodia. There are almost no traffic lights or stop signs. Everything is done by giving way to whomever takes the initiative. Vehicles cut in front of each other, cars and motorcycles pull out of sides streets into traffic, and you see people doing U-turns anywhere. Also, it was common to see motorcycles coming at you on the side of the road you were on, Unbelievable. It’s a wonder we didn’t see any accidents. You have to experience it to understand and appreciate it.
One of the noticeable visuals along the streets, besides the dust, vendor stalls and traffic is the electrical power infrastructure:
We finally got to the Royal Palace. The King of Cambodia is much like the Queen of England – no power, only ceremonial. However, where he lives and entertains is impressive:
From the Royal Palace grounds, we were dropped at the hotel. After a short rest, we decided to go exploring on our own. Since we wanted at least one geocache we walked down one of the main roads, crossed a very busy roundabout (there appears to be no such thing as a traffic light or “zebra crossing”) so we just had to start across, slowly, not hesitating and hoping the cars and motorcycles would see us and slow down. We made it!
From the geocache, we then headed to the street that runs along the Mekong River. We found a restaurant for dinner, The Grand River. I had Beef Lok Lak, while Pat tried Fish Amok (this was described in one an article as: “Tastes far better than it sounds…a fish mousse with fresh coconut milk and kroung, a type of Khmer curry paste…“). Both of us drank Angkor Beer.
We were very pleased with the food and beer. The prices were more than reasonable – about $20 USD for our entire bill. Every where we went, U.S. Dollars are acceptable currency, with change returned in USD, except for any change under $1, which we would get in Riel (the Cambodia currency, at $1 USD = $4,000 Riel).
If you come to Cambodia, make sure you have plenty of new U.S. money. One dollar bills are especially useful.
After the meal, we strolled along the river, stopped for a Dairy Queen, and took a tuk-tuk back to the hotel. A tuk-tuk is a like a buggy pulled by a motorcycle and are a cheap way to travel. Of course, it is probably best not to watch the traffic as these vehicles fit in with the rest of the wild traffic.