10th – 13th June, Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh was our second and last (unfortunately) destination in Cambodia; but it held a lot of promise – Josh Herron, a mate from NZ lives there and was going to show us around the place and take us to the top bars and restaurants….he did just that!
On the trip down the country, we met Justin, a lad from the Uk doing a bit of travel on his own so we joined forces and hit the ground running in PP (Phnom Penh). The first night we decided to grab a cheap guesthouse by the lake, it was nothing flash but for $3US a night each we weren’t expecting much! They had Beer Lao (a trip favourite), the food was cheap and it had a nice chilled out atmosphere.
Day 2 saw us with a late start (recovering a few hours sleep lost in Siem Reap), but by midday we’d had a solid breakfast and made plans for a trip to the History Museum (this was good, a lot about the Bhuddist/Hindu influence in Cambodia) and then onto Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21 – more details here) – yep it sounds like a pretty grim place to visit and it certainly was. S-21 was what Pol Pot (the Khmer Rouge leader – read about him here) used as a “security center” – basically an interrogation and prison center. Many of those held at S-21 were later sent out to the ‘killing fields’ to be murdered. I’ve written a bit of a summary of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge for anyone interested in the semi-accurate history of it all (pretty sure the facts are roughly right!). S-21 was certainly eye opening and gave us some huge insight to what Cambodia had experienced over the last 30-40 years.
Day 2 contd’, after a sobering visit to S-21, we went and caught up with Josh at his apartment in central PP. One of his friends from the courts took us to a North Korean Restaurant, ‘bizzare’ is the best word I’d use to describe the restaurant. It is a restaurant owned by the Nth Korean government.The waitresses who work there are dressed up like strange puffy ballerina’s, they spend 2 months working at the restaurant in an attempt to improve their English before being shipped back to Nth Korea. Apparently each night they get escorted back to the North Korean Embassy to ensure that they don’t try and run away!! The whole outing became a bit of a joke as besides the weird set-up, bright white lights and ballerina waitresses, the food was way overpriced! Afterward we enjoyed a little more normality, heading to a sports bar to watch the opening game of the World Cup and a few other bars afterward to check out the PP nightlife. Quite a late night but Jono, Justin, Josh and I had a great time.
Day 3 was a ‘slow start’ the boys were suffering from a few too many Angkor’s from the night before, but we managed to make it down to an Irish bar called Paddy Rice Fields by 2:30 pm to watch the AB’s kick-off against Ireland and get stuck into a hearty English breakfast with coffee (check pic to the right)! The AB’s pulled us out of our hangovers and we were on top of the world after it; so much so that when Josh said “Do you want to play a game of touch” we said “Hell yeah!” Off we went to the local school grounds to meet up with a few of Josh’s court colleagues and a game of touch ensued for about an hour…in 35 degree heat…we survived, just! Luckily, we were invited back to DB’s place for a swim in their family swimming pool, as luck would have it DB also had a few cold Angkors in a chilly bin – we thought that after our big run around we had earned a beer and it went down surprisingly well! After an hour in the pool, a few light leg cramps and a couple more Angkors, Josh announced we were heading to a local Khmer restaurant for dinner…sounded better than bizarre North Korean! The place we ate at was awesome, Khmer BBQ pork and beef, ice cold beer from the jug and some tasty noodles and rice – a magic meal, clearly Josh had his taste buds screwed on the right way!
The night of day 3 was gearing up well, we had been invited, through Josh, to an ex-pat party at one of the lawyers places (working in the War Crimes trial in PP). It was a great place, met some great people from all over the world – all of whom came from interesting backgrounds and by nature of what they were working on (War Crimes) had some interesting thoughts on what we’d seen at S-21 the day before. We later watched the English draw with the US (Justin was not terribly impressed) and went to a local burger bar and grabbed a late night burger…amazing food, once again Josh had a blinder!
Day 4, funnily enough another slow start, we visited a nearby noodle house for breakfast and re-hydrated over a bottle of noodle soup and dumplings. It gave us the kick start to get out to the Russian Market (the name they give to knock-off markets here!?), where both Jono and I purchased our very own Krama’s – these were scarves warn by the Khmer Rouge and are still popular in Cambodia today…we were fast becoming locals! The killing fields were next on the agenda and after some good bargaining on the tuk tuk fare out to the killing fields, J, J, J and I were on our way. It was a great trip out and back on the open air taxi, getting to soak up Cambodian lifestyle, countryside and driving – cars packed with 9 people…4 across the front!
The Killing Fields, is a site that was set-up by Pol Pot and used as a mass execution and grave site for those killed, from S-21 or in the rural countryside, by the Khmer Rouge. I won’t go into the details of the site on the blog as a lot of it is pretty horrific, but it was interesting visiting it with Josh as he obviously has a greater understanding of what went on and who the head leaders were so he was able to add some further details to our understanding of the whole event. A recommended experience, but incredibly eery at the same time.
A quiet meal out that night with the J’s and Kip (one of Josh’s mates) and then an early night before our big trip our of PP the next day. We were to catch a flight from PP to Kuala Lumpur, then a flight from KL to Bangalore the day after…
Phnomh Phen is without doubt one of my favourite trip experiences, mainly down to being able to experience the local or ex-pat side of life. We got to meet some great people, chow down some awesome food, get our fix of NZ culture (touch and AB’s) and of course learn about the massive atrocities that the country has faced over the last 40 years. Surprisingly there is no animocity amongst Khmers and PP is a sure sign that the country is moving ahead with life; it’s a city I could certainly live in – the vibe and energy is magic.
Pot Pot Regime: Basically Pol Pot was a deluded communist leader of Cambodia from 1975. He believed that if Cambodia was to progress that they needed to focus on farming…cultivate rice and export it; anyone considered intelligent (doctors, academics, bankers, teachers etc) were either forced into the fields to work or were taken to S-21 and held prisoner. Pol Pot would hold prisoner or execute anyone who spoke up in resistance to his regime and millions of innocent Cambodian families were killed after being suspected of working against Pol Pot…in the end Pol Pot’s plans failed as there were not the resources needed to produce the levels of rice needed to sustain the economy – they still tried to export their desired quota of rice but many in the country went hungry as a result – they were simply not fed! During his rule Pol Pot wiped out 21% of the Cambodian population through either the murder or starvation – including nearly all of the most intelligent people in Cambodia.