Exploring Asia: Cambodia - Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields - Vikingess Voyages

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Exploring Asia: Cambodia - Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

Phnom Penh´s Independent Monument
We left Ho Chi Minh and Vietnam heading for Cambodia´s capital Phnom Penh by bus early in the morning on the 22nd. The bus trip took about six hours, so we arrived at our destination the same afternoon. The bus trip was alright, and passing the border went well without any further problems.

Arriving in Phnom Pehn we had just enough time to check out some of the city´s monuments before the sun went down. Our first impression of the city was not too good though; although they have some nice buildings and stuff to look at, many of the locals (read: tuk-tuk-drivers) are annoying; even when you tell them you don´t need their services they seem to think that if they only keep bugging you long enough eventually you will accept their offer.
Some of the tuk-tuk drivers even stalked us around a couple of blocks before they finally realized that we intended to walk rather than go by tuk-tuk. *Sigh*
A Cambodian monk walking by the walls of the Royal Palace.
And that is also one of the best things about Phnom Penh: everything can be reached by foot so you don´t really need a tuk-tuk if you´re only staying in the city! The capital is in fact more like a village than a capital, and not to mention that all of the streets are marked by numbers so it is really easy to find your way around!

Volunteers from Friends Orphanage
On our walk around the city we stumbled across some volunteers from a group called Friends Orphanage. They asked us if we wanted contribute by working a day or two as volunteers too, but unfortunately we only had one more day to spend in Phnom Penh and there was still a lot left to see.
However, I thought that there might be some others out there wanting to do some volunteer work, and that it might be a good idea at least to share their information on my blog.
In addition to the work at the orphanage, where over 50 children live, the volunteers also helps the community in a lot of other ways too. So if you are interested in working as a volunteer in Cambodia you could always check out their web page for more information. Unlike some volunteer programs you don´t pay anything to participate here, and a place to sleep is provided too. The group seemed serious about their work, and I would definitely have wanted to help out if we had stayed in Phnom Penh for a longer time.
A statue of a golden bird close to the palace.
After our short walk we went back to the hostel just as the sun went down. Phnom Penh did not really seem like a safe city to walk around in after dark, but then again we were getting up early the next day so we took an early night instead.
Luckily we had found ourselves a good driver when we arrived in Phnom Penh, and in the morning we got the people in the reception to call him, and he picked us up shortly after.
Going out of the city by Tuk-Tuk.
We were going to Choeung Ek which lies about 17 km south of Phnom Penh. Though the place used to be a peaceful Chinese graveyard this image was turned upside down in the years between 1975 and 1976 when the Khmer Rouge regime used this place to massacre their own people and giving Choeung Ek the name its more known under: the Killing Fields.
Today Choeung Ek is a memorial, and the Buddhist stupa contains bones and skulls from the many victims who lost their life to the brutal Khmer Rouge regime.
The tower is said to consist of more then 5000 thousand skulls of both men, women and children.
The Choeung Ek memorial tower to the right, and a mass grave to the left marked by a straw roof.
In Choeung Ek there is also a small museum where they show pictures, letters and stories from the Khmer Rouge regime, and they also has a short documentary being shown every hour. It was horrifying to see the brutality of this regime, but at the same time I felt the importance of keeping this piece of history available for us so that we all can learn from the past.

Back in the city our tuk-tuk driver first dropped us of at the Central Market where we spent a couple of minutes. Our driver was surprised at how fast we came back to the tuk-tuk, but I guess we weren´t exactly in shopping mode after the trip to the Killing Fields..
However, it was a nice market and we did see a lot of interesting souvenirs there.

On our city tour we also stopped by the old temple Wat Phnom ("Temple of the Mountains") which lays north in the city. Unfortunately they were doing some construction work at the site, so we did not get to see all of the place (it is not that big, so only a little bit of construction work can ruin a lot of the experience there). Besides the temple itself we also got to see some monkeys playing in the park surrounding the temple, and it is also possible to ride elephants there.
Back in the city centre we checked out the Mekong river which passes by right in front of the Royal Palace.
The Royal Palace is also a popular attraction - not at least for the many pigeons in town. 

Not to mention the building next to the Royal Palace: The beautiful National Museum!
The National Museum
All in all we spent one afternoon + one day in Phnom Penh. By my opinion this is just enough time to see what there is to see in the city, unless you want to spend some more time there and perhaps work a day or two (or even more) as a volunteer. The city is nice, at least around the palace area. The rest of it is a little bit dirty and chaotic; unfortunately the annoying tuk-tuk drivers left us with a slightly bad image of the city.
On the positive side the city is not that big, you can walk anywhere you want and it is easy to navigate. And one important thing: The food is ridiculously cheap; we paid around 1 dollar for dinner.!
Cambodia has had a rough history, and it is therefore quite understandable that there are big potentials for improvement. But if I could re-choose our destinations I still would have chosen Cambodia and Phnom Penh as one of our destinations.

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About Anette
Anette came to Japan as an exchange student in 2010, met the love of her life and got stuck. From her base in Tokyo she writes about her experiences as a full-time worker in Tokyo and about her travels in Japan and abroad. She's a free-spirited adventurer who enjoys both the great outdoors and her urban lifestyle.

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Adventures ofAnette

A modern day shield-maiden who loves to explore the unbeaten paths of the world. From her base in Tokyo, Anette takes on both rural and urban challenges, and goes by the motto "No challenge too big, no adventure too small"!
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