Cambodia Part Two - The Good, The Bad and The Amusing
As you are probably aware from reading Cambodia Part One - First Thoughts, the first day of our visit wasn't very enjoyable.
Cambodia's hot and dusty capital city, Phnom Pehn, was our home for the next four day's and we weren't going to let a bad first day ruin our trip.
A city filled with such a dark hurtful past, needed exploring...
We befriended a TukTuk driver called Sammy (if you ever stay in the Juliana hotel make sure you use TukTuk No 1!). Sammy was brilliant, for the duration of our stay he took us anywhere we wanted. He sat (or rather snoozed) whilst waiting for us to finish our activity or he picked us up at an agreed time.
Sammy was always happy to help with any questions and there was always a caring "stay safe" every time he dropped us off.
One of our first stops was to the Central Market. A landmark building in the Phnom Pehn, built in the shape of a dome with four arms branching out into huge hallways. Each hallway filled with countless stalls selling everything imaginable.
The market is filled with a great mix of locals and tourists weaving their way in and out of the individual stalls. If you have time to just stop and watch it happening, then I would recommend it!
It makes for an interesting and lively first glimpse into the local culture.
One word of warning for you all, watch out for small puddles of "water". Upon entering the Central Market we almost walked into a little boy who was no older than 7 years old, trousers down, willy out, having a pee as though there was no one around!
We later discovered that it's quite normal to urinate wherever you want to!
There wasn't a day where we didn't spot someone in mid pee. The worst experience was as we left a shop, and almost fell over a lady crouched down in the door way with her skirt above her hips.
This resulted in spending the rest of the trip jumping over any puddles we spotted!
Next on our list of things to see was the Choeung Ek Killing Fields which is a harrowing encounter, but one I feel that every visitor to Cambodia should experience. Upon arrival you will be given a headset that will explain the details of the country's turmoil under the Khmer Rouge.
Walking through the Killing Fields was like walking through a nightmare!
Sure, the weather was nice but as you listen to your headset you begin to learn that the rags and litter protruding from the ground were the clothes and bones of the victims.
Each time it rains, there are more things exposed from the beneath the surface - bones, teeth, bits of clothing.
And then just before you leave you come across a gigantic, Ornate Stupa. The Stupa is piled high with the skulls of around 5,000 victims, many of the skulls showing marks of the trauma they had suffered before execution.
An equally distressing experience was the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (also known an the S-21 Museum). The former school turned prison camp presents a chilling and complex account of both the victims and the perpetrators experience during the reign of the Khmer Rouge.
During the reign of terror, Phnom Penh's skilled or educated professionals were systematically murdered by Pol Pot's henchmen. The S-21 prison is a graphic reminder of the suffering that shaped Cambodia. More than 14,000 victims were tortured and killed at the prison or taken to the Killing Fields to be murdered. Only 8 prisoners survived. As you walk around the Prison you will see many disturbing images and torture instruments.
So, if you decide to visit the the Killing Fields and the S-21 Museum, prepare yourself. I recommend taking a separate day to visit each, as it is very intense and a lot to take in.
The reign of the Khmer Rouge may have ceased in 1979, but the suffering still pervades throughout the country.
Night times were a cheerier affair. Spent down by the Palm-lined Riverside sampling some of the many different restaurants and bars that Phnom Penh has to offer. Probably one of the cleanest parts that we came across whilst staying in Phnom Penh, a relaxing place to sit and watch the world go by.
The only downside is that you won't be able to sit peacefully for a prolonged period of time, without a bare footed child trying to sell you a bracelet, or a one legged man shuffling along the street with a sad facial expression. Please note, that after begging all the nearby tourists said "one legged man", stood up, jumped on his scooter and drove off into the night!!! Lastly, if you find yourself struggling for time to visit one of the large markets, then the Riverside has a Night Market (only open at the weekends). A large open market filled with locals, all gathered with friends eating "family-style" on large mats whilst listening to wannabe karaoke stars belting out the latest hits on a large stage.
It was at the Night Market where we suffered our first and only bit of theft, a bracelet taken off my partners wrist. Stupidly, it was our own fault, we were so paranoid about bags, money and phones that we just didn't consider jewellery.
So, the main question is would we visit Cambodia again? Find out in Cambodia Part Three - The Conclusion...