With my airport pickup not showing up despite several email reconfirmations, it spelled out how things work in Cambodia. While I usually try not arrive in a new place after dark, there are very limited connections to Phnom Penh from Sydney. Arriving half-dead on the back of a tuk-tuk at midnight is a sight probably very familiar to the guys at the guesthouse because no eye-lids were batted and a mere shrug to ‘why the pickup hadn’t turned up’.
Sounds of temple chants, motos and cart-pushers woke me up the next morning. Phnom Penh was just going to be a stopover for a visa before I headed to Angkor Wat. The lovely lady at the consulate said she could process my application in 2 days (rather than 4) so I figured I might as well hang around and see what Phnom Penh was all about.
First impressions; it’s dirty, dusty, gritty. A walk along the Sisowath Quay is all glam and glitter because of the Royal Palace close-by but walk a few streets into the city and it’s not. Because of the embassy, I stayed a bit out of the tourist center which is always nice because you get to see how locals do. Saying that and I must blame this on the jet-lag, that evening I walked into a restaurant that to my wise traveler eyes looked liked a local food joint and it’s embarrassing to write that it was only after I had placed my order that I noticed that I was the only female patron eating there. All the other females were working. Working. Yeah. The head maître d’ who could speak English and had initially told me to call her for anything, asked ‘why cahncel order. You no laaakhe?‘ No. I don’t like! I scuttled out of there like my tail was on fire and went back to the safety of my guesthouse and I ate dinner there for rest of my time in Phnom Penh.
However I did lunches. With lots of beer. At $0.50 a can/draught, why not! But that’s where cheap stops because despite their own currency, USD is the accepted exchange so to my poor converted Fijian paisa, Cambodia is not so cheap after all.
Weird food. Things that get yewwed at home make it to the top of menus here in Cambodia. Stuffed intestines, skinned frogs, boiled duck fetus, diced rats….and then the usual Southeast Asian fried snacks of roaches, crickets and tarantulas!
The National Museum of Cambodia
I…like museums. Before Buddhism spread in Cambodia, there were strong Indian influences and worship to Ganesh, Vishnu and Shiva was common. The museum has beautiful preserved cravings of these deities in the Khmer form on display. Stone works depicting stories of the Mahabharata is amazing. Unfortunately photos were not allowed inside.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Read about it here <click on link>. With my backpack and Lonely Planet, I kind of waltzed into the school complex now turned into a museum without really thinking about where I was going. This is no tourist attraction to look and wow at. That almost 20,000 people were killed here and not so long ago is beyond my writing capacity. I recall when my arm brushed against the wall in one of the classrooms, I reflexly wiped it off. It just felt that the walls were still splattered with blood of the tortured. Known as S-21, the prison officers kept meticulous records of people that went through the place. Rows and rows of victims’ mug shots stare hauntingly back at you in lower levels of the buildings. Back in my room going through the photos, I see an eery reflection of me staring back with the photos….
I cancelled my trip to the Killing Fields the next day, I couldn’t do it. (post coming up)
Daughters of Cambodia
Daughters of Cambodia is an organization that reaches out to victims of human trafficking and gives them a chance to learn a skill. They are based in Phnom Penh and have a beautiful cafe and shop selling products hand-made by the children which goes back to support them. I sat there eating a chocolate brownie and coke (because that’s what I felt like, acha) and trying not to stare at the young girls working there. What are we doing to our children?
With that I couldn’t wait to get out of Phnom Penh. For what was supposed to be an easy, light few days became too conscious. I got into Cambodia all ready to rock it out and do the Angkor Wat circuit but not all here is what meets the eye.
I picked up my passport and caught the night bus to Siem Reap.