Written by MichaelJM on 20 Nov, 2011
When we’d been on our City Tour (see separate journal) our guide had mentioned that at 4.00pm on 11th November the King of Cambodia and the Prime Minister would be turning off the flame in the independence monument. The Independence monument is a fantastic memorial…Read More
When we’d been on our City Tour (see separate journal) our guide had mentioned that at 4.00pm on 11th November the King of Cambodia and the Prime Minister would be turning off the flame in the independence monument. The Independence monument is a fantastic memorial on the main road through the town close to the Royal Palace. It was erected to celebrate their independence, from almost 100 years of French Colonial rule, in 1953. This huge Stuppa shaped red stone monument reaches high into the sky proclaiming the joy of the people to the heavens above. Around the square were huge photographs of the king, the previous king and his wife and banners confirming that the king was celebrating his 90th birthday alongside 20 years since the Kingdom had been restored after the downfall of the Kymher Rouge (but more about that in later journals).We decided that we’d go along to watch the celebrations which were programmed to start at 4.30. We assumed that it would start on time as everything seemed to run on time in this country, so left from our hotel at about 4.20pm. It was only a short walk away and soon we were approaching the main road and could see a crowd encircling the Independence Monument. "Not to large" I thought to myself as we set off purposefully to join them. And then a guard, of which there were many stood around chatting, stopped our progress. I paused and saw a mobile metal detector frame (like you’d see at airports) which I momentarily assumed we had to step through. But no, we were not to proceed any further as only the chosen few with passes were allowed close to the Monument. Not to be deterred we decided to "stick around" and check out what we could see from a distance. There was plenty of activity in the centre of the monument with local dignitaries, members of the armed forces and high ranking Buddhist Monks taking up their key positions to await the King’s arrival. An excited commentator seemed to be whipping the selected crowd into an enthusiastic state and several false alarms, when the Cambodian National Anthem was played. With hindsight we reckon these were practice sessions for the crowd. Finally when the King arrived, in his state limousine (one of our guides had joked that this was the King’s new elephant – a reference to the days when the King would have travelled by that mighty beast). The crowd erupted in to frantic flag waving, the raising of photographs of the King and the singing of the Anthem.Fifty eight year old King Norodom Sihamoni was nominated to be king after his father abdicated in 2004. It is strongly suggested that the former King Norodom Sihanouk abdicated so he could testify in court against the old Khmer Rouge regime (something he couldn’t do as constitutional monarch) and it is clear that the population still honor him. They refer to him as The King-Father of Cambodia and are proud that he has now been King twice (1941 -55 and then again from 1993 until his abdication) and I’m sure that he continues to be influential, despite his abdication. It was interesting that whoever we spoke to about King Norodom Sihamoni was quick to mention that he was 58 and was not married. They would usually add something like "he was a dancer, you know" and then give a broad grin. One can only guess at their inference!Anyway back to our experience of the ceremony! Things were happening in the monument but as everyone looked no taller than 7 or 8 cms it was difficult to discern. We saw the King bowing to the religious leaders and after a time the flame was extinguished. Then we could see little activity so we decided to return to our hotel room.Back there we switched on the TV on the off chance that the ceremony was still ongoing and sure enough there it was. The King was systematically going around the square greeting the onlookers. This was an interesting ceremony to watch as the people’s knees were almost touching the floor as they bowed in front of the King. He too was greeting them almost apologetically with his head down. But he spoke to each and every member on the front row of the square and the whole greetings ceremony must have carried on for approaching the hour, before the King got back into his "elephant" to make the short journey back to his palace.Did this make up for the cancellation of the Water Festival? Well not quite, but it was a great ceremony to be able to observe, albeit from a distance. Close
We had a free day in Phnom Penh and decided that we’d spend the morning visiting the local sights that hadn’t been incorporated into our planned itinerary with the tour company. So having spoken with our guide about what "was left to see" he came…Read More
We had a free day in Phnom Penh and decided that we’d spend the morning visiting the local sights that hadn’t been incorporated into our planned itinerary with the tour company. So having spoken with our guide about what "was left to see" he came up with the suggestion that we could hire a Tuk-Tuk driver for the day and visit the Killing Fields 15 kilometres out of Phnom Penh as well as checking out some more of the sights in town. To be honest the thought of a 10 mile ride in a Tuk-Tuk wasn’t overly exciting and to contemplate the journey on some of the poorly maintained Cambodian roads wasn’t something we fancied. So, having sussed out that the cost by Tuk-Tuk would be around $20 we asked our guide what he thought it would cost to hire a taxi for the same kind of trip. He said he thought we’d probably get that for $25 and then had a chat with our driver. It turned out that our driver was busy the next day but our guide was happy to try and negotiate for another driver to take us on the trip. "Leave it with me" he said "and I’ll tell you later if I’ve been able to sort anything". I was already thinking that I had seen a number of drivers near to our hotel and I was sure that I could sort one of those to help us on our trip the next day. Now I had a price in mind I was feeling confident of sorting something out.By lunch time our guide had managed to arrange for another driver to take over the duties of our current driver. By doing this, he explained, we could stick with a driver who could speak a little English and would ensure that the proposed itinerary was complied with. However, he became apologetic when he said that the price was $30 and not as he’d first suggested $25. We looked at each other and all agreed that it would be good to get the next day confirmed and as it was only going to be£5 each it hardly seemed worth the hassle of re-negotiating at the hotel. We agreed the price and the time of 8.00am as a sensible pick up time.The following day our driver arrived promptly (indeed he was waiting for us when we arrived in the hotel foyer at 7.50) and we were soon off on the road with the plan to arrive at the Killing Fields by 8.30. This way we would beat the crowds and our driver hoped that it would be a "quiet visit" for us.The journey was interesting as we passed through small villages, with people already working hard: some working in small rice fields, harvesting the morning glory, manning small market stalls, transporting heavy loads on the backs of motorbikes, working in tiny garages repairing bikes. All manner of cottage industry seemed to exist in the villages.At one point we saw a larger factory which turned out to be a bakery and we were reminded of the information given to by our guide that bread in Cambodia was a luxury that was taken on visits to family members. It was certainly not seen as a staple diet and of course a bakery this size would be pandering to the needs of visiting tourists rather than satisfying a local demand.We were certainly pleased that we hadn’t opted for the Tuk-Tuk journey as we’d have been bounced all over the place. It was bumpy enough in this large people carrier and by the time we reached the killing fields we were pleased to be able to put our feet onto terra firma. After our visit to the Killing Fields (see separate review) and Wat Phnom (see separate review) our driver took us to the Central Market. This has a totally different feel to the more informal "Russian Market" and is all housed in a large building in, believe it or not, the centre of town. Along the front of the building was a colourful flower market with stallholders working hard at assembling bouquets. This is well worth a wander through as the colour and smells are just a delight and the blooms were in such good condition.There was a huge area dedicated to jewellery and lovers of "Bling" would be well at home here. Unfortunately for the tens of traders that hold stalls here, there didn’t seem to be a lot of buyers so everyone we walked past was anxious to sell. Now I know little about gem stones so I’d be reluctant to buy here, but I’m sure if you have a good knowledge of precious and semi-precious stones you’d be able to strike a good bargain. Around the "bling" section it seemed as if the market was divided in to trading areas: clothes, fresh vegetables, meat, a very small spice section, wooden goods (including masks, Buddha statues, boxes). It like many of the markets we’d visited was a bit of a maze but there was plenty of space between the stalls and for me it lacked the excitement – the hustle and bustle – that we’d experienced in other markets.We spent a good 45 minutes wandering the aisles but by this stage of our holiday we’d made all the purchases that we wanted to make. Still it was an interesting experience. Close
Written by Jodeci527 on 16 Nov, 2011
After visiting Phnom Penh, I was ready to head to Siem Reap, the town where travelllers stay when visiting the Temples of Angkor. According to my research, there were countless travel agents selling tickets for this popular route, on several different bus lines. The advertised…Read More
After visiting Phnom Penh, I was ready to head to Siem Reap, the town where travelllers stay when visiting the Temples of Angkor. According to my research, there were countless travel agents selling tickets for this popular route, on several different bus lines. The advertised price for the journey was anything from $7 to $10 USD, depending on the company being used.Rather than trying to locate a reputable travel agent on my own, and also to prevent being scammed, I decided to ask for information at the check-in counter of my guesthouse. I was then recommended to use Sorya bus line, and I was quoted a special fare of $6. I thought this was quite a good deal, so I paid for the ticket, and pocketed my receipt which I would need to board the bus.I woke early the next morning, seeing that my bus was to leave the station at 6:30am. When I arrived at the bus station, I noticed that there was already quite a crowd of people who were waiting to get on. Some like me, had minimum luggage, while others looked as if they were planning on staying forever! These people had to store their heavy bags in a compartment at the bottom of the bus. The rest of us were allowed to board, after being handed a seat number.After everyone was seated, the driver's assistant came through the aisle, handing out bottled water and packets or disinfectant wipes. I'm still not quite sure what the wipes were for, but I accepted mine anyway. The moment the driver started the bus, the aircondition kicked in, and the bus became many degrees cooler. We pulled out of the station on time, and started our long bus ride, which we were told would take six hours.The bus itself was in pretty good condition, although it was far from new. It had a very interesting colour scheme, with its blue seats and purple head rest covers. There were also curtains made from a light fabric that were hanging from the windows, which had a pretty design in the colours: blue, white, purple and green. These helped to give the bus a homey feel, which I guess is important, seeing that it's your mobile home for half a day.There was a small flatscreen television which was at the front of the bus, and there was an Asian karate movie playing in the local language. Instead of trying to watch and guess what was going on in the movie, I was content to simply stare out of my window. The scenery of the Cambodian countryside was utterly fascinating.Due to the rainy season, the rice paddies were a brilliant shade of green, and water buffaloes worked tirelessly in the fields. There were thousands of tall palm trees peppering the landscape, and they looked like a different species of palms which I've never seen before. Stilt houses were perched on wetlands, where young children leaped off their verandahs into pools of rain water below. I was hypnotized.During the journey, the bus made several stops, letting off passengers and picking up new ones. I later realized that this was not a tourist 'express' bus, which would take a shorter time and cost a few dollars more. I was on the economy bus which the locals used as well. This was quite fine with me, as I made friends with the locals and even bounced an adorable toddler on my knee for over an hour. Friendly people will always make time fly.The bus arrived into Siem Reap about an hour longer than the proposed time, but I was happy that we made it safely. We were dropped off near the main street, and I hired a tuk tuk to take me to my guesthouse for the evening. The journey was pleasant, and the views along the way were nothing short of stunning!Close
Written by MichaelJM on 12 Nov, 2011
We’d arranged our itinerary around the water festival so imagine our disappointment when we arrived in Phnom Penh to find that the event had been cancelled. Apparently the prime minister had decided that the money used for the event would be best used for helping…Read More
We’d arranged our itinerary around the water festival so imagine our disappointment when we arrived in Phnom Penh to find that the event had been cancelled. Apparently the prime minister had decided that the money used for the event would be best used for helping the flooded areas of Cambodia. It’s a fair point but several people that we spoke with felt it was a bad break with tradition. They felt that the scale of things should have been reduced, but the symbolic boat race should have happened. But it was cancelled so we would find other things to do in this beautiful city.The night of our arrival there was a firework display down at the water front and as the townsfolk celebrated their national holiday they also prepared themselves for the celebration of the country’s independence from the French on 9th November 1953. We’d walked past the Royal Palace and through one of the town’s public squares where throngs of people were watching a song and dance performance on a huge stage. There must have been 50 people on stage (and room for loads more) singing and performing one of Cambodia’s traditional dances to give thanks for rice and the rains and sunshine that help it grow. I guess there was a certain irony that it was still being performed so close to the recent flooding throughout Thailand and Cambodia.The street sellers were out in force, cooking food and touting helium balloons and cheap toys for the children. Youngsters played football across the paths and stray balls were returned by whoever was closest. There was generally a carnival atmosphere across town as we headed for the banks of the river. We learnt that Phnom Phen was at the confluence of four rivers; the upper Mekong, the lower Mekong, Tonle Sap, and bassac River. It was interesting to hear that the Tonle Sap River flowed in both directions. In the rainy season the river flowed up to Siem Reap but in the dry season it flowed back down to Phnom Phen. Now I think that’s unique for any river system.The river was real busy with people fishing from the banks, fishing boats working in the river, pleasure cruises scurrying across the river with their loads of tourists, and river taxis. But most of all, on this night people were preparing for the fire work display. In all honesty this turned out to be a bit of a damp squid as despite going on for about twenty minutes it was very repetitive and ordinary. But perhaps that just me!After our meal at the Titanic (see separate review) we headed off to get a Tuk-Tuk back to the hotel. We’d remembered to bring the hotel card with us (always a good idea if you’re in a country where you don’t speak the language) and having showed the card we got a price of $8. We’d been told that a fair rate to this part of town was $3 and so that’s what I offered. The driver looked hugely apologetic and said that wasn’t possible because the town was so busy that he’d have to go the long way round. I offered $4 and he said that his best was $5. We tried pushing him a bit further with the customary walk away, but he wasn’t having it. We had a quick discussion and decided that $5 was worth it for us as we could not even consider walking back. I returned and we agreed $5 and the four of us piled into the Tuk-Tuk and just as the last of us took our foot out of the street he started off. A little scary! We weaved our way across the street and soon we were heading in the right direction. The road was rammed with traffic and true to his word we were weaving through the back streets and enjoying the hubbub of town. It was certainly a longer journey than we anticipated and it took us almost 15 minutes to get to the independence memorial. It was at this point that we realised the traffic in the rest of town had been light! We got on to the roundabout and then edged our way every "step of the way". People were fighting for their personal space on the road and we had to admire the skills of all the drivers (cycles, motorbikes, cars and tuk-tuks). Finally after about another five minutes we were exiting the roundabout and heading for our now nearby hotelWhat a fantastic journey! We certainly couldn’t complain about the price or about our experience in a Phnom Phen Tuk-tuk. Close
Written by nofootprint on 05 Apr, 2011
Our guide, Sopheak,planned our route and for our day trip around Phnom Penh. To be honest I was entertained just driving through this hectic city ,so foreign to me.Driving by the street venders I noticed some of the local food that looked pretty exotic…Read More
Our guide, Sopheak,planned our route and for our day trip around Phnom Penh. To be honest I was entertained just driving through this hectic city ,so foreign to me.Driving by the street venders I noticed some of the local food that looked pretty exotic to my Western eyes. Along the way I saw what looked like a whole pigling on a barbecue and along with some other varieties I couldn't make out .Turned out what I was seeing was a dog and a rat . This is quite normal food here and I guess its whatever you are used to but its too out there for my taste.,so i didn't try it .( at least I don't think I did ) Best for me to stick with a menu I can read.One of our first stops was the National Museum.Originally we planned to skip the museum as our time in Phnom Penh was short and I have to admit museums are not high on my list when I travel. It proved to be a worthwhile visit however. Built in 1920 it is arranged all on one floor , and has one of the largest collections of Khmer Art in the world. I especially liked the wrestling gorillas .It's amazing it survived the devastation caused by the years of the Khmer Rouge rule in the 1970's. Although it was abandoned during this time and many of the staff were killed ,it was reopened in 1979. Today it is a source of pride for the Cambodian people.No pictures are allowed inside but the grounds and building itself is spectacular and worth plenty of photos.Next we stopped at Temple Mountain or Wat Phnom .Wat Phnom was rebuilt in 1926 ,the original reportedly dates back to the 1400's. It is built on the only hill around and for those who can brave the heat they are rewarded with a good city view .It was so hot when we visited we declined to climb,so we missed the view.There are lots of locals trying to make some cash from many visitors. Surprisingly there was even someone offering elephant rides. Something that really goes against my nature and love of .After a relaxing and well needed lunch break we were ready for some shopping,so we visited the Russian Market - Knockoffs to Silk You'll Find it Here.It is touted to be Phnom Phen's busiest market and I can well believe it. One could spend a day here if you could stand the heat and bustle .No A/C here!There are lots of knockoff's and cheap cothes and some nice looking sandles .Too many for me to think about with my small carry-on .There is also some wonderful silk and wood carvings here. I couldn't pass up the silk and wish now I had bought more. If time permitted there were tailors there waiting to fit you on the spot. Bargaining is expected and necessary.There's a section devoted to food . It looked good but at this stage I didn't think my stomach could handle it,so I passed. Close
We took the Mekong Express bus for $12.00 from Saigon. We arranged this online with Hotels-IN-Vietnam before leaving home although it would have been easy to do once we arrivedThe bus was comfortable and even included a snack and water.The guide on board was great…Read More
We took the Mekong Express bus for $12.00 from Saigon. We arranged this online with Hotels-IN-Vietnam before leaving home although it would have been easy to do once we arrivedThe bus was comfortable and even included a snack and water.The guide on board was great and spoke some English .He took care of our Visa at the border.The cost was $25.00. I was surprised we didn't even need a picture. As soon as we crossed the border into Cambodia we saw venders selling these light beige coloured corn on the cobs, the husk and all were cooked. Everyone on our bus seemed pretty excitde to buy them but we ( dumb tourists ) passed .Finally a fellow passenger took pity on us and gave us one .How could we refuse? As it turned out they were read delicious! Not sure how it was cooked but it was finger licking good.We saw it around at many of the food stalls after that .It must be a popular "fast " food.The trip took 6 hours including a half hour break ,border crossings and a short ferry ride.When we arrived in PhnomPhen there were lots of taxis and tuk tuks waiting to take us to our hotel.So much to see but so little time to see it ,we did our best to see as much as we could of this colourful and exotic city.We made arrangements with the taxi driver who picked us up at the Bus Stop when we arrived to take us around the for the whole day.We started at 8AM and arrived back at our hotel at 5PM.This turned out to be a great option for us and quite a bargain at $50.00 for the two of us.Our driver's name is Sopheak,he spoke good English, was a wonderful guide and had a nice car which is saying a lot in Phnom Phen.With the help of our taxi driver /guide we covered alot of ground and will walk away with a better understanding of this ancient and rambling city, we until now only knew from what we had read and seen in past News Releases .Along the way Sopheak shared his personal experiences with us . He told us about the day when the bombs fell on his little home village during the terrible years of the Khmer Rouge terrorism . He was a very young child during that horrific time and was separated from his family for days ,through the chaos and confusion . His neighbor heard his cries and came to his aid. While he and his mother survived ,his 3 siblings remained lost and his father was killed. His stories touched our hearts and gave us a better understanding of Cambodia'spain better than any news release of the time ever could.Close
Written by Battered Orange Suitcase on 02 Jan, 2010
I am thrilled, though appropriately embarrassed, to introduce my first "Don’t Do What I Did" (DDWID) oops! travel moment. While this little gem is a new addition to my fairly extensive body of work, I confess it’s grown on me.One recent afternoon in…Read More
I am thrilled, though appropriately embarrassed, to introduce my first "Don’t Do What I Did" (DDWID) oops! travel moment. While this little gem is a new addition to my fairly extensive body of work, I confess it’s grown on me.One recent afternoon in Phnom Penh, my husband and I were wandering the streets when we came upon a "club" with the name of "LOVE ORANGE". Given my love of all things orange, I took this as a good omen, and asked my husband to take a quick photo of me standing next to the name on the front door. Oops!Posing in front of the club entrance, I’m running through this manic, stream-of-consciousness internal monologue that goes something like this, "How random to have stumbled across a place called "LOVE ORANGE"! What a coincidence! I mean, hellooo!! I love orange! I have orange luggage, for God’s sake. It’s definitely a sign from the universe. Maybe it means I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in my life. Maybe I was destined to come to Phnom Penh at this exact time in my life, and stand in this exact spot. Maybe I’ve been here before in a past life. No, maybe I’m supposed to do something in Cambodia. That’s it. That’s my destiny. I’m supposed to move here and...and start a non-profit and... and help kids. That’s what it is! I’m sure of it! I’ll call it "Orange Aid". Hey, that’s a good name! Like Orange Ade, but a-i-d. God, I’m so clever. Maybe…Jesus, I’m melting here, take the goddamn photo already, Stuart."As I’m standing there, this insane ranting going through my head, I am completely oblivious to the fact that the bouncer (one can only assume), who apparently is not keen on having photographs taken in front of the club, has opened the door behind me and is angrily gesturing at us to get the hell out of there - at the very moment I am furnishing our new, fabulously-chic Phnom Penh apartment, no house, no apartment, in my head and trying to appear fresh in the 200% humidity.While we still don’t know why the whole episode caused such a kerfuffle, we certainly wouldn't dream of suggesting that the row of black Mercedes parked in front of the "club", with their tintedwindows, official-looking government plates, and drivers suspiciously watching us like a hawk while waiting for their clients to finish up their delightful, as in sky rockets in flight delightful, afternoon activities, could possibly have had anything to do with it. Love orange? Hmmm.Close
Written by alan_nesbit on 06 Jul, 2006
I took a ride on a motorbike to get here, around 15km south of Phnom Penh. The roads are similar to Vietnam, although chaotic rather than anarchic. There is a preferred side of the road on which to drive (the right) and people do stick…Read More
I took a ride on a motorbike to get here, around 15km south of Phnom Penh. The roads are similar to Vietnam, although chaotic rather than anarchic. There is a preferred side of the road on which to drive (the right) and people do stick to that side unless it is inconvenient to do so. Where there are lights at a junction, people usually stop. Where there are no lights, you just have to weave your way through the stream of motorbikes travelling at right angles to you, giving way to any larger vehicles (of course). Where there’s a garage forecourt at a junction, there is a constant stream of vehicles crossing it to avoid the junction. You need to wear a mask to avoid swallowing or breathing in the dust.
Choeung Ek is a rural site, once an orchard. On the right-hand side as you go in is a notice:
"With the commemorative stupa in front of us, we imagine that we are hearing the grievous voice of the victims who were beaten by Pol Pot men with canes, bamboo stumps or heads of hoes, who were stabbed with knives or swords we seem to be looking at the horrifying scenes…"
It goes on.
There were 129 mass graves at Choeung Ek, holding victims of the Khmer Rouge. Two thirds of them have been dug up and over 8000 skulls are now housed in a stupa with glass sides. The open pits are still present, often with a little pool of water in the bottom.
A sign by a tree says ‘Killing tree against which executioners beat children’. Small piles of bones are placed around the site. There’s not much else by way of signs or explanation. It doesn’t really need it.
I was at school in the 1970s, when this ex-school was being used by the Khmer Rouge to interrogate (i.e. torture) thousands of Cambodians from all walks of life. Like most people, I was completely unaware of the apparently mindless cruelty being inflicted on the…Read More
I was at school in the 1970s, when this ex-school was being used by the Khmer Rouge to interrogate (i.e. torture) thousands of Cambodians from all walks of life. Like most people, I was completely unaware of the apparently mindless cruelty being inflicted on the victims.
Pol Pot had a lot in common with other communist leaders, including paranoia for his own safety and a willingness to be completely brutal in restructuring Cambodian society. Between 1975 and 1978, over 17,000 people were held at Tuol Sleng (commonly known as S-21) before being taken to Choeung Ek to be killed.
Tuol Sleng is now a museum, one of the grimmest you’ll find anywhere. You can imagine what it would have been like as a school, ringing to the sounds of children playing and laughing. It’s silent now. Some of the rooms have the iron bed frames used for torture and the shackles used to restrain the prisoners. Some have row upon row of photographs of the victims, expressionless faces of all ages. They must have known the pain that was to be inflicted on them in the coming weeks and months, and what their fate would be. The regulations of the prison are displayed on a notice board:
6. While getting lashes or electrification you must not cry at all
This was all less than 30 years ago. There must be many people in Cambodia with a past that haunts them even now.
Poverty is very apparent in Phnom Penh, more so than in other Southeast Asian cities. The city has had a rough time in recent decades, along with the rest of the country, and the period in which the Khmer Rouge inflicted terror on the country…Read More
Poverty is very apparent in Phnom Penh, more so than in other Southeast Asian cities. The city has had a rough time in recent decades, along with the rest of the country, and the period in which the Khmer Rouge inflicted terror on the country was simply the darkest episode in the turbulent post-colonial times. The Vietnam War spilt over into the eastern side of the country and the Americans are thought to have killed a quarter of a million civilians in bombing raids aimed at the Vietnamese communists.
In a country with no welfare state, begging is the only way of living for some people. In the main backpacker and tourist areas, grubby children try and sell books or flowers, or offer to polish your shoes, or simply ask for money. Mothers with babies slung on their hips thrust out a hand or a cap or a tin. Victims of the large number of land mines in the country—on crutches or pushed along in wheel chairs—do the same. Sometimes the mothers are also mine victims.
Even with the poverty, people are often happy to see you, and often greet you with a ‘Hello’ or a smile. You can’t go very far without someone asking if you need a ride on a motorbike or a tuk-tuk. The drivers seem to sit around all day waiting to earn a dollar or two for a ride.