Don't be mistaken by the depressing Tuol Sleng or Killing Fields tourist attractions, as the Kingdom of Cambodia offers much more richness in heritage.
Arriving at Phnom Penh International airport, we headed to the hotel to check in and freshen up. Phnom Penh has an interesting story to it... legend has it that the name stretches back to the late 14th century, when an old woman named Penh stumbled upon a tree with a handful of Buddha images stuck on one of its branches. The lady, Penh retrieved these images and had a hill (phnom) built to house them hence the name Phnom Penh was born.
|View of the Mekong River from the Hotel|
Our drive on route to the hotel which was near the famous Mekong River, was one of a kind. After experiencing the traffic in the African countries we visited, the traffic in Cambodia drew an uncanny similarity. With hundred's of people and families (yes up to 4 family members with their groceries on one motorcycle), buzzed through the streets in all directions at once to get to their destination. It was truely an experience.
After freshening up, we decided to explore this large city by taking a "tuk tuk" which is the local term used to refer to a motorcycle with an attached cabin to the rear. What fun, did we have bussling through the peak traffic on a Friday afternoon. Our driver Ton was a wonderful tour guide who educated us on the city's history and who was well affay with the "touristy" attractions to take us too.
|The local stadium|
To give you a bit of background regarding this Khmer city...
In 1864, the King Norodom I agreed to make Cambodia a French protectorate in an attempt to segregate and keep the Vietnamese and Siamese at bay. We don't think he had a view of what was to come as after signing his first treaty with the French, the Khmer Rouge entered and took full control of Phnom Penh. Post 1884, Phnom Penh became a fully fledged French city and by the 1900's was considered one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia i.e. the Pearl of Asia.
However this was short lived as in 1975, the Khmer Rouge took power and evacuated the city of Phnom Penh. Led by Pol Pot, Phnom Penh suffered a loss of approximately 2 million lives over a period of four years due to forced labour, disease, starvation and political executions. Visiting the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng was one of the most disheartening attractions we have ever seen in our travels. Standing in the area's where people where inhumanely executed and treated was bewildering. One cannot fathom how such a high degree of cruelty was enforced upon innocent lives.
|Tuol Sleng Prison|
|Photographs depicting the methods of torture and execution used during the Pol Pot regime|
|The tools used to execute the tortures and murders|
|Some of the victims who were killed during the Pol Pot regime|
|Killing Fields where the mass executions were carried out|
|Some of the human bone remains at the killing fields.|
Between 1978 to 1979, the Vietnamese invaded Phnom Penh and finally the Khmer Rouge was evicted. To date, poverty is rife as driving around the city, it is not unusual to see families living on the streets or on the pavements. However slowly the people of Cambodia are developing the country from it's genocidal repercussions.
We visited both the Central, Russian and Night market which were fun experiences. Segregated into sections, you can find almost anything at the markets at competitive prices. You may find yourself bargaining with a stall owner for a motor cycle engine, to a fresh array of seafood or vegetables to clothing and bedding. In fact, we set a day aside to explore the markets as there was just so much to see.
|Stall holder at the Russian market|
For more westernized meals, the Riverside Bistro has the best chicken schnitzel and ice cream in Phnom Penh. It's best to sit outside though as it tends to become quite rowdy inside the bistro.
Phnom Penh is a city where you need to spend more than a few days in, to fairly capture its heritage. Other attractions include the markets, boat tours, the Royal Palace, numerous temples as well as a vast array of bars, massage parlours and cafe's.