10 days in Phnom Penh

Trip Start Sep 05, 2011
Trip End Nov 23, 2011

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BJ's House

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Hello everybody,

I hope that this blog finds you all well. We've just come to the end of our time in Cambodia, the last ten days of which have been in the capital city Phnom Penh.

We arrived here slightly apprehensive as neither of us quite knew what to expect and we had heard some less than favourable reviews of the place! But after the isolation of the Island we were at least looking forward to internet access and some mod cons (air con! haha).

Phnom Penh is not somewhere you would go for a relaxing holiday. It's noisy, chaotic, and very busy. However, there is always something new to see whether that's a fitness class on the river front, a physically handicapped guy (probably a land mine victim) making bracelets to sell or a family of 5 (including at least one baby) whizzing along on a two person scooter. It's certainly a vibrant, interesting place but our opinions do differ slightly (Anna's not a fan, I'm more of a fan).

The city has a fascinating history, having only been repopulated in the 1980's following the mass exodus under the Khmer Rouge, it is astonishing that the city has recovered so well. The Royal Palace and National museum are two of the major points of interest. We were a little disappointed by the Royal Palace as much of it was closed to the public but the museum was far more interesting. It was largely filled with Angkorian era artefacts taken from the archaeological site in Siem Reap which gave a bit of life to the temples that we had seen there.

Central Market

One thing we have learnt is that Cambodians love to shop! The central market in Phnom Penh is a huge enclosed mass of stalls selling pretty much everything. Even Anna and I managed to spend a good four hours there stocking up on xmas presents that we now have to find room for in our bags!


The Tuol Sleng genocide museum (S-21) and the Choeung Ek Killing fields were difficult but important visits for anyone visiting Cambodia. For the sake of historical context we went to the S-21 prison first. This was originally a high school that the Khmer Rouge seized in their occupation of Phnom Penh and used as a prison where the security officers would interrogate and torture innocent civilians. The classrooms had been made into cells and were all pretty much left as they were found when the city was liberated in 1979. At that time there were 14 dead prisoners found there and photographs of each of these had been put on the walls of each cell. They were incredibly graphic images, made all the more distressing as the room looked identical apart from the body not being there. 
The Khmer Rouge kept extensive records of all the prisoners including a photo of each and every one when they first entered the prison. Hundreds of black and white photographs of the faces of the prisoners were displayed throughout the museum. These pictures were truly disturbing, especially the ones of young children and mothers holding their babies.

Of the estimated 20,000 people sent to S-21 only 7 survived.

After this we travelled to the killing fields, Choeung Ek. This is one of 300 such sites across Cambodia where in four years the regime killed 3 million Cambodian people (the population was 8 million). This was a far more peaceful place that felt as though it was somewhere to remember the people rather than what they had been through. That is not to say that there were not some horrific reminders of what took place here but it certainly didn't have the same oppressive atmosphere of the prison. It was an incredibly harrowing day for both of us but we felt it was important that we went.

 Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre

On a lighter note, we spent our penultimate day in PP at Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue centre just outside the city. We were slightly dubious about it as we couldn't find many reviews of the place (good or bad) and did worry that it would be more of a zoo than a rescue centre. It turned out to be a mixture of both. The parts of the centre that had received help (money, education etc) from more established wildlife organisations were certainly the best in terms of animal care and providing a natural environment. There were some sections however (mostly the birds of prey) that seemed to be quite poorly managed, with small enclosures and very dirty water baths which wasn't very nice to see. The 'Free the Bears' centre and the Elephant enclosure were of a much higher standard, and they seemed to be doing very good work with the rescued animals that had arrived at the centre in very bad conditions. For example, one of the elephants had lost a foot in a snare trap, and the centre had worked for years to treat the injury and provide a prosthetic foot (we've never heard/seen that before!). 

Most importantly, we did feel as though the centre cared about the animals, and were working incredibly hard to not only look after the ones that ended up there, but also to raise awareness about the issues surrounding poaching and illegal pet trades. Obviously with all the other problems the country has, it's quite remarkable it is there at all.

The highlights for us were seeing the rescued bears playing in their enclosure (they had amazing bear sized hammocks which they kept pushing each other out of), getting to go 'backstage' to the tiger enclosure where we were one or two feet away from five or six ENORMOUS tigers, and meeting Lucky the elephant. He wasn't in an enclosure, so we got very close to him and in the absence of any food, he decided to suck all the tiger balm (for insect bites) off Anna's legs. Elephants never forget and when we bumped into him again at the end of our tour, he made a beeline for Anna and her legs once more! (See video!). 

Our Last Day
We've had a quiet last day, writing this, packing our bags and having a delicious pizza for lunch at 'divine pizza and ribs'! Our bus leaves tomorrow at 7am for Ho Chi Minh city, where we should get picked up at the bus station by our guesthouse. We have strict instructions not to get in a taxi if for any reason our ride doesn't show up, apparently we 'may get into troubles!'. Lets hope they show up! 

We'll write again soon with tales from Vietnam.

Miss you all, 

Lots of Love 

Anna & Sam



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