Trip Start Nov 07, 2004
Trip End May 20, 2005

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Saturday, February 26, 2005

Opting out of the whole travelling overland deal yet again, we took a flight to Phnom Penh, Cambodia's capital. It is now very much back on the tourist trail following one of the most gruesome and horrific recent histories of any country. As the film "The Killing Fields" portrayed, Cambodia in the mid '70s up until quite recently, was one of the most wretched places on the planet. We visited Tuol Sleng, the site of the old prison, S-21, now a mueseum established to detail the attrocoties carried out by Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge (the ruling party between 1975 and 1978). The building, which was an old school, remains as it was, with classrooms divided into cells and the larger rooms containing beds where thousands of people were tortured (around 12,500 people, including 2,000 children, passed through here before their deaths). Other rooms contained row upon row of photographs of the victims and some personal histories from those involved in the regime, few of whom have ever been prosecuted. It was a chilling example of the depths to which mankind can sink given an opportunity.

There are other less forboding things to do, and an afternoon in the grounds of the Royal Palace was a bit of light relief. Within is the Silver Pagoda, a large palace who's floor has been allegedly covered with pure silver tiles, we couldnt confirm this as most of it was covered by carpet, presumably to cut down on the polishing.

Wandering around, the French influence is very evident in the town planning. Walking down the wide boulovards can give you a sense of agrophobia following the high stocking densities of other SE Asian cities. The French interest in parks and grassland is also welcome. In terms of development Cambodia is way behind its more advanced neighbours, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, unsurprisingly as 50% of the population is under 15. The poverty is readily apparent as soon as you stray off the major tourist routes and the people's attitudes towards tourism closely resembles India's, if it walks - sell it something, if it stands still offer it a ride in a tuk-tuk (but they do it more politely!).

The nightlife here is a real unexpected bonus. Although its anything but a local experience, a night in the somewhat more sophisticated Foreign Correspondants Club, with it's not half bad cocktails relieved the lager fatigue. Overall we found Phnom Penh to be a very pleasant city and hope it retains its charm as development proceeds.

Back on the road now, as we are about to board our bus to Siem Reap, and one of the main reasons for coming to Asia, the temples at Angkor!

Caroline and Mark
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