Phnom Penh-landia

Trip Start Jan 06, 2010
Trip End Apr 20, 2013

Flag of Cambodia  ,
Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Phnom Penh  is a super laid back fun town with an abundance of restaurants, bars, live music, and cultural sights that are not to be missed. We are staying near the Mekong River and are within walking distance to everything fun, including a movie theater with beds, couches, a cocktail server and classic American movies! We will attempt to go to the movies tonight but if we don't make it for some reason I'm sure we will soon. 

As soon as we got to Phnom Penh I was sad we would eventually have to leave. It is so chill here, they serve some relaxing and tasty pizza down the street, the people are friendly, and there are tons of historical and cultural sights to see. One of our first days here we met a couple in their sixties who where traveling throughout Asia for about six months. They, like countless other older adults we meet on our travels, wanted to make sure we knew that we were doing the right thing by traveling now and not waiting until we got older. I think they are right and in the same breath I am inspired to know that Flashpacking can be done by people of all age groups and sometimes age ain't nothin but a number. After talking to them we have learned that St Petersburg, Russia, should be visited during the beginning of May and New Zealand at anytime of the year. We also decided these two places should be visited in our not so distant future. They were so interesting and they casually mentioned that one of their sons has written many NY Times best sellers including "Survival of the Sickest" and has been interviewed by many famous talk show hosts, even John Stuart! I thought to myself, that's what I want to do, travel the world with my husband and humbly tell people how crazy awesome my kids are. I will put that on my to-do list, next to St. Petersburg and New Zealand. 
One of my friends who has been to SE Asia advised me to visit an orphanage. So when I researched orphanages in Cambodia I found myself torn! There are all these orphanage websites asking for money and offer a chance to come and teach/love the children as well as websites that plead travelers to refrain from visiting the orphanages! The Cambodian government as well as some interest groups advise people to not visit the orphanages since short term relationships with children are damaging, the orphans and tourists are being exploited, children are not a tourist attraction, and because most of the children in the orphanages are not really homeless orphans anyway. Apparently, within the past 10 years, the amount of children's that come to the orphanages have more then doubled and most of them are not truly orphans anyway, many of them have parents still alive. 

Friends is a delicious restaurant and non-profit that employes orphans in order to train them for working in specialized fields including cooking, wait service, electronic repair, plumbing, hair, nails and more. The Friends program, the Cambodian government and other interest groups all advise to really think before you visit an orphanage and even advise not to see the children. After researching online we decided that we would skip the orphanage visit. Then one of our very sincere faced tuk-tuk drivers told us that the orphans really need help! he advised that the children need food and that the government is corrupt, so we decided to check it out for ourselves. We bought a $35 dollar 50kg bag of rice and $6 worth of veggies and brought it to the orphanage. We didn't take any photos of the orphanage because we don't want the orphans to be tourist attractions and we kept it a simple and short visit. The orphanage had 90 children currently living there and they said the rice we brought them will last them one full day. They were very sweet and thankful for our brief visit and I couldn't seem to figure it all out in my head. Is it wrong for us to feed orphan children? I don't think so. So why is there a campaign against going to the orphanages? I reasoned with myself "What's the worst thing that could happen? They get to eat rice today?" 

One thing difficult for me here in Phnom Penh is all the young mothers with their fresh new babies in their arms, asking for money, and the school aged children trying to sell us junk on the streets. I want to feed them, buy them clothing and tell them it's okay, I will help life but I can't. When you give these poor women and children money on the streets, you prolong their prospects of going to school and using birth control, at least I think you do. If a women has a better chance of making money with an infant then it makes sence to always have an infant around. Right? Honestly, I don't know, I just know I am one of the most lucky people in the world and it feels awful walking by a women and her 4 small children on the street and not restraining myself from bending over to give them all the cash I have on hand.
We had our tuk-tuk driver take us to the Killing Fields and it was just terrible. Did I learn about the Killing Fields and somehow forget all about it or was I never privy to that history?! Basically, in the mid seventies, the Khmer Rouge, authorized the mass killings of millions of innocent men, women, children and babies for purposes of ethnic cleansing and whatever else the devil could come up with. The army lacked guns so they would just throw babies really hard against a tree to kill them. Sorry to be a downer but if I need to know, so do you. What I found the most surprising is that this genoside during the Khemer Rouge rule was only about 40 years ago! Ok, so we have, the Khmer Rouge, the Natzies, Rowanda and more all within our recent history! WTF?! We may think that it was a different time, that genocide is in our past and it can't happen again but in reality it can. 40 years ago the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed people, millions of innocent people. Phnom Penh, which should be a highly populated city, is generally uncrowded and even sometimes somber. Many of the people we meet or talk to in the street do not know their grandparents, their aunts, uncles, children and even their neighbors since not only were Cambodian people killed but so was a great deal of their culture and history. We walked though the interment camps and the killing fields where you can still see bones and tattered clothing peak out of the mounds of dirt. 

The Cambodian people are remarkably resilient considering their tragic past and we have found them to be very pleasant and welcoming people. -Sarah

Getting to Phnom Penh from Eastern Java was a daring task when trying to be frugal. We took a flight from Yogyakarta to Jakarta, from Jakarta to Singapore three hours later, and spent the night in Singapore Airport on lounge chairs before flying to Cambodia eight hours later. It was an impressive feet and saving money on a hotel is something we needed. Phnom Penh is the opposite to what I was expecting. It's much dryer and the land is a deep rusty dirt decorated with exotic trees, a mammoth river and a city scape of recent development. This is the most populated city in Cambodia and would be even more populated had it not been devastated by the Khmer Rouge's extermination program. The damage is easy to see from the amputated men that survived the time to the rubble side walks where heavy artillery had left its mark. I keep imagining this city completely emptied out and ghost like from the forced exodus. We visited the killing field near the city where mass exterminations took place. I found this tour to be vary revealing and though Sarah and I went together it is a lone experience, one that allowed us to wander the site while being informed through radio headphones. I won't go into what I took away from this experience but will say that this city is mostly known for the genocide that commenced. I picked up a book from a disabled veteran from the time that discusses the events that unfolded here and how so complex the situation was. I feel I owe it to myself to be well informed to what happened here. This is a tremendous city for Westerners because business is so oriented around them. First it's the currency. The money is interesting because they use primarily US currency and will usually only use there own to take the place of US coin change. This insures that all of the currency is paper which is convenient becuase I often get coin change in other countries and forget to use it. I think Sarah and I accumulated twenty five dollars in foreign coin change in the last trip and were unable to use or exchange it. Happy hours are posted on all resteraunts but are often the regular price anyway. Our money goes a long way here especially when a beer can cost fifty cents. We have been eating tons of raw vegetables excited to know that there is no food born illnesses. Don't know about the meat products though. We ate pizza at a place called Happy Pizza and then realized that there is a rather unique ingredient added. Like oregano but.... stronger. The tuk tuk taxis are relentless in Cambodia because to them "no means yes." Even if where you want to go is where you are they will argue that you are wrong to want to be so close to your destination and would advise you to go where they think you should want to go. They are like a travel agent mind rapist, but they are very nice people. If your destination is more than a quarter mile it's a good idea to throw some business at them so they can feed their families. The fares are dirt cheap anyways.There are children trying to sell stuff to us all the time and are masters at finding us hidden in the back of a cafe trying to enjoy our meals and drinks without the disruption of solicitation. They will find you, and spend several minutes guilt tripping you by not helping the support of their family. These kids are five to ten years old and should not be working so we refuse to buy from them. It's difficult to turn them away and in some cases is harmless to indulge in there sales pitch, but we have to stick to our guns involving child exploitation. In actuality, if you start asking them questions about themselves they will forget they are supposed to be working and turn into a kid again. They often lose interest in selling and become playfully funny while keeping one eye watching for their mother so they aren't caught slacking off. Next stop is Siem Reap and once again I have no idea what to expect. But we will see. -Chris
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