Welcome to the real world
Trip Start Mar 03, 2010
33Trip End May 02, 2010
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Cambodia is one of those places that everyone has heard of, but they know nothing more than the name. If their History teacher was any good, they may remember terms like "Pol Pot" and "Khmer Rouge". A few people I spoke to even got the place confused with Colombia. I really hope I can do the place justice in these blog entries. It's the least it deserves.
It's sort of weird - on my way to the airport, Bangkok was on the verge of becoming a warzone. In the 30 minute taxi ride I passed through no less than 6 Army roadblocks. I then flew into Phnom Penh (with AirAsia), a city which has spent most of the last century itself as a warzone
My first introduction to Phnom Penh was its traffic. In Thailand, they drive on the left. In Laos, they drive on the right. In Phnom Penh, they drive anywhere they want. Instantly I felt that excitement I get when you know a place is going to be very "real". Weaving in and out of traffic on my Mototaxi, I felt alive again.
Lively and loud, I spent most of my first day walking along the riverside, where most of the guesthouses and tourist restaurants are based. I was kind of surprised by just how few tourists there were. In fact, most of the westerners I saw were clearly ex-pats rather than visitors. There isn't a lot to be seen around here, the interesting parts of the city being at either end of the street.
Wat Phnom is at one end. It's 700 years old, is high on a hill and is one of the most important Pagodas for the locals. It also seems to be home to a couple of groups of Monkeys which, given their residence location, seemed very much wild.
About a mile out from the riverside are a number of huge markets
At the opposite end is the The Royal Palace, a large compound of stunning buildings and parklands. It's also very busy with the type of tourist who come in on air-con buses, get shown around, then fly onto their next destination.
It is a tough city to experience though, especially if you've not been to many third world countries. There is pollution. There is a lot of rubbish. Pavements don't exsist in most places. Crossing the road is literally life or death at times (especially if you follow the Western way of crossing). You WILL see Streetkids begging or selling knock off books. You WILL see many of the countless victims of Landmines (more on that in another entry). But this is the real world. Be thankful you can leave.
I think PP gets a hard time though with the above. Numerous travel advice websites moan about being hassled by tuk-tuk drivers and child beggars. They say the children all work for crime cartels and will have all your possessions if you dare stop to talk to them. Tuk Tuk drivers will insist you place bags under your seats due to the crime levels that get reported. But....I found none of this. I only encountered warm, friendly faces. I held decent, thought provoking conversations with locals, the likes of which most of my own countrymen can't comprehend. Not bad for someone who taught themselves English eh?
I found the Children to want nothing more than something to eat or drink most of the time
The place is constantly on the brink of collapsing, it's only just getting used to capitalism and corruption is laughably mainstream. See those large Lexus 4x4? They've been known to crash into and kill less fortunate locals and get away with it with a few dollar bribes. It's a tough country, yet those people there are amazingly friendly. By all rights I should be kicked out of their country because it was my countrymen who stood by and let the place be destroyed. Yet I received nothing but compassion, kindness and overall, a genuine interest in who I was, where I had been - and what I felt of their country. Look at my Moto Taxi driver who took me to his home and showed me where locals live. Who explained more about the politics of today, who talked of his fears and dreams. They are a proud people, and rightly so - their country is stunning.
So do me a favour
However, Phnom Penh has got a couple of more famous places to visit, and for a very good reason. Because while the world stood back and did nothing, the Khmer Rouge destroyed Cambodia, literally wanting to turn it back to the stone age. These places are there to educate people, hopefully shock them, and send them away with a different opinion on the world. Both of these places will get their own entries....