Phnom Penh: A City of Charm, Chaos and Curiosity
Trip Start Aug 22, 2012
63Trip End Jun 16, 2013
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- confusion over visa and photos but, no problem, pay $ (Cambodia rates a low #158 on a scale of 180 by Transparency International, an anticorruption watchdog organization)
- strict military men at customs demanding I put 4 fingers on the scanner, thumb, left 4 fingers, etc. and I can't understand him so start giggling and he looks very sternly at me
- mayhem outside the airport; tuk-tuk drivers converge on us, they don’t know where it is we want to go so walk away to try to find another job
- total chaos driving. Motorcycles, cars, trucks, bicycles, tuk tuks driving in every direction, no lanes, horns beeping, not a stop sign or traffic lights in sight and dust and exhaust billowing about
- smells of garbage, meat barbequing, cocoanut, burning wood, urine, exhaust, pungent something-or-other, you name it….all thrown into one big heap of noise and smell...
Life with Tuk-Tuk Drivers
A tuk-tuk driver finally took the job to transport us from the airport to 'The Terrace on 95’ where we had booked, even though he had no idea where it was located, and through a valiant effort he delivered us safely to this sweet little place in a quieter section of the city – which isn’t particularly quiet. The friendliness of the staff and all we came into contact with after the airport was heartwarming. What gracious people with such authentic smiles.
But has every tuk-tuk driver had a girlfriend or wife who broke his heart when she left him for a richer man? Or is this some story they have learned that brings them empathy and perhaps bigger tips? Who knows…it is a surprisingly common story
On one of our tuk-tuk rides we had to stop at a gas station. An attendant was staring at Jim’s arm and we had a laugh - without any shared language - about Jim’s hairy arms and the young man’s smooth hairless arms. He patted Jim’s arm and grinned widely at us.
Cambodia's Sad History
Phnom Penh is a bustling and chaotic city with some kind of charm that I just can’t put my finger on. We were a bit tentative with our sightseeing here. We did the compulsory Tuol Sleng Museum, the security prison where much of the Khmer Rouge torture was carried out. On the same day, we travelled out to one of the many Killing Fields in the country - to Choeung Ek Genocidal Center where thousands of Cambodians were executed. A full day of that left me with a very heavy heart. How can people do this to one another? Genocide is unfathomable. And we are talking about from 1975-79!
After that full, very depressing day - between the heat, the adjustment to Southeast Asia and the weight of the Cambodian history, we slowed down a bit.
The day we went to the Royal Palace, we found it closed because the king died in October and we are still not sure if it’s closed all the time, every afternoon or if this was a specific occasion
The food here is delicious. Our favourite meal was at a place called Romdeng which is a training center for troubled youth to learn about food service and tourism. It is set in a colonial villa with a beautiful garden and, seriously, the best staff ever. They were all so keen to learn and be good at their trade and had a shy, humble way about them. The food was traditional Cambodian food and was fantastic although we passed on the deep fried tarantulas.
Our next stop is Siem Reap to see the temples of Angkor Wat. Stay tuned...we will post after we come back from volunteering at the Elephant Valley Project.