Phnom Penh – a walk through Cambodia’s

Trip Start Nov 05, 2008
Trip End Jan 19, 2012

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Flag of Cambodia  ,
Sunday, November 2, 2008

Last night we watched the movie "The Killing Fields" in the ship's lounge. The story centered on the takeover of Cambodia by the militant Khmer Rouge. On April 16, 1975, after five years of brutal civil war, nearly 2 million people were evacuated fromPhnom Penh in the space of a few hours because the Khmer Rouge believed that cities were tools of evil capitalism. The plan was to create a new society of peasants and April 17, 1975 was designated as the start of Year Zero for this utopian beginning. This beautiful country still shows the effects of this tumultuous five years, and the two decades of turmoil that followed.

Today, we had a chance to explore this city that has endured so much. Clearly, Phnom Penh lags behind its neighboring capitals in terms of affluence and development. Yet a resilient energy abounds here as well. Our walk through the city started at Wat Phnom, where legend says the city was founded after a woman mysteriously pulled several statues of Buddha from the river.

As we threaded our route through this bustling city…

-         Young girls hawked bread from baskets balanced atop their heads…

         Elephants crossed busy streets as if their right to the concrete was as valid as anything motorized…

         Motorbikes carried 3, 4, and even 5 people as they zipped down the street…

         Beggars showed the scars and disfigurations of landmine accidents…

         Monks added the color saffron to every corner of the city…

         Markets burst with goods of all kinds – nearly everything is for sale.

At more structured learning venues – the Royal Palace shared the story of Cambodia’s current monarchy, a stabilizing influence in the country’s tumultuous recent past, and the National Museum offered us glimpses into the glorious past of the Khmer Empire, a force that dominated much of Southeast Asia during much of the Middle Ages.

Yet Phnom Penh is best experienced on the streets. It is not always clean and tidy, but we caught smiles from locals everywhere we went. The pain of poverty cannot be concealed, but the hope of freedom was everywhere on display through a minimalist approach to capitalism. Selling goods and services with almost nothing invested in overhead was a theme we saw displayed over and over. It’s a city whose past and present demand a chance; it’s a place that steals your heart.
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