A week in Cambodia
Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
11Trip End Sep 01, 2007
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PP is not a major attraction, the temples near Seam Reap are, so it's a nice mix of locals going around doing their daily business, the occasional tourist plus quite a lot of horny expats. It was clear from the few bars we visited that the combination of an older foreign man and a young local girl was quite normal. There's some of that, and also a lot of prostitution going on. Scarily enough that sometimes involves small children, though there are now efforts to put an end to this, like the organisation of taxi drivers who promise to report any suspicious behaviour
There aren't many sights in town - there's a large temple on a hill, the royal palace with its own temple, two popular markets (the fantastic Art Deco central market and the ramshackle-but-oh-so-cheap Russian market) and the Killing Fields memorial out of town. The city reminded me a lot of Vietnam - the same French architectural and food (fresh baguettes!) influence, a grid pattern of roads, many more scooters than cars and hot, hot, hot. The tatty Cambodian currency (the riel) is only used for small payments and is nearly completely replaced by the US dollar, which is also the currency of choice rolling out of the ATMs.
We spent plenty of time at the markets harvesting presents for you all, getting me gear (several trousers and shirts, and a North Face bag that broke the same day, all for a few dollars) and of course a krama, the red shawl popular with the Khmer Rouge and also very useful against dusty rickshaw rides and against the hot sun in your neck.
We used a taxi to get out to the Killing Fields memorial - a very bumpy 30 minute ride along very dusty roads... glad we didn't take a rickshaw. This is the site of the prison and execution area used by the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. They managed to kill up to one million people in the 5 years they were in power, and some 60,000 of those were brought here to die
The same day we visited the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, a former school that had been used as a prison for torture under Khmer Rouge rule. Of the thousands of people that were arrested and brought here, only 12 survived. The old classrooms were partitioned into small cells, and barbed wire nets prevented prisoners committing suicide by jumping from the balconies. Like the Nazis, the Khmer Rouge were avid administrators and kept photos and files of most people passing through, and the hundreds of photos of men, women and young children were used to great effect.
Most Cambodians around nowadays were born after the terror of the 1970s and there's not too much else to remind you of it - they seem have to have their sights set firmly on the future (despite living in one of the poorest and most corrupt countries in the world).
In the evening, we took a rickshaw out to see a theatre performance with traditional Cambonian dance and music