Phnom Penh

Trip Start Sep 03, 2006
Trip End Jul 21, 2007

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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Meeting up with more relatives

The road between Battambang an Phnom Penh is the only one in the country to be in good condition from beginning to end over such a distance (about 300 km). Thus, it's without difficulty that we reached the capital, where, once again we were warmly welcomed by family members (the sister of the cousin who hosted us in Battambang).

Corrupted government

 Phnom Penh is a lot more modern and not as poor as what we were expecting. Patrick had been reading a book while in Cambodia,"Report from a stricken land" by Henry Kamm, and it depicted the city in a much worse state than what we found. Obviously things did change for the better since the publication of the book, 10 years ago. Even if the country is far from recovering as quickly as it could from the war that devastated it, due to a corrupted, careless of its people and incompetent regime, things got better recently, as confirmed by Saoyuth's parents.
Anything being built in the country is financed by Cambodians that fled abroad, typically schools in their hometown, homes for their relatives ,or for more costly infrastructures such as roads and bridges, foreign aid (people call them "Chinese road" or "Japanese bridge" depending on which country built it)... Nothing is done by the governement... except cut and sell the trees abroad, or any other business where they can pocket the money. Sad but true.

Scooter riding in Phnom Penh is fun

To greet us on our first night in Phnom Penh, our hosts took us to the restaurant. The 10 of us on 3 mopeds(!), we rode to the restaurant and experienced for the first time Phnom Penh's very dense traffic. Road rules are taken as advices by the locals who know them, as nobody has a driving license anyway! But it's not worse than in India or Cairo! Common sense and paying attention to each other seems to be enough.

We spend a couple of days in Phnom Penh dealing with small things we wanted to sort out such as emails, photos, flight tickets etc. With the help of the very helpful Mr Ti, a cousin studying computer science and English in Phnom Penh, we sorted out a virus on our laptop and our visas for Myanmar (formerly called Burma), the next country on our itinerary (a couple of backpackers we met told us it was a great country so we traded Vietnam against Myanmar).

We also had the opportunity to visit the Ratanakiri province with Mr Darun, a long time friend of Saoyuth's father, so went away for a few days before returning to Phnom Penh. You can read about this excursion in the 'Banlung' chapter.

Back in Phnom Penh, and beside being ill and sorting out a few things (ie: Patrick going to the barber to get rid of 6 months of hair growth) we finally visited the city: the peaceful royal palace  , the hill -topped with a pagoda- that gave its name to the city and the Tuol Sleng genocide museum.

The Khmer Rouge are free and live among the population

Visiting Tuol Sleng, we were confirmed something we only slightly discussed with Saoyuth's mother, and then it became shocking: Cambodia has never judged the Khmer Rouge people who killed half of its population in horrible circumstances. There is no Cambodian equivalent of the German Nuremberg tribunal...Some Khmer Rouges died when Vietnam "liberated" the country, but for the majority, they are just living beside the people they persecuted. When it comes to the Khmer Rouge top executives, the ones who engineered the genocide, if Pol Pot is dead, the other ones are exiled... or for a few, still part of the actual government! How big is that??? Could you imagine ex-nazis still part of the political scene in Germany?

Our time in Cambodia is now over, and it has been a great experience to be part of a family, and see and understand the country a bit deeper than usual. It is likely we will come back in a few years to either visit Saoyuth's parents if they decide to retire in Cambodia or just show our future children (if any) the country of their mother, who knows? Our next destination is another politically troubled country, but with a lighter past: Myanmar, formerly know as Burma. We broke our piggy bank and bought two one way tickets to Yangon (Rangoon).
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