So much to see, so little time!
12.10.2013 - 14.10.2013 31 °C
After another 3 bumpy hours on the coach we arrived in downtown Phnom Penh to the usual crowd of tuk tuk drivers and hawkers trying to get you to go to their hotel, telling you theirs is cheaper and nicer than what you've booked. We successfully managed to dodge all of these and headed for the nearest ATM to be very surprised to find they only dispense US Dollars (after a quick re-consult with Lonely Planet - thanks Susie!) we realised this was the norm and EVERYTHING in Cambodia is in dollars.
Money in hand we had to weave our way back through the crowd of touts who were all very annoyed when we told them we knew where our hotel was and we wanted to walk. However, 10 minutes later in 30+ degree heat, carrying our packs, we realised we had made an error and that perhaps we needed to stop being so suspicious of everyone! We hailed a tuk-tuk and agreed a price of $3. It was the best thing we could have done as we soon realised we were still a fair walk away.
One Up Banana Hotel http://www.1uphotelcambodia.com/reservations (yes it's a strange name) was really nice and as usual the staff were incredible. So friendly, welcoming and desperate to help. We had to wait a couple of minutes for our room to be ready which they couldn't stop apologizing for. The room was nice and big and suitable for our new flash-packer status - although Nick was annoyed it was on the ground floor and right next to Reception but he soon got over it.
By this time it was about 16.30 and Nick had not been feeling well all day as he kept feeling dizzy and queasy, which in his usual paranoid state meant he had a tropical disease. I suspect however he was just dehydrated and tired. So he lay down for half an hour (which turned into two) before convincing me he was ok and he wanted food. By this time it was dark (making Nick more annoyed as it had been a glorious sunny afternoon). We walked past the Independence Monument which was all lit up, then past a park where people were doing aerobics / line dancing to techno music (?!?), before reaching the riverfront which is apparently the up market end of town. We were both starving though so after a quick look round settled on a first floor restaurant with views over the river and we're ashamed to say both had burgers! I think we both needed a bit of western comfort food and this seemed to perk Nick up a lot. After dinner we walked the short distance along the river to Phnom Penh Night Market which was packed and slightly disappointing selling more cheap clothes than anything else. We decided to walk back to the hotel - another error as we ended up walking though some very dirty, smelly streets with no street lights in flip flops - Yuk! (I actually held my breath for the whole time)
After a good nights sleep Nick seemed nearly himself again. We had already arranged with the hotel to have a tuk-tuk for the day for $20, to make the most of our brief time here. This felt a little strange and upper class having a driver but the distances were too far to walk. Mi was ready and waiting for us at 09.30 so we jumped aboard and set off for our first stop.
The Choeung Ek Genocide Centre (The Killing Fields) which are about a 30 minute, very bumpy ride outside of the city. $6 each to enter and you're given an excellent Audio Guide to help explain the history and give you an understanding of what happened there. For those who don't know about the atrocities of Pol Pots and The Khmer Rouge this was the site of a former "work camp" where Khmer people (and anyone who disagreed with the regime, in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply had always worked in an office) ended up. The area is covered with mass grave sites, some of which have been left undisturbed. The worst area though was the killing tree, so named because it was here that babies were snatched from their mothers, taken by their feet and had their heads smashed against a the tree, to then be thrown into the near by hole. Near the end of the walk way is a huge Stupa with a collection of bone and cloth over several levels. It was a very moving and sobering experience with both Nick and I commenting how scarily it compared to what had happened in Europe with the Holocaust.
It was back to the tuk-tuk, where we turned down the offer of a shooting range where apparently for a mere $100 you can fire a rocket launcher at a cow (I wish I was joking!) and instead headed back to the city for a quick lunch stop before visiting the Tuol Sleng Museum or S21. Again this is not the nicest of places to visit but is a must see in Phnom Penh. The former High School campus was closed down under the regime (as were all schools) and turned into a prison where detainees were tortured to confess crimes they didn't commit. Again the comparisons with our European leg was scary and how this took place AFTER WW2.
Feeling in need of some lighter subject matter our trusty tuk-tuk took us to our final stop, the Royal Palace. Luckily we had read that you needed to be dressed modestly so we were both covered up and we couldn't help but laugh at the tourists turning up in tiny shorts and vest tops being made to buy t-shirts or be turned away. The inside of the palace grounds are simply stunning. Gorgeous Khmer temples and buildings with soaring spires and curving eaves all with ornate gold carvings, where orange clad monks (and even monkeys) dart between buildings. For Nick this was the highlight of the day.
From here is was back to the hotel to decide on a plan for the next day (as we were due to check out). After coming up with lots of ideas and then changing our minds about 10 times we settled on heading to Siem Reap by bus the next day which the hotel could organise for us for only $12 each. Another couple of hours later and we had a hotel booked too so headed out to a nice local restaurant for our final meal, a great restaurant which also gave back to the community http://www.anisehotel.com.kh/?page=front&menu1=6&ctype=article&id=6&lg=en. We both felt we may have made a mistake in not deciding to stay in Phnom Penh for one more night but it was too late to change our plans now.
Next morning we had just enough time to pop to a bakery before getting our mini bus to Siem Reap.