15/02/2018 – 17/02/2018
Here is my second instalment of my Cambodia posts, you can read about my first stop to Siem Reap here. My interest in Cambodia sparked after I read ‘First they killed my father’ by Loung Ung, so Phnom Penh was somewhere I had been looking forward to visiting.
So after taking the sleeper bus to Phnom Penh I arrived at around 5.30 in the morning and went straight to my hostel. It was one of those bizarre moments, the ground floor was a restaurant and the guy let me in and told me to go to sleep on one of the chairs, no questions asked, and the family who worked there and some of their friends also appeared to be sleeping in the restaurant. Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t sleep much so I got ready as much as I could in the toilet and headed out early to go to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. We know I have a thing about walking, so I decided to walk the 45 minutes there, but it was OK because it was like 7 in the morning so not too hot.
The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, or S21, is a museum docuenting the Cambodian genocide. The site was a high school turned prison, used for torture, interrogation and execution by the Khmer Rouge. Out of the 14,000 people known to be held there, only 7 survived.
It’s definitely not for the faint-hearted and there’s some real graphic images of the victims and the rusty beds they were chained to, but it’s very important to see to begin to understand some of Cambodia’s past and something you’ve got to experience for yourself.
I had planned to go to the killing fields that day, but it was midday when I finished up at S21. I thought better of going to an outside attraction in 32 degree heat. Everywhere else I planned on going to was shut so I went back to my hostel to check in. This is where I started to not really like Phnom Penh. The place I stayed at was called 19 Happy House Backpacker. I learnt my lesson that I shouldn’t book the cheapest place available. It looked like a crack den, my room was up like eight flights of stairs and it was so so hot. The staff were so sketchy.
So I chilled and decided what to do next. The royal palace and national museum were on my list but after looking at the price (they were like $10 each) I decided that I wasn’t that interested. I thought Cambodia was cheap! But I pulled myself together and instead went to central market. The market is in an art deco style building and it is really pretty, but I only spent ten minutes there. A lot of the vendors were closed for Chinese New Year; and it had the same overpriced stuff every other market does.
Next I went to the riverside, it was OK but nothing special. I’d heard a lot about the cinemas in Phnom Penh so I went to Flicks because it had really good reviews. But, after waiting until the movie started the guy randomly told me that he wasn’t sure if it was on or not, even though there was a sign outside advertising it? The guy was weird. So after some googling I went to the meta house. They do free documentary screenings just for something to do before heading back to the hostel.
My main aim of the day was to go to the killing fields. Again I had a sketchy encounter with the people who worked at my hostel. They massively overcharged me for a bike there.
During the Khmer Rouge reign in the 70s, almost a quarter of the population were killed. Choeung Ek is the largest of the mass grave sites and is now a monument for the people who lost their lives there and survived. There are lots of distressing sights there; probably one of the most harrowing is a tree where soldiers smashed babies against to kill them because their parents had been killed because they had been accused of crimes against the Khmer Rouge, and they didn’t want the children to grow up and take revenge for them.
After I went to Villa Langka pool because it was like 37 degrees and I was melting. It’s a hotel pool but if you spend $8 you can use it for free so I bought lunch there. It’s super shady so a pretty cold swim but I was grateful.
Then I went to street 93 to see some street art. I didn’t really know where I was going but I saw some pretty cool murals. Later I looked on the Instagram tag and I saw so many great paintings that I didn’t see. I obviously didn’t explore enough but I think being on my own got the better of me. I also went to Wat Phnom because it was on the way back. Honestly didn’t see a thing because it was so busy, was definitely the wrong time to go!
Before going to Phnom Penh I’d heard mixed things and that it was kinda gritty. I thought I’d be one of the people who liked it, but I was disappointed. It was so dirty and there was rubbish everywhere. Like I saw a chicken’s head in the middle of the road for no apparent reason. In hindsight, I would have just stayed for one day and just done S21 and the killing fields; but I was definitely glad I went still.
If you want to see more photos of my travels you can check out my Flickr