05.01.2012 - 07.01.2012
05.01.2012 – Wandering around our hotel area this morning trying to find somewhere for breakfast and we have already been offered a Tuk Tuk about 50 times! The locals just sit around all the hotels and restaurants waiting for tourists to come out and overpay to go somewhere, rather than run around with locals all day long. Makes sense, we read somewhere that the average Cambodian survives on $1 per day – so if they can sit and wait for a few hours, and then get a tourist to pay them $4 or $5 – they are laughing. We are pretty determined not to play into the overpaying game, as it does nothing but fuel the problem for future tourists, so refuse to pay more than $1 for our trips around town, maybe with a 1000 riel tip ($0.25) if they are a good driver. We’re probably still overpaying – but sometimes it’s not worth the arguing over $0.25 or $0.50 between 2 people, when you’re probably dealing with someone who has 3 kids to feed at the end of each shift.
We walked up to Wat Phnom, a temple set on the only hill in Phnom Penh, 27 metres high. Having seen plenty of temples by now, this one wasn’t anything particularly special, but it was still nice and for $1 entrance, was worth a visit. There are plenty of locals there trying different things to get you to part with your money, but the most ingenious one I saw was the girls with birds in cages. Apparently you pay to ‘set the birds free’ – but they are trained to return to the cages after you leave. You’ve got to hand it to them, at least it’s different!
Afterwards, we walked to Psar Thmei, the Central Market, which is a huge architecturally designed dome – some say ranked as one of the 10 largest domes in the world. It sold an assortment of things, but we were really only there to check out the dome. Afterwards we walked a few streets and had lunch in the Soyra Shopping Mall (mainly for the air conditioning!) but if you go up to the top floor, you also get views over the city. There are several chain restaurants, as well as a 20+ stall food court on the upper floors, so plenty to choose from.
After lunch we took a Tuk Tuk to the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. We had read that it is only open 8-11am and 2-5pm, so we went back for 2pm and once we’d entered head straight for the Silver Pagoda and surrounding gardens. It turned out to be a good move, as the place was practically deserted while everyone else was still visiting the other side. The Silver Pagoda was a bit disappointing really, despite being described as over 5000 silver tiles, there were only about 30 or 40 on display, and the rest were hidden under dodgy carpet.
We grabbed our photos before heading back to the Royal Palace and surrounding buildings. It’s very similar design to the Royal Palace in Bangkok, although not nearly as grand in my opinion. Quite a lot of the buildings and gardens were closed to the public which was disappointing, so after about an hour we were finished and wandered up along the waterfront for a cold drink.
Sadly, the Mekong isn’t the picturesque hangout that you want after a long hot day – there’s rubbish everywhere, it smells disgusting, and if you can go more than 2 or 3 minutes without being harassed for money, or to buy something you’re doing well. Such a shame, as they are obviously trying to build up the area and there are some nice restaurants and cafes there.
Tonight we said goodbye to Laurence and Tessa, who we met in China and have been travelling with again since Hoi An. We have had a great time over the last few weeks and it was really nice to spend Christmas and New Year’s together. Hopefully our paths will cross again, either in Cambodia, or Australia/Holland – fingers crossed.
06.01.2012 – This morning we set out to the Tuol Sleng Museum, a high school that was taken over by Pol Pot’s regime and converted into the S-21 Prison. The morning was pretty grim, and it’s hard to imagine this was all happening in the late 70’s, only a few decades ago.
Afterwards we head to the Russian Market, which is filled with clothes, souvenirs, DVDs, household wares etc etc. A lot of clothing is manufactured in Cambodia, particularly on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, so a proportion of the labels end up in these markets. Esprit, Next, Abercrombie, Timberland, Tommy Hilfiger, Levis – plenty to choose from. We picked up a few new t-shirts, but were determined to try and keep our bags light - we’d only just sent yet another box home and they were ideal weight at the moment.
After the market, we grabbed a Tuk Tuk out to the Killing Fields of Choeung Elk. They have made the audio tour compulsory for foreigners, to ensure that you understand just what happened here. We spent about an hour and a half wandering, reading and listening to the audio guide, and one can’t help but feel depressed at the end of it all. They estimate up to 3 million Cambodians were killed by their own countrymen. At the time, that was almost 1 in 4 people within the country. It also helped us to understand the statistic we read the other day about the population – 50% of Cambodia’s people are under the age of 16 (as of 2010). Hard to imagine, but when you think about the millions that died in the American Bombings and under the Khmer Rouge, you can begin to believe it.
We finished up at the museum and grabbed our waiting Tuk Tuk driver outside. He took us on a great back road back into the city and we passed the rice fields at sunset. Back near our hotel, we grabbed street food for dinner, and nearly ended up with testicles after Chris mistook them for beef meatballs. Close call.
07.01.2012 – This morning we are taking the bus to Sihanoukville, a beach town on the south west coast of Cambodia. I’m taking the opportunity of a few hours on the bus to update my blog, as I am falling far behind! It’s been much harder since we hit Vietnam to find the time to do my updates. Hopefully I can get things back on track and provide more regular updates. I hope you're enjoying our stories, hard to believe we have been travelling for over 5 months now!