Phnom Penh

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It was not very long ago that Cambodia was effectively closed to tourism from the west, due to the turmoil the country had been through in the latter half of the 20th century. The most notable events took place in the 1970s under the genocidal rule of Pol Pot, brought to a close when the Vietnamese invaded, who themselves were invaded by China in retaliation. The capital Phnom Penh had been abandoned, the citizens forced into the countryside for manual labour. Cambodia is only just getting back on its feet, and beginning to rediscover its fabulous assets.

We went through Cambodia as part of our south-east Asia trip in autumn 2006, taking in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, but again the issue of time was against us. We spent two nights in Phnom Penh in the "lakeside" area, as opposed to the more upmarket "riverside" district. A few years after our visit, most disappointingly, the lakeside area vanished as Boeng Kak Lake itself was filled in.

Floating Island

The view from our hostel the "Floating Island" which was having some trouble staying above the water, given that half the ground floor was actually in Boeng Kak Lake. In the background is the local mosque, which has since been rebuilt in a fancier manner as the Dubai Mosque.

One of the dance halls at the Royal Palace, which we visited for an afternoon.



At first I thought that these guys were palace residents, but they're just visiting from a monastery somewhere nearby.

This building was brought here as a gift from the French back when they were running Indochina, which explains why it looks a bit out of place. It is called the Napoleon Iron Pavilion.

Napoleon Iron Pavilion, French house

Silver Pagoda

The Silver Pagoda is so called because it is tiled with solid silver, left in place by the Khmer Rouge as they wanted to demostrate to the world that they weren't going to destroy all the past of the country, having supposedly learned that lesson from the Chinese Cultural Revolution.

Angkor Wat is a powerful symbol in south east Asia, there is a model of it here as well as at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Model of Angkor Wat


Wat Phnom is built on the only hill in the city, which serves the dual purpose of being a roundabout these days. It marks the site where the lady Penh took the images of Buddha she found by the riverside, thus founding the city.

Also at Wat Phnom there are a lot of monkeys, and the local guys who hang out here will sell you bananas. For the monkeys, not for you.


Truckin' along

Public transport Cambodian style on the road heading out of the city towards the Killing Fields.

It's just as well that I didn't order a bottle of Pepsi, this is a Cambodian petrol station. The proprietor eyed us suspiciously...

Cambodian petrol station


Crossing a river with slum housing on the way to the Killing Fields, there were a lot of kids swimming in the filthy water on the other side.

Outside Phnom Penh is the Killing Field of Choeung Ek, where people deemed to be a threat to the Pol Pot regime were brought for execution. There is now a monumental stupa next to the mass graves, some of which still have fragments of clothing and bone lying around the edges.

Choeung Ek Killing Fields


Over one million people were executed by the Khmer Rouge during their campaign. At Choeung Ek the skulls have been exhumed from the killing fields, and placed in the monumental stupa, sorted by age and sex.

Back in the city things weren't much better. This is the S-21 prison, a former school where people were taken to be held, catalogued, photographed and tortured if deemed necessary before being sent to the Killing Fields. What makes it all the more disturbing is that these events took place so recently, in the late 1970s.

S-21 Prison Camp


Inside the school, classroom walls were knocked through and rough brickwork was used to create makeshift cells.

Back to some lighter subjects; our tuk-tuk driving friend here gave us some very reasonable rates for his services for the day.

Tuk tuk


A local market place in Phnom Penh, it looks like this shopper has taken a fancy to the fruit-seller's head. Bargain.

We went from Phnom Penh to Vietnam by bus, along the notoriously awful Cambodian highway system, but the closer we got to Vietnam the better the roads became, which is saying something. It was apparent that most of the country was underwater.



For most of the journey we were stared at in equal measure by cows as farmers, outside straw huts on stilts by the roadside.

At the mighty Mekong River we boarded the good ship "Vishnu" for the crossing, before which we were accosted by the usual cheerful salespeople.

Cheerful salespeople

Mekong River crossing

Crossing the Mekong at Neak Loeung only took about ten minutes, the river is lined with houses.

The border between Cambodia and Vietnam was the first that I had walked across, you can see the two flags on the left marking the divide, ahead of the Vietnamese immigration post, at which we were stuck for 7 hours on account of having incorrect visas. We were lucky we didn't have to go back along the bumpy road to Phnom Penh!

Vietnamese border

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