Phnom Penh: Pretty but Pretty Depressing

The next stop on the Cambodian agenda was the capital city, Phnom Penh. I had heard many mixed reviews of the city, mostly not great things, but I really like it. There were pretty temples and monuments galore, an impressive Royal Palace and busy river front, all which gave the city quite a wealthy feel. Despite the wealthy architectural appearance we frequently saw whole families sleeping on the streets, many with tiny babies and small children, which illustrated the poverty and inequality the city faced.

We decided to do a Tuktuk tour of the city which bought us to all the main attractions and sights Phnom Penh had to offer. Our first stop was The Killing Fields, the biggest site in Cambodia where hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were sent to their death under the rule of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge regime. The audio guide explained the horrific occurrences that happened there little over 30 years ago and also included stories told by survivors. Several sites around the fields included The Killing Tree what they beat babies against to kill them, and collections of clothes, bones and teeth that are still resurfacing today from the burial pits when there is heavy rain. The main attraction was the memorial statue which housed hundreds of skulls and bones, a horrific sight.

The Killing Fields were followed by the genocide museum in a high school the Khmer Rouge transformed into a prison where people were held, tortured and made to sign confessions that would warrant their own death. It’s just incomprehensible the sheer amount of evil and brutality that resulted in the torture and killing of over 3 million people.

The rest of the day was a bit more cheerful with a stop for lunch before visits to the Russian Market and Wot Ounlom Buddhist temple. We ran out of time to do the National Museum but I heard it wasn’t worth the visit anyway, this was confirmed by the lads who went to visit it the next day instead.

The next day I went to visit the Royal Palace, a gorgeous and very grand building in the middle of the city – well worth the visit. The King of Cambodia was there due to it being Independence Day so some parts of the palace were closed off to visitors. Independence Day was celebrated with an impressive firework display at the palace and hundreds of school children parading the streets with their Cambodian flags.

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The brief two days in Phnom Penh was about the right amount of time and in my opinion was well worth the visit. As I’ve already said, I really liked the city, and with such a lot to do and see I would recommend a couple of days there to anybody interested in the history of the country.

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