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Phnom Penh Diary
12th January, 2010
My first trip to Phnom Penh was initiated as a result of a great deal offered by Jetstar. I booked us for 3 days at the Intercontinental , hoping a good hotel room would keep my son and husband suitably pampered while I traversed the city!
Phnom Penh is not my first choice of a travel destination in Cambodia, as my dream is to go to Siem Reap and photograph the temples of Angkor . All the same,a dear friend(who lived in PP for four years) had shared enough stories to make me want to visit this city purely to get an insight into its gory history.
Three days later, as I sat on the
plane back to Singapore, I felt I had a better understanding of Cambodia and its people. What will stay as a lasting memory is the spirit of these people who have had to make new beginnings from the genocide that Pol Pot and his diabolical Khmer Rouge inflicted upon every Cambodian .
Getting around PP was a breeze, thanks to a Trip Advisor tip of hiring Sam the Man to drive us about the city. I would highly recommend this luxury, as tuk-tuks, though seemingly cheap, get very uncomfortable in the heat of the day and the grime in the air makes you feel sticky and dirty. We did enjoy our tuk tuk rides in the late evening though, when it was much more cooler.
The highlights of this trip were-
Visit to the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison
The Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda
Exploring the shops around PP
Our visit to Sunrise Children's Village
The Royal Palace and the adjoining Silver Pagoda were very impressive examples of Cambodian architecture. I was most impressed by the well maintained grounds and vibrant colors of the buildings. It helped to have a guide who gave more meaning to some of the many stupas and buildings we saw here. One has to make sure to time one's visit, as the palace has two closing periods during the day.
Wat Phnom made for a pleasant visit…although having visited similar temples in Chiang Mai and Penang, it didn't offer any new experience. I loved the two pictures I managed to get there- the flower girl and the belligerent girl in the rain.
I also stopped by the Buddhist temple (Wat Ounalom) near the riverfront and had an amazing spiritual moment as the priest offered to pray with me inside one of the oldest temples in PP. I chanced upon a monk stepping out to smoke and asked if I could take his picture and he grinned naughtily and shook his head!
The National Museum is housed in a beautiful Khmer design building. It exhibits Khmer stone carvings and artefacts from the 5th and 10th centuries. It seemed pretty evident that the Indian influence (as was apparent from the many sculptures of Hanuman, Vishnu, Krishna) was very concentrated before the 7th or 8th centuries. Thereafter one saw the distinct Angkor style permeate most of the artworks.
Our visit to the Tuol Slng prison, that served as the stage for the brutalities of the Khmer Rouge, was brief. The children were disturbed by the dismal surroundings and haunting pictures of the victims that filled every room we walked into.
They refused to go onto the Killing Fields as planned and instead chose to erase the memories with some retail therapy at Sorya mall instead.
Sorya Mall is a good stop for jeans and branded T-shirts. It makes for a more comfortable shopping experience than the suffocating confines of the Russian Market. I came across Ed Hardy Tshirts at one-tenth the price back home!!
Which brings me to the Russian market. I ended up going there three times- not because I enjoyed it but because I had to return to exchange things that I had bought. Its narrow, dark, cramped corridors are lined with stalls selling clothes, wooden carvings, silver,etc. On my first visit I was convinced I would be lost in the maze of stalls and not find my way back to my driver waiting outside. I also wasnt particularly impressed by the things I saw inside. But on my subsequent visits, I ended up buying lovely ceramic ware, loads of branded tee shirts and shorts for the kids and some silver and stone carvings. Make sure you bargain, as you can get better prices if you do so.
Street 240 was probably the most pleasant and interesting of my shopping expeditions. Most of the lovely stores here are run by the local Australian expats and the ones I enjoyed the most were Bliss Spa and Gallery, Le Lizard Bleu, Mekong Quilts , Couleurs d'Asie, Chocolate and Dee's Bookstore.
We loved our lunch stop at The Shop, a cafe with character and amazing sandwiches and salads. The lychee mint cooler is a must have!
St. 178 that runs along past the National Museum, is filled with a number of seemingly interesting stores (most of them are located AFTER the turn-off to the museum), but warrant a quick in and out visit. The more noteworthy ones are Sentosa Silks for some great silk scarves and a must do is the Friends and Stuff store across the street from the museum, for
some innovative recycled products. The cafe Friends beside it, is another highly recommended food stop for great home cooked Cambodian and Asian fare.
We also stopped by the Raffles hotel and had lip-smacking quesadillas and tea at the Elephant Bar. The FCC, by the riverfront, is a great place to hang out over wood fired pizzas and enjoy the idyllic views it offers. It is definitely a place with a lot of character.
I loved the Happy Painting gallery located at the entrance to the FCC. The paintings by Stef are a delight but the prices kept me from buying one. I settled for a postcard as a souvenir instead.
I also stopped by Jars of Clay, a cafe located near the Russian Market, run and owned by 8 Cambodian girls. This place, as is the Friends Cafe and many others in PP, is an example of expat initiative in rehabilitating the Cambodian youth and giving them a vocation.
Tabitha, a store selling silk products made by local women is a good place to buy silk souvenirs too.
We also opted to visit one of the numerous orphanages/homes for Cambodian children, as an exercise for our kids to appreciate their own privileged lives. Sam, our driver, recommended a drive to Sunrise Village, about 20 kms away. It is a beautiful and serene environment that houses over 150 children and offers them shelter, food, clothing and an education. It was very inspiring to see, yet again, how the expat community is truly helping the locals make a better life for themselves.
On hindsight, although most travel guides painted a picture of PP being unsafe with bag
snatchers lurking on street corners, I found PP a relatively safe place to be. Like one would do when one visits any developing nation, don’t flaunt jewellery, walk around alone at night or get into arguments when you can avoid one.
As with India, don't be distracted by the overt poverty, dirt and crowds of Phnom Penh. Instead, be inspired by the youth who have emerged like phoenixes, to move ahead with no bitterness for their past- only a welcoming smile and hope for their future!
Upon my return to Singapore, my curiosity of the political history of PP wasn’t quite satiated and I borrowed the DVD of The Killing Fields and sat up one night and watched the horrors of what I had only briefly seen or heard of, before my visit. I had also bought a book called The Lost Executioner at Dee’s on St.240. I read it in 6
nights . If you would like to try and make any sense of the senseless world of the Khmer Rouge, the above mentioned help.
Pictures can be viewed here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/seems33/sets/72157622569039630/
#1 Posted: 21/1/2010 - 15:18
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