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Friday, November 30, 2012

Phnom Penh Layover

Phnom Penh (PP) was initially out of the plan. But we learned that traveling from Siem Reap all the way to Saigon will take a staggering 12 hours. We came to a conclusion to stop over in Cambodia's capital city and spent a night there. Travel time from Siem Reap to Phnom Pehn takes about 6 hours, so we'll be halfway to Vietnam by then.

We woke up early to catch the first bus to PP which departs 7:00 AM. We chose the 168 Sorya Transport bus as recommended by most travelers. Fare to PP was KHR 16,000 (Cambodian Riels) or USD 4. Since it was too early and we haven't got the chance to eat breakfast, Beau bought something to eat while we were waiting for the bus to get full.

banh mi

He found this baguette sandwich with tofu, veggies and a special dressing. It turned out to be delectable. Apparently, Indochina countries have this kind of sandwich. We also found one in Vietnam and they say they also have these in Laos. French influence, so to speak.

exotic snack, anyone? :)

We stopped over once in between SR and PP. We saw street vendors selling these spicy crispy fried insects. I thought about trying one but I just couldn't make my mind to do it. I think we stood there for a good 10 minutes only to back out in the end. But I swear, I really want to try it! Maybe next time. I still have to muster enough courage to do that. :)

We arrived in Phnom Penh at around 1:00 PM. When we got off the bus, we already purchased a ticket to Ho Chi Minh City for the following day. We want to make sure we'll have seats on the earliest bus going to Vietnam.

Royal Guesthouse and Cafe Bar

We took a tuktuk going to the guesthouse which is just nearby and easy to find. We checked-in at the Royal Guesthouse and Cafe Bar (USD 13 per night)- which I am not writing a recommendation entry because it was a mistake! So friends, do not stay there at all cost. Why? The rooms were worn down and not very clean. Another thing is you can't control the A/C. They won't give you the remote control and you have to ask them to turn it on for you every time. It was installed near the ceiling so there'e no way you can reach it manually! Good thing we were just spending a night there. Geez! We only had a short time in PP so we did not look for another place anymore.

With our limited time in Phnom Pehn, we just wanted to look around a bit and visit a few important tourist spots.We just rented a motorbike (for USD 7) from the guesthouse and decided to go on our own instead of getting ripped off by tuktuk drivers. We couldn't maximize their service anymore if ever we're getting one because it's already 2:00 PM. So we just asked for a map and a few instructions from the receptionist, then went off on our motorbike.

Toul Sleng Genocide Museum

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

When we started our own "tour", we found out that our guesthouse is just near to the Royal Palace, National Museum and The Silver Pagoda. With that in mind, we just passed by and thought we can just go back later. When we looked at the map, the Killing Fields seemed to be far so we asked the locals. They say it will take about an hour and a half to a couple of hours to get there. We crossed it out of our plans and just opted to the nearer Toul Sleng Museum.

regulations made for the captives

I have to warn you that this museum has a painful story. I myself felt so distressed and saddened upon learning it. Stop reading here if you are a weakling.

This place used to be Chao Phonhea Yat High School. It is consisted of 5 buildings. Who would have thought that this school where the Cambodian hopeful youth go will be converted into a security prison and torture chambers?

S-21 exterior

When the Khmer Rouge rose to power in 1975, they conquered the place and turned it into Security Prison 21 more commonly known as S-21. A few months after they won the civil war, they started to use this as a prison and interrogation center.

each building has different category

During their 4-year regime, there were roughly 17,000 to 20,000 people imprisoned at Tuol Sleng. There might have been 1,000-1,500 prisoners being held at one time. At the earlier months, most victims were members of the previous regime headed by Lon Nol.

prisoners being chained and tortured

They were repeatedly tortured and forced to name their family members and colleagues who will later be  arrested, tortured and killed too. :(

another torture chamber

Later on, Pol Pot's party became paranoid and started arresting party activists and their families for "espionage". All of them were being brought for interrogation then later on executed in Choeung  Ek or the Killing Fields.

the saddest hall way I've walked into :(

Building B has the most prisoners' memorabilia. There are compilation of the prisoners photographs. Some of them has a little bio written on it. There are also paintings showing different methods of torture and killing. A collection of the prisoners clothing were also stored there. There are victims' skulls on display too. There are even photos of the mutilated bodies chained in bed and other very graphic photos. I really felt uneasy and depressed upon seeing them. I did not take photos of the victims to pay them respect.

the gallows

Another example of torture and execution device was the gallows, where victims were being hung upside down and heads being submerged in water, which will later on drown them.

another  prison cell category

This building was subdivided into small prisoner cells just like in the photo below.


Unlike those rooms in Building A which is roomy, this building has tiny cells for each prisoners.

inside the cell

They were being shackled to the wall or to the floor. They were not allowed to talk to each other. They inspect them everyday to check if they have objects to use for committing suicide. They were not being fed properly. They can not drink unless permitted by the guards.

razor wired fences to prevent escape

Regulations were very strict. Disobeying meant lashes and electric discharge, and crying while receiving them meant another punishment. How can you not think about just killing yourself?

victims' skulls and bones

Only 7 people survived out of those thousands. Just imagine how many people have suffered this ill fate. In every room I entered, I was uttering a silent prayer for their souls. I can't believe that someone can do this to his own countrymen. It was just so sad. There are actually "no smile" signs in the area. But I really don't think you can manage to do so when you're feeling so disheartened.

We've learned so much that day. Although it was about their bitter past, I somehow understand the people of Cambodia better. They are not just about their rich ancient history and majestic temples. A lot of things happened after that.

The sun was setting when we left the Genocide Museum. We were then caught in their version of rush hour, so we got stuck in traffic and did not make it anymore to the other attractions as they close at 5:00 PM.

Phnom Penh at Night

Independence Monument

Forgive my poor shot of the monument. It was taken from the motorbike while we were passing by it. That was built as a symbol of their independence from France back in 1953.

We got hungry after going through the traffic so we went around to look for a place to eat. We found one eatery in one of the city streets.

pork innards etc.

Beau opted for the pig innards, ears, sausages etc remix haha. I don't know what they call it hehe. While I got myself a yummy prawn and veggie dish.

my stir fried prawn and veggies

Well, no more attractions opened so we just drove around the city to see what it looks like at night.

Japanese Friendship Bridge

The city center is easy to navigate. We just referred to our map from time to time and we never got lost.

want to try local food?

Khmer Food Village is where regional Cambodian produce and dishes can be found in one place.

We stayed a while and catch some breeze at Sisowath Quay. This is like our Manila Baywalk Boulevard. The only difference was, this one is situated along the junction of Mekong and Tonle Sap Rivers while ours is by the sea.

Sisowath Quay

There are national flags lined up in the Quay. We even saw our own flag hehe. By the way, it is just located near the Royal Palace. The Silver Pagoda has no sufficient lighting at night so I did not take a photo of it anymore.

The Royal Palace by night

We only had a glimpse of Phnom Pehn because we've just been there in less than 24 hours. I think it was just 18 hours to be exact. We saw a part of it's history and how it continues to grow in the present. Similar to other third world countries (like ours), parts of the city were dirty, there were beggars around, and piles of stinky rubbish can be found in the streets. Poverty is very much evident. It just goes to show that they haven't fully recovered yet after the decades of war.

Cambodia as a country has a tumultuous past. They flourished during the Angkorian Era, gone through war series with neighboring Kingdoms (Siam and Chams), colonized by the French, ravaged by civil wars and had people annihilated by the Khmer Rouge. In the recent years, efforts to reconstruct the country have progressed although not too significantly. They are probably still hesitant to make a bigger move for the fear of political instability. There's still an internal strife lurking in their present government. Until now, they still rely heavily on foreign assistance. We are still luckier somehow.

"Go to foreign countries and you will get to know the good things one possesses at home."
~Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

This is Part 6 of my Cambodia travel series.

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