We arrived in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. It is hard to imagine that in 1975, mere days after taking control of the country, the Khmer Rouge evacuated the whole city and put the people to work on rice farms. Not just Phnom Penh, but all cities, big and small. Nowadays, the city is lively, vibrant, and upbeat.
The first day we dedicated to the somber reminders of the crimes and atrocities committed by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime. We visited the ghostly schoolhouse which was transformed into the infamous Teul Sleng S-21 torture center and prison. We walked through the rooms filled with photos of victims who were brought to the prison. We went to the Cheung Ek killing fields outside of the city to where the prisoners were sent for eradication after their torture. As you enter the area, a large pagoda filled with skulls and bones which have been unearthed greets you. It was very spooky walking along the ground and still seeing bone fragments and teeth, which continually come to the surface as it rains. Bits of clothing litter the site and are a constant reminder of the thousands of people who lost their lives here for no good reason at all. That evening we retreated to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club for a nice dinner and a drink overlooking the Bassac River. Out minds needed a little numbing.
We also did a bit of sightseeing in Phnom Penh. The museum had a good collection of statues and other artifacts from the seemingly countless temples. In a way though, the temples would be better off had the statues been left in their original location. We spent a pleasant afternoon roaming the palace compound. We did a fair bit of shopping to replenish some clothes which were lost, damaged, or nicked from laundry. Finally, we had to run around some embassies and take care of visas for countries we were planning on visiting. Also, Paddy and I ate a ginormous spider.
Traffic in Phnom Penh is erratic, as in many of the other places in Southeast Asia we have visited before. In Cambodia people drive on the right-hand side of the road, as in most of Europe and the Americas. When turning left on a busy street, they don’t wait for a gap but instead go against the flow of traffic, close to the sidewalk. Slowly they break through the oncoming traffic and join the rest of the cars going in the proper direction in the right lane. Intersections are battles of wits and size. A lonely moped pulls up to a busy intersection and the stream of traffic ignores him. Another one pulls up, two more, and maybe a Toyota Land Cruiser. Critical mass is acquired and the small pack slowly pushes into the busy intersection. The oncoming traffic does not give way easily, but as more vehicles arrive and push on, eventually the traffic stops and the waiting vehicles can finally cross. Now a similar situation begins building on the other street as you pass with a string of cars and motorcycles behind you.