Tuesday, 26 July 2011

A few days in Phnom Penh

After leaving Siem Reap, we took a bus down to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. Humid, dusty and full of racing motobikes swerving around everywhere, it is not an attractive city, but still has charm.

We explored some of the temples in and around the city centre, finding both peaceful views of the river and also monks chain smoking on the balconies. The rain fell thick and fast in the afternoons, completely drenching us on the couple of occasions that we we caught short. But between the rain were blue skies and the most amazing rainbow I think I've ever seen, not arching across the sky but forming a complete circle around the sun, the rings forming a multi-coloured halo. The people were helpful and funny, and the traffic aggressive and filling the air with the constant sound of horns. A real city of opposites.

Whilst there we visited the major remenants of the Khmer Rouge regime - the .... prision known as S21 - a former school in the centre of the city where around 20000 people were torchered before being executed. A stark and constant reminder of the autrociites which took place, the barbed wire-surrounded collection of buioldings and the preserved cells inside were a horrid visual image. The photographs of inmates posted up in their hundreds along walls, staring blankly at the camera upon incarceration were particularly touching, as was the video focusing on two victims and how they came to be in the prison. We followed the visit with a trip to the 'Killing fields' where prisoners were transported before execution. Mass graves displayed signs explaining how many bodies had been exhumed within, one having held over 450 men, women and children. The scale was incredible, and looking out over grave upon grave very sobering. Again, an informative little museum gave details of the finds as well as explaining the systems for the conduct and covering up of the mass executions. Not a pleasant or joyful experience, but one very much worth doing.

To round off our time in the city, we also wandered down to the Palace and Silver Pagoda, a beautiful temple complex alongside the river side. Similar in design to the palace and temples of Bangkok, it was set in lovely grounds and made for a very nice stroll to escape the heat and pollution of the roads.

Phnom Penh is an interesting city and definitely worth a visit if in Cambodia. Whilst not having the same small-town feeling of Siem Reap, it is nevertheless a diverse place, with plenty to do and see.

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