Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Phnom Penh -February 8-11

I left Kurtis and Sharon at Phan Thiet. I took a plane from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penn, Cambodia.  Only 11 people were on the plane. Only one couple, 5 women traveling alone and 4 men traveling alone. All appear to be tourists. One lady from Canada - Winnipeg.

Getting a visa was not difficult. A simple form to fill in and $25 US required. However very little instructions. A man pointed to a basket with forms and walked away. I filled out the form and approached the visa window with the money and passport picture. A man took the form and passport and walked away. This was similar to Vietnam so I went to the next window and someone took the money without any conversation and gestured for me to step back. Shortly after someone brought passports to the window and tossed them to the woman there. She then held up the passports showing the picture so each of us could claim our own - a visa had been stapled inside. This could have been chaos if more than 11 people needed visas.

I took a taxi ($15US) to my hotel the Lance Court Hotel($25US) The room is clean, has hot water and WiFi. It is really basic - no desk or dresser. The shower is European style - just a shower wand in the wall. The bathroom is small enough it works best if i sit on the toilet while showering. I was tired enough to remain in my room until morning.

In the morning I went exploring in the neighborhood.  It appears I am close to many things tourists are looking for. I'm in walking distance to the Royal Palace, the river bank,  the locals market, central market and the night market.  Because of the holidays  (Chinese New year) some shops are closed including the night market and part of central market.

I hired a Tuk-tuk to show me some sights. My driver was very knowledgeable and spoke very good English.  We started at Wat Phnom. Before I could go exploring my driver explained the history of the area. This was a special day to visit; because of the holiday many people were attending for blessings. Many monks were in line with sacks for people to put money in. Small birds were being sold and as soon as they were given to them, the birds were released for luck. Incense, special candles and lotus flowers were been sold. People were leaving these and money on Buddha statutes as an offering. 

We then went to the gold temple. Not another tourist was present - I'm not sure why but considerate fortunate. Four buildings were in this area. The oldest was being restored. My Tuk-tuk driver explained the history and told me some info about Buddhism. I got to watch a family receive a special water blessing from a monk. It also appeared both the monk and the giggling children were having fun. We then drove to Independence Monument and around the community.  The driver pointed out hospitals, schools and bridges that were sponsored by other countries; Switzerland, Japan and Australia. 

In the afternoon I walked to the Royal Palace and took the tour of beautiful grounds and buildings.

Phnom Penh is much hotter than I've experienced so far. Everyone seems friendly.  A couple from Winnipeg are staying in the same hotel.

However the shady side of the city is just outside my door. The hotel next door has rooms for rent by the hour. The next block consists of night clubs advertising pretty women.  A restaurant just around the corner had three tables of customers - each table had 50+ gentleman  (using the word sarcasticly) and a younger teenage or early 20's Cambodian woman. At another restaurant an older man was in the accompanying of perhaps a 14 yr old -  she was chatting with younger girls who were selling bracelets to him.

Poverty is much more obvious here. Lots of street beggors.  Lots of disabled people missing limbs and begging - I'm guess war and land mine victims. Lots of deformed people - I'm assuming agent orange victims. Arms shortened, arms bent backward, blind and misshapen heads, hydrocephalus and other deformaties.

Day two was a tour to the killing fields and the genocide museum. The couple from Winnipeg, Bill and Kathleen  are also on this bus. The Genocide Museum was first. You could choose an audio/headphone tour or a personal guide. The guide who walked me though was very knowledgeable.  At the end I got to meet both survivors from S21. Both men are in there 70's and every day, one or the other are at the Museum.  Both have books of their stories to sell. I bought Chum Mey's book and he autographed it.

The genocide museum originally had been a school but after the Khmer Rouge regime took over, they made the school into a prison called Tuol Sleng prison or S21 - security #21. There was 50 such prisons but S21 is particularly known for its extreme brutality.  More than 12,000 people were kept here - only 7 were alive at time of rescue. Many people were killed at S21 - others were transported to the killing fields to be slaughtered.

The killing fields has a monument built in the middle. It holds many skulls, some other bones and killing weapons. The skills are identified as male or female, grouped by ages, and many are identified by how they were killed (ie; pick-axe, club, ice-pick, etc.) An audio/headphone tour is recommended. The audio guides you through a walking tour of the area. The whole tour is a disturbing message of what can happen to a country in such a short time.  Within 4 years 25-30% of the population in Cambodia was murdered.

There was advantages and disadvantages of taking a tour bus. Advantages: Air conditioning, cold water, a 25 min video on the tour bus of a biography of Pol Pot.
Disadvantages:  more time was needed at each center - perhaps an additional 15-20 minutes.

The rest of my day was walking aimlessly around, seeing the community.

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