I took some time to publish posts on the Angkor Archeological Complex which is the most amazing part of our visit to Cambodia. But, there are other aspects worth noting.
You’ll recall that the illustrious Mr Tay brought us into Cambodia as a clandestine border crossing from Vietnam (here). Ok, so it was a little bit dramatic, but as Colleen noted, ‘It definitely felt like a human smuggling operation or something equally shady. In truth, it was just a more expensive logistics arrangement commonly used by dozens of people daily.’
Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia.
Turns out we arrived the night before the biggest public holiday started. During the three days of Pchum Ben, virtually all businesses close their doors to allow their staff to return home to honour their ancestors. We learned about the holiday while dining at an authentic Khmer restaurant our first night. And we got accustomed to seeing the signage on the doors of most businesses we tried to frequent.
Oh well. We quite enjoyed the lack of crowds and most particularly the very light road traffic. The only problem we had was finding affordable expat dining options as these were almost the only restaurants that were open.
I don’t understand how a person from North America can open a cafe in a country such as Cambodia, charge North American prices, and still be a viable business. Somehow it works because these cafes were everywhere in Phnom Penh. Three bucks for a coffee!?
My theory is a small handful of expats and tourists pay these exorbitant prices that are heavily offset by the cheap overhead and rock bottom labour. Colleen had to get over it quickly because we had no other options but we were initially uncomfortable paying more for our breakfast than the person serving us took days of long hours to earn.
Fortunately we found the excellent ‘Feliz Cafe and Hostel Bar’. It was at the base of a cool looking hostel and the restaurant served awesome and relatively cheap food. The beer was cheap and the staff were super so we became fixtures each evening. We tried buying lunch ingredients from the grocer but the only store that we found open was for expats. With expat goods and expat prices. So we abandoned the baguette and deli sandwiches for much tastier dishes like Fish Amok, papaya and mango salads, and stir fries. Ben even found an affordable hamburger at Feliz.
Street food carts weren’t an option for us in Cambodia. We enjoyed them in Vietnam and checked for them in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap. But we couldn’t find any that met our fairly adventurous threshold of food safety.
One day a group of food stalls looked promising until we saw one lady spread her rice out on a large tarp to dry. Right beside a pile of garbage that blew into the rice with the breeze.
The Killing Fields
We knew that the kids had to see the killing fields. It is something that everyone must see to understand the brutality of the human mind towards fellow humans. I learned two things that horrified me. Pol Pot was a teacher and well educated (in France) and 1.7 to 2.5 Million of 8 Million people in Cambodia were killed by his actions. Some estimates are even higher to 3.5 Million. How do you do that and believe that you are right in your actions? The day left a stamp of reflection on all of us. Life learning and not the PC views found in school.
Leaving our hotel we are constantly chased with the sounds of ‘tuk-tuk?’ or ‘where are you going?’ The prices are sometimes posted on sheets or the driver will make up a price. Generally it is two to three times higher then what it should be. For our trip to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Commune), which is located 16km from the city centre, we were given a price of $20USD. We talked him down to $16USD and then had to stop him to confirm that he understood that was the price for round-trip. He agreed. Off we went.
Choeung Ek Genocidal Center
The ride was fairly quick. We arrived at the Centre, paid our 3USD per person which included a free audio guide. The original buildings are gone. Mass graves are open areas and the Memorial Stupa stands out as a stark reminder to the 20,000 people killed here. A Stupa is a Buddhist temple that holds relics or the remains of religious or royal persons. It is a place of meditation and worship. Very appropriate that many of the remains from the Killing Fields are honoured in this way. Walking the ground with the audio guide is like a personal trip into a terrible time. It includes details of what occurred as well as survivor stories.
We finished the visit with a personal time of reflection inside the stupa when the rain started. Our Tuk-tuk driver made sure the flaps were down while he got soaked during the torrential rain.
Flooding and Food
Driving back we headed to Feliz’s Hostel for some lunch. The roads are flooded and a real mess. We ended up paying the Tuk-Tuk driver his original asking price and giving him a tip of $2USD. That might sound cheap but to put it in perspective the driver agreed to $16USD which was probably still a bit high. We gave him 37% on top of that mainly for his good service ensuring we stayed dry.
The rain started up again as we sat down. Had to move into a table further way from the balcony because the water was pouring in. Hannah snapped these shots of the street below and a person across the way on an adjacent roof. Can you say -WET!
Walking after the rain
We spent the afternoon on the deck of the Feliz hostel enjoying the torrential rain. When it finally ended we set out on foot back to our hotel, the Kabiki with all the side roads flooded.
The next morning the roads were back to normal. The temperature spiked into the 40s and I decided to walk, alone, to the Wat Phnom resort. It was $1USD entry for foreigners. I ended up seeing monkeys and buddhas.
Colleen and I, sans children, went to visit the palace on one of our last days in Phnom Penh. It was a beautiful site although not well laid out or explained for tourists.
Let me comment first on the guards. Having stood guard at Rideau Hall and having commanded a regiment of Foot Guards I was beside myself with annoyance.
Okay, I am over it. Let’s talk about flags for a moment. Along the boardwalk of the Mekong River in front of the Palace are national flags. The U.S. is a one end and out of site while many of the commonwealth countries are closer to the centre.
Phnom Penh is too big a city for our liking and moving on to Siam Reap came at the right time. We looked at options and the private car was once again the easiest and most efficient. The Kabiki hotel offered an outrageous price and it was the Manager of the Feliz Hotel who provided a better deal at $75USD for all five of us. If you haven’t read about Angkor Wat I encourage you to have a look: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3.