01.02.2008 - 04.02.2008
After spending the night in Koh Kong, a rather seedy border town in Cambodia, we continued on a minibus ride with several river crossings. We either had to walk over four incomplete bridges or be ferried across on two canoes that were lashed together. We finally arrived in the Capital in late afternoon and are now ensconced at the Okay Guest House, highly touted both in the Lonely Planet, and in person by touts at the bus station, who were there to greet us in force. It would be hard to beat our 4th floor room with fan and AC for about $10 US. Okay, we had to walk up, but worth it none the less.
We spent time walking along the Mekong riverfront. There was a promenade, always full of action with Buddhist ceremonies and live Kymer music. There was a constant parade of different kinds of people, food and flower stalls, and there were Wats (temples) on both sides of the road. It does not feel dangerous here, at least during the day.
On another day we hired Bim, ourtuk-tuk driver to take us around town.
We went to the genocide museum, which is located in an infamous jail where Pol Pot and his brigades tortured many people. Looking at the city now it is hard to imagine that at one point it was practically empty. Everyone was forced out to work in the countryside.
Outside of the Museum
On a very different note, we also went to the National Museum which had ancient Kymer objects and some art work. These next shots were taken in a small pond in front of the building.
Lunch was at an restaurant, Friends, run by an NGO to help street kids get training in cooking, waiting tables, restaurant management etc. It was excellent, and just a small example of some of the work being done here to help this devastated country get back on its feet.
In the afternoon we continued on to the the Royal Palace, which has extensive grounds and many buildings.
We spoke with some young Americans at our guest house, which was unusual, as we have met so few of them on our travels. One of them told us that the owner of Okay was also a travel agent, so we had him purchase air tickets from Siem Reap to Luang Prabang, Laos. What we didn't know was that I would have to pick them up on the other side of town. To get there I went on a wild ride on the back of a 50cc motorbike, which is mostly what they have here. The bikes seem to come in swarms, and it feels and sounds like you have just stepped on a nest of yellow jackets lurking in the grass. The lights are often useless, and the drivers careen at you from all directions, which necessitated that we do the same. While my driver was madly changing directions, I hugged his back like a long lost lover. He didn't seem to mind, and more importantly we got there and back safely.
Praying to Buddha can only do so much under these circumstances
After three days in this city, we have found the Cambodians to be gracious and friendly people, especially when you consider their history. A surprising number of them speak at least some English and some of them seem willing to talk about their experience with the Khmer Rouge. One local internet owner told us of his personal experiences having to work in the fields after marching for weeks to get out of the capital. He burned one arm badly, and his other arm was broken by Pol Pot and company because he wasn't working fast enough. He was 13 at the time and still has the scars to show for it.