Exploring Phnom Pen

Sunday 3rd to Thursday 7th December – Phnom Pen

We had a very early 6am start to catch our bus to the capital city. The roads were actually ok and despite stopping everywhere all the time we managed to arrive on time, at 2pm, in Phnom Penh.

We spent the afternoon having a walk and a feel for the place.

It was chaotic. Pavements were used for parking cars, scooters, markets stalls, plants pots etc pushing walkers into the road to play with the traffic. And what traffic it was: red lights optionals, scooters all over the place often going the wrong way. Crossing a busy road was an advanced course on survival! On several occasions Alistair had to pull me back as I got nearly run over by scooters coming from nowhere! Even on the rare pavement!

During our stay we visited Wat Phnom which is the main temple to visit in town. After Thailand, I will admit it was underwhelming. We also visited the royal palace. It was better but most buildings were off limit! One section had amazing murals though.

On our last day we took a Tuk Tuk and got to the Genocide museum. We hesitated but in the end, it was very interesting and worth a visit to understand modern Cambodia.

Warning, serious topic coming.

Cambodia, during the Vietnam war, despite not being at war with the USA, was bombed more than Germany during the 2rd world war, with over 500,000 tonnes of bombs between 1969 and 1973. Vietcong were apparently hiding that side of the border. Over 150,000 innocents Cambodian civilians were killed. It created a lot of sympathy for the Khmer Rouges who eventually took control of the country in 1975. In 3 days cities were emptied as city dwellers were demonised. The attempt to create a rural paradise did not go to plan.

It resulted in turning the country into a giant forced labour camp, ending in mass starvation and mass killings. Predictably. Echoing the “experiments” of Staline in Ukraine (at least 4 millions people died) and China cultural revolution and ideal rural life, with about 3 millions deaths.

In Cambodia, on top of forced labour, the regime paranoia saw CiA everywhere. Anything could land you into a “killing field”.

We visited one. Mass graves, men, women, children…. As bullets were expensive they were hacked to death with farming tools, like axes, machetes… many women raped…

The tour was emotional, but also interesting as they provide an audioguide with many testimonies of victims, Khmer soldiers and even a top brass Khmer Rouge killer.

The most tragic thing is that, due to the Cold war, Pol Pot and his government, removed with help from Vietnam in 1979, went in exile and was still recognised as the official government of Cambodia and funded by the UN and many countries like the UK, until 1993! The Khmer rouges killed 25% of they own population! One in four, and yet, hardly any faced justice.

As for Pol Pot, he had a nice life abroad and only at the end of his life was send back to Cambodia. He died at 73 a year later.

This is the legacy of the colossus that is Henry Kissinger and his bombings. Up to 3 million people killed through executions, forced labour and starvation.

Thursday 7th and Friday 8th December 2023 – Katrie

Thursday was another early start as we left Phnom Penh bus station soon after 7:30 am. The objective was to break our journey to Laos by having a day rest in Kratie, a little town along the Mekong river. We hesitated whether to spend few days there. But in the end, the place was ok but accommodation in town was not great. We had a walk around, took few photos and left. Just a town to pass through on the way to Laos, in the end.

Next: Laos, crossing the land border and discovering “the chill”.