Archive for June 16th, 2008

Phnom Penh – To Hell And Back

So here I am near the end of my trip, at the infamous killing fields of Cambodia, looking at the 9000 skulls that are enshrined in the Choeung Ek pagoda just south of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. This was the handiwork of the dictator Pol Pot, whose murderous regime resulted in the killing of some one and a half million Cambodians in the mid to late 70s. Basically the educated and the well to do were arrested in this city and sent to labor and “re-education” camps or just plain slaughtered under the Khmer Rough.

It was 13 years before I found myself near the end of a trip not too far from here, on the other side of the border in Vietnam, looking at more of Pol Pot’s destruction.

I got myself here in the same manner I got myself to that place in Vietnam many years ago – I rented a motorbike. The traffic rules seem to be the same, the bigger vehicle rules the road. It’s yield or peel – yourself off the pavement that is. Of course, on the positive side, there is the freedom of the road, which allowed me to stop here and have a roadside corn on the cob.

And poke on the neighboring barber shop:

But beyond the horrors of the past, there is a city on the move here in Phnom Penh. It’s dirt poor and plain dirty in most parts. But for some reason, I have never seen more Toyota Land Cruisers and Lexus SUVs in one place. Of course most people who are lucky enough to have powered transportation use motorbikes.

No matter how poor a place may be, commerce is everywhere, from people fixing motorbikes, to chickens being killed in the food markets, or furniture being made. It’s all usually visible from the street or in the bustling markets.

And there is always food nearby, even if the chairs are a bit small.

This is really a city of contrasts, even though much of it is very poor, the area near center of the city is quite nice and pleasant, with families and couples strolling along wide public spaces.

In many ways I found this city far more charming than Bangkok, even though Bangkok is much more developed. Similar to Bangkok, there is a very impressive complex of buildings and temples called the Royal Palace.

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Which are all lit up at night, with people strolling by and along the river.

And you can see the monks walking about barefoot with umbrellas (for shade from the sun) going from place to place, offering their blessings for a small donation.

Oh, and I could not resist just one more Buddha!

So now it is back to Bangkok, and then back to Tokyo for the flight home. So what have I learned? What new insights can I offer?

Everywhere you go, there you are.

Ok, it’s not really new and it’s not really mine, but really what ever is?

And now I think I have earned a good Thai Massage!