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Friday, April 15, 2011

Phnom Penh: The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

The next stop on the tour was Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  It is kind of a hard stop to blog about because it is a very dynamic city full of highs and lows.  While our stay there was short, only 2 nights, we managed to see and eat our way through much of the city. Luckily, a friend of a friend helped us to track down an apartment to rent for the 2 nights we were there.  Since we were a little nervous about safety, we paid extra and definitely got our money's worth in a 3 story fully furnished apartment right on the busy Street 240.  We kicked off our PP experience by meeting our friends for happy hour at Raffles Hotel Le Royal, where Jackie O. once stayed and many reporters set up camp during the Cambodian Genocide. That night we also walked along the riverfront, hit up the night market where you could buy almost anything for $1, and then checked out some live music and a rooftop bar at the Foreign Correspondents Club before we called it a night.
The next day we decided to rent a tuk-tuk since it would be our only full day in PP and we had a huge list of things to see/do.  Our friend hired a driver outside her apartment and for $15 he took Nell, Meghan and our friend Alex around for the whole day.  We began the day at the Russian Market by sampling what is known on Facebook as the "Best Iced Coffee in Phnom Penh."  The coffee definitely lived up to its billing and the taste was as good as the presentation.  We did a little shopping in the market before hopping back in the tuk-tuk where our day took a turn from the light and fun to the dark and heavy.
Our next stop was the S-21 Museum, or the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, right in the center of PP. During the years of Cambodia's Genocide (1974-1979), in which more than 20% of Cambodia's population was killed, this former school was used as a prison, interrogation, and extermination center by the Khmer Rouge regime.  Walking through the halls of this former school was an extremely difficult experience.  Metal bed frames, torture equipment, and hand-shaped blood stains can still be found in the classrooms turned torture chambers.  Before I came to Cambodia, I read up on the Genocide by reading Loung Ung's memoir of the events titled "First They Killed My Father," it was a moving and inspiring book and if you're interested in learning more about the Genocide, I encourage you to read it.
From the S-21 museum our tuk-tuk driver drove us about 15 kms outside of PP to Choeung Ek, better known as "The Killing Fields."  In these fields, the Khmer Rouge executed about 17,000 people, many from S-21, including women and children.  Today, Choeung Ek is the home to a museum and memorial stupa that contains around 5,000 skulls dug up from the mass graves on site.  After walking around the fields for around an hour I couldn't help but feel physically ill.  After visiting these sites, I was amazed and inspired by the will of the Cambodian people to survive and move towards peace after such a tremendous national tragedy.  That night we kept it low-key and went to Friends Restaurant/Shop/Nail Salon.  Friends is an NGO that helps to reintegrate street children into society by giving them training and education in the restaurant, hospitality and beauty industries, among other things.  The meal was amazing and an excellent end to our time in PP.

1 comment:

  1. you forgot central market and cafe veji for lunch! how could you forget the fried tarantulas and new england classic paninis?! both sound sooooo appetizing! yum!


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