Alarm calls at transit hotels at 3.15am are not a bundle of fun, but I got my flight from Bangkok and arrived in Phnom Penh at 8am on 3rd Jan. My taxi kept threatening to stop at some dreadful looking places but each time he kept chugging along until I arrived at the very decent 12 quid a night New York Hotel. Had breakfast there, no sausage, bacon or egg in sight but I could have an omlette, but it was laced with chillies which do atleast wake you up in the mornings, and after all this isnt the UK! Tea is shockingly bad but coffee top notch.
I then forced myself out to get my hair cut. After walking up a couple of scruffy roads with as foreign a feel as you can get, with people with no shoes wandering about I found a barber shop. The guy spoke no English at all but did a decent job taking about an hour and ended up charging just US$1.
The next two paragraphs dont make easy reading, so be warned...
From there I got a Tuktuk to the Tuol Sleng Museum, a former school taken over by Pol Pots Khmer Rouge regime in the mid 1970s. Its function was to torture and kill masses of people, estimates put it at 17,000+. There are mug shots of most of the inmates, some look terrified, others defiant, others confused. There are men and women pictured of all ages including children, they all suffered the same treatment. You were taken round interrigation rooms and areas where inmates were kept then shown a film featuring the prison. You were left in no doubt how the inmates were treated, the suffering endured and there eventual fate and not surprisingly our tour had to stop at times as people were understandably so upset by it. The locals are keen for people to see it and be made aware of what took place, and told me they had a choice either to show it as it was, or to "soften" it for the tourists. The most certainly took the first option.
The following day was no easier, but no so in your face. I took the 15km trip by tuktuk to the Killing Fields. At the entrance is a huge tower filled with thousands skulls found when the site was uncovered in 1980. There are boards around giving details of what took place at various sites, including where trucks arrived carrying the victims, mass graves, and a tree where children were battered to death. That I found this place less disturbing than the Sleng Museum shows how awful the Museum was. In the distance you can hear school children playing, that certainly brings home the stark contrast of life today and such a dark, and so recent past. Again local people want this to be seen to make sure there sufferings are not brushed under the carpet, and hopefully to stop anything similar taking place now....
Right enough of that.
Evenings have been spent on Colin's suggestion at the Foreign Corresponden'ts Club right on the river, a glorious spot where you sit on an open balancony sipping cold beer and eating good, if expensive by Cambodian standards. The first night I had a bit too much beer after chatting to some Australian ladies who were so "Kath and Kim" it was untrue.
Yesterday I went round the more pleasant sights, the National Museum with lots of statues of Buddha's and Gods and a pleasant little garden followed by a trip round the Royal Palace and Padoga - a majestic set of buildings showing where the king met his guests and again lots of Buddha's and nice leafy areas. Between the two I hired a boat for an hours cruise up the river, just me sat on the roof in glorious sunshine and the captain all for just 5 quid. On the way back I walked the 7km to the Vietnam Embassy and got my Visa, but the dates are wrong, but its OK because he told me in broken English "It um...should um....be um... OK" at the Airport to sort it out.
Today has been the best weatherwise since I got to Cambodia, after a lot of cloud its been gloriously sunny and 86 degs so I went to the posh Cambodiana Hotel and crashed out by the pool all day with my Ipod playing V Festival 2007 bands. After a couple of early morning runs with the river one side and flags fluttering by the river on the other I felt I had deserved a bit of relaxation, oh its such a tough life this travelling you know.....!!
Phnom Phens a cheap place, tuktuk transport is 2 Pds almost anywhere in the city, and beers a pound each outside of happy hour in an expensive place. The people are very friendly but the air is quite polluted and lots of people wear the mouth covering masks but the streets are cleaner thatn India. Clearly some people are on the verge of poverty but begging isnt too bad and I feel very safe and welcome in there country.
Thanks again for the texts, emails, phone calls etc - it really is great to hear from everyone.