Wednesday, November 16
After we crossed the Cambodian border near Chu Doc (see this post) our river boat, the Mekong Pandaw, continued slowly upstream and reached the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh at about 6 the following morning.
The Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers meet here so the width of water was not (just) due to flooding.
The city’s had a chequered history; well the whole of Cambodia has come to that. It’s been invaded by Vietnamese and Thais on many occasions and the Vietnamese burnt Phnom Penh to the ground in 1772. The country only still exists because it became a French protectorate in the 1860s.
Because it was razed by the Vietnamese there are no really old buildings in Phnom Penh but there are certainly some very ornate and impressive ones thanks mainly to the French. The biggest and best of these is the Royal Palace which is actually a large area containing lots of pavilions, pagodas, stupas and memorials. The National Museum is another example.
The excursions organise by Pandaw included a cyclo tour of the city (cyclos are bicycle ricksahws) and also a visit to Choeung Ek Genocide Museum (The Killing Fields) and Tuol Sleng, Security Prison 21 (S-21). Choeung Ek was sad; over 15,000 men, women, children and babies were killed there, mostly bludgeoned to death to save bullets. Not all the bodies have been exhumed and to this day, after heavy rains, fragments of human bones and clothing come to the surface. These victims were trucked to the killing fields from Tuol Sleng torture centre, a place so grim and depressing that we couldn’t stay for long and didn’t take many photos. This wasn’t a pleasant excursion but these places are part of Cambodia’s recent history. Many of the people you see in the streets survived the Khmer Rouge years and most of them lost family members either worked to death in the fields or in places like that.
It’s not all palaces and temples.
We were supposed to spend one day in Phnom Penh but river levels were so high because of the floods that our boat was unable to get beneath some bridges. The itinerary changed and we had an extra day there; gave us a chance to get a bit of much needed exercise (the food on board the boat was very good!) walking around town and visiting markets.