Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A day in Phnom Penh

It's an interesting decision. What attractions do you see in a city that you have never visited before?

Well you go to what is unique and this unfortunately is PP's unique attraction. S-21, (Tuol Sieng) the school where the Khmer Rouge tortured inmates before sending them to the Killing Fields to be executed.

When the Vietnamese captured PP, they discovered the prison by smelling the decaying flesh of 14 corpses who had been executed just before the Khmer Rouge left the city. These were the only people who were executed at the prison. People died there but for other reasons than execution.

One of the rooms where they found a body. You can see the shackles that were used on their feet that effectively prevented the prisoners from walking.

The regulations for prisoners.

Blood stains on the tiles.

Small crude cells were constructed in the former classrooms.

Typical cell. Prisoners had to lie on the floor at all times and were not allowed to speak.

If you were very lucky, you might get an occasional hosing down. Over 17,000 people were imprisoned here. Only twelve survived.

While this prison and the Killing Fields in PP are well known, every district in Cambodia also had its torture center and killing field. Every time I passed a school on my way to Siem Reap, I wondered if it had also been the site of interrogations and torture. 

The estimated death toll for Cambodia was somewhere between 1.4 and 2.2 million.

Perhaps more poignant than these skulls are the thousands of photographs of the victims. The Khmer Rouge photographed each person who went through the prison.

My guide. Obviously too young to have been alive when the Khmer Rouge were in power, he was puzzled how Cambodians could do things like this to other Cambodians.

I kept the same tuk-tuk driver throughout the day. He asked if I wanted to go to the Killing Fields but the prison was enough for me. I asked to be taken to the Royal Palace and on the way we went past this Independence Monument.

My friendly driver with his tuk-tuk. My experience with these drivers is that they are much more helpful if they can speak some English. Fares are typically $2 to $4.

The monument growing out of my head. Note that I am wearing sandals and shorts. It was already very hot and humid and it was only about 10 am.

I paid my entrance fee and walked along this path to enter the Royal Palace. This is low season and so there were not too many other tourists around.

I passed through this ornate gate.

And turned the corner to see this! The photo does not do the Throne Hall justice at all.

The grounds of the Palace have lots of other temples and spires.

Photography is forbidden in most of the buildings so you only get external photos. The insides are just as ornate. Not all buildings are open to the public and those that are usually require that you remove your shoes.

Some flowers for contrast.

The Silver Pagoda. You could walk inside this one.

Just before I left the Palace, I noticed this long three sided covered walkway. Nobody else was looking at it but I decided to walk the length of it. As you can see, there were paintings all the way along. This walkway must have stretched for about 200 yards.

Some were in urgent need of restoration.

Out side the walls of the Palace were a couple of small museums. One of them had dozens of silver and gold elephants.

Another had a hodgepodge of stuff including a full size elephant.

There were many ornate seats like these.

I was pleased to see a decent sized gong (tam tam) that was about three to four feet in diameter.

The riverfront. On the other side of the water is an island in the middle of the Mekong.

My next stop was the National Museum.

I never knew elephants could do this.

I f you like statues of Buddha and Vishnu, this is the place for you. There are hundreds, if not thousands of them. You are not supposed to take photos but I sneaked this one so that you could get an idea of what is there.

There were a few exhibits of very old objects from various archaeology expeditions. However, I must admit this museum did not do a whole lot for me. 

I asked my tuk-tuk driver to take me back to the Russian Market. By now the heat and humidity had taken their toll and I was hungry, thirsty and tired. Three museums was enough for one day.

I did try to do something different however. Some of you may know that I can be tight when it comes to spending money. As my friend Lee puts it 'you throw quarters around as if they are man-hole covers'. Since a few dollars goes a long way in Cambodia, I wanted to know what it felt like to be Daddy Warbucks so I gave my tuk-tuk driver $20. I think he was ready to name his first born son after me. 

It becomes disturbing in some ways to visit a society where people are so poor compared to the rich life that we take for granted. I've decided that I am not going to haggle much with the tuk-tuk drivers even though they may get an extra dollar out of me.

I went into the gloom of the Russian Market and had this fried rice for lunch. $1.50 and it was delicious.

By the way, this is the alleyway I would go down to get to my Airbnb. Turn left at the end.

Climb a couple of flights of stairs. Luckily I do not have much luggage.

Finally, I had a key to the gate that always was to remain locked.

I had asked the French hostess if I could do some washing and she got her nanny / maid to do it with the other washing that day. There was a nice breeze so it dried pretty quickly.

I was sitting up on top of the building when it started to rain. This was no ordinary rain. The drops were enormous and you could see them as they headed towards the road beneath.  You can see the white streaks on the right hand side of the photo. 

It got even heavier and I noticed this young lady on the roof of the market presumably fixing a leak.

I sat there enjoying a beer and listening to the pounding of the rain n the tin roof. At times it was deafening and the wind occasionally blew spray over me. It was like some of the storms in Brisbane.

Why this bloke was out in the middle of it all, I have no idea.

Just to the right of the market was an area where people could park their cars. This bloke in yellow supervised it all and no doubt collected some parking fees. He remained out in the rain the entire time.

Eventually the rain calmed down but later that afternoon, it really poured down again. If I get a fast enough internet connection, I will post a video of the rain.

The French couple who run the bnb have a two year old son who came up to the rooftop to paddle in the water laying on the roof. The nanny came with him and I discovered she could speak English quite well. I had a long conversation with her as she watch the child play. She was thirty, married with a one year old boy and she had been a nanny for various families for about ten years. Her prior family were Indians and they had moved to Baltimore of all places.

Her family originally came from somewhere outside PP but had moved to the big city for greater opportunity. She was very interested in the outside world and showed me an American magazine for mothers with very young children. The typical American recipes fascinated her. She was much more open to trying different foods than the Vietnamese flight attendant I had met the day before. She knew she would probably never have enough money to travel outside Cambodia, but she would if she could.

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