More great food, some sad sights
24.12.2007 - 26.12.2007 30 °C
We arrived safely in Phnom Penh on Christmas Eve after an eventful trip on a comfortable coach. We stopped for a break as we were getting nearer to Phnom Penh where the local vendors were trying to ply us with their wares. Some interesting offerings which many of the passengers indicated were absolute delicacies were trays of fried large spiders and crickets. People bought them in little plastic bags and proceeded to eat them with delight. We were offered a sample by the kind man in front of us but weren't brave enough to try.
Phnom Penh is a very busy and exciting city. A lot of it is still in a fair state of decay after all the turmoil here but it is rapidly being revitalised. They are maintaining the French feel to the place and making the most of the magnificant frontage to the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers.
On Christmas Day we headed of for the day with our tuk-tuk driver. First stop was the Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda. This was very interesting and we saw lots of Buddhist antiquities and royal wares. The pagoda has a floor of 5000 silver tiles.
After this, we headed off to the sad part of a visit here. We spent most of Christmas Day looking at the Choeng Ek Memorial (Killing Fields) and the Tuol Sleng Museum (S-21 torture and general misery centre). It was very moving and incredibly horrific. It was incredible the degree of evil that was perpetrated by Pol Pot and his paranoid cronies from 1975 until 1979 as they tried to exterminate the entire middle class and empty the cities to create some kind of crazy agrarian utopia. We saw the arrangement of skulls, bones and victim's clothing in the memorial and looked at the mass graves. As you walk around you can still see bits of bone and clothing coming up through the soil. In the detention centre museum they have the photos of the terrified faces of the victims. It is an old high school and it is pretty scary to see ordinary looking school classroom blocks that were converted for the purposes of torture and horror. One of the photos was that of an Australian journalist who also met a sorry end. 17,000 people went through the place and they found 7 alive when the Vietnamese invaded.
All in all it wasn't really the best way to have a Merry Christmas but Sonia and I tend to celebrate special days like that. For Sonia's 40th birthday, Ben took us on a 6 hour visit to the equally as harrowing Hiroshima Peace Museum.
After all of this, we visited the Foreign Correspondent's Club which is a beautiful place located on the Mekong. It is an old-fashioned "colonials in the tropics" kind of place with large open bar areas and fabulous teak furniture. The food there was brilliant. We enjoyed it so much that we returned at night and dined on the rooftop terrace looking at the full moon rising over the Mekong (sorry about the travel writer superlatives here but it was really pretty good and "nice" didn't seem to be quite enough).
Today we went off again in the tuk-tuk and visited the National Museum which was also very interesting. After this, we decided to make it a shopping day. We discovered that we are not really very good at haggling but we bought a number of interesting artifacts. In a market, we sat down for some great noodles and decided to ask for some coffee like the coffee wizard in the stall next to us was making. Something got lost in translation and we ended up with hot coffees, cold coffees, numerous glasses of ice and an opened tin of condensed milk. At the end, I counted that they had used 10 separate glasses on us.
Tomorrow we get on a boat that takes us down a branch of the Mekong called the Brassac to a place in Vietnam called Chau Doc. We will stay overnight there and probably go to Siagon by bus on Friday.