When I was in Cambodia a few years ago, I was disappointed I didn’t have enough time to go to Phnom Penh and The Killing Fields Memorial. Since I had some extra time this trip I decided Cambodia would become the first country I ever returned to during a subsequent trip.
The last time I visited, it quickly became my favorite Asian country and this trip did nothing but reinforce that notion. Phnom Penh (and Cambodia) is similar to the rest of SE Asia that I have seen in that it has some wealth splattered among a significant amount of poverty. Day and night markets which consist of tarp stalls clustered together outside in the streets and parks are everywhere. Roads are congested with motorbikes, tuk-tuks, and a small number of cars. The air is dusty and random foul odors are more likely than not as you walk down random streets.
Touts and purveyors selling wristbands, sunglasses, motorbikes, and yes, boom boom to tourists are a constant annoyance. However, in Cambodia it seems as if that is more of a show and people really just want to talk to you (well…not the boom boom people). You can quickly get past the BS of “Hey Mister want to buy this?” and talk to friendly and if needed, helpful people.
Sadly though, Cambodia is also a country that has been to hell and back and that is the other reason I wanted to return. One of my days in Phnom Penh was spent at the Killing Fields Memorial and the S-21 prison. The memorial is located at one of the sites Pol Pot and his Khmer regime used to execute 3 million of his own people. The prison is where they were housed and tortured prior to being brought to the execution site. It is easy to meet someone that was affected by this time period and most often they have an amazing positive attitude to keep fighting forward despite the horrors they suffered.
Happily the rest of my time in Phnom Penh was not so somber. I met a good group of people on the way up to Cambodia and even more when we arrived. Most of the time was spent wandering around the city, eating, drinking and pondering how fast time goes by. Even the youngest of the group concurred when she said “I know, I can’t believe I am already 22 years old”.
One day as we were wandering around we heard whistles from policeman that appeared out of nowhere and the roads suddenly became aerily still and empty. Through broken language we were able to understand that the King of Cambodia would be driving by soon. Lo and behold, 5 minutes later several official cars came cruising by with one person sticking his head out the window and waiving (full arm wave, none of that Queen half-waive stuff) to everyone on the street. It’s good to be the King.
After 4 nights in Phnom Penh, I caught a bus back to Saigon (thankfully a non-eventful trip and border crossing} to begin the final week of my trip and from where I am writing this now. I am spending my time in Saigon celebrating Tet, the lunar new year, and hanging with friends I have met along the way. My last full day of my 4 month overseas trip will begin in an all-American way, in a bar (with some Seattle people) watching the Superbowl (game starts here around 6am Monday morning). Go Broncos!!