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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Phnom Penh and the Killing Fields

Central Phnom Penh near the Capitol

We arrived in Phnom Penh at sunset at were dropped outside one of the backpacker meccas - the Capitol Guest house corner, where we were besieged by touts but escaped to Capitol 3 with a good quiet air con hideaway and had a bizarre Chicken and vegetables at Mama's around the back street for $1.20 each which consisted not of mixed wok fried greens and chicken strips, but a plate of chicken leg whole with potatoes carrots and gravy. Our first real potato meal since leaving India. Tomorrow we'll rest and recuperate.

Phnom Penh has a contradictory air combing poverty and a degree of desperation on the streets with up-market shops selling expensive European furniture and other luxuries.

One intriguing thing Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia have in common is a parallel dollar economy, especially in tourist areas. You can use small denomination dollars interchangeably with the local currency and for example in Cambodia all supermarkets, petrol stations, tourist hotels, travel agents and many restaurants actually quote their prices only in dollars and have to rush to grab a calculator if you use the local currency. This gives dollars a lead edge over euros in these countries and means that a person traveling with dollars who keeps a stash of small denomination bills doesn't have to worry about their currency becoming valueless when they cross a border as Vietnam and Laos and probably Cambodia don`t exchange local currency back with any ease.

The view from our guest house

An endless parade of monks calling for alms

Mountains of wrecked bikes and some new ones

Meat on the street in the local markets

Yesterday we hired yet another motor bike for the day and drove around Phnom Penh passing the river front with the Royal Palace and the Wat Phun on the one hill in the city before going out to Boeng Kak lake a part of the ghetto area around the lake where boozy travelers can wile away the hours on boardwalk bars over the polluted water and be plyed with weed, living in an inflated microcosm for debauched flesh and drug trade trawlers.

Afterwards, I went out to the Killing Fields. There is a Buddhist shrine filled with skulls surrounded by pits like Maori middens with clothing and human bones protruding from the soil. Time seems to have swallowed the close to a million people butchered by the Khymer Rouge in a way Pol Pot never achieved. The site is visited by a few conscientious tourists but is ignored by the Cambodians to the extent that the road is littered with potholes and the site is almost deserted.

Meanwhile another younger generation lives their lives in a potentially lawless 'wild west' society where rich young Cambodian playboys with bodyguards can lay waste to any traveler who crosses them or gives 'cheek' t their girl, or so the warnings go for the nightclubs on the north end of Boeng Kak. At the killing fields I was invited to go to a shooting range to use AK47s to shoot live animals as an intrepid travel sport.

At sunset I made it to the 'Russian Market' whose name harks back to more starkly communist times just as it was closing.

Views and a panorama of the Mekong outside the Royal Palace

The palace

A temple on the way to Wat Phun

The gardens below Wat Phun

Climbing up to Wat Phun

The bario round Boeng Kak. Street kids shooting birds, and Reefers Bar

Panorama of Boeng Kak

Apparently luxurious tacky bars sit on a polluted swamp

The alleyway at Boeng Kak - a trendy hang out for the rave scene?

The rutted rubbish-strewn road to the Killing Fields

Killing Fields skull-filled Stupa

Cambodia: Silenced by a brutal past Dec 2010: Up to two million people are thought to have died during the Khmer Rouge's rule. Four leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s, will face trial next year accused of genocide, torture and religious persecution. But many of those affected by the country's brutal past still cannot speak about what happened.

So many of Cambodia's population are now so young that they have no idea about the genocide, so that it is something they have trouble understanding from the older parents and grandparents who survived the horror.

8985 victims in 86 mass graves

Mass grave of 166 victims without heads

Human remains litter the surface

Phnom Penh from the Killing Fields

A temple on the return journey to the city

The 'Russian Market' at closing time

A temple a few blocks from the Capitol

Contrasts on the way out of town to Siem Reap

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