A Tale To Tell & Remember

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Monday, 10 November 2014

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The floating school over the Tonle Sap Lake, Siem Reap

The bus ride that we took from Siem Reap took us a lifetime. At first my initial plan was to take a boat ride over the Tonle Sap lake all the way from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. As ambitious and adventurous as it may sound, but after reading mostly bad reviews over the internet on such services rendered by the local boat services plus with our own not so good experienced at the floating village at the Tonle Sap lake in Siem Reap, I don't think any ferry services would be able to provide a proper, safe and comfortable long transportation from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. 

Teddy with one of the student at the floating school

The bus ride that we took was a transportation misery itself. I somehow forgot that Cambodia are yet to reach a stage of where public amenities such as proper road was a custom to its engineering community. It was challenging indeed and such a bumpy ride for us as foreigners that are so accustomed to a better road travelling.

The journey took us eight hours altogether but it gives me an opportunity to get a glimpse of the countryside in rural Cambodia. Through my observation, there's not much of a difference between Cambodian rural area with our village or kampung environment in Malaysia. The house architecture was almost similar, built on a high stilts maybe to prevent flooding and threats from wild animals. No wonder it was also called Kampong here. Every small town that we went through, there's a placard or political banners of the aspiring new opposition party and the assuring political manifesto from the government. Politics and democracy is very much alive here in Cambodia, which is a very good thing.

I can't help but notice that the scar of civil wars still marred the rural folks of Cambodia. Everywhere we stopped for a break, there will be man without legs walking on crutches. Mines does it's fine job for attrition and still continues to kill or incapacitated the innocent peoples of Cambodia. It's true of what they say and portrays in the television about the mines problem that was planted during the civil war in Cambodia. It still is a big problem here in Cambodia.

We're having fun on a Tuk Tuk
It'll be pretty hard for a travelers that are particular and fussy for a kosher or halal food here in the rural part of Cambodia. Everywhere we went they served pork and delicacies that we are not real accustomed with. It's was so much different with the Vietnamese food. We took a safe way to energized ourselves by eating just sweet bread and local fruits which are easy to find around.

But the surprising part is that, when we enter the outskirt of of Phnom Penh City, you can see a large part of the Islamic community here. Mosque are everywhere and kosher or halal food is very easy for you to find. I sensed the Muslim community in Phnom Penh is thriving. 

I have to admit it here that I don't fancy much of the Khmer or Cambodian food. It's not my type of delicacy. I thought that Vietnamese food was as similar to Cambodian based on geographical location and I do thought maybe Cambodian food might be better or as deliciously good as our previous experience in Hanoi, but I was wrong. Khmer food doesn't have any much to offer and their cooking a less spices than what we had in Malaysia. The only thing that captures my taste bud was amok fish and that's it.

We reached Phnom Penh around 5 o'clock in the evening. It was a very big and congested city. The type of city where I love to explore by walking. The heat was better than Siem Reap though. The similarity of this city and Kuala Lumpur is that it was built between the two rivers, an artery to the Gulf of Siam and fisheries or farms products from the Tonle Sap lake up north. When you built a city near water element, your city will never go wrong. It was a beautiful city indeed.

With friendly locals in front of the Royal Palace, Phnom Penh
Upon arriving at our last stop, we were greeted by Saphea Chan, a tuk tuk driver in Phnom Penh. He was a friend of our taxi driver that we acquainted in Siem Reap. He's a great guy and a very honest man too. He can't really spoke English fluently, but he tried hard and most of the English that he picked up and speak with us was from the tourists that he taxied all of his life. And most of them were Americans, you can really tell by the slang/ dialects that he uttered and spoke. We straight away went to our hotel somewhere in the vicinity for a rest where Saphea recommended highly. The hotel was affordable, located at the safe district and clean.

Independence square in Phnom Penh

That night Saphea was our tourist guide. I told him that I want to experience a Cambodian life in Phnom Penh. He first brought us to the night market in the middle of the city. The food over here is better than Siem Reap and the peoples are real friendly. I notice that it is a custom over here when you bought food at the night market, you will find a spot to enjoy the food where they put a mat somewhere at a courtyard of the night market. You will then sit crossed legs with your friends on the mat and finish your food. It was really a very friendly environment. That's how they enjoy food at the night market in Phnom Penh.

Teddy at Choeung Ek Killing Fields
Saphea later brought us to see the city at night. We walked along the esplanade beside the river where the old city was built by the French. The view was majestic and it has this kind of fusion of a French architecture blended with a Buddhist culture. Our last walking destination was the Royal Palace. It was a beautiful night with fine weather. The custom here was for people to sit crossed leg and have good food in front of the Royal Palace on a mat while interact and socialize. We befriended locals and have a good chat with them about Phnom Penh. Saphea later brought us to the nearby Khamer restaurant where I enjoyed my Amok fish. The restaurant located near the esplanade overlooking the river. It was such a nice view. We had a good local food there and it was better than the Cambodian delicacies that they served in Siem Reap. After dinner we retire early to our hotel that night. I believe it was the long bus ride that took a toll on all of us and we were really tired.

Choeung Ek Killing Fields

Choeung Ek Killing Fields

The tree where the Pol Pot regime throws the babies over
The next morning we plan an early visit to see the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek. Saphea brought us with his tuk tuk and it's quite a distance from the city proper. I can't help but notice international tourist are everywhere on the roads. Most of the tourist that visited Cambodia are high end peoples mostly from Europe or America. You can really tell by the way that they look and how they carry themselves. But they do remain simple in this friendly heat. Mostly are looking for an experiential learning of the orients. The charms of the orients and Cambodia have plenty to offer. I do believe tourist grew fond of Cambodia over it's oriental attractions. It is so complex over here and you have to be here yourself to be able to appreciate it.

Teddy at Choeung Ek Killing Fields memorial
We reach the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek quite early, I think it was 10 o'clock in the morning. There's was a group of tourist from Germany that arrived earlier and we're the second group to be there. Later throngs of tourist starts to arrive at Choeung Ek. It was indeed a very popular destination.

Pictures speaks for itself

One of the mass graves

The environment was very somber and sad but at the same time was very peaceful. It was quiet too. They gave us an audio recorder which brief us and explain the history of the area. It does helps in explaining vividly of how the killing fields operated by the Pol Pot regime in the 70s. I think it was the most saddest place that I've ever visited of all my life. There is this feeling deep down inside you of how sorry you are over what happened there. And it could happen to anyone of us. I really do feel sorry for those who perished there. It sober to the soul listening to the audio and seeing yourself of how inhuman we can be to our common brothers. And the most perplexed facts is that of all the serenity of the Buddhist teachings that Cambodians were taught to embrace, such ruthless and brutal killings took place here during the Khmer Rouge era.

Teddy at Tuol Seng Genocide Museum

After our brief period at Choeung Ek, we left for the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum located at the heart of Phnom Penh. It was another sobering area of where Khmer Rouge tortured their own citizens without any sense at all. I can't share much of my experience or what I truly felt because I don't think people would understand. I feel sorry when looking at the photos of the victims that was tortured here. They doesn't know any better and never expected such things to happen to them. You have to be here to be able understand it. It's a sheer madness.

We're in front of the National Museum of Cambodia

We later adjourned to the National Museum of Cambodia. It was such a great place for art lovers. Too many artifacts and great Hinduism sculptures and handiwork of the ancient Khmer were in display and are in real fine detail. I love all the artifacts inside the museum. I wish I could spend more time to treasure it. There were so many things to see and every little details that needs to be pondered upon. The art were mostly from the Hinduism era of Cambodia. They do make a very good sculpture and statues back then. Mostly as an  offering to the Hinduism Gods or as a symbol of their religion.

We at the Central Market, Phnom Penh

After a quick visit to the National Museum of Cambodia, Saphea brought us for lunch at the Malaysian restaurant located near the Central Market in Phnom Penh. It is owned by a Malaysian and we met and have a quick chat with the owner himself. The food was Malaysian specialty indeed. It was quite sometimes for us that has been deprived of the Malaysian taste for almost a week. After lunch we went to the Central Market located nearby to see what it has to offer.
Teddy at the Central Market in Phnom Penh

It was a very big market indeed and you can find almost anything inside it. Certainly the kind of a place for those that loves to get a good quality bargain for a good price. After a quick shopping we straight away went to the airport for an evening fly back home.

It was such a good visit in Phnom Penh. I wish I could spend more time to explore the city. It has a lot to offer in terms of history and local culture. I'll definitely be back one day. Saphea and me maintain our good friendship and he asked me from time to time to visit him back again through the social network. Cambodia is a place for you to visit if you want to understand the complexities of the Asian eccentricity, vast complex culture and paradoxes of its political environment which you might never comprehend ever.

Faces of Tun Teddy

Faces of Tun Teddy