48 Hours in Phnom Penh

phnompenh.jpg

Just outside the city limits of Phnom Penh, the roads are still made of dust and the surroundings don't look much different from the stretches of rice paddy-covered countryside. I was surprised when our bus pulled to a stop after just a few moments of passing onto paved streets.

When we arrived, I was feeling emotional about the immense poverty all around me. The burning looks of betrayal I received when buying from one street vendor over another at Angkor Wat were still piercing my mind. The children's cries of "Just one dollaaar!" were still ringing through my ears. I couldn't get the words of our guide from Chong Kneas out of my head. "You are lucky to come from a place that's so free," he told me, "We are not free here." 

I spent the bus journey reading up on the Khmer Rouge and the brutality Cambodia faced under the genocidal regime, and I was having trouble clearing my mind of that cloud of darkness. The major attractions in Phnom Penh are the killing fields, where over one million innocent people were taken and executed, and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, the former high school turned prison (S-21) that served as a torture and extermination chamber. It shocked me that the middle-aged tuk tuk and cyclo drivers were so adamant about advertising an attraction that their families most likely didn't make it through. 

cyclo
cyclo

{ Cyclo cyclin' through the city }

All of these thoughts put me in a funk that cast a shadow over our time in the city. It turned out to be our least favorite stop on the trip, but I think it had more to do with my mindset than the place. We opted out of going to both S-21 and the killing fields in a decision that I regret; although it probably would've made the experience even more troublesome, I always think there are strong lessons to be learned in the face of difficult or uncomfortable circumstances.

For any first-time visitors to Phnom Penh, I would extremely encourage going to both of these painful places. All of the travelers we met on the road described how powerful the experience was and strongly recommended it to any visitor with a slight interest in Cambodia's history.

We instead decided to see the city by motorbike ~ speeding our way through the streets as I captured the sights from behind.

artdecomarket
artdecomarket

{ Central Market in all it's art-deco fabulousness }

independencemonument
independencemonument

{ Independence Monument }

royalpalace
royalpalace

{ Birds soaring and flowers blooming at the Royal Palace }

watphnom
watphnom

{ Wat Phnom }

datewithme
datewithme

{ Cheeky street art near the river }

By night, the city takes on a whole different light. The Independence Monument towers above like an Asian Eiffel Tower illuminated in a soft gold and purple glow without the added Parisian twinkle. Huge LED screens adorn the sides of the city's minimal high rises, casting a glow on the streets that give it the facade of being an already cosmopolitan city. There's no doubt in my mind that it one day will be with its bustling riverfront, sprawling parks and rising foodie credentials, but it still has a long way to go to be on the level of Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh City.

riverfront
riverfront