Cambodia is a poverty-stricken country both in terms of economy and loss of human life during the Khmer Rouge genocides of the late 1970’s. Today the country is struggling to get back on its feet with the help of many NGO’s and foreign aid agencies. Tourism is bringing much needed money into the country and big efforts are being made to promote sustainable tourism.
We visited Cambodia twice this Spring, spending a few days in Phnom Penh, the capital, and a few in Siem Reap, home to the famous Angkor Wat temple complex.
First we flew to the capital, Phnom Penh. We had to fill out 4 different forms in the plane – visa application, health declaration, customs declaration, and immigration form. For the visas we had to hand over the form, a photo and our passports then go to another queue where we waited for the officials to call out our names or hold up passports for collection and payment of USD20 – a bit of a scramble!
Phnom Penh is a modern city set out in a grid system. In the area around the Palace and National Museum it was modern and clean.
Independence monument area
the beautifully restored Unesco headquarters
sits cheek by jowl with this equally beautiful, faded splendour, building
However, you didn’t have to go far to find really dilapidated housing right next to open sewers. Some of the main streets have names, most are only a number. House numbering on any given street is chaotic and definitely not chronological. You need to identify a landmark in order to be able to find anything. The address of our guest house, for example, was the corner of 95 and 43 Street behind the Martini Bar. We stayed in the Bodhhi Tree del gusto guesthouse, one of three places operating under the Bodhhi tree banner, set up to help disadvantaged youngsters. It was a 1930’s colonial style building, with an open balcony on the first floor where food was served or you could sit and enjoy a drink. Our room was on the ground floor which meant that it was one of the coolest even though it did get the late afternoon sun. A small garden enclosed by a wall surrounded the building on 3 sides and we ate in the walled garden on several occasions, the food being excellent.
The pink rose apple tree lets drop the flower filaments at dusk.
Who described the flowers of bougainvillea as origami flowers? such a delightful description.
For our first day in PP we decided to follow the walking tour set out in our guidebook. We started at Wat Phnom built atop a small hill at the north end of town. According to leged, the first pagoda on this site was erected in 1373 to house four statues of Buddha deposited here by the waters of the Mekong river and discovered by Madame Penh. It was a concrete construction and very crude in comparison with some of the lovely temples (even the modern ones) we have seen in Thailand. One of the shrines at Wat Phnom.
From there we walked the length of one of the big boulevards where the Raffles Hotel is situated, turned onto another large boulevard and then headed into the maze of back streets around the central market. We had a quick look round some of the stalls at the edge of the Central market with its huge yellow art deco dome.
We saw live volutes (deep sea shells) for sale. I was so sad seeing them as these beautiful creatures should really be left in the sea.
We walked down the street with the designer shops (founded by NGOs to promote local industry) and stopped for refreshment at Frizz. Here we enquired about doing a cookery class on Saturday but were told that it was already fully booked. Towards the end of the walk we passed the Soviet Khmer friendship memorial, where the locals were beginning to come out and play.
We stopped for a drink in one of the bars opposite the FCC (Foreign Correspondents Club) on the riverfront but were constantly bothered by kids selling DVDs, books, etc. and by beggars who had been wheeled up to the building, deposited to collect money and were then wheeled on to another venue. A sad, but inevitable fact of life.