Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, was our next stop. After a short – relatively – bus journey (only 5 hours!), a tuk tuk and one wrong hostel, we got to the lovely 19 Happy House Hostel.
Given that it was by this time pretty late, we grabbed a bite to eat and hit the sack. Up the next morning, we walked over to the Royal Palace, to find that it was closed between 11am and 2pm. Oops! Instead, we grabbed a passing tuk tuk and went to the Genocide Museum, former Khmer Rouge prison S21, previously Tuol Sleng High School. As one would expect, it was a harrowing visit and a terrifying insight into the horrific mindset of the regime of Democratic Kampuchea and Pol Pot. A prison with only 7 survivors, it’s a stark lesson for the future.
After that somber trip, we were then able to look around the ornate and beautiful Royal Palace, which was then open! We followed this up by wandering along the riverfront, which was actually a bit prettier than the rest of Phnom Penh. It’s also a great bit of people watching, as the locals come together for aerobics classes and impromptu badminton matches on the pavement.
Our next day, we visited the Killing Fields of Choung Ek. Another truly horrible place where thousands were massacred by the Khmer Rouge. Bones are still being uncovered and the remembrance monolith at the centre contains over 8000 skulls from the site. As with Tuol Sleng, shocking but a necessary visit while we were there to see and struggle to comprehend the effects of the regime.
We spent the afternoon in the National Museum browsing at a large number of statues and sculptures, most of which seemed to have come right out of Angkor Wat!
Then, we decided to access our spiritual sides and went to a temple for an evening meditation session. Primed by a monk on how to concentrate on our breathing and remain in the present, rather than harbouring thoughts of past, future or anything else, we sat on our meditation mats. Unfortunately, sitting comfortably, clearing your mind and closing your eyes led to Andrew rather ignominiously nodding off….. So, to avoid any serious embarassment, we snuck out a little early and went for dinner on the waterfront.
Next morning was our bus to Sihanoukville and the islands. That instalment coming soon!