To go to Phnom Penh, we boarded a bus ($10 fare) for the 315 kilometres drive via Kampong Thom.
Bus transport in Cambodia is done in daylight hours and while it is good for sightseeing it does cut down on the time available for activities if the visitor is on a tight travel schedule.
The road trip took 6 hours as the route went through many small villages where the speed limit was 30 kph. My first impression of Phnom Penh was that this is an overcrowded, rather dirty city with heavy traffic flows, mainly due to the large numbers of scooters and motorcycles.
The Busy Streets of PhnomPenh
After checking out of 2 hotels we settled on the Angkor Hotel ($15 per night). The hotel was a $1 tuktuk ride from the Central Market and Shopping Plaza area. The Plaza offers excellent shopping for good quality clothing especially when bulk buying.
Traders agreed on 6 t-shirts for $18 with brands including Billabong, Quiksilver, Ecko and Diesel. Traders also seemed to give better deals when you paid in dollars rather than the local currency. For those more interested in antiques, there is also the weekend Russian Market for bargain hunters.
We booked on all day tuktuk tour ($20 for a group of 4) which started off at The Cambodian Army Camp shooting range. If you are into military equipment this is the place to go with a large variety of weapons to choose from. A Russian AK47 cost $40 to shoot off 30 bullets. Fortunately the rocket launcher that was there was for display purposes only.
Back on the road the next stop was in the opposite direction. At the Choeung Elk, 15 kilometres from Phnom Penh you will find ‘The Killing Fields’ ($2 entry). Walking around the site and viewing the displays of skulls catergorised into ages and gender in the memorial pagoda was a very sombre experience. It left the visitor saddened by the deaths of so many innocent victims and completely overwhelmed by the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot’s leadership. How and why did this happen?
Travelling back toward Phnom Penh some of the questions were answered at the next stop ‘The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum’ ($2 entry). Also known as S-21 or Tuol Sleng this converted school was used as a prison by the Khmer Rouge for their interrogation and torture of people of all ages and backgrounds. Throughout the cell areas of the three storied blocks there was a graphic photographic history of what the prisoners were experiencing and documents of political events in Cambodia during that sad period of life under the power of Pol Pot.
All group members were deep in their thoughts as the tuktuk travelled through a very clean and tidy part of town to the National Museum ($3 entry) situated close to the Mekong River, the Museum has an extensive range of displays dating back to the ancient Khmer civilisation. The museums interior open air courtyard offers the visitor a spot to reflect on and absorb all the history of the exhibits displayed in the galleries around it.
Next door to the museum is the Royal Palace ($12.50 entry). Can’t comment any further as this is one place which appears to a strict code, which the average tourist dressed for the local climate would not meet. By consensus we all agreed to finish the tour at this point as the effects of 6 hours in a tuktuk through the air polluted by 1000s of motorcycles was starting to take its toll.
The often maligned tuktuk deserves sympathy in having to work in these conditions and as the group enjoy a nice cool drink in the hotel bar, our driver and guide for the day is back on the road plying his trade.