Friday, 24 May 2013

Phnom Penh

Finally, I just want to apologize for the lengthy delay of this entry. I guess life just kinda got in the way and the wifi connections haven't been as good in Nepal and India as they were in South East Asia. Anyway, without further adieu here is Jason's thoughts on Phnom Penh

From the sleepy town of Battambang, we went to Cambodia’s vibrant capital city of Phnom Penh.  As explained in the last blog, we organized a bus from our guesthouse in Battambang (the Seung Hout hotel) to Phnom Penh.  We chose a mini-bus that promised wi-fi for $10 but, unfortunately, the wi-fi didn’t work, not a big deal though.  We could’ve taken a cheaper bus for $7.  It took about 4-5 hours to get there including a half hour break at a questionable roadside restaurant for lunch.  I (Jason) have come to not trust these kinds of establishments as I have gotten sick at every single one of them. 

As we arrived in P.P., we were greeted by the usual swarm of vultures (tuk-tuk/motorbike drivers) trying desperately to get us to hire them.  I realize they are just trying to earn a living but it gets frustrating when you get off the bus in a new city, disorientated, and tired and immediately having 10 or more people get in your face trying to scam money out of you.  Anyway, once we got past all of this, P.P. was pretty great. 

Once we arrived, we hired a tuk-tuk and checked into the Lazy Gecko guesthouse.  Actually, when we got there, we had to wait a while to check in so we decided to order some food.  Our first impression of this guesthouse was good because they had amazing food and a cool dog wondering around greeting everyone.  However, once we actually got our room key and checked out our room, our feelings changed a bit.  We paid $10 for a double room with a private bath and a fan but the room was very stuffy and had poor circulation.  It had a window and a door we could open (obviously) but if we wanted any privacy, we had to keep the curtains closed and the door shut because right outside our room was a main hallway that people walked up and down all day.  This is the reason why the room was stuffy and there was poor air circulation.  Also, there was construction going on at the building next door and they like to start early so needless to say, we didn’t sleep very well.  We checked out the next morning and moved to a different guesthouse on the same street that we liked a lot more that was quieter and had air-conditioning (for $12). 

That same day, we booked a wildlife tour for the following day that was located just outside P.P.  We spent the rest of the day just lazing around until we met my friend Brian Petersen (a friend of mine from home who is in the Peace Corp. living in P.P.) for dinner in the evening.  Brian took us to a good/cheap Indonesian restaurant located near the palace.  The whole meal costed us about $2 including drinks.  It was really nice catching up with Brian because in my whole time living abroad, I haven’t had the chance to hang out with anyone from home. 

The next day we went to the wildlife park.  Overall, it was a pretty good experience.  Our guide seemed very knowledgeable and we got the chance to interact with some very interesting animals including gibbons, elephants, otters, crocodiles, birds, and pythons.  Grainne even taught one of the birds to say "hello" in Korean (an-yong). The price of the tour was about $30 and lasted about 5 hours. Included in the price was a really good Khmer lunch made by the tour guides wife. 

They just loved getting their backs scratched!
This is Lucky.

Even though the animals are in cages this wildlife park does incredible work. Every single animal that is at the park has been rescued from people or bad situations. (except for the lions who they inherited from the zoo that was there before the park) Incredibly about 80-90% of the animals are placed back into the wild within their first 3 months at the park. The others are animals that wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild. They also have successful breeding programs, only breeding animals that will be released back into the wild. 

A baby gibbon trying to chew on Jasons fingers,
 she had no teeth so it was all good!

After this we met Noel, Kate, and Jayne briefly at the Tuol Sleng prison and the Killing Fields.  The Tuol Sleng prison is where the Khmer Rouge housed “prisoners of the state.”  People were imprisoned here for various reasons, but mostly because they were educated or refused to comply with Pol Pot’s vision.  Most prisoners were tortured here until they confessed to false charges.  Many of them died in the process and if they didn’t die, they were sent to the Killing Fields and died there. 
Pol Pot. The leader of the Khmer Rouge.

One of the "torture rooms" in Tuol Sleng

After visiting the gruesome Tuol Sleng prison we went to the Killing Fields where we took an audio tour.  The narrator was a Tuol Sleng survivor who gave you a chilling account of what happened there.  It was truly heart breaking.   Over time, bits of bone and teeth had resurfaced due to the rain.  At the end of the tour, you get a chance to visit the memorial stupa, which contains many of the skulls of the victims that had died at the killing fields.  However, there are still many graves there that have not been excavated.  It really is a chilling sight to see. 

The skulls of some of the people
that were killed at the killing fields

One of the many mass graves
at the killing fields

Later in the evening, we met up with Noel, Kate, and Jayne for dinner and goodbyes. The following day we went to a large market that used to be the biggest market in Southeast Asia where we got some t-shirts and other things that we needed. This brought an end to our time in Phnom Penh.

Bus from Battambang to Phnom Penh: $10
Accommodation: Lazy Gecko, $10 (fan room), Kha Vi guesthouse (just down the road from the Lazy Gecko) $12 air-con room.
Day trip to Phnom Tamao wildlife park: $35 (including transport to and from and lunch) 

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