December 6, 2017

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

While Angkor Wat is the marquee destination in Cambodia, Phnom Penh is a worthwhile place to visit. We had a fine time visiting in October, staying with relatives for a few days (The Plantation looks nice). There are plenty of touristy things to do. We visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center to learn about the horrors of the Khmer Rouge period. The first was a school, right in town, converted to a torture prison. The second is one of the "killing fields" out in the country, and primarily served Tuol Sleng's mass execution needs. The exhibits and interpretation (in English) were unblinking, passionate, and powerful. The stupa housing the remains of the mass graves at Choeung Ek is striking and beautiful.

We also visited the National Museum, which has a great collection of fixtures from the glorious centuries of the Khmer empire, the Royal Palace, and, out of town, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre (tiger, leopard, elephants, and giant flying squirrels bigger than our cats!). My favorite was a day-long boat ride up the Tonle Sap River to the former royal capital at Oudong, where we visited shrines and stupas on a nearby hill. Cambodia is very flat near the rivers and this hill offered enormous panoramas in every direction, fading into haze. The boat ride, on a funky but sound and comfortable old craft, was great, letting us see more rural areas and how much life is focused on the river -- fishing, bulk shipping, and whole floating neighborhoods.

The city itself was a change from China. It's smaller, built lower, and is more human-scaled than the mega-cities we visited. We also spent more time on and in the streets. In China, we traveled in buses, which put us somewhat above the traffic. In Phnom Penh, we traveled by "tuk-tuk," a small motorcycle pulling a wagon that holds four passengers. This put us right into the streets, which teemed with motorcycles, cars, and an occasional bus or truck. I loved watching the traffic flow past, through, and into itself, mostly ignoring the lanes, signs, and other controls, and doing so smoothly, safely, and without horns or shouting. Walking is trickier, since what sidewalks there are can be crowded with parked cars, vendors, and even overflow traffic from the street.

Should we return to Cambodia (which is possible, I'm told that January and February are the driest months to visit, though we had nice weather), Siem Reap and Angkor Wat will have to be on the itinerary, but Phnom Penh will be, too.

Flickr has an album of photos.

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