Phnom Penh and history

After seeing a lot of country on a 12 hour bus ride from Ratank Kiri to Phnom Penh we settled into an urban interlude in Cambodia's capital. The city is changing rapidly with lots of new construction quickly changing the old colonial feel of the place. It's an interesting time to visit because I bet 2 years from now it will be completely different.

We had a chance to meet a fellow fletcherite who caught us up on a lot of inside information on politics, governance, environment and economy. Dorky dorky stuff that I love to find out about place. The upside - change is always good, as is economic growth. The downside - man is there a lot of corruption, history hasn't finished taking its pound of flesh and the political leadership is a nasty piece of work.

We also made sure to visit the Killing Fields museum. There were something like 90 "killing fields" throughout Cambodia but the Choeung Ek one is closest to the capital and is a must see for any responsible tourist. I should say that they have done a splendid job and it feels very personal and immediate, but its shocking to look down at your feet and see that you are walking on bones still embedded in the mud. They just can't get all the bones out, so they are waiting for the rain and natural processes to bring them to the surface. When they come up enough they then pick them up and add them to the pile of bones they have already found. Sadly, or rather, more sadly, they are only just now starting to teach school kids about what happened under the Khmer Rouge. Though most if not all come from families that were impacted. That's what a corrupt ex-khmer rouge government will do for you.

The big highlight of our trip was a fantastic architectural tour of the city. The tour is given by a student of architecture from the local university, and something about him not being a professional guide, or even in the tourism business, just made it fantastic. We saw a lot but when he took us down an alley with tiny houses all built onto and into each other where it suddenly got dark, we looked up to realized we had walked into the remains of an old church. People had just colonized it, building under its roof to protect from the rain. It was that strange mix of amazing ingenuity and sadness at the poverty that pushes people to do it.

I should say that we had a splendid time in Cambodia, but its not as easy a place as a lot of the rest of SE Asia. History carries its weigh here.

Anyways, photos. (Only from my iPhone. I had to forget my camera one day)

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