After a 10-hour bus ride, I was happy to have my 8-bed dorm room at the hostel all to myself … at least for a little while. Early morning, someone started banging relentlessly and then a new roommate arrived so I got an early start to the day.
The Central Market is HUGE! It was built in 1937 in a French Art Deco style; it has a domed central area with four arms going off into an endless number of stalls offering everything you can think of. There were different sections for jewelry, shoes, clothes, household goods, electronics, flowers, fresh food, cooked food and RAW AND LIVE FOOD! We’re talking live chickens, ladies chopping up meat while sitting on the counter, fishy smell, weird looking guts and stuff … yuck! It was crowded, but the people were not as pushy as in Vietnam.
I found my way to Wat Phnom (Mountain Pagoda), one of the oldest Buddhist temples—built in 1373. It’s the tallest religious structure in the city—situated in the center of Phnom Penh. It’s Pchum Ben Day Festival Weekend—a Cambodian Buddhist Festival that follows a kind of Buddhist ‘Lent.’ It’s a time to remember, venerate, and present food offerings to deceased relatives. There was lots of incense, flowers, and people making offerings of food and money and saying prayers. Super cool to see!
I stopped to eat traditional Khmer food at a place overlooking the Mekong River: steamed rice, beef, veg and spicy sauce. It was tasty! Some little kids waved and said hello to me, grinning ear to ear when I returned their greeting. They’re so adorable—friendly and curious!
Not sure where the entrance to the Royal Palace was, I had to practice my Spanish by asking some Colombian guys. Although I was wearing long pants and had a sarong to cover my shoulders, I was turned away. Luckily, they sell expensive basic t-shirts with the palace logo on it so I changed to my new t-shirt and entered the palace. The Palace has been the home to Cambodian kings since the 1860s. Very beautiful architecture!
This is where I met my Chinese friend, Sophie! I got her to take a picture of me lighting incense and paying my own respects to those in my life who have passed on … fitting since it’s the festival of the dead. I know nothing about Buddhism, but I was able to watch some locals doing their thing and just kind of copied them and used a bit of yoga really…. Sophie and I went to see the Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument, the Statue of late King Norodom Sihanouk and the Independence Monument before it started raining. Yes. Rain. Again.
I was happy to have found people to go on the Killing Fields tour with me. Five of us took a tuk tuk to Security Prison 21 (S-21), the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. It was formerly the Chao Ponhea Yat High School but the classrooms were sectioned off to house prisoners by the Kmer Rouge (Communist Party of Kampuchea) from 1975-79. Approximately 17,000 people were held under the most extreme of situations, beaten, tortured and killed. The guards were teenagers and had to abide by very strict rules or saw the same consequences as the prisoners. In 2014, the Kmer Rouge was found guilty of crimes against humanity and responsible for up to 2,000,000 deaths. There was actually a survivor (of the 3 remaining) there signing books. It would have been nice to talk to him … but to say what?! It was depressing.
The ride to the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek Memorial), several kilometres outside of the city, was interesting. We got to see how rural Cambodians live—most of them in tiny one room huts and, just like Vietnam, the whole family gets on one scooter, children stuck in between the adults, to pick up ice, veg, or even hang their recently-killed chickens from the back of their bike. The Killing Fields is the site where almost 9,000 bodies (mostly Cambodians, some Vietnamese and a handful of other foreigners who did not flee) were buried in mass graves by the Kmer Rouge after they had been murdered during the Vietnam war. The place was smaller than I had expected. It was really sad listening to the audio. They played some Cambodian music at a lookout point by the rice field … and I had a moment….