A chronicle of Alison and Ron's trip around the world in 2009-2010.

"Not all those who wander are lost"
- Tolkien

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Capital city of Phnom Penh

We had one day in Phnom Penh (pronounced Pa-nom Pen) which was plenty of time. All of us were far more interested in Khmer art and culture instead of it’s violent past of the Khmer Rouge. Many tourists visit S21 and the Killing Fields where a million and half Cambodians (mostly educated, professionals) were starved, tortured, murdered, or forced to work in labor camps. The infamously brutal leader Pol Pot inflicted mass genocide in the name of agrarian communism and actually restarted time by proclaiming it Year Zero.

Ron and I recently watched The Killing Fields, an Academy-award winning British film from 1984, that was enough history and sadness for us. It’s hard to believe what the Cambodian people endured just a short time ago. You do notice that you start to see a lot of younger people (under 30) as nearly 20% of the population during Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) were ruthlessly wiped out. The capital city has certainly bounced back and feels modern and organized. Especially on Sisowath Quay, the street running parallel to the Tonle Sap river.

We walked the short distance to the Royal Palace a little before 10am, in the already baking sun. Unfortunately, we had missed the spectacle of large-scale aerobics and tae chi taking place on the grounds at dawn.

The main attraction was the Silver Pagoda or Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Of course, you couldn’t take pictures inside the pagoda, but the centerpieces included an emerald Buddha made of glistening baccarat crystal and a life-size gold Buddha decorated with several thousand diamonds. Not exactly illustrating the non-materialistic nature of Buddhism. However, I do think diamonds are forever when encrusted over your third-eye.

Many tourists ride in what‘s called a “cyclo’, which is a bicycle rickshaw with a single seat in the front that looks awfully similar to a wheelchair. Apparently this was introduced back in 1937, and continues today, as does a lot of French influence from the time Cambodia was part of French Indochina (1887-1954).

In the hottest part of the day, we went to a popular café called Friends that helps local kids by providing careers in culinary arts and restaurant management. The lunch was full of fresh and healthy California cuisine, grilled chicken pitas and black bean burgers, that brought me back home. Their sister restaurant offered up adventurous and creepy jungle food, like crispy fried tarantula, which Ron and I vowed to try before we leave the country.

Next, we visited the National Museum which houses the best collection of Khmer art in the world. Again, a no photo zone, but Ron snapped this pic before he realized it.

While visiting a monastery, I saw a monk under a shady tree on his laptop and was struck by the sheer contrast of the old and new world. I wondered if the monk ever cursed at his computer, frustrated to his wits end with his windows operating system, smashing down on the ctrl+alt+delete keys in vain. Or had he reached pure, altruistic compassion for Bill Gates, an inner peace us mere mortal computer users will never know.


corina February 8, 2010 at 10:29 AM  

your itinerary is freakishly similar to ours. we enjoyed a yummy tapas meal at the friends restaurant. I didn't vow to try tarantula though. you fit alot into one day!

There have been visitors to this blog and you are one of them. Thanks and have a beautiful day!