At the end of our two week vacation, we were scheduled to fly out of Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, back to LA. There are a few possible modes of transportation to get from Siemreap to Phnom Penh besides flying, which we decided was too expensive. First, you can take a 5-6 hour boat ride down the Mekong River. We were considering this option until we heard that the boats are generally older and shabby, and tend to break down pretty regularly. Also, during the dry season the boats often get stranded and run aground, leaving you with a long delay and a much longer trip than you bargained for. During the wet season the boats apparently run rather well, and the cost of the trip is $35. We opted to take the Giant Ibis bus, which is also a 6 hour ride to the capital. The cost was $15 per person, booked though our hotel, and they provided us transportation to the bus station early in the morning. It was advertised that there was wifi on the buses, which would have made the trip a million times more bearable, but ours was unfortunately broken, so our 6 hour trip was extremely slow and boring, with an awful restaurant stop for lunch. Despite everything, we made it to Phnom Penh at 3pm and checked into the ANIK Boutique Hotel to relax.
We had originally planned to do a little exploring right when we arrived, but Julio and I stayed in our room and grabbed a quick snack rather then head out into the city. For dinner, we were all in agreement that we didn’t really want Cambodian food, so we walked around the corner to a large mall and each picked something out from their food court. In the guidebooks I had read that crime is prevalent in the capital, and even our tuk tuk driver to our hotel warned us to keep our bags and phones safely on the inside of the cart, because of motorbike thieves who will grab your purse right off your shoulder and drive away. I was particularly paranoid of this, and kept staring down scooter riders as they passed us walking for some reason. None of us had any issues with theft, but it is good to take precautions and not carry a lot of cash.
Allison arranged for a taxi to take us to the Killing Fields and the Royal Palace the following morning. Our flight was at 2:30 in the afternoon, so we got up relatively early and headed to the Choeung Ek Killing Fields first, since they were further away. Morning traffic and the lack of any normal traffic patterns at all resulted in a 40 minute ride, and we arrived right when they opened at 8am. The tour was $6 per person, and included a headset with the audio tour in your preferred language. Our time spent at the Killing Fields was sobering, to say the least. The tour takes you through the fields where thousands of Cambodians were brought to be executed during the genocide of the Khmer Rouge rule. The brutality and inhuman treatment of the Cambodian people is stunning. Families were killed in their entirety, so that no one would be left to challenge Pol Pot. Babies and mothers were beaten to death and piled into mass graves. A monument stands in the center of the fields as a memorial to the millions of people that died during the Khmer rule, and it contains hundreds of skulls unearthed from the very fields we walked around. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is also nearby, which is where many of the people were imprisoned and tortured before being taken to the killing fields. You can take a tour there as well, but we decided we had had enough sadness for one day, and headed back towards the Royal Palace.
According to the Lonely Planet guidebook, the Royal Palace is open until 11am for tours of the grounds and then later again in the afternoon. Which is why when we arrived at 10:15, we were surprised to be told that the Palace was closed for the day. Apparently an ambassador was visiting, and that touring hours were cut short that morning for his arrival. Our taxi driver had already left, so we decided to walk around and see what we could from outside the palace walls. While we were able to snap a few photos, we all were really disappointed that we couldn’t have gone inside. A short 30 minutes later, our taxi was back and ready to take us back to our hotel for last minute packing and then a ride to the airport.
Phnom Penh wasn’t a city that I had any interest in seeing at first. My main reason for choosing Cambodia as a destination on our trip was to see Angkor Wat, and we were only seeing the capital because that’s the airport we were flying home from. After reading my guidebook, I have to say that Phnom Penh was more interesting than I originally gave it credit for. I would have liked to spend another day exploring the city, going to the Tuol Sleng Museum, and seeing the inside of the Royal Palace. But you know what they say, there’s always next time!!