We debated and debated during our travels through Laos whether or not we should go to Cambodia. Before leaving the U.S. way back in Aug., we were dead set on going, but once we arrived in southeast Asia, many other travels told us to skip the country-such a shame. We have only been in Cambodia for five days, but we have loved every minute of it. I’m so glad we decided not to listen to other travelers and go with our gut feeling. Cambodians are some of the nicest people we have met during our travels. Yes, there is a lot of poverty. Yes, there are a lot of beggers, but you can’t really blame them. This country has only been on the mend since the year 2000. They are working hard to get tourism back on track and it’s a shame when anyone discourages people from coming here.
We arrived in Phnom Penh in the early afternoon (we took a flight from Laos) and suffered a bit of culture shock with the fast pace way of life here. Much different from Laos-there were cars and mopeds and tuk-tuks everywhere. Traffic was unbelievable. In theory, they should be following the same driving rules as the U.S.-drive on the right, yield to on-coming traffic, etc. Not the case. Besides overloading the scooters…five, sometimes six people per scooter (amazing to see), most of the time they were driving into on coming traffic, down the wrong side of the street. No one abides by stop signs, it’s only a “suggestion” to stop. Mostly, they just slow and swerve. Surprisingly, the way they drive just seems to work. We never saw one accident.
There are many sites to see in Phnom Penh and it’s a great way to learn Cambodia’s history. Especially the recent events with the Khmer Rouge-mass genocide that started in the mid-seventies, where Khmer Rouge (a.k.a. Cambodians) were killing Cambodians for no rhyme or reason, resulting in over 2 million people (that’s 25% of the population) being murdered. There definitely is a noticeable age gap. There are many young people and many old people, but not as many middle aged. Very sad. One particular tourist site to visit is the S21 prison, where the Khmer Rouge detained prisoners (not just Cambodians, but even a few Australians and Americans, Japanese, Thais, etc.). These people were usually accused of being spies. They were tortured by various methods-electric shocks, beatings, etc. to get the prisoners to “confess.” The Khmer Rouge killed anyone-men, women, babies, their own mothers and fathers. They killed people simply because they wore glasses or spoke another language, all in an attempt to wipe out the intelligent and breed the subservient. At the killing fields a few miles away, they would beat their prisoners, slice their throats and toss their bodies into open graves. Once separated from their mothers, babies were held by the ankles and bashed against trees. Their dead bodies were tossed into the pile like the rest.
For the history alone, I would encourage anyone to come to Cambodia. These people are trying so hard to rebuild their society and we are so glad we got to visit Phnom Penh before the word gets out on how amazing it is.