Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Our last stop as a group of 6 was the capitol of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

When we first arrived, it took us ~7 hours on an overnight bus to get from Phom Penh to Siem Reap. The drive time from Battambang back to the capitol city was supposedly 5 hours so we opted for a daytime drive. I say supposedly because we would come to learn that whatever the stated travel time is, go ahead and add one hour to that.

After our fantastic day tour of Battambang, we caught a 7am VIP van with Mekong Express and we were on our way…. for about 3 hours.

…tire troubles.

Yep, that’s the tread almost completely off the tire.

It goes without saying, but this had to be fixed before we could keep going. So, everyone hopped out of the van and headed across the street for a bathroom and some snacks while our (poor) driver frantically tried to figure out where he could have the tire repaired. For some reason, Sis and I came back to the van. Maybe I was coming to take this picture? I don’t really remember. What I do remember is the driver telling Sis to get in the van and Sis telling me to get in the van.

Door closes and off we go.

…and they never saw Whitney & Kelsey again.

Ok – not true. What we figure is our driver didn’t want to take off with all our luggage and no witnesses, which I appreciate. Had we spoke Cambodian, I’m sure this would have been communicated. All part of the adventure, right?

We ended up at the tire repair place and 15 min later we were back in action!

The tire repair shop. You’ll notice that we (two white girls) were as much of a novelty here as the repair shop was to us.

We picked up the rest of the van crew, and we were off again! Turns out, Shane & Terry passed the time by discussing how they were going to break the news to our dad that they lost us. *shrugs*

The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful, with only one complaint: no karaoke! If your van is going to advertise karaoke on the outside, which it did, then you better give a girl some tunes!

#sorrynotsorry Michelle. Blame your husband.

Another squishy luggage-packed tuk-tuk ride took us to the hotel.

Hotel views.

Now, I will preface this next statement with this: Phnom Penh is a huge city, and we really only explored within 15-20 min. walking distance from our hotel. With this in mind, Phnom Penh was probably my least favorite city on the whole trip.

Before we came, I had heard from others about the “rawness” of Phnom Penh. There was poverty, prostitution, beggars, people with missing limbs on the streets. I will say, that none of those things are the reason why I didn’t care for Phnom Penh. Honestly, I think you can find all of those things in any major city across the world if you look hard (sometimes not even hard) enough. I just didn’t feel like Phnom Penh had any character.

If you consider the history of the country and the fact that only 40ish years ago Phnom Penh was essentially emptied of its inhabitants when they were sent to the rice fields, it makes more sense. The Khmer Rouge did an excellent job at wiping away Cambodian culture.

I will say, I never felt unsafe in Phnom Penh. There are definitely nice places to stay (like our beautiful hotel), and good places to eat and drink. We had a great few days here so I certainly don’t think the city was ‘bad’, but when we left for our next destination after 3 nights, I was ok to go.

One thing I was not ok to leave was the cat cafe we stumbled upon on our first night!

See that naked, perfectly posed cutie in the back? His name is Steamed Chicken. (hah!)

On a more serious note, we came to Phnom Penh with one main goal: visiting the killing fields.

As I mentioned in the Battambang post, there are killing fields and killing caves scattered throughout the country. These serve as mass graves for the millions of people murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Choeung Ek is the closest to Phnom Penh, ~15km (9mi) outside of the city and is thought to be the largest in the country.

Once an orchard, this field turned into a holding cell and killing area. People were brought here in trucks, held in wooden buildings until the time, and shortly after arrival killed. Most of the killings were by blunt force trauma with various items, or stabbing, as bullets were expensive to come by so they weren’t to be “wasted”. Anywhere from 15 – 300 people were brought at one time. One of the most harrowing accounts (from the audio guide – highly recommended) was the story of the music. In general, music was banned under the Khmer Rouge regime, but here they played loud music to drown out the screams of the victims.

Today, you can walk through the fields. Some mass graves have been blocked off with fencing, but most are just seen as depressions in the ground. To this day, bones, clothing, and other items can be found in the area.

Depressions in the ground are what remains of the mass graves.
Children were killed along side their parents to prevent future revolutions.

Now, the fields are home to a stupa (a type of memorial, in Buddhism) which houses the bones of those killed here. Those found have been analyzed by archeologists to determine the relative age and, based on the skull damage, with which tool they were murdered. They are arranged accordingly inside the stupa. A memorial ceremony is held here each year on May 9th to commemorate those who lost their lives.

The killing fields, like the killing cave, were definitely not an easy thing to visit, but the history of these places should be learned and remembered.

Our other main Phnom Pehn tourist attraction was the Royal Palace.

The Royal Palace at night.

Lucky for us, we could literally see it from our hotel!

The Royal Palace is actually more of a Royal Palace compound. There are multiple buildings within the gates; the image above is the main pavilion where the King would address the public.

Inside the walls, there are a number of buildings which are used for state visits (dinners, ceremonies etc.), office spaces, Royal stupas (memorials to the royal families throughout history) and even the Royal residence of the King.

Other than that, we spent the rest of our time in Phnom Penh just soaking up our last days together!

Perhaps you’ve noticed in some of the pictures, but we’ve all been carrying fanny packs this trip – or FP for short. The FP idea started a few months ago in the SEA 2018 group chat – what’s everyone bringing? How much are you packing? What kind of bag are you taking? I, in passing, mentioned that Shane picked up an FP in the store (he says as a joke) but the idea was quickly vetoed by me. Ya know, nerd alert!

Fast forward to the first night of the trip.

Steve & Michelle – “We have a surprise for you!”

Sis & Terry – “Us too!”

THEY BOTH HAD FANNYS FOR THE GROUP!!

Sis & Terry found their fannys during their first stop in Koh Lanta, Thailand. They became our day-to-day packs.

Shane modeling his daytime FP in the tuk-tuk.

Steve & Michelle picked out each fanny to match everyone’s personality and these became our “Party Packs”. Which leads me to my next photo.

Terry WON the party pack game.

This picture was taken at dinner on our last night together. It was so realistic looking that the waitress COULD NOT look Terry in the eyes and just giggled every time she came to the table.

So – I would like to publicly say… I was wrong. Fanny packs are awesome and actually very practical travel accessories! It’s a great way to carry all your valuables, safely in a crowd.

We did manage to take some nice photos on our last night out, which ended in spontaneous karaoke at a non-karaoke bar and a handful of new friends.

Terry’s song choice you might wonder? A song that knows no global limits. Billy Ray Cyrus – Achy Breaky Heart.

And with that, our time in Phnom Penh and as a group of 6 was over. The next morning, with sad hearts (and slight hangovers) we said goodbye to Steve & Michelle.

Thanks for the memories, friends!

#YOBO (you only ‘bode once)

Next up, our foursome heads to Kampot, Cambodia!

Tot Ziens,

Whitney

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We are two Americans living in the Netherlands with our fat cat, Meatball. The Shwits is a diary of our time abroad!

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