1 Day in Phnom Penh: The Horrors of the Past

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Cambodia is popular for their majestic Angkor Wat Complex at Siem Reap, and little is known of Phnom Penh, its capital city. Phnom Penh is a 6-hour bus ride away from Ho Chi Minh City (5-hour bus ride from Siem Reap), and is the center of the not so distant horror during Polpot’s Regime

Khmer Riel is the currency of Cambodia, but US dollars are widely accepted in almost everywhere. During our visit, we mostly paid in US dollars.

We arrived at Phnom Penh by bus from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam at around 11PM. Thankfully, there were a lot of tuktuk available and we were on our hotel door within 15 minutes. After confirming our reservation, we immediately hit the sack, preparing for the whole day of touring scheduled the next day.

From our hostel, we decided to walk to Royale Palace which was a 15-minute walk away. It was still early in the morning, so we witnessed locals starting their day. We passed by a couple of temples, a museum and schools.

Sisowath Quay

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Sisowath Quay

Sisowath Quay is the riverside confluence of Mekong and Tonle Sap river.  Across the Quay are a lot of restaurants and establishments. We took a quick rest at the side across the Royale Palace, to get a more scenic view of the riverside and the palace.

Royale Palace

As the name suggests, it is home of the Cambodian King, his family and foreign dignitaries. A portion of the Palace is open for public.

Entrance Fee: 25,000 KHR, Open daily from 7:30AM to 11PM and 2PM to 5PM.

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Entrance of the Royale Palace, facing the riverside

Unfortunately, the Royale Placae was closed for the public during our visit since the King had some important visitors.

It was in here that we met Mao, the tuktuk driver who offered us a city tour. He was very friendly and fluent in English. When he knew that we were Filipinos, he was very happy and kept referring to us as  my friend! Haha. He was also very helpful and told a lot of stories. He was also very enthusiastic in taking our photos (and was quite good at it!).

Mao warned us that while riding the tuktuk, we should not take our gadgets out. He said there are a lot of snatchers on the road, targeting tourists on tuktuks.

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View across the river
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King of Cambodia

Wat Phnom

Wat Phnom is a popular buddhist temple where its stupa is around 88 feet above the ground.

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Steps to Wat Phnom

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Entrance Fee: $1 each. Open daily.

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Inside the temple.

After Wat Phnom, we also visited a temple which, according to Mao, was newly constructed. It was impressive.

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Mao then toured us more on his tuktuk, as we watched at local Cambodian houses, streets and public structures. It was a very hot day, but we didn’t mind. Witnessing the locals go on about their day was pretty enriching.

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Niks and Mao 🙂

Independence Monument

This monument was constructed as a symbol of the Cambodian independence when they were colonized by the French in 1953.

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Independence Museum

Central Market

This is where Mao dropped us off, so we could take our time shopping for souvenirs. This dome-shaped market is located at the center of the city, and within walking distance to our hotel. There are a lot of cheap choices, from clothes to paintings to jewelries. By the time we were running out of money, we have already bought t-shirts, a Cambodian dress, and a table cloth.

We arranged a bus tour with our hotel, which will bring us both to Teul Song and Killing Fields later in the afternoon. It was a very convenient and cheaper option instead of riding a tuktuk on our own, since the destination is approximately 15 kilometers outside the city. They offered complimentary water bottles and played some films during the ride related to our destinations.

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Toul Seung Genocide Museum

During the Polpot Regime or more popularly know as the S-21 Regime, Toul Svay Prey High School was turned into a prison. This prison hada total of  14,000-20,000 detainees, who were interrogated, tortured and killed. Only seven prisoners survived.

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Building where prisoners were held and tortured

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It was a very depressing place. Pictures and actual devices used to torture the prisoners were everywhere. But the experience was great. The audio tour was very helpful, with commentary and true stories on every stations located all throughout the compound. Take note that food and cameras are forbidden inside the exhibit rooms.

Entrance Fee: $3 each

By 3:20PM, we were back at our buses with a heavy heart, off to a more depressing place: The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek.

Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

Back in 1975-1978, all detainees that were interrogated and inhumanely tortured at the S-21 were brought to the extermination camp in Choeung Ek to be killed, if not yet dead. An estimate of 17,000 men, women, and infants were killed and buried in this place.

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Killing Tree
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Graveyard

The area was peaceful when we visited, ironic to what it must have been, filled with cries of men and women about to be killed. It was said that loud music was being played every time they execute groups of people, to drown their wailing.

We especially appreciated the audio tour, since we were able to go on visiting the stations at our own pace, with spare time for musings and reflections. The horror during the Khmer Rouge was not so long ago, just about 30 years past. We realized that the people there at Phnom Penh experience the horror first hand. I can’t imagine what is must have been like to some of them, who’s relatives suffered and were killed during that horrible time. It must have taken a lot of courage for the whole of Cambodia to rise again.

It was already 6PM when we got back to the city. Suddenly, the whole place felt depressing. But by the time we had dinner and talked about everything we experience and learned about the recent history of Cambodia, our hearts were lighter. The Cambodians has already risen up and moved on from the horror their country experienced.

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Anchor Beer!

By 10PM, we got back to our hotel to freshen up and get our things for our 11PM bus schedule to Siem Reap.

Phnom Penh, overall, was very enlightening. We learned a lot about the Khmer Rouge, which we just read on our elementary history books. A must visit when in Cambodia!

Below is our itinerary for our whole stay in Phnom Penh including actual expenses for two pax.

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Additional Tips:

  1. Wear light clothes! Cambodia is really hot.
  2. Be friendly with locals. Because they are friendly too!
  3. You may opt to not exchange your money to KHR since US dollars are widely accepted.
  4. Be sure to visit S-21 and Killing Fields!
  5. Try out their beer at just $0.50 per glass!

Check out more of our adventures here:

Happy Sojourns!

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