Phnom Penh: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

After a few days exploring Siem Reap, we finished off our trip in the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh.

This part of the trip was a totally eye opening experience (to say the least), so I’ve rounded up our best moments, our worst moments, and the moments that broke our hearts.

Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Dress: Kage

The good…

Overall, we had a great trip. I think Cambodia is one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been to; there is so much to do, see and learn. The food is amazing (best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life, which I’d never thought I’d say in Asia), everything from the transport to the full body massages are cheap as chips, the culture is so rich and there are so many interesting finds in the various markets dotted around the city.

I definitely recommend a bike tour around the city – we signed on with Grasshopper Tours and rode about 20-odd kilometres around Phnom Penh, visiting a silk factory, riding through rural areas, exploring the Mekong and my mum got kicked by a cow, which, let’s face it, was the highlight of the day. There are also plenty of temples to visit – although, if you’ve been to Siem Reap, you will have visited the most amazing temples you’ve ever seen in your life, and the Phnom Penh-based buildings are nowhere near as impressive.

Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The bad…

Probably the thing that shocked me most about Phnom Penh was the amount of pollution, poverty and crime that characterises the city. The Mekong is basically used by the locals as landfill, turning what was once probably a beautiful river into the most disgusting looking wasteland, with piles of plastic, old food and God knows what else floating in the water.

We were constantly warned about pick pockets and told to keep our bags secure over our shoulders wherever we went. This all seemed a little dramatic at first, until my mum got (kind of) robbed in the streets… We were walking home from dinner and two men on a moped drove past her and grabbed her bag. Luckily, she was holding on to it tight enough to shake the robbers off, and as soon as she started screaming and drawing attention to herself, they soon drove off.

I know cities are no stranger to homeless people, however, in Phnom Penh, said homeless people use their children, who are only a few months old, as props to beg on the streets with. Women of the night will leave their sleeping babies lying on the sidewalk next to a cup for spare change, and walk off to go about their own business. There are big billboard and signage all over the place asking you to ‘please not donate money to beggars with children’, because the more money they earn from tourists, the more likely they are to keep their children out of school and use them to beg. I think the statistic for uneducated children in Cambodia was about 40%, which is heartbreaking, but also not completely unbelievable considering most schools in the country were destroyed by the Khmer Rouge in the ’70s – more on that below…

Things to Do in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

The ugly…

I went to Cambodia knowing absolutely zero about their history, their politics or their economy, but our trip to Phnom Penh soon changed that. If you ever visit Cambodia, you must, must, MUST visit the Killing Fields and the Genocide Museum, where the remnants of the Communist takeover of the ’70s is mapped out through the most harrowing tour you’ll ever go on. The pictures you see below of the colourful bracelets were taken at Killing Fields, where tourists were leaving small tokens of respect on the mass graves of the Cambodian locals who were killed during the genocide.

The Genocide ‘Museum’ isn’t actually museum at all. It’s a prison. It’s a real prison that was used to hold and torture anyone who did not join the Communist Khmer Rouge party back in the 1970’s. The original torture beds have been left in each cell, the pools of blood haven’t been wiped off the floor to make sure all who visit truly feel the searing pain that the Cambodia population had to suffer, and the walls are adorned with photographs taken by the people who found the prison after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. The photographs on these walls show the exact state the prison was found in, with decaying bodies, smashed skulls and lifeless Cambodian locals left for dead. It’s the most distressing, heart-wrenching and mortifying thing you’ll ever see in your life, but well worth the visit to really understand what these people endured for so many years.

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    September 24, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    Milli the photographs immediately take me back to the frenetic, colourful, diverse country of Cambodia. A place that in my lifetime exterminated the intelligent, law abiding common people of a my generation and older. Being mugged by humans and kicked by cattle wouldn’t put me off returning. Great memories.

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