Aug 25, 2010

Visiting Phnom Penh and Sianouk Ville

From Siem Reap we took the boat for six hours down the Tonle Sap River to Phnom Penh. We paid $8 in 2004 and $40 this time - 2010! But I really like the river trip where the scenes are of National Geographic portion. The weather was great so we sat on the boat roof.
All civil wars are awful but the civil war in Cambodia from 1975-79 under the regime of the Khmer Rouge has to rank as one of the worst. During the reign of Pol Pot one out of every four Cambodians died from starvation, overwork and executions. Nearly everyone has a story. When we were in Cambodia in 2004 our guide said that when the population of Phnom Penh was forcibly evacuated to the countryside he was seven and was sent into the jungle to youth camp. His mom and dad each went to different camps. When they were separated his father said, “Whatever happens never forget your name.” I thought that was a strange thing to say but the guide said the children were all given revolutionary names and after several years many did forget their name. He continued, “After a few years I thought motor vehicles were a figment of my imagination. When we were told we could go back into Phnom Penh and I saw the first motor vehicle I ran behind it sniffing the exhaust.” He never forgot his name and his family was eventually reunited. His is one of the few happy stories. Today the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Prison are must sees only so people do not forget. Sadly, it seems genocide and war never seems to stop. Today, in Cambodia, people want to go forward.

Everything seems much more vital and prosperous than it did six years ago. We stayed at the lovely InterContinental Hotel where there was a very upscale wedding with a reception for 500 but we were told that it was smaller than average. After our son flew back to San Francisco we had a cooking lesson that is offered by the hotel, visited the museum and royal palace.

One example of the “new” Cambodia is the development of the beach area in the south of Cambodia. For $7 we took a four-hour bus trip to Sihanouk Ville that included a bottle of water and a snack. We stayed at the beautiful Sohka Beach Resort. The hotel’s new additions have doubled the size of the hotel. We spent every day around the pool except one when we took an all-day island boat tour for $15. First we stopped at a snorkeling spot and then went to Banana Island where we hung out at the beach for a couple hours and the crew prepared our lunch of grilled barracuda. The barracuda was excellent – meaty and not at all fishy. It made us wonder why we don’t see barracuda on the menu in the US. On the way back we stopped at another island for snorkeling. On our last night we had an amazing seafood buffet that was set up around the pool and a band from the Philippines played familiar songs from the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I think tourism has a great future in Cambodia as there is a lot to see and do. More importantly tourism brings money and improvements in all sectors of society.