Mar 9, 2015

Revisiting Phnom Penh

One of the great things about traveling in Asia is the many budget airlines.   We often fly Air Asia and buy the tickets early to get a promo fare.  From Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, to Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, our ticket was about $60 including 15 kilos of luggage. We pay for our luggage when we buy our tickets.  It doesn’t matter how many pieces of luggage as long as it doesn’t go over the weight paid for.  We were able to get our Cambodian visas at the airport on arrival.  We had passport photos with us so the cost was $30.  

John and I have been to Phnom Penh several times but not for five years and the changes were dramatic. The ride to the Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel took about an hour.  We were amazed to see so many Lexus SUVs and Mercedes and all the new buildings.  

The Frangipani Royal Palace Hotel has a great location. Our room
with complimentary Wi-Fi and breakfast was $70.  The best part was dining on the roof with a view of the Tonle Sap River and the Royal Palace.  The same view was available in the morning from the breakfast room. 

The Royal Palace is the residence of the King Norodom Sihamoni who became king after his father Norodom Sihanouk abdicated in 2004.  The Royal Palace is a complex of buildings and except for the actual royal residence most of the buildings are open to the public. All the buildings are beautiful but the Silver Pagoda is noted for the 5000+ silver tiles that cover the floor and it is where over 1600 cultural and religious
treasures are kept. There are always many monks around.  On my first visit several years ago I sat on a stone wall next to two monks and started chatting with them. They were very friendly then one said, “Can I ask you a question?” I said, “Of course.”  He asked, “Do you hate us.”  I was caught off guard and said, “No, I don’t even know you. Why do you ask?”  He explained that his teacher said Americans hated Cambodians.  I guess it was a remnant of the Vietnam War years.  

Near Phnom Penh is one of the several Killing Fields where over one million Cambodians were killed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and1979, and in the city is the Genocide Museum.  Some people don’t visit because it is just too horrible but I have mixed feelings about that.  How can we stop these atrocities if we don’t learn about them?   On my first visit our driver said when he was a young boy his parents were
arrested and sent to different “camps” while he was sent into the jungle with other children.  His father told him, “Don’t ever forget your name.”  The children were given revolutionary names and many did forget their name but our driver remembered his and when he returned to Phnom Penh there was a wall of names of people who were trying to reconnect with family members.  He was lucky to reunite with his parents but some children had forgotten their name. 

Today, Cambodia seems to be doing great and each time we visit we see more improvement.  The place most visited is Angkor Wat with its amazing ruins. Tourism is a great unifier.