To try to find out a bit more about Phnom Penh and Cambodia as a whole I downloaded on Kindle a book by Henry Kamm the one time New York Times correspondent for South East Asia called simply Cambodia. It is pretty depressing reading I have to say. Basically the people of Cambodia have been let down by the people they elected to govern them, by the people they didn’t but who seized power, by a royal Prince who got into bed with anyone that might keep him in power and by the United Nations who were so busy trying to appease everyone they forgot they were there to protect the people. One amazing statistic if you need to know the suffering of ordinary people is that in 1970 Phnom Penh had a population of 470,000 people and by 1978 it had a population of just 32,000 souls. Pol Pot had seen to that and oh yes the Prince was in bed with him too.
It now has a population of some 2.2 million people and we went out in a Tuk Tuk to have a look at the place. The real purpose was to go shopping ‘cos everyone says clothes are amazingly cheap here.
The lad who had driven us to our restaurant the night before seemed nice and he had fitted wire mesh to the sides of his tuk tuk, the first one to do this modification so we asked him to do the 3 hour trip.
Apart from snatching from pedestrians the easiest way for a pillion rider on a motor bike to grab an handbag or package is to ride up alongside a Tuk Tuk reach in and grab it. The wire mesh you see prevents that. Very clever isn’t it ?
The Phnom Penh Tuk Tuks are more chariot in design with the bike being the horse.
We set off at a very leisurely pace, these guys all seem to conserve fuel by going slowly.
We drove all along the Quay side by the river. This area is just packed with restaurants and bars and great in the evening. I found a French place selling draught Angkor beer for US$0.50 cents a pint now that’s a real bargain.
First stop The Royal Palace , no not a pub, keep up , the real thing.
In my youth I dated for a time Lady Patricia Pelham Clinton Hope the Duke of Newcastle’s daughter. When phoning her one time from a pay phone near school I realised I had left her number back at the house. I called the operator and asked for the number of The Duke of Newcastle in Warminster. After a few minutes she came back and said I’ve got a White Swan and The Kings Head but no Duke of Newcastle. Again I had to say not the pub the person !
it isn’t actually the Royal Palace it is the gate into it, but the place closes for lunch for 3 hours and we couldn’t wait. Onwards ever onwards
Now this is a statue of a professor who taught culture and was much revered by the people as he wrote many books about Cambodian culture. Instead of fleeing he stayed with his people and was murdered by Pol Pot.
On then to the Freedom Monument
Most things in Phnom Penh are very new. Pol Pot pretty well raised the place to the ground as he wanted a society of agricultural workers not city folk.. The rebuilding did keep most of the French big boulevards which is good and every roundabout seems to have a statue on it.They even have a kind of London Eye as well.
Once in the old town though the wide roads disappear and the traffic turns ugly
We hit the Russian Market so called because after the Vietnamese invaded in 1979 to oust Pol Pot the market only stocked Russian goods. It took Gorbachev in 1985 who cut off aid to Vietnam to change all that and the Vietnamese quickly upped sticks and left.
To be honest whilst the guide books all say it is the best for bargains almost all of it was the same stuff and no one really wanted to haggle or if they did it was to knock a dollar off perhaps. Try for more and they just looked disinterested and withdrew the goods. No fun at all as I love a good haggle.
After 2 hours driving around we hit the Central Market and whilst again not much haggling they did try to sell stuff and there was a load more choice and thousands of fake watches as well as clothes.
It was built in 1930 by the French in an art deco style and is huge inside.
Phnom Penh is a lovely city and I would certainly come back to it again . Mind you the Raffles really does help you enjoy it.
I gave our driver a big hug of thanks but he actually wanted US$15 as well. After 3 hours driving in that traffic he deserved it.
Now it’s back to Saigon and the Tet New Year festival .Flowers and fireworks are on the menu now.