perusing Phnom Penh

Anywho, the night we arrived in Pnom Penh, we felt like walking, since we’d been stuck on a bus for 8 hours. So, we checked into a hotel (taken there by Sam, a really nice guy with an Australian accent. He’s Khmer and has never been outside the country and has no idea how he got an Aussie accent. I figure it’s from one of his English teachers). We decided to walk to the Royal Palace and find a place to eat at the Riverside area (a tourist area that is literally on the giant river that runs through Pnom Penh). Walking through rush hour traffic in Pnom Penh was terrifying–we basically just had to dash for our lives when we crossed the streets.

While hunting down a restaurant, we saw a German couple pulling a wagon with their 3 tiny sons (they all looked to be under 4 or 5 years old) down the same streets that were terrifying us. BRAVE SOULS! Definitely put our own walk into perspective. :) We were tired and ended up at a very yummy, cop-out (read: Not at ALL adventurous) cafe called Cafe Fresco. Yummy baked goods and sandwiches and kick-butt ice cream. We enjoyed the air con and food immensely.

Then, we walked around by the river. Several vendors were there, including some selling wild finches that people purchased, held in their hands, whispered something to, and then let go over the river. The birds flew away, apparently unharmed. I’m not sure what the purpose of this was–perhaps the birds carry prayers or wishes? Something I’ll have to look up.

It was extremely crowded and as we’d been warned by everyone about pick pocketing/robbery, etc, we decided to head home. We braved the darker but less crowded streets and stumbled across a Kantha Bopha hospital!!! TOO COOL! They were taking blood donations (so a sign said), so we went in to see if the Wunderhusband could donate. They were understaffed that night (it was 10 PM) and asked if we could return the following day. I guess it ended up being a good thing that they weren’t available since he started feeling ill the next morning and ended up not donating.

We had our Tuk Tuk driver pick us up at 7:30 AM and take us to the Killing Fields. We were the first ones there that day. It’s only $2 admission per person and we skipped the guided tour that allegedly cost $8 USD. It’s very simple. Just filled in, massive shallow graves, and a single, clear glass tower filled with over 3000 human skulls and the clothes found on the victims’ bodies. (They only excavated 84 (I think?) of 129 mass graves discovered). It was a quiet, oddly peaceful place, with the graves overgrown with beautiful, delicate vines that the workers have to trim back every day (they were doing so while we were there). There was  a cool breeze, and we walked along a path that encircled the area.

On that path, out of view of the guards, we were accosted by a cute little boy who chatted with us then immediately begged for money…actually whined for money. We gave him a Clif Bar. A few minutes later, a group of 5 different chidlren accosted us and chatted asking for money. We didn’t have anything to give them as we do not give money to begging children. There are tons of agencies that advise against this for many reasons: the kids are pimped out to beg since people are more sympathetic to them  than to adults; the kids skip school to beg since it seems more rewarding; it teaches them to beg rather than to learn job skills, etc; I talked with them instead, and I think they were trying to get me to say bad words in Khmer as a joke by telling me that those were their names. I didn’t repeat the names and instead asked them questions. They were really cute and smart…typical kids making mischief, and when they spotted a guard, they dashed away.

We met up with our Tuk Tuk driver and he then did one of the most tasteless things I’ve experienced in Cambodia. We’d just finished touring the KILLING FIELDS, and he asked us if we wanted to go shooting! Yeah, SHOOTING! The shooting ranges here in Cambodia are a bit notorious/infamous as they have access to all kinds of guns we don’t get to play with in the USA (AK 47s, automatic rifles, etc). That in itself isn’t so bad–in fact it’s kind of cool; I’m a big fan of guns. But a lot of them (according to the Lonely Planet: Cambodia) offer live, small animals as targets. And even if the targets were just paper, I JUST TOURED THE FREAKING KILLING FIELDS. Umm, I’m pretty sure that experience is meant to be humbling and thought provoking, not an inspiration toward violence.

We headed into town to the Russsian Market where I picked up some souvenirs and showed off my China-honed bargaining skills for the Wunderhusband. He was impressed but hates shopping so was miserable most of the time. I offered to pick him up at a nearby restaurant when I was finished, but he gallantly pointed out that he wanted to make sure nothing happened to me while I was perusing (the markey was extremely crowded), and that we had no cell phones to use and would have a very hard time finding each other again if either of us got lost.

After shopping, we headed to “Friends”, a restuarant that benefits a Child-Safety Center that helps take kids off the street and out of slavery/abusive situations in Cambodia. AMAZING FOOD–we had several of their tapas and a totally awesome “green apple and kafir lime freeze” (no, their ice did NOT make us sick cuz it’s tourist friendly), and a “strawberry-mango yogurt lassi”.

After chowing down, we rode back to our hotel, rested and showered and packed, then rode in C R A Z Y traffic to the airport. Our driver did a fabulous job, despite his moto stalling more than once in the middle of a 10-way traffic intersection. We were in transit for more than 36 hours coming home…just long enough for me to fall head over heels in love with the Korean International Airport at Incheon (more on that later). :)

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