In Phnom Penh I stayed at Eighty8 Backpackers. The hostel was recommended by a friend I met in Chiang Mai. The hostel was great. It was modern with a large lounge and bar area, a pool and a pool table. The dorms had 8 biggish beds (no bunks) and private bathrooms.
The city is very dirty and depressing. There is trash everywhere and the city is over populated. You can really feel how recent the genocide was- it ended in 1979. Every local in the city whose older than 40 remembers what it was like, and you can’t help but think about them on a regular basis.
The city is slowly being put back together but the locals are stuck in a rut.
My first night I went to the bar/club area. We went to a bar then Pontoon Club. It was a regular club filled with locals, but there were also a ton of older white men. Every single local girl was a prostitute out having a good time with their friends, but also looking for some money. This one guy was is his 50s, white and bald with a gut. He wore khaki shorts, a tank top and had a gold chain necklace and glasses. He was dorky and gross. A group of girls kept rotating dancing with him, each of their faces more sad and disgusted than the last. I’m happy I went and saw what it’s like but it’s nothing I’d like to see again.
My first real day I went to the Genocide Museum, S-21, then the killing fields. The museum is in the high school/prison where the Khmer Rouge tortured citizens. The original torture rooms are still in tact, and you can see dried blood on the floors. There were 7 survivors from the prison who lived, 2 of them were at the prison that day. They were being exploited which I hated. They set them up at two different tables selling “their” autobiographies. For $10 you can get a pre-signed book and take a photo with them. However, the whole thing was like a book signing. The photo was the man holding up his book and smiling.
We got a tour guide for the museum. She was 13 when the Khmer Rouge came. Her mother and her survived- they were forced to pick rice up near the Thailand border. Her father and brother were both murdered. It was great having the tour from a survivor because she could tell us what it was really like; however, she took it too far. She put on a whole act at the very end so we would tip her a lot. She started crying, grabbed a metal bar and stated that she’s too sad she can’t talk to us anymore. She’s definitely had a tragic life but her speech was obviously an act, one that probably works on all tourists. She does this same tour multiple times a day, every single day, for the past 6 years.
After the museum we went to the killing fields. I found that less emotional because there wasn’t much of the original fields left. All the buildings are gone, replaced with signs. The graves are there but since the bodies have been removed it’s now rolling fields of grass. However, there are random bones in the ground still. Signs throughout ask you to please not step on them but it’s un-avoidable. The are also a few graves wooden structures surrounding graves. Bracelets cover the top of the posts. I left 2 there.
The huge memorial in the center houses all the skulls found. They’re scientifically categorized- gender, age, then marked with a colored sticker for how they died. The Khmer Rouge didn’t use guns, they beat the victims with weapons, etc. Some of the skulls are cracked from being beaten on the head.
After we went to Central Market. It’s held in a huge white building in the center of town. A dome in the center with four grand halls shooting out in all directions. The dome is jewelry and knick knacks in glass cases, the halls are clothing, and the outskirts is food. We went for lunch but everything was overpriced so we ended up just going to a restaurant near our hostel. I ordered noodle soup with beef. They served me packaged ramen with the flavoring, with some random meats. There was beef, pork balls (I think) and some other meat on a bone. The bone meat was white on the outside, pink on the inside and had the texture of pot roast. I have absolutely no idea what animal is was but it was delicious. But all in all the soups here are not good.
My second day I went to the Aeon Mall to experience the 4D movie theater. I walked there along the riverside which is actually nice. There’s palm tree landscaping, and restaurants and hotels line the city side. For a brief moment I forgot how dirty the city was.
The neighborhood that the mall is in is being completely built-up. There was construction everywhere and fancy foreign hotels. The mall is Japanese owned but it has shops and food from all over the world. It’s modern and brand new. There was Christmas music playing non-stop but not many decorations.
I saw Penguins of Madagascar. The movie theater seats were raised and there was a platform for your feet. The seats tilted in all directions and vibrated. There were fans on the side and flashing white lights, and mist shot from the front. Madagascar was a great movie to see in 4D since the Penguins are constantly jumping around and doing missions.
I had lunch at Kaihomaru Sushi. It was my first sushi since being away. For $7 I got grilled mackerel with salt, salmon sashimi, rice, miso soup, and tofu. The menu is in English and yet the staff didn’t know a single word. I simply tried to point at the Bento Box picture I was getting and they still didn’t understand. They had to bring the chef out so I could show him what I wanted.
There was a huge food court and grocery store on the ground floor. I bought grape tomatoes and a cabbage to snack on (some western pleasures I haven’t had in a while.) Before leaving I stopped at a French cafe and had a tomato mozzarella pesto appetizer with olive bread. I ate well which felt good.
My last night we went out to Top Banana, the other known backpacker guesthouse that has a rooftop bar. The bar was a bit small but more crowded than our hostel. I ran into a Dutch girl I knew from the slowboat. I also tried a balloon again (did it properly this time) and I fainted. I definitely don’t understand why people like to deprive themselves of oxygen. I was fine though.
The next morning I took the 5 hour public bus to Sihanoukville with some British guys I became friends with at my hostel. It’s beach time.