The area where our hostel was located.
There we were, still in this boring place called Kratie in central Cambodia. We just hoped the agency guy from the previous day would at least keep his promise that the minibus would come that morning and take us all finally to Phnom Pen. Despite my doubts the minibus really arrived and we continued suddenly our way.
Couple of hours, lots of sweating and some dust clouds later we were finally reaching the Cambodian capital in early afternoon. The minibus spilled us out on a square by the busy Phsar Thm Thmei market where we got immediately surrounded by tuk-tuk and taxi drivers. No thanks, I already found out on the map in Lonely Planet where we were exactly and we were in a mood to strech out our bones a bit anyway.
The area we planned to get was maybe 20-30 minutes by walking. Well, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to walk after all, after few minutes I was completely wet and looked desperatly for some shade. The little break we had in a bank with air conditioning where Sergej exchanged a big 100 USD note into some smaller ones ( you don’t really need the local currency riel, Cambodians prefer dollars anyway ) was such a big relief for our bodies. And we were sooo grateful the nice lady by the desk didn’t rush at all, hahaha.
A former prison of the Khmer Rouge, nowadays a museum.
Suddenly there we were, a little quarter next to a lake with lots of hostels for backpackers and other foreign visitors. Didn’t take long and we had our accommodation settled.
I had a Cambodian friend living in Phnom Pen, her name was Chang and I met her during my exchange semester in Japan.
Had actually no contact, but Mit provided me her e-mail address so I wrote her already from Laos that we were coming. She agreed to meet us, but wasn’t free until 6pm. Well, we had a bit less then 3 hours left and decided to go out for some sightseeing meanwhile. The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum sounded like a good idea, we could manage that one for sure. That place was definitely too far away to walk, so we decided to take a tuk-tuk instead.
On the way I realized one thing about Phnom Pen, the city was quite developed compared to what we’ve seen from the Cambodian countryside.
The tuk-tuk brought us directly in front of the entrance to the Museum. This place is actually comparable with the former German concentration camps in Europe.
It is a former highschool which was used as the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21) by the Khmer Rouge regime in the period from 1975 to 1979. The classrooms were converted in that time into tiny prison cells and torture chambers. Scary place.
A torture room of the Khmer Rouge prison.
We set up the meeting point with Chang in a big hotel situated next to our backpacker quarter, a place pretty easy to find. Well, the fact that this seemed to be a 4 or 5 stars hotel and we looked like the last survivors of a jungle fight against a bunch of crazy monkeys made everything look a bit surreal, but at least Chang discovered us easily. She thought we might be staying in this hotel, but I guess she changed her mind quickly when she saw us, hahaha.
I haven’t seen this tiny nice girl for about 2 years, we had definitely a lot to tell to each other.
Chang leaded us to her car and gave us a sign to get in, she planned to take us for some good local dinner. That sounded definitely like the best idea of the day. I had to smile when she started driving, she almost sank in the driver’s seat. I can’t really imagine if the other drivers could see her, her car probably looked like driven by an invisible ghost, hahaha. And then her driving skills, she changed the lanes without even looking behind her, did some crazy turnings with the car or stopped in the middle of the street. And guess what…nobody honked or got angry. Everybody just slowed down and waited patiently till she turned or did whatever she planned to do. Incredible, I’ve never seen so comprehensive men before, hahaha. Especially by a crazy female driver like Chang, hahaha.
Pictures of the innnocent victims of a crazy regime.
The restaurant she took us was an open air one with some Cambodian life music and looked quite nice.
Chang ordered for us a couple of different little plates and some cool Cambodian beer. The food was really good and the service great. Whenever I finished the beer in my glass a nice dressed waitress appeared with a bottle asking me if I like some more and then poured me fresh beer into my glass. After this really good dinner we made a stop to try something like a local ice coffee, don’t know how to describe it better. It was full of little gummy balls and tasted quite sweet, not to say weird. Whatever it was, it made up a good end to a great evening.
Inside of the museum.
The following day was the first morning during our trip Sergej got up first. Well, he had to. He needed to get to the Thai embassy and apply for the Thai re-entry visas. It was his last chance as it was Thursday already and Sunday night we were already flying back home from Bangkok.
Me and Pavel were just too lazy so we stayed in bed until our travel mate returned. Maybe not that nice from our part, but…that’s life. Sergej returned with bad news unfortunately. He could have applied for the visas, but as they didn’t give them out Fridays, he wouldn’t get them earlier then on Monday. Damn, that was definitely too late. After some “brainstorming” we agreed that Sergej would have to return after Siem Reap to Phnom Pen and take a flight to Bangkok as he could get visas there on the airport.
Having dinner with a Cambodian friend Chang.
Pavel has been to Phnom Pen already before so he refused to visit the Royal Palace again with me and Sergej. He decided to make his own tour. Me and Sergej made first at all a stop by a little travel agency close to our hostel to arrange Sergej’s flight from Phnom Pen to Bangkok.
Wasn’t as easy as we hoped, but the young girl at the desk was really helpful and suddenly we managed to settle it. She looked worried, thought Sergej could miss his flight as he seemed to take everything very easy, hahaha. She repeated at least 10 times that he should leave Siem Reap in time and should do everything possible to catch his flight. Sergej just waved up every time saying that then and then it’s time enough, hahaha, he was driving her crazy…in a funny way though. She laughed, returned again to her warnings until we all just starting laughing again.
Royal Palace from outside.
Well, due to the time we lost to arrange Sergej’s flight, when we arrived at the Royal Palace it was closed already. They had opened from 8am till 11am and then again from 3pm till 6pm, during the worst heat they just closed. Something like the siesta time in Spain.
Damn, we had to catch our bus to Siem Reap in the afternoon. Felt sorry that I will miss the Royal Palace which seemed to be the nices building around, at least the National Museum was opened. Honestly, just the fact that they had air conditioning inside would have been reason enough for us to enter. It was quite nice anyway.
The royal palace from outside.
Oh, I should tell you about an alternative way of transportation in Phnom Pen which works out when there are no more then two of you. Except of the taxis or tuk-tuks there are also motorcycles as some sort of “public transportation”. For about 2 dollars (after some bargaining) we got such a crazy ride. The driver was sitting in the front, then me and as the last one Sergej. If you think 3 people on a motorcycle should be a good reason to drive carefully you never met a Cambodian, hahaha.
Somehow we survived it though and the adrenaline in my blood started to decline slowly as well.
We met with Pavel at the hostel and picked up our luggage. It was time to get our bus to Siem Reap. Angkor Wat, we were coming.
Royal palace from outside.