Kampuchea

Phnom Penh Travel Blog

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After a rather lengthy trek through Southern China, and a short flight across Vietnam, I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia late last night.

Although this is a capital city of over one million people, the streets were virtually deserted. But a day time stroll revealed an emerging metropolis that is bristling with energy! It's not a modern city, but it's not a village either. There are virtually no traffic signals or even stop signs anywhere - yet somehow the many drivers manage not to turn the streets into a demolition derby. But beware, pedestrians NEVER have the right-of-way in Cambodia.

One important observation to pass along - there's not a single McDonalds, Starbucks, KFC, 7-11, or Pizza Hut to be found anywhere in Phnom Penh - nirvana!

At first glance, you might be forgiven for seeing similarities to their Thai neighbors, but I don't recommend suggesting that to a Cambodian - as the countries have had a not-always friendly co-existence.

In fact, it was partly because of fighting with Thailand (Siam) and Vietnam, that the Cambodians asked for help from the French - who then promptly took control of the city too! So, interestingly, you will see a great deal of French language and architecture here in Phnom Penh, as well.

The Bloody Khmer Rouge

Cambodia has realistically only been open to tourism since around 1998.

The Khmer Rouge (communist guerilla party) overtook this city, Phnom Penh, in 1975, and forced everyone out to work on farms. Phnom Penh, and other cities, were completely emptied - left to decay, as all citizens were made to live in the countryside.

The horror of Pol Pot's regime was just beginning, as the Khmer Rouge begin to systematically murder anyone who did not fit their vision of the future. Foreigners were killed immediately, as well as anyone who could not work on the farm - including those who simply wore glasses! I had lunch today with someone whose grandfather and uncle were both killed by the Khmer Rouge.

In fact, estimates of the dead range from 1 to 3 million! And that is out of a population of just 7 million. Imagine... one out of every 7 people in your own country being killed by your "leaders."

This country's nightmare ended just a few years ago. They held their first elections in 1998, the same year as the final surrender of remaining Khmer Rouge forces.

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Phnom Penh
photo by: terminalfunk