Poverty in Cambodia

Our second day in Phnom Penh. Today I want to find out more about the dark history of Cambodia. So I decided to combine a visit to the Royal Palace and the S21 prison. As there is a swimming pool on the 3rd floor of the hotel, my travel companion would instead go swimming than visit the palace. So I engage a motorcycle driver to bring me to the palace on my own. My driver is sympathetic and quite fluent in English. He complains about the poverty in Cambodia. He drives tourists around town on his motorcycle to make a living, but he would rather become a taxi driver. Unfortunately, buying a car requires an investment of 2500 dollars.

on tour at the back of a motorbike

The Khmer Rouge spared the Royal Palace to honor the Cambodian cultural heritage

The Royal Palace is primarily inspired by the one from Bangkok, but certainly, it is not a copy. Mainly the palace is a lot less excessive. It seems that the Khmer Rouge, despite their prominent role in the dark history of Cambodia, did not want to destroy this building to honor the Cambodian cultural heritage. It was probably more important to suppress ideas, which is my reflection.

Setting the clock right

After an hour, I return to the hotel where I find my fellow traveler at the pool. The clock at the pool indicates an hour earlier than ours. Good that we notice this now find out, otherwise we would be waiting at the boat quay an hour too early for the trip to Siem Reap tomorrow.

Roayl Palace Pnom Penh

Khmer Rouge torture practices at the S21 prison

Tuol Sleng prison rules

We take a motorcycle to the S21 prison, the notorious Tuol Sleng genocide museum, where the Khmer Rouge in a period of 4 years imprisoned, tortured and eventually killed 17000 people. The former school now offers an overview of the torture practices in the prison cells. There is also an exhibition of photos of the victims, all made by the Khmer Rouge upon arrival in prison. Especially these photographs of men, women, and children, who all died here, leave a profound impact upon us. The Tuol Sleng genocide museum marks the dark history of Cambodia very well. You could even say it was the Cambodian counterpart of the concentration camps in Europe during World War II.

pictures of S21 victims

Our morale is too low to visit the Killing Fileds memorial

Usually, people combine a visit to the S21 prison with the Killing Fields memorial, a site with mass graves located 15 kilometers outside the city. However, our morale has reached its lowest point after seeing the pictures of the dark history of Cambodia at the Tuol Sleng prison.

prison cells as proof of dark history of Cambodia

Delicious food in a filthy restaurant

So we head to the central market, to find something to eat and to look around. However, we do not immediately find food stalls nearby, and the Art Deco building is more interesting than the goods that are sold here. Finally, we decide to eat in a local chophouse, and order by looking into the cooking pots and pointing out what we want. The food is delicious, but the environment can best be paraphrased as a stable; filthy, and greasy. All waste is just thrown on the floor. The meal cost only 1.25 $ in total, two cans of cola included, which compensates a lot of course.

Local coconut curry with fish or chicken

After a cold can of beer, we move back to the hotel to freshen up. For dinner, we decided to try out a local bar around the corner, where they seem to serve a delicious coconut curry with fish or chicken in a coconut or banana leaf. I order a shrimp salad as a starter and the coconut fish as the main dish. My companion opts for fish soup and the coconut curry with chicken. Delicious food, affordably priced, but way too much. You could even say, almost decadent; we have to make an effort to finish our plates.

Spending an average Cambodian monthly wage for dinner

Eating fish soup has to be taken literally in this restaurant. A bowl with a complete fish appears in a bouillion, garnished with some vegetables. The dish is served upon a candle-lit warm holder. To complete our dinner, we drink some liquor. Both of us realize that we have spent an average Cambodian monthly wage – 20 $. There is no need to repeat having a copious meal like that every day. Next time, it would be better to let the stomach decide, instead of the eye.