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Cambodia

I first visited Cambodia in 2001.  I went to Phnom Penh, the capital.  Cambodia was damaged dramatically by the Pol Pot revolution, in which millions of Cambodians were killed, Phnom Penh was forcefully evacuated, and millions more made homeless.  (The movie 'The Killing Fields' tells this sad story.)

At first glance, Phnom Penh is a modern city - modern airport, wide boulevards into town. But much of that is French influence.  Behind the facade, most of the streets are dirt.  There are tall fences and gates topped with razor wire in front of the big houses, many of them now occupied by squatters.

Fortunately some of the town is now being rebuilt, and a few tourists are coming back.  There is one good hotel, The Hotel Le Royale, owned by Raffles, an oasis of calm in busy Phnom Penh.  There is a pianist in the lounge playing Cole Porter songs.

Six or eight people on a bike or motorbike is common - two adults and several kids, or a load of bananas!  You see schoolgirls in skirts and white blouses riding bicycles.  US dollars are used almost exclusively, in the Russian Market and elsewhere. Torn dollars are not accepted!

The Foreign Correspondents Club was used by many reporters during the Cambodian civil war - their typewriters are still there.  Nowadays it is a popular bar and restaurant for western tourists and expatriates.

The guide in the Phnom Penh 'Killing Fields' museum said to me, "My family were taken from Phnom Penh and moved.  First to the south" - she pointed at the province on the map - "Then to the north.  I lost my husband, brother, daughter, all killed.  My husband was killed with the bamboo.  My daughter starved to death.  Where the bamboo grows, they would kill you with bamboo sticks.  Where there is the river, they would drown people."   She told us, "You are a doctor or lawyer or teacher, they kill you.  You wear glasses, they kill you.  You ask why they kill people?  They kill you."

Street 240 in Phnom Penh is a popular street, with shops and an English-language newspaper.  At one time you could drive down Street 240, but now the two-block section around the US Embassy has been cordoned off by armed police and soldiers with machine guns.


In 2003, Sidney and I visited Siam Reap in Cambodia.  At the airport there was a line of seven uniformed soldiers behind a big desk.  They passed our passports wordlessly from one to another, and eventually returned them with a full-page Cambodian visa.  We stayed at Raffles Grand Hotel D'Angkor, and had our fortunes told in a small temple in the grounds.  We visited Angkor Wat, an area with thousands of temples, dating back hundreds of years.  Many of the temples have been overgrown by the jungle.  Children play among the ruins, and insist that you buy postcards from them!