Leaving Battambang after a week we were both happy to be on the road again. The two days cycling towards Pnomh Penh led us past a lot of agriculture and this interesting earthen structure. We couldn’t quite figure out what it was for though.
We cycled past temples…
lots of houses on stilts…
and found the river which led us into Pnomh Penh. Unfortunately there was some major road construction happening. So the going was rather tough and we were a bit slower than expected. When it was already getting dark two people on a motorcycle rode past us and kept looking back at us. Eventually they stopped and talked to us. And this is how we met Ary and Aude, two French staying in Cambodia to live and work. They invited us to stay with them but as we already had organized a warmshowers host to stay with we decided to meet up for dinner the next day. What a warm welcome!
Over the river we had another surprise waiting for us. Our hosts Raphael and Claudia were living right beside the Mekong in a beautiful house with a garden.
We spent our days in Pnomh Penh relaxing, cycling around the city and also gave the bicycles a good clean. Cambodia’s secondary roads left a little dust where there should be no dust:
We also payed a visit to Tuol Sleng Prison where the Khmer Rouge incarcerated and tortured people they didn’t agree with. Not an easy place to be at until today. I was especially interested in the portrayed stories of people who had been forced to resettle somewhere else / to marry someone they didn’t want to marry / to work for something they didn’t believe in. All of this happened not too long ago and all these stories are still a part of today’s society.
On two days we ended up staying with Ary and Aude in the city as the ferry over the river only runs until 10pm. They cooked a fantastic dinner for us and introduced us to the French way of slowly eating for about 3 hours. We also tagged along for some drinks in the evening and found ourselves in a district that could as well be in Italy or Spain. With lots of small bars and restaurants it looked distinctly European.
Pnomh Penh was an interesting place to be. It was a cocktail of extremes with simple Cambodian eateries on the one side and fancy French bakeries with fancy prices on the other side. Shiny malls and Tuol Sleng Prison. Lots of old scooters and a few expensive 4 wheel drives. And everything in between.
It is very easy for foreigners to get a Cambodian business visa for a year to stay. Volontourism is ever rising and the industry of charity is booming still. There is an ongoing discussion about the effects of Western charity and for anyone considering going to volunteer or work in Cambodia I recommend reading this article on volontourism and Cambodian orphanages :
With a lot of new impressions and things to think about we left Pnomh Penh after a few days for the countryside. We planned on following the mighty Mekong for a while to see where it would lead us… More on that next time!