Phnom Penh – Wandering Around Cambodia’s Main City

City of 2 million people, Phnom Penh is the largest in Cambodia.  I enjoyed wondering streets and exploring, though I was constantly aware of the potential for mugging and bag snatching.  Not only had I read about this and heard the stories, I witnessed a first-hand account on my first day I was getting a Sim card installed in my mobile phone.  As I was in the mobile phone store another foreigner ran in to the store declaring that her bag had just been stolen with her phone inside.  “This happens all the time,” she told me, “my strap was cut.”

The Independence Monument.

Tuktuks were my preferred way to get around city.  Motorcycle taxes were common and half the price but there was no way to tell whether it really was a motorcycle taxi or just some guy with a motorbike.  Anyone with a motorbike could take me anywhere if I agreed to join him.  Of course this is also true of tuktuks but at least it seems purpose-built that it would be his job to transport people.

The daily temperature rose to between 35 and 39°C.  This is not usually my thing but I ended up enjoying the hotel pool every day.  Fortunately it was a salt water pool and had far less chemicals to damage my skin.  

Click below for a video talking about my insecurity of swimming in public.  I am getting better with this each time.

It is not recommended for one person to be walking alone after dark in this city.  I agreed and spent most evenings dining in my hotel.   I do take certain types of chances but in this case better safe than sorry.  Statistics were definitely against me.

 I left all cards and ID in my hotel and only carried cash.  

I also broke that habit of bringing my iPad everywhere.  I walked around with my bag gaping open so that possible thieves could see there was no reason to steal my bag.  I had to carry water, maps, and eyeglasses.   I was told my phone was most safe in my hand or pocket.  But I met another foreign girl from England who had her pants torn apart after she put her cell phone in her pocket.  In quickly retrieving her cell phone from her pants the thief ripped her pocket off her pants in the not-so-gentle process.

Middle class homes in the city center looked very secure.  

Click on the image below to see video of the same.

I was wandering around looking for lunch quite hungry in the 38°C sunshine.  Soup like this, even if the venue is not overly hygienic, tends to be a safe choice if you can see it boiling.  But I was feeling overwhelmed by the heat and I moved along.

Little Road stop places like this are everywhere.

This is the view from where I was sitting at the place I did choose.  My stopping caused quite a stir of excitement as the woman called for a family member who could speak English.  A tiny bit.  Not used to foreigners, it took them a few minutes to seem comfortable again.  This was clearly a home based business with baby and grandma watching television on a bed in the same room.  There were clothes here and there and personal effects around.  

Click on the image below to see a video 360° from where I was sitting.  It’s a bit fast but I was trying to be inconspicuous.  Grandma and baby were out at that moment.

I would say there are a variety of lifestyles in the city of Phnom Penh.  

I often walk by people doing dishes by the side of the road , but rarely do I feel comfortable taking a photo .  

Click on the image below to see video of this from afar.



This is some sort of delectable animal products being dried out for a streetside restaurant.

This photo shows the location of where they are being dried in the sun.  During rush hour I felt the need to wear my mask walking down this street, so there might be some chance of pollution absorption.  

In this scenario I was walking down a street of shops and suddenly encountered a bit of rubbish .  it’s not as bad as it looks.  Okay, maybe it is.  But later I was walking down the same street and there were multiple people sorting the trash.  So I think maybe that stretch of street is simply used as a trash sorting depot even though it’s just a normal street.

I took this photo after having a funny experience at this shirt shop.  Many businesses are home based businesses and in this case the family lived in the shirt shop.  The shop was clearly run by the wife and the husband had to come home for lunch when I was there.  Unknown to me, because he is an official he had changed his clothes to have his lunch break.  When I saw that particular shirt I thought it would make an interesting costume, I assumed it must be from nearby Thailand or Vietnam so I tried it on.  I was mistaken.

When he saw me wearing his uniform I thought he was going to wet his pants.  He was screaming-laughing in disbelief.  He called everyone over and took my picture.  It seemed like I was a celebrity until it hit me what was happening.  When I went to take a photo as well he covered his name tag quickly.   I was probably very fortunate he was so good humored.

Usually when I have iced coffee I go to the air-conditioned places I recognize to escape the heat for a few minutes.  On this occasion I stopped at a typical local coffee shop.

Click on the image below to see this coffee shop better.

Back at the hotel wearing my new shirt from the soldiers wife’s shirt shop.

Click on the video below to see the helpful pedestrian walk lights! When working better, they don’t just walk but they run as they’re running out of time. This one was a bit defunct. Some work a bit more effectively.

Okay, that’s enough for today. Thanks for visiting and I hope you’ll join my adventures by clicking “Follow” and entering your email address. Cheers! Darren

S-21, And you thought YOUR highschool was bad.

This posting contain several videos.  If you receive this posting by email click on the title in blue now to open the posting in your Internet browser.

I visited Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh with some hesitation.  It is a must see when visiting Cambodia, but you May need to dedicate Day to feeling gloomy.

Originally a high school, it was transformed into prison S 21 when Pol Pot emptied all the cities and banned education.

The incredible amount of barbed wire seemed almost more like an art installation then barricade.  No doubt it was effective keeping prisoners inside.

The long narrow buildings where classrooms had windows on both sides and open air hallways was very similar to the schools I taught in when I lived in Japan.  This made the fact that it was a school made prison/torture chamber very real to me.

20,000 people passed through this center.  Seven survived due to possessing skills that were needed by Pol Pot.  

The first year everyone was murdered on site.  But the volume became too difficult.  From then after being tortured, documented, and interrogated the prisoners were sent to the killing fields.

Click on the image below to view a short clip of me walking past some photos of the deceased.


it was shocking for me to see this typical looking school transformed into a prison.   Click on the image below for a video of the same.

The main level was made into cells using bricks.

The next level was divided into cells by wood construction.

other classrooms were used as is just filling them up with as many people as could fit.

Click on the image below to view another video of me walking around the school.

Lucky prisoners received a shower once a week by being sprayed from the window.  One survivor said that he received one shower in three months.

A survivor describes how prisoners were moved when they were too weak to walk themselves.

Imagine the shock and confusion of being taken away from your life with your family and being accused of being KGB or CIA agent when you  probably didn’t even know what that was.

Complete insanity ruled.

This structure previously used for high school gymnastics proved useful for torture implementation.

Some descriptions of the torture use

A timeline showing me chronology of Cambodia.

there were testimonies from the survivors and from people who actually worked there.

Click on the image below to play another video of my visit to S 21.  By this time I had read a number of personal accounts and the history was becoming very real to me.   


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Incredible evil of the Khmer rouge

This posting contains videos.  If you received it by email please click on the title and blue to open the posting in your browser.  

Click on the image below to join my first full day inPhnem Phom, Cambodia.

My first day was to be be spent locally.  The Royal Palace is walkable from my hotel but it was very hot approaching noon.  That tuk-tuk driver I hired obviously knew the Royal Palace was closed but he took me for a ride anyway.  

Click on the next image to continue the story of my day.


From 1975 to 1979 about 20,000 people were executed and murdered at this location by the Khmer Rouge.  This is only one of more than 300 such killing centers.

This memorial place has a audio guide  full of information.  I listened to the horrific stories as I wandered from site to site.

Now a peaceful garden setting,  it’s rather difficult to imagine the extreme evil that took place here for several years.

There are benches throughout to sit and listen to the audio commentary.

A very necessary but somber experience when visiting Cambodia.  It took me back to when I was 23 years old and I visited one of the Nazi extermination camps in Poland.

This was perhaps not my ideal first full day in Cambodia.

Click on the image below to play another video.


What was going on in this site was tried to be kept a secret from the nearby locals.  Music was played during the brutal killings to mask the noise.

This monument was directed to house 8000 skulls recovered from mass graves on the site.

Color codes were used to classify how the victim was murdered.  Bullets were considered expensive so very few were killed by gun shot.  Most were beaten to death with a variety of blunt objects available.  Many were simply knocked unconscious and put into the mass grave.  The chemicals used to hide the odor from getting to the locals also served the purpose of killing those who were still alive when buried.

This was a grouping of skulls clearly damaged by hoe.

Looking up at 8000 skulls of people who were beaten to death in very recent history (while I was alive) is an overwhelming experience.

If that wasn’t bad enough here was a mass grave of children.  Evidence was found that children were beaten to death against this tree.  I would later learn when visiting S21, that babies were smashed against this tree. If someone was deemed “guilty” in a family, the entire family was exterminated.  

This made for a sad first full day in Cambodia.  But this was on my list of places to see so I am glad that I got it out of the way.


My first impressions of Cambodia

I entered Cambodia by bus from Vietnam.  Only six hours from Saigon city to Phnom Penh by bus it was far more relaxing and not too long to avoid the hassle and cost of flying.   The sometimes chaos of South East Asian airports are not always a joy to experience.  The bus was something like $10 versus $200 as well.

A visa for entry was available at the border for which I paid $35US.  I read that they cost $25 but that is what I paid.

The first thing I noticed was muddy waterways along the main road.  I think it must be man-made for irrigation.

Click on the image below to view a video.

Here I will just show you some early views from the drive.  From the border to Phnom pen was about four hours.

Click on the image below to view another short video.

When I go to a country that is not a western country, I try to filter out the western influence .  Of course it is often true that nowadays that businesses such as KFC and McDonald’s and Starbucks and Adidas are part of the fabric of the modern culture of many countries.  But I look for those things that are unique and different from what we find in the west.  So what I meant by Cambodia being like Vietnam but moreso, I meant it seemed to have less western influence and what remained look very similar to that of what I would see in Vietnam.

Click on the video below for a view passing through this small market town.

The other benefit of taking the bus were these four hours of first impressions of Cambodia. Flying I would have arrived directly to Phnom Penh, Making my first impressions being that of in the largest city in the country.

And another video below. See how everything is covered in dust. Same is true for neighbouring Vietnam, at least this time of year anyway.