12N11D Indochina (CamVieLaoTha), Asia, Cambodia, The Indochina Diaries, Travel

A Day in Phnom Penh, Cambodia (Day 2/11)


This temple took my gloom from the S21 away. So pretty!!

We fall in love with the temples in Siem Reap and was quite interested with how they came to be but Phnom Penh blew us away with its horrendous, tragic and cunningly vivid memory of a historical event that change the lives of the Cambodians that were born and lived at Polpot’s Regime. It was sad and heartbreaking. Just thinking about what we’ve learned  yesterday pinched my heart once again while writing this. My heart went out to all those who suffered. I pray that they may be at peace and pray more that what happened in Cambodia may never happen anywhere in the world ever. It’s unthinkable. Please if you ever visit Phnom Penh, take time to visit “The Killing Fields” and “S21”. Don’t just visit, do the audio tour. It will cost you 2+ hours for each but it will be worth it.
We arrived in Phnom Penh via night bus from Siem Reap. We were picked by tuktuk from Khmere’s Place to the bus station. Lesung, the night staff at Khmere booked the ticket so we didn’t have an idea of the type of seat. When we arrived, the bus was already filled. We were in awe at how cramped it was. It took us a while to find our beds but was happy that it was on the top bunk.

I felt uneasy at first due to the cramped space but when I looked around, I realized we were actually better off since we are smaller compared to other passengers who were all non-Filipino. When the bus left, we dozed off. I was tired but I never thought that I wouldn’t noticed anyone getting off the bus when we arrived in Phnom Penh. A staff had to wake us up. We were surprised that we were the only ones left. Haha!

I was still half awake when we get off. When someone approached us, I gave my baggage tag thinking it was the staff. The husband stopped me immediately. The mistake triggered my regular programming. I was back on battle mode.

The guy who approached us was actually a tuktuk driver. It was still 5 AM when we arrived and I forgot to messaged the hotel for our bus number when we left Siem Reap. Mr. Dara, we learned later, was still waiting despite of our hesitations. It was 5 AM, the hotel expects us at 6 AM, check-in was at 2 PM so Mr. Dara was actually a godsend.

But even if I feel that God always send me good people wherever I go, there is always that 2nd thoughts. After checking our itinerary, we negotiated for a fare. He offered 5 dollar to take us to SLA Hotel. I had 7 in my itinerary but I haggled still. In the end, we settled with 5.

In Siem Reap, our tuktuk was negotiated by Khmere but I didn’t make the same arrangement for Phnom Penh thinking we can just navigate by ourselves. When Mr. Dara offered, we were hesitant since we didn’t know the rate. We haggled for 20, I had 15 on my itinerary.

We notified SLA of our arrival and apologized for neglecting to message the bus number. We asked if we could leave our bag while we wait for check-in at 2 PM. The staff notified that our room is already available so we could do an early check-in. Yay! An amazing surprise. We wanted to rest first before going on the tour so we had Mr. Dara return by 7 AM to start our tour.

Our room was a dorm. There were 2 beds: both double decker, single and double. But this time, it was just us. Lucky!

We started the tour at the farthest destination – The Killing Fields. We left at around 7:30 – 8 AM. The traffic was heavy. We arrived around 9 AM. Our itinerary didn’t really have time frame but I was surprised to have spent the entire morning there. It might have been fast if we didn’t do the audio tour but we would have missed a lot if we did. The real beauty of “The Killing Fields” can be experienced in knowing how it has come to be. All throughout the tour, I was teary-eyed. There were moments that I wanted to bawl in agony for those who have suffered. And it seemed, it wasn’t just me who felt the same. Most of the visitors were having the same look that I thought I had.

We finished around 12 PM after a short movie at the museum, just in time for lunch. We invited Mr. Dara to eat with us. Over lunch, the normal me kicked-in. Traveling is good but knowing people and their stories is just as fun too. We exchanged stories about family, love life and some. It was a fruitful exchange. I learn something about Cambodia thru the eyes of a local. It was amazing.

We were back in the city around 2 PM and went directly to “S21”, which was mentioned a lot in “The Killing Fields”. We took the audio tour again and in no time, we were whisked into an unimaginable history that was more heartbreaking than “The Killing Fields”. S21 is the start of the horror. Visiting each room sent chills to my spine. It was as if I walked into a torture movie scene but the only difference is that, it wasn’t built for a movie. It was built and used for real.

Cameras were not allowed. I was sad for a while but as I went farther, the sadness left me. Being drawn deeper into what’s happening, I have lost the will to photographed anything. It was a place of sadness, grief and suffering. The place is best felt than captured.

When we left “S21”, I asked the husband for a gopro doufie. He said it might not be appropriate. As we exit, I saw a survivor selling his book. Without 2nd thoughts, I bought one directly. What he has gone through was tough. My 10 dollar may not make a huge difference but I wanted to console him that he was amazing to have lived through it. It doesn’t matter that I got a reprimand from the husband after. He said I had no way of becoming a pro-backpacker since I’m too spend thrift. I’m too generous and it’s not good. 😦 It hurts. Oh well, the truth hurts but should I change just to be a pro? I’ll think about it. 😐

When we left S21, I was on a foul mood from his comment but I kept my cool. He was right though so I focus myself on other things instead. I told him how I underestimated Phnom Penh. I didn’t thought that “The Killing Fields” and “S21” will be that impactful. It was already late so we were sure to miss some other stops.

Thankfully, Royal Palace was still open. I was still having a scowl when we arrived but when we entired, it was just wow. No one told me that it was a big place with a lot of temples. Everything is just so pretty. My angst turned to excitement. I have underestimated Phnom Penh indeed. 🙂

Inside, we were threatened by the closing and the rain. We didn’t had time to linger so we took pictures in a hurry. Good thing that we did though because the rain started to pour after a while. The rain stopped when we left and it was already time to close. But we already had our fill so we left with a smile.

Our last stop was the independent monument. We were supposed to go to National Museum but Mr. Dara having remembered our hectic sked suggested we must booked the bus tickets first.

It was a good call. I was glad to have listened to him. We were able to book all the tickets that we need. We booked a round trip to HCMC and the trip to Vientiane, Laos too. All our problems were solved in one go. Thank you, Mr. Dara!!!

After the tickets, we bid Mr. Dara goodbye. It hurts me that I couldn’t give him a tip anymore since I’ve been overspending already and the husband is on my toes. I wanted to let him know I was sorry but the husband butt in saying, I shouldn’t be doing that kind of talk. Waaa! Sometimes I hate it that we are too different. I don’t understand what goes on in his head sometimes. 😀

We rested for a while then have our dinner at the restaurant on the corner of SLA. We bought some stuff at the mini-mart opposite it before retiring for the night. We slept early since our pick-up from the bus bound to Ho Chi Minh City will be at 8:00 AM.

See below our expenses and itinerary of the 2nd day

Expenses in USD:
Tuktuk Bus Stop Pickup 5
Day Tour 20 (No tip, free lunch)
Breakfast 4
1. Choeung Ek Audio Tour 12 (6/pax)
Snacks 2
Lunch 20.40
2. Tuol Sleng Audio Tour 12 (6/pax)
Book 10
3. Royal Palace Tour 13 (6.5/pax)
4. Independent Monument 0
Dinner 8
Grocery 8
Total: 114.4
in PHP: 5,303.10

Add-on:
Day bus to HCMC 30 (15/pax)
Day bus to PhnomP 30(15/pax)
Night bus to Vietnam 130 (65/pax)
Total: 190
in PHP: 8,807.60
Grand Total: 304.40
in PHP: 14,110.70

Itinerary:
5:00 AM Arrival in Phnom Penh
6:00 AM Checkin @ SLA
7:00 AM Breakfast
8:00 AM Off to “The Killing Fields”
9:00 AM Start tour
12:00 Lunch
2:00 PM Start tour of “S21”
4:00 PM Start tour of “Royal Palace”
5:00 PM Ticket Booking
6:00 PM Back @ SLA
8:00 PM Dinner
10:00 PM Lights Off

Our Stay: SLA Botique Hotel

Tuktuk Driver: Mr. Dara

And that’s it for Day 2! Wew! Spent the bus ride from Phnom Penh to HCMC writing this. Ride well spent. 🙂

Here’s some of our go pro snaps. Unfortunately, we have none for “S21”. More pics from my cam soon when  we return to PH. 1 country down, 3 to go!!!

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Close up!

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