Phnom Penh Part Deux

After a pleasant time down by the coast, I headed back to Phnom Penh, as most roads in Cambodia lead through it.

On a rainy afternoon I went down to Tuol Sleng (S-21) to burst my bubble of the last few days. S-21, once a high school, was used as a prison and torture center by the Khmer Rouge, and was the last stop for many lives before being sent to the killing fields. It is now a genocide museum.

As imposing and grey as most high schools around the world, it consists of several large cement buildings around a courtyard. Many of the rooms are open to visitors and showcase metal beds, torture devices, cramped cells, restraints.. Prisoners would be electrically shocked for so much as peeing or moving in their sleep without permission. It is a dark place, and haunting for visitors. Less so for Cambodians, it seems; locals play volleyball in the courtyard, and seem to be leaving the past behind them with vengeance. I can’t blame them.

A monthly party happens in Phnom Penh at Elsewhere, a grand palace of a bar, with courtyard, swimming pool and hundreds of ex-pats, visitors and a sprinkling of Cambodians alike drinking and dancing the night away. I went here that night, leaving behind the horrors of the museum, and enjoyed the new Cambodia, chatting with Amy, an Australian girl I’d met in Sihanoukville. It is always funny to come to these places, as once you’re inside the grounds, you could be just about anywhere. It certainly felt like miles from the crumbling buildings down the street.

The next day Douglas and I took a trip up to Silk Island to have a swim in the Mekong. Oasis 2. A 30 minute motorbike and ferry ride away, we were met with farmland, cows, mud (read: wipeout, burn, ouch), and locally produced silk scarves; another retreat from bustling Phnom Penh.

It is funny describe it as bustling, since when I first landed in the capital it certainly seemed like a quaint yet busy city, but nothing like the Bangkok I had just come from. Now, after seeing more rural parts of this country (read: the rest of the country), I couldn’t help but notice the lights at night, the back-lit fluorescent signs — not the hand-painted ones seen all around Cambodia, the traffic, the chaos. It is most definitely the capital, with all the grit and excitement any proper main city should have. I was happy to be back with new eyes.

And I was happy to leave very soon thereafter, heading up to the northeast.

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