Holidays and Other Excursions

Tag: Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Day 13 Sunday 28 December 2014

This time we have not moved overnight and we are still resting at the pier side – underneath which we can see immense amounts of rubbish – somewhat typical of this untidy city which we are formally touring this morning as we are with the main party.

We are taken first to the Royal Palace where the current elected King lives.  It takes some understanding but the king is elected by a Royal Council and it is not a hereditary position as in the UK.  Although apparently there are two important families which are considered.  The current king is 61 and lives a life much like a Buddhist monk – simply and maintaining the ten key buddhist attributes.  He has no children and is not married.

Today’s photographs can be found at

He lives to one side of the Palace area but we are shown to the Throne Room where the gold throne is occupied only once during each reign when the King is crowned.  The Room is also used for official receptions and for greeting foreign dignitaries and in front of the Throne is an ordinary chair used for non-crowning events.  It is a magnificent room but we are not permitted any internal photos; there are some external pictures on the Flickr page.

We wander through the rest of the palace site seeing some of the remaining assets, including some paintings in a gallery which were partly damaged during the period of Khmer Rouge control in the late seventies.  During much of this time Phnom Penh was an abandoned city – indeed all the cities were emptied and under Pol Pot no-one was allowed to do anything other than live and work on the land.

On the other side of the grounds is the Silver Pagoda which has a solid silver floor.  Most of the floor is covered by carpets and internally we see a gold buddha with (I think) 246 jewels mounted on it.  Also within the Pagoda are numerous gold buddhas which have been given to the Kings – an amazing collection.  There are also other precious items.  External photos only again.

The trip heads to the Museum of Fine Art – which we enter but decide to rest rather than study.  We gather there are some exceptional items of Khmer Art within, but the weather has turned warm (well for us – about 30 deg C – which means it is winter here!), so need a small break and would have liked a cup of coffee but could not find a coffee shop at all.

Our final calling place this morning is the Central Market; the building is of French construction a little over 100 years old and is stuffed to the gills with traders.  In the central domed area jewellers, watch and sunglass sellers.  The most amazing selection of Rolex, Patek Phillipe and Breitling I think I have evere seen.  No Jaeger Le Coultre so the wife did not get the Reverso she wants.

Elsewhere in the emporium are just about anything you could want.  We both look at handbags and I am tempted by a Mont Blanc bag.  We also wander through the food area and the clothing but give the electronics a miss.  There is a picture of one of the many flower stalls.  Beautiful.

The morning completed we return to the cruise vessel.

After lunch we have a second more chilling excursion this time to S-21 which was once a school but in the time of Pol Pot became a detention and torture centre and from here many were despatched to Choeung Ek (see previous post).

There remain two of the famed seven who were initially believed to have survived the camp, subequent research later put the total at over 100, although an absolute number will never be established.  The belief of the regime and its troops is that they never arrested an innocent individual and therefore if they were there, then the individual must be guilty.

Again I felt that recording the cells and means of confinement (which were brutal and inevitably painful) photographically would show a lack of respect – but I did take one picture of the way the interrogators addressed the victims as recorded by a large board at the site.  I do not believe the terror or pain can even be imagined by those of us who have never experienced it.

In the evening we have a wonderful presentation by Mr Jean-Michel Philippi who by day is currently Professor of Linguistics and the Royal University of Phnom Penh but is a very engaging speaker on Cambodian history from 1953 to 1993, although the time he has does not allow much of the latter part of that period to be covered in great detail.  Should I manage it some observations on this talk will appear in my “Musings” elsewhere.  He does however have his blog at and if this matches the quality of his talk it would be worth reading.

He had two brief films showing Phnom Penh during the Pol Pot era.  As the vehicles drive through the streets, they are eerily empty and a huge contrast to the sites seen earlier in the day.  A quite unbelievable demonstration that the cities had been emptied.

Thinking back to my own University days I can only wish that all lecturers were so engaging.

Tonle Sap and Phnom Penh

Day 12 Saturday 27 December 2014

There was a programmed visit this morning but this included a school visit and silk weaving.  We had seen silk weaving earlier on our travels and I felt it unlikely that a planned school visit would be particularly educational.  My wife agreed with me and so we remained on board and I spent the time on some earlier days of this blog.

Link to photographs:

Rivages du Monde who operate the river cruisers jointly with a Vietnamese company have dropped the Killing Fields visit from their own itinerary as it was felt that combined with the S-21 the impact was overpowering.  Our booking with VJV did include it in the itinerary at the time of booking (this may well have changed).  Our itinerary was honoured – so whilst the other passengers went to visit Wat Phnom in the afternoon we were off to the site of one of the Killing Fields – Choeung Ek – which lies on the edge of the City and is also close to the river’s edge.

There are no pictures of our visit.  All of the buildings at the time of the deaths have been removed and the mass grave areas, not all of which ahave been excavated, are marked.  They have audio guides and marked locations around the (to me) surprisingly small area of land.  The audio guides have been well produced and relate the stories of events in the period of the Pol Pot regime and the terrible deaths inflicted on this site.

There is a peaceful area where one can sit alongside a small canal to listen to some of te stories of those who managed to avoid death during this period of dispossession and in one case escape to USA and return as part of the team overseeing the first elections.

Centrally on the site is a building which houses human bones – skulls are visible through the glass doors – of some of those who died.  We do not feel we can enter as it somehow would further disturb those no longer with us.  Whilst we have not visited the scenes of mass murder arising during the Second World War, the events in Cambodia, as retold seem removed as there is no underlying schism of religion, race or politics which drove the happenings of which this is the result.

Around the site even now bones and rags of the departed rise to the surface and are collected by the staff.  Perhaps the most horrendous and chilling area surrounds a tree against which babies were thrown in view of their mothers.

It is as if all sense of reason and logic had left the Khmer Rouge army and the people.  There is more on this aspect tomorrow.

The day ends with another Khmer Apsara dance troupe – this time of children and once again the coconut and other dances are portrayed – remarkably well.  This tradition is obviously set to continue in Cambodia for a long time.Ap