Travel Report Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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Travel Report Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia
one stop on Wendy's & Joe's world tour 2004/05

Phnom Penh / Ta Prohm / Angkor Wat / Angkor Thom


Kind of travel: Travelling alone
Year of this voyage: 2004
Author's age: 30-45 years

Journal Update 22nd July 2004 / Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Yesterday morning we visited The Grand Palace and Silver Pagod a by the river in Phnom Penh. The Khmer architecture is very uplifting and we thought it beat The Grand Palace in Bangkok hands down for its breathtaking beauty.

Inside the Silver Pagoda there was a sacred Emerald Buddha (made of Baccarat crystal) and in front, another Buddha covered in huge diamonds. There were also many gorgeous jewels from the royal family. We were very naughty and smuggled in our camera without paying extra for it. Joe got quite a kick out of this, taking converted pictures behind the backs of the secret camera police.

The palace is guarded by police with AK47's which is slightly menacing, especially when Joe read in the Phnom Penh Tribune that recently a disgruntled guard decided to get his revenge on his superior by spraying 40 bullets into him. Suffice to say he fled the scene and hasn't been captured yet!

The afternoon was a far more sober affair at The Toul Sleng Genocide Museum. This place was a former school that in 1975 was turned in to the infamous Security Prison 21 (S21) by Pol Pots regime. The place is built around a courtyard and in the first block in each room is a bare metal bed.

These were use to lay out their victims for torture. The regime kept meticulous records, so there are very sad mug shots of hundreds of the prisoners wearing old baggage labels with numbers. The women have all got the same hair cut and hair clip and some of the men who had no top on had the label pinned directly on to their skin. The prison was mainly run by kids recruited from the ages of ten to fifteen. With no moral guidance they grew up particularly cruel. They killed anyone with an education, anyone who was part of the old regime, school teachers, doctors etc. They also killed all their families including babies. As I said before there are very few people here above the ages of about 35.

Although the city is beautiful, laid back and peaceful the thing that grates is that as a Westerner you are in no position to be anonymous. There are many victims in the city of landmines with horrific injuries who are begging on the streets. There are hundreds of kids begging for organised gangs some as young as five holding younger siblings begging late into the night. I would say though we are very glad we visited and would recommend anyone to see Phnom Penh if visiting this part of Asia.

We are flying out to Siem Reap at 4.00pm today.

Journal Update 23rd July 2004
We are having some early starts, which is making lazy Joe grumble more than ever. I have to sedate him with an Angkor beer around 11.00 am to settle him down a bit. We have a 5.00 am start tomorrow to catch the sunset at Angkor Wat (which should be pretty spectacular). Today we chartered a very cute tuk tuk, which they call a Remorque-moto. It is a carriage pulled along by a motorbike with little pink curtains, which Joe liked a lot. Waving at everyone like the Queen Mother!

Today we decided we have become proper travellers as our dress has become decidedly combat. The current vogue for the jungle in Cambodia is green combat trousers, army boots and a handbag that looks like a flak jacket. We were just about the only people at Angkor Wat this morning as the weather had been appalling with about 6 inches of rain falling last night. The water was rising up the steps of our hotel and we were contemplating emergency rescue to Bangkok. We had a great meal in a place called Cafe Indochine of vegetable coconut curry, shrimp fritters, Vietnamese spring rolls and morning glory as we watched the town drive by on their Hondas in their plastic mackintoshes through the torrents of water.

Angkor Wat is spectacular, you see it in books and on TV and in Lara Croft Tomb Raider but absolutely nothing can prepare you for its sheer beauty and scale. The sounds of crickets, geckos, monks chanting in the distance and whooping monkeys adds to a very hypnotic magical atmosphere. After exploring Angkor Wat we travelled to the old city of Angkor Thom, The Bayon was particularly ace as from the distance it just looks like rubble but as you move closer you see hundreds of strange smiling faces carved in to the sand stones.

From there we visited Ta Prohm which has been left just as it was found in the early 19th century, reclaimed by the jungle with huge, magnificent tree roots intertwined through the crumbling temple ruins. I had a spooky experience with a very old nun who scared the willies out of me, as she was lurking in one of the temples burning incense. Joe is a total sucker for an old lady so he gave her a dollar for a Buddhist charm, which he has put away with all the catholic charms we are currently carrying (we think it is best to cover all eventualities and religions!).

Journal Update 26th Jul 2004 / Siem Reap Angkor Wat, Cambodia
We have been making the most of our 3 day pass to Angkor with sunrise at Angkor Wat and sunset on a hillside over looking Angkor. We had a major treat and rode up the steep hill on an elephant. Half way up the hill the elephant driver swapped places with Joe and Joe jumped on the elephant's neck and steered it triumphantly up the hill until the elephant decided enough was enough and a hill-side snack was needed. So in to the bushes we went just as it began to rain, in other words Joe crashed an elephant! As Joe spoke no Khmer, it wasn't really surprising and the elephant didn't understand cockney Essex. The elephant was lovely and had a very good hair cut and very big ears. Joe has now decided his next career move is to be an elephant trainer (though I can't think there are that many job opportunities in this area in England!).

It is quite precarious riding on an elephant, after the initial difficulty of climbing aboard you have to content with the swinging motion of the elephant as it enthusiastically climbs up the steep hill side. I am black and blue all over, but it was worth it. We have met some fantastic people in Cambodia and we would recommend this destination to anyone.

Joseph Brilus
Joseph Brilus

Wendy Brierley
Wendy Brierley


We decided to blow the deposit for a house on a grand world tour through 2004. We booked through STA travel and put together a brief itinerary including the Far East, Australia, New Zealand and the USA. As it turned out we experienced China, Bali, Fiji and many more places in between.

We decided to end the trip with a wedding in Las Vegas (which was very memorable!) As a wedding present my brother put together an on-line travel blog for us which was a great tool for documenting our journey. This experience truly changed our lives and we encountered many fantastic people through out the world. I hope you enjoy reading some highlights of our journal!

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Yesterday we met a lovely little boy who was hanging out with his mum and sister at the top of one of the temples. His name was Wen and he had a strong man competition with Joe, which was very funny as he was only 8 and had little stringy arms with a muscle about the size of a dried pea. Needless to say he won!

Today Joe made me visit another war museum to cheer me up. This wasn't the best we had seen, as you can imagine in Cambodia all the tanks were just burn't out shells. All the armaments were in easy reach with the "do not touch" signs only in Khmer. My heart missed several beats as Joe picked up several of the land mines for closer inspection! Sadly on the conclusion of our tour we spoke to several lads who had been on the receiving end of such devices. One guy was 47 and said he had lived 8 lives. He had mine injuries, gunshot wounds and had been blinded in one eye. He had also lost his entire family to the horror of what had been the Pol Pot years.

They have a nice saying in Cambodia which I think sums up the optimism of the people here: Good luck to you forever and ever!

On that note I will leave you until we reach Bali

Wendy Brierley

a further stop on Wendy's & Joe's world tour 2004/05

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Travel Report Phnom Penh, Cambodia