Voluntouring in Cambodia: An Interview - Part 2
This is part 2 of our interview with Georgie about her experience voluntouring in Cambodia. If you missed part 1 you can read it here.
Q. Did you see any interesting things in Phnom Penh?
Keep your eyes open and take in everything that is going on around you when you are traveling around Phnom Penh. I am sure that you will be surprised with what you see - from what is being sold at the stalls, to what is riding on the back of motos and tuktuks. I’m not sure how they manage to balance the motos with the amount they put on the back. I’ve even seen pigs and live chickens transported this way. As for the tuktuks, it is always good fun to work out how many people are in the back. I think the most I saw was 8 or 9 but sometimes it is hard to count all of them.
Q. What do you recommend that people see while in Phnom Penh?
S-21 and the Killing Fields
You should visit both S-21 (Tuol Sleng) and the Killing Fields (Choeung Ek) when you are in Phnom Penh. Although slightly outside of the city, you can hire a tuktuk driver for about $20 to take you to both and wait for you. If you do this, make sure to pay your driver at the end of the day, not at the beginning. This should provide some security that they will still be there when you want to return to the city.
S-21 and the Killing Fields played an important and gruesome role in Cambodian history from 1975-1979. Over the 4 year period, during which the Khmer Rouge reigned, almost 2 million Cambodians were killed. This time was also known as the Cambodian Holocaust.
I recommend visiting S-21 before the Killing Fields in order to follow the route taken by the prisoners. S-21 is a former high school which was turned into a prison after the Khmer Rouge took over and banished everyone from the city in 1975. The museum displays the building exactly as it was when the Khmer Rouge were removed in 1979. In the exhibition rooms there are photos of the prisoners who were held there during the 4 years it was in use. The victims range in age range from babies to the elderly. There was no mercy taken on anyone. There are stories about the 7 survivors which I recommend reading.
Recently the Killing Fields have introduced a headset guide, which is included in the entry price and available in a wide range of languages. The guide is very useful providing much of the history of each section of the museum. As I mentioned previously, the description of the events is quite graphic throughout many sections of the Killing Fields, and though difficult to see and hear about, it is definitely worth the visit. Whilst walking around the grounds it is not unusual to see bits of bone, teeth and clothing on the ground, especially after the rainy season as not all bones have yet been found. Each year more remains appear after the rain shifts the dirt. Visitors are asked not to disturb these remains. All are collected to add to the monument. Walking around the lake in the killing fields and looking out to the rice paddies that surround the area can be really surreal. It is almost incomprehensible to think that the world just carries on as normal around a place where so many people were brutally murdered. At many of the areas in the fields you will find colourful bracelets that visitors have left as gifts for the children that were killed there.
During the day, Riverside is a lovely place to just go for a walk. In the evening, it’s the place to go for the night life in Phnom Penh. Day or night be prepared for the amount of people who will ask you if you want to hire a tuktuk or moto. Along the river there are a lot of beggars. Watch your bags and be aware as there is more crime in this area than in other places around the city.
Restaurants in Riverside
There are literally hundreds of restaurants and bars along Riverside. The further along you go, the cheap the beer gets. It’s easy to pick out the places that are built for tourists or backpackers as they charge more. It is sometimes worth the extra money as they usually have a nicer feel to them and the staff will generally speak better English. There are plenty of choices for ranging from western style food to local delicacies. You can find most any cuisine somewhere along Riverside. The restaurants that I recommend are Titanic, Paddy Rice and Blue Pumpkin.
Titanic is quite expensive but you get what you pay for, it serves a mixture of western and traditional food. If you are lucky you can get a seat next to the river so that you have a lovely view whilst you are eating.
Paddy Rice is a traditional Irish bar that serves all western style food and drink. The drinks here are slightly more expensive but if you are missing the western tastes, I find it is always a good place to go.
Blue Pumpkin is an ice cream bar which also serves a few main dishes. The deserts and ice cream flavours are amazing and I would definitely recommend trying them.
Bars in Riverside
If you are looking for some bars to check out, Mekong River and #11 Happy Backpackers are a sure hit.
Mekong River is very cheap for drinks and a good place to start the night and if you are looking to save some money. The music is very loud in the upstairs area so don’t go there if you prefer a nice quiet drink and a good conversation.
#11 Happys is a guesthouse and rooftop bar. It is one of my favourite places to go. During my time there I became good friends with the staff, all of whom speak good English - mainly learnt on the job. They love to hear people’s stories and they have some good ones to tell themselves. It is slightly more expensive than Mekong River because it is a backpackers hangout. I think it is worth it for the atmosphere of the rooftop bar and the view. It is only a short walk from the river and near plenty of other bars.
Wat Phnom is the main temple in Phnom Penh. It is a very beautiful place. All foreigners must pay a fee to enter, though locals enter for free. It is important to take your shoes off before entering as a show of respect for the monks and buddists who are praying.
The monks are good humoured and will let you take photos of them whilst they are walking around. Most will even pose for you. Whilst walking around the grounds around the temple watch out the for the monkeys and cats.
Unfortunately, I have never had to opportunity to visit the Royal Palace myself as it has been shut when I have been to the city or I have run out of time. I certainly intend to visit on my next trip. In 2012, the King of Cambodia passed away so there is now a place of rest next to the palace for the King.
Q. Recommendations for others looking to volunteer abroad?
Make friends with locals and learn the language.