Cambodia

12/98 - 01/99

Cambodia was the New Years trip for 1998-99. As I did not come back to France, I decided to go there with my friend Wilfried. The idea came in fact from my friend Sergio, that came to visit me Saigon, with his family, and went along to Cambodia. It was a nice trip, and certainely one of the most fascinating travel I ever did.
I flew with Wilfried around 28 December. The flight was short, only one hour of propeller plane. As always Vietnam Airlines service was grand :-). From the sky already, the country was differeent. After the Vietnamese jungle, Cambodia looked so dry. Vegetation clearly had much less water than in Vietnam, and was quite different. Phnom Penh airport is a little cabin, where everything is written in Cambodian... and in French. All Cambodian official speak French, but don't ask for English.
Outside the airport is the normal crowd of "taxi" (= 20 years old japanese car bought fourth hand), that drive you to town for a few dollars. As always, bargaining is de rigueur. Phnom Penh looks like the poorest city I have ever been to. There is hardly any paved streets, buildings are all falling apart. The French colonial impact is still very strong, and time seems to have stopped since the French left.
Our hotel was the Renaxe hotel. The hall and the entry were wonderful, but the rooms desappointing. For 2 nights it was OK.

We visited the royal palace of Phnom Penh. It was nice, as it looks a bit like the one of Bangkok, but is original enough to show the difference between Khmer style and Thai style (unfortunately, I lost the related pictures :-(. After that, we went to the Foreign Correspondant Club. This place is in every guide, as it was for a long time the only decent bar and restaurant in town. By many ways, it still is. This place has a lot of history... such as the country itself. History was the next day programm...
Next day was concentrated on the Cambodian genocide. First stop was a school that was became a torture camp under the Khmer Rouge regime. Thousands of people were jailed and tortured either little torture rooms (picture left). As there was not enough space to keep the prisonners, the Khmer Rouge build up more little cells (picture right), in the class rooms. There are a few descriptions of the torture people received, and the picture meticulousely taken of every person killed in this place. This gives a horrible feeling, that I did not feel since I had been to the Dachau concentration camp in Germany. I left this place with an immense sadness.

We spent some time to visit Phnom Penh a little, after this macaber visit. Khmer art is really beautiful...