Phnom Penh: The Capital of Cambodia is a large city with diverse social cultures providing amazing photo opportunities to a travel photographer like you. Unlike in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh has a strong environment for commercial aspects in the country. However, this city has been a part of Cambodia’s grim history when Khmer Rouge was in power. So ready you camera, get a bottle of water and get ready to explore the city.
National Museum of Cambodia
Any rikshaw person will willingly take you to the National Museum of Cambodia because it is in a such a busy road and they sure to get another hire easily. This building itself is an amazing piece of work in Cambodian architecture. I fell in love with Cambodian Khmer culture from first sight. The museum premise spans around 5,100 square meters. You will see many vendors at the gate of the museum trying to sell an old Lonely Planet books, travel maps and tickets to various cultural shows. After all, tourism is one of the main trades in Cambodia. The museum was built and opened to the public on 13th April 1917 on Khmer New year day. This place protects the world’s greatest Khmer cultural artefacts and Angkorian history. However, the sad news is you are not allowed to take photographs inside the building. So only the artefacts placed outside can be photographs. But, once you go inside, you will be mesmerized by the amazing carvings and mythical gods of Angkorian history.
Well, there are lots of small cafes near the museum where you can have a beer to crunch your thirst in this very humid weather. You had better get a small rest before we head down to see some of the cruellest parts of Cambodian history.
Tuol Sleng Prison
Tuol Sleng was a school transformed to a prison during Polpot, the cruel dictator in Cambodia. Codenamed as S-21 prison, this used to be a place where the Khmer Rouge tortured, interrogated and executed millions of Cambodians and foreigners whom they thought were their enemies. Prisoners were kept in tiny rough cells made inside classrooms of the school and tortured daily till they decide to kill them. Amazing fact was that, the Khmer Rouge has taken a great effort to document all the prisoners they had captured. The details of the prisoners which includes: Name, age, height, weight and photograph were safely filed and the left on site when the Vietnamese army invaded. Prison staff left the prison leaving all the documents. These documents later proved how many has been in this prison and whom they are. Prison cells and torture machines were on display and will make you utterly depressed. Yet again it is prohibited to take photos inside the prison buildings as those photos are not going give any happiness to the viewer. But seeing this place is just a pre-amble to make up your mind before you go to the “Killing Fields”.
You would have to take a rikshaw to go the killing fields as this grim place is located on the other corner of the city.
The Killing Fields
This is literary a killing field. One of the places where Polpot killed people and buried in mass graveyards. The place is now quiet a tourist attraction and the management has organized audio tours. This audio tour facility takes you on the same route that prisoners went through during the last couple of days in their lives. You might be able to create a photo story about how these prisoners must have spent their last few days at the Killing Fields before death. In the middle of the premise, there is a tall monument that contains most of the human skulls collected from the field. These skulls have been cleansed and segmented according to the age and gender. There are thousands of skulls and there are only few places in the world you would see such many human skulls in one place on display.
Then it takes you to various shelters where they kept prisoners without food or water. And then the place where they were tortured and executed. Finally, the places where they were buried. There are so many mass graveyards. Most graveyards are bigger than 50 square feet. These graveyards are covered with a protective fence and numbered and explained. There are some grave yards with human bones, clothes of prisoners are on display. There was this tree used to called as ‘The Killing Tree’ which executioners beat the small children and killed.
You probably are too depressed and tired to go anywhere else now… So, go back to your hotel and get rest. Tomorrow you can visit the Royal Palace of Cambodia.
Situated at one corner of the Sothearos Boulevard, Royal Palace is the official residence of the King Sihamoni of Cambodia. You can get a tour guide from the entrance who would explain you the significance of the building. Silver Pagoda is one of the must visit attractions in the city. They called this the Silver Pagoda because the building is inlaid with Silver tiles. This is the place where various gifts the King has received would be on display. If you have not seen a pure Emerald Buddha statue before, you would see one here. Gleaming green of the statue could be a masterpiece object for some abstract photography.
Tonle Sap River
Stroll back along the Tonle Sap River towards the city centre. This is one of the biggest rivers in Cambodia. It would be a pleasant photograph to capture the golden sun rays beaming on the waves in the evening. You might like to take a boat ride but best to wait till late evening to avoid the heat. There are lots of cafes and pubs on the water front targeting tourists. So, you can pick one and have you lunch with a beer and chill.
If you want to try some unique Cambodian street food, go to the Russian market in the evening. From fried insects to boiled duck foetus can be found here. Really delicious, really nutritious, and truly a fancy food to eat.
Phnom Penh is a city full of general chaos. However, it is a fusionist city with Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese and Western world. If you are travelling in Cambodia, Phnom Penh is one city you would want to capture real life of a Cambodian.
Cheers, till I see you again…!!!