I am just in Phnom Penh reading First They Killed My Father by Luong Ung and the pre-Khmer Rouge city she portrays is way too similar to the Phnom Penh I am seeing now: young boys chasing each other through back alleys, schoolgirls in uniform playing hopscotch, ladies being pushed around through the incessant traffic on cyclos, food carts surrounded by people snacking at every corner and the usual cornucopia of market goods overflowing onto the street. Was that ill-fated day of 1975 when the Khmer Rouge marched into Phnom Penh and expelled everyone from the city a day like today? The extent of the atrocities that are unfolding before me as I visit Phnom Penh’s main memorial sights make it to hard to believe. Alas.
In the streets, I see extremes of wealth and poverty, whole families seemingly living on sidewalks amidst swanky hotels, babies peacefully sleeping on concrete. The smell of sewer, fried garlic and car exhaust successively come to my nostrils as the reckless traffic and constant honking keep me on my feet, at times scared for my life. Phnom Penh is at once heart wrenching, irritating and beautiful. And the last thing I had on my mind was to take photographs.
* We were in Phnom Penh twice over the last month and stayed once at the Velkommen Guesthouse ($18 for a double room with a/c and ensuite) and once at the Velkommen Backpacker right across the street ($14 for a windowless but still pleasant double room with frigid, uncontrollable a/c and shared bathroom). We highly recommend both places, but although the room at the guesthouse was much nicer, the fact that it was located on the 6th floor (no elevator) and the scorching heat made it a bitch to get to. As with any big city in South East Asia, accommodation prices are inflated, but we didn’t really feel like saving a few bucks by staying in a dive.