It takes about a total of 9 hours to get from Saigon to Phnom Penh which includes bathroom stops and making a run for the border. A full day's experience for only $9.
The road to Phnom Penh alternates between pavement and dirt with an emphasis on bumps - many, many bumps. The land in Cambodia is flat and arid and the temperature is hot and humid, especially during the dry season.
Cambodia itself is an intriguing country. In the northwest, they have the temples of Angkor. These are magnificent temples that were built thousands of years ago. But Cambodia's recent history has been marked by turmoil. One the worst parts of their history occured less than thirty years ago with the reign of the Khymer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. I recently read the book Brother Number One: Pol Pot. This book documents Pol Pot and the Khymer Rouge's rise and fall from power. During their reign, it is estimated that between 1 to 3 million people died including most of their intellectual population. A very sad and troubling time.
Cambodia is still trying to recover from the Khymer Rouge's reign and it is a very poor country. I got my first glimpse of the poverty at a river crossing on my way to Phnom Penh. While our bus was waiting for the ferry, we were bombarded by kids peddling drinks and food to us. Just past them other kids were searching through trash while they carried their younger siblings. A sad sight to see. In Phnom Penh, it is estimated that 20,000 kids live on the streets.
Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia with a population around 1.5 million people. My stay in Phnom Penh was for only one full day but during my stay I visited the Killing Fields and Tuol Seng Museum. There was a movie made about the Killing Fields. The Killing Fields are located about 15 km or 10 miles outside of Phnom Penh. It is estimated that 15,000 men, women and children were murdered there. There is a temple in the center of Killing Fields that contains the skulls of some of the victims and they show the brutality of the Khymer Rouge. All around the temple are ditches with signs marking the mass graves of the victims who were buried there.
Tuol Seng Museum or S-21 was an old high school that was converted into a prison by the Khymer Rouge. Pol Pot used S-21 to torture and murder people that the Khymer Rouge believed were conspiring against them. No one was immune to their brutality. Pol Pot tortured and killed colleagues who had been loyal to him for twenty years. While S-21 was in use, an estimated 12,000 people were killed and only 12 people survived.
Although my time in Phnom Penh was short and melancholy, it is definitely a place to visit. I had some delicious food from the local food stands and the river side area is very nice to see.