In collecting my reflections on Phnom Penh, a patchwork of images, sounds and smells evolves of daily life pulsing along through the semi-dusty streets, driven forth in swarms of motorbikes, wafting from the narrow interior aisles of the markets, woven tightly with history and specked with modern influences. The city seemed to balance daintily between the precarious rubble and rush of Kathmandu and the pristine vs. grit sensation of developing Bangkok. It immediately communicated to us that people live here, beyond the tourism. Contrary to the hot and blinding spotlight of the Siem Reap tourist machine, we were more able to slowly wander and quietly explore here. Though not many pictures exist from our week of time here, the ones that do sum up the time well enough. Yes, a copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory from our $6 per night guesthouse bookshelf was put to use for bedtime stories, though it went much quicker than when either of us was younger:
+ The Phnom Penh Photo festival, a continuation of a festival in Siem Reap, highlighting the stellar work of young, mostly Asian photographers. Exhibitions were dispersed throughout the city, though more densely featured in the Street 178 (art street) area.
+ A $2 screening of the documentary about James Nachtwey, "War Photographer", at the Goethe Institute funded Meta House. I had meant to see this a few times over, but viewing it on the open-air balcony with a glass of sauvognion blanc in hand was better than a living room. Plus, Eli got to sip on a real stout, making the night a triple win.
+ The market up the street from our guesthouse was huge, lined with mopeds outside, hosted rows of fabric shops, was dark and super crowded with regular life goods and not just souvenirs. Multiple visits ensued.
+ Our visit to Tuol Sleng genocide museum (S-21), the former Khmer Rouge prison established at what was once a high school. Not a favorite in terms of the usual feel good city attraction, clearly, but one because of the respect that is due to the prisoners that died here and the fact that the rule of Khmer Rouge is gone, but still so present in this country's collective conscious and unconscious. An awful place, with a history that is worse, but the archival obsessions of the time it was running are currently being capitalized on as a memorial via photographs, paintings and a documentary. Funded by a now defunct Yale program, it is in need of some upkeep but gets the point across. All for the cost of a latte in the US.
Though many suggested that four days or so were plenty, we left after six wishing we had either decided to stay a little longer or that our route through Southeast Asia might bring us back through this city. Unfinished explorations can be well utilized in future choices with new places, or in deciding to return at another point down the road. Harnessing what we are learning from this currently wide open agenda applies to more than just traveling, an exciting challenge to tackle from here on out.
Location:Phnom Penh, Cambodia