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"She actually thought Sean Penn was the capital of Cambodia!"

View Two Pairs of Shoes on arianemeena's travel map.

After a painless trip over the border from HCMC (the Russians could learn a thing or two) I pitched up in Phnom Penh, the dusty capital of Cambodia. In the evening light the river and temples glowed.

On the advice of my guesthouse I went for Mexican food (every now and then you just need something different) which was fantastic, as good as anything I've had in London. I ate with a Kiwi lady who had come over for dental treatment- it seems PP is the dentistry capital of SE Asia and increasing numbers of health tourists are making the trip from the Antipodes to take advantage of the low costs.

The next morning I went out to Choeung Ek, the most well known of the Killing Fields. I'd been in two minds about visiting as I didn't want to participate in morbid rubber-necking tourism. I needn't have worried, the site has been presented in a sensitive and informative way. The audio guide is excellent and included personal testimonies from survivors and those who lost love ones during the tyranny of Pol Pot's Democratic Kampuchea regime.

On the way back I stopped off at Toul Sleng, known as S21, a former primary school that was appropriated by the state and used as a prison during the crackdown on anyone considered an enemy of communism. After liberation it was left virtually untouched (the 14 bodies they found were buried in the playground) and is a visceral reminder of the horrors that took place less than 40 years ago.

As an antidote to the grimness of the morning I spent the afternoon at the Royal Palace. This is still home to the king and as such is immaculate, with beautiful temples and gardens.

The next day I visited the National Museum, where there are many of the heads of statues from the Angkor temples that were removed soon after its rediscovery. I also saw Wat Phnom, a temple on the only hill in PP and a peaceful escape from the city.

I had planned to take the boat up the Tonle Sap to Siem Reap, but recent flooding had created whirlpools and it was considered too dangerous to run the service. So I made do with a minibus and tried to avert my eyes as lorries careered towards us, tuk-tuks veered out the way and the driver attempted numerous 'double overtaking' manoeuvres.

Posted by arianemeena 07:00 Archived in Cambodia

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