A changed Cambodia

Our group boarded a bus in Saigon for an 8am departure for Phnom Penh. As is quite normal, there was chaos and pandemonium. The bus had already been loaded with cargo to be delivered and there was very little room available for customer’s luggage. Somehow they managed. There was unlikely any unoccupied space left in the coach. People could not even stretch out their legs due to diaper bags being stuffed under the seats.

Six hours or so later, we arrive in Phnom Penh. My first impression was amazement. I have written in the past of how much Vietnam has changed, but it pales to what I am seeing in Cambodia. There are food chains from almost every country a person can think of. There is also almost every kind of product a person might want from high end motorcycles and cars, to personal electronics of all kinds. It kind of makes a person wonder when the average wage is forty dollars.

The city itself was transformed from the crowded dusty dirty streets into nice wide roadways with organized logical traffic flow. In 2006 when I was here before, there was a basically undeveloped waterfront street that had some hotels and bars, but mostly an area where one would not spend much time, now however, in a joint project shared by the Vietnamese government, the waterfront street has been transformed into a beautiful, thriving place. The tiled riverside parks and walkways are filled with people dancing to different beats for aerobic exercise, and many romantic couples are out for strolls. There are restaurants and bars everywhere. A person does not have to look far for evening entertainment. We did not have near enough time to explore the city in the 2 nights we were there as we were on a tour and had a busy day planned.

It started with a trip to a local Wat in the city before continuing on to the Imperial palace. That was followed by a visit to the national museum before continuing on the killing fields. The government is doing its best to preserve the area as a reminder to the world that genocides can happen and to honor the victims of a cruel regime. They are doing a pretty good job. Spending some time amongst the mass graves, bones, and sadness is quite moving.

After dinner we were on our own to explore more of the city. The first area we checked out was a section of bars and restaurants away from the waterfront. I am also amazed at the amount of foreigners that are here. The last time, I could have counted them on one hand, but now it seems they are everywhere. We did not come here to sit in a bar with other foreigners, so we headed off to the far end of the waterfront and work our way back to the main area. We did not get far before we found a great place and enjoyed the rest of our evening.

We are now on a small bus enroute to Siem Riep. We are crossing new bridges, on new roads, and controlled intersections all funded by joint ventures using aid from other countries. Another thin I am only now noticing is the lack of landmine warning and health instruction aid signs. Now the signs are advertisements for cell phones and other consumer product which I am sure most cannot afford.

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Tour designer and Guide specializing in off the beaten track tours of Vietnam

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