"SUSADAY" PHNOM PENH
This is actually a two part story on Cambodia; so if you want to catch up on part one, click here.
Phnom Penh is a bit more ‘in your face’ than Siem reap. It’s true Asia. Chaotic, colorful and confronting. The poverty is gut wrenching and the prolific sex trade is alarmingly obvious. It’s also home to the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Our kids (aged twelve and fourteen at the time), had studied Vietnamese history and they kind of knew what to expect, but in all honesty no-one can prepare you for what you see. It’s presented in an honest but no holds barred kind of way that none of us will ever forget … but nor should we. The city itself is not as picturesque as Siem Reap but full of history and worth exploring. Tuk tuks are super cheap and the only way to get around. We stayed in a fantastic boutique hotel called La Maison D’Ambre. The accommodation was apartment style, very cool, well located and with a fab rooftop bar and restaurant. The owner Romyda Keth is actually a well-known Cambodian designer and her boutique ‘Ambre’ is sensational. It seems strange to be talking about our beautiful hotel and shopping haunts when most Cambodian families live on less than $1 a day. It also seems pathetic and somewhat self absorbed to think that the three days we spent with the Riverkids Project on an ‘advocacy tour’ made a difference in any way … but it did leave an impression on us, and I hope that by raising awareness for the amazing work they do then maybe some good will come of it. Riverkids is a not for profit organization that helps Cambodian children and families in danger of child abuse and trafficking. They offer education to children from slums and other vocational training aimed primarily at teenage girls so that they have more opportunities and choices available to them. They provide basic health services and counseling all aimed at breaking the cycle of poverty in Cambodia. We walked the streets with the kids at dawn on their garbage collection run, spent time with them in the classrooms and walked through the slums that they call home. The highlight though was the amazing day we spent painting a wall mural with a group of ten teenage kids. On the surface it brightened up their depressing neighbourhood but more importantly gave them something to look forward to in an otherwise fairly bleak existence. These kids are incredible. Bright, happy and grateful in the face of such adversity.
Cambodia may not ring everyone’s bells. It sure isn’t sugar coated, in fact it’s totally confronting, but also incredibly interesting, inspiring and beautiful. My bells are still ringing.