The best way to see a city is to walk it. Moving at your own pace you take in more sights, sounds and glimpses of the everyday. I’m lucky enough to have been to many places, and have never before received so many warnings to take care in a city. Bag snatching seems to be a common occurrence here, which made me slightly (and unusually) nervous to venture out alone. This was made especially difficult as someone had helped themselves to my only pair of flip flops – my favoured havianas, which have travelled all round the world since I bought them in Long Island in 2007. So, first stop was shoes, then the day could begin!
In a group, anything is possible, and today Felix, Ava and I decided to head out to visit the national museum, daughters of Cambodia and the Grand Palace. The plan was to walk, however 5 minutes before we were due to leave water swum calf deep in the streets – wet season strikes again! Wrapping everything in plastic we headed out to the nearest a tuk tuk. It was about 20 steps from the door and in that short time I was drenched as through I’d stood under Niagara Falls. Luckily even the rain here is warm, and everything dries out super fast.
The national museum was, well, museum like, with relics rescued from all the temples I had previously visited in the north. There was a strict no photography rule throughout which I’m still unsure of the reasons behind. We spent a lot of time scrutinising almost identical statutes trying to work out exactly how experts could tell the difference between Vishnu, the protector, and Shiva, the destroyer. As both can appear in multiple forms with varying numbers of arms and heads it all gets very confusing! Eventually we realised Shiva almost always has a 3rd eye – helpful….but as for the difference between Vishnu and Brahma – no idea!
Felix is a typical tall, slim man, meaning if he doesn’t eat every 2-3 hours he gets quiet and as Ava describes ‘hangry!’. Luckily our next stop was Daughters of Cambodia, a cafe, shop and spa set up to offer girls an exit from the sex trade. The majority of the men and women who work here were sold by their families and yet are still expected to provide for them. The sex trade, for men and women, carries a shameful stigma, and most who enter it do not have the education, skills or options to get themselves out. Daughters of Cambodia and the male equivalent, Sons of Cambodia, exists purely as a solution to that problem. Here, men and women are taught to create the items on sale in the shop (beautiful fabric dresses, handbags, bunting etc, as well as screen printed t-shirts, aprons, coasters and placemats, and wooden decorative items), run the beauty spa offering massages, manicures and pedicures, or cooking and waitressing skills in the cafe. Each one is offered the chance to learn English, given access to medical care, therapy and a safe place in which to live. 98% of the people who come through the doors do not return to the sex trade. The place was decorated by those who work there too, words like freedom, value, self worth and respect adorn the walls. It made me, once again, realise how lucky I am. These girls did not ask to be Cambodian, to be born into families who see them only as a way to make money, and to sell them into a life which is perhaps the worst of all. Likewise the girls I met in Siem Reap, who work 15 hours a day in a spa…When I think of the way I am loved and respected by my family, of the opportunities I have had since I was a teenager to travel and learn, the work I do for the pay and holiday I receive…just because of where I was born and to whom; it’s very humbling.
The food here was the best I have had since arriving in Cambodia, and I bought a really beautifully made dress for $20. Daughters of Cambodia is a little more pricey than your average restaurant, and a lot more than haggling at a market, but when you can directly see the difference your money is making its completely worth the extra.
Felix and Ava are heading to Vietnam next, so decided to head back home after lunch to sort their visas. I wanted to meander at a more leisurely pace and get more of a feel for Phnom Penh before I leave tomorrow. Here’s a few snaps I captured along the way.
So I’ve said farewell to my new friends, who have rented bikes to head out for what sounds like a REALLY fun day, and I’m off to KL. Let’s hope it competes with islands on the Mekong and hitting Cambodian clubs with crazy French girls! Lea how Cambodia – it’s been fun!