In September I spent 3 weeks in Phenom Penh, Cambodia on an extended work trip. Flying into the country I was amazed at the transformation that has happened over just the last 3 years since I had visited last, and especially since my first trip in 2001. When I was last in Phenom, Penh in 2005 the buildings were still below 3 stories and a lot of roads were still dirt.
I visited most of the typical tourist spots in 2005, here are a few pictures from that trip.
Just 40 minutes outside of the city and you feel a world away.
The Killing Fields museum. The stupa in the distance is a glass filled shrine housing 8,000 human skulls.
The stilts help protect from floods
Inside the royal place
When I visited Angkor Wat in 2000 I traveled overland from Thailand and spent 14 hours from the Thai border in the back of a pickup truck bouncing over a dirt road the whole way. Now there are sealed roads that cross the whole country and the trip only takes about 4 hours!
Phenom Penh is booming and what was once a backpacker haven is now a full blown family tourist destination. Unfortunately the economic boom has not kept pace with governmental reform and corruption is running rampant. Land speculation is driving corruption and the forced evictions of thousands of people from their lands. Basically, companies “buy” land from the government and then evict the real owners of the land.
The small shacks on the right is one community that is under threat. The contrast is amazing as you go from small wooden houses on the right, to government social housing in the middle and a brand new government building on the left.
The community is resisting as best it can. The banner reads “resist forced evictions” and many houses display them outside of their homes. However, the people are frequently harassed by the police and offered bribes by the company to sell out their neighbors. One woman told me a story of how the police arrested her and then beat her for 5 days straight before dumping her back at her home.
The impact on the people who are losing their homes and livelihoods is heartbreaking and is driven by pure greed. To help reduce the power disparities I spent a week with my colleagues running a negotiation workshop for local community leaders and young lawyers. Hopefully they will be able to negotiate more effectively with the government and the companies to obtain a better resettlement packaged then a piece of paper ordering them to leave.
However, even with the human rights abuses by the government the Cambodian people are friendly and relaxed. The city has a great vibe to it and sitting on the banks of the Mekong River Phenom Penh is one of the most beautiful cities in South East Asia. Hopefully, high rise buildings won’t dominate the quaint French architecture and the beautiful Buddhist temples when I visit next.
I spent my three weeks at a beautiful little boutique hotel that opened recently called Villa Langka. The staff where very friendly and the food was great. After 3 weeks I became a bit tired of the menu, however, there were plenty of restaurants and bars within walking distance.
On the way to work I pass spirit houses for sale
After work I let boats pass me as I relax with a gin and tonic by the riverside
Heading towards the river the road is wide and beautiful as you pass the royal palace
Beautiful old colonial buildings mix with tropical greenery
Many families depend on the river for theirlivelihoods
A rickshaw driver taking an afternoon break in the shade
Royal Palace with the Buddha’s head at the top
Another view of the road in front of the royal palace
Run…Run! You only have 94 Seconds left!
Young monks out for a stroll
Life on the river
Boats are on the river at all times of the day. We hired a boat for a sunset cruise, drinks and some Khmer karaoke.